Looking for more than a beach experience on the Emerald Coast?
Begin with an inland day trip…
Nearly five-million visitors arrive on the Emerald Coast each year, nearly all of them here for a week or so of life on the beach. Overwhelmingly, they come for the distinctive vibes offered by the coastal communities of 30A, Miramar Beach, and Destin. They come for the f lour-soft quartz sand and the vibrant emerald waters of the Gulf. But here’s a best-kept secret: There’s far more to love about the area—much of it just a few miles inland.
Imagine an afternoon spent among indigenous wolves or kayaking down a creek fed by a crystal-clear spring with waters that hover around 68 degrees year-round. Imagine a day trip to an utterly charming and off-the-beaten-path town that’s world-famous for its seafood. Round up the family, call a few friends, and then set off for an adventure that wi l l make you fall in love with the Florida Panhandle all over again!
Chances are you’ve never heard of it. Econf ina Creek is one of Florida’s most pristine waterways—and it’s also only an hour’s drive from the world’s most beautiful beaches. Located due west of the 30A corridor, just outside of Youngstown, Econf ina Canoe Livery offers three-plus hours of leisurely paddling, with a steady current urging you downstream. Along the way, you can swim, snorkel or just hang out in the cool, sandy-bottom stream. You’ll find six extraordinary natural springs. One or two-person kayaks are available for rent, while a shut t le service wi l l pick you up for the return trip to your vehicle. The Econf ina Canoe Livery is open seven days a week during the season and by appointment during the off-season. For reservations and information, call 850-722-9032 or check their website at canoeeconfinacreek.net. And don’t forget to bring a lunch!
Located west-southwest of the 30A corridor in Franklin County, historic Apalachicola is known for its oysters, waterfront parks, and sport fishing. The Owl Café, Up the Creek Raw Bar, and the Apalachicola Seafood Grill offer incredible locally caught seafood and a vibrant, friendly atmosphere. If you’re visiting any time between January and March, be sure to drop by the Dixie Theater. Located in the center of town, the venue hosts a wide variety of professional shows and musical performances. Apalachicola also offers eclectic shops, art galleries, and restaurants. But the town itself, rich history and atmosphere, is what makes Apalachicola a destination.
SEACREST WOLF PRESERVE
Seacrest Wolf Preserve offers a firsthand, educational experience that allows visitors to get up close and personal with actual wolves! Guests have the opportunity to come face-to-face with these mythical creatures. Seacrest Wolf Preserve is a non-profit organization near the town of Chipley that serves as home to 30 wolves as well as a small variety of native species. The preserve is dedicated to wildlife conservation through science-based educational tours with their mission to teach the public about wolves while developing awareness of their importance to the greater ecosystem. Seacrest Wolf Preserve is currently offering limited tour times, so be sure to check their website ahead of time for information and scheduling at seacrestwolfpreserve.org.
REGIONAL SPRINGS FROM THE FLORIDAN AQUIFER
Florida is home to 751 of the 824 “inventoried” springs that are part of the Floridan aquifer system. One of the best is in Ponce de Leon, about an hour from the 30A corridor and home to the Ponce de Leon Springs State Park. The spring water consistently remains at 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Picnicking in this area is popular, as is fishing and leisurely walks on the two nature trails. Typically, these are self-guided tours, though rangers do conduct seasonally guided walks. Other activities include swimming and snorkeling in designated areas. Admission for the Ponce de Leon State Park is $4 per vehicle, with a limit of 8 guests per vehicle.
If you’re more interested in diving, take a quick ten-minute trip from the state park to Vortex Spring. Vortex is one of the largest diving facilities in the region and home to the Red and White “Diver Down” flag. The property provides plenty of experiences—from scuba diving with certified instructors to allowing guests to slide down any one of the six on-site slides. Prices vary depending on whether you’ve come to dive, swim or just hang out. For more information, visit vortexspring.com.
BIOPHILIA IN FREEPORT
The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center is an environmental educational venue set on a 54,000-acre nature preserve near the town of Freeport. The nature preserve is considered the sixth most biodiverse area in the U.S. Its mission? To educate visitors on the importance of biodiversity, to promote sustainability, and to encourage conservation, preservation, and the restoration of ecosystems. The preserve is generally open to school groups, and to the public during the summer months (in June and July, they are open on Thursdays and Fridays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm). Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children. For more information, check their website at eowilsoncenter.org.