We have become addicted to beautiful white sand beaches! We have two more beaches that we wanted to visit from our central location on the "forgotten coast," and they both had good places to use our kayak! White sand and a free boat ride--the Florida panhandle is awesome!
Our first road trip was northeast towards Panama City Beach. This town has a rowdy spring break reputation. But this year, alcohol has been outlawed on the beach during the month of March in an effort to build a more family-friendly spring break atmosphere. We arrived after most university spring breaks were over, and it seemed a very calm Sunday afternoon crowd on this deep and wide white sand beach. But this area is certainly more touristy and crowded than the other beaches we have visited so far. The high rise hotels in the background are evidence that more people vacation here than the other little towns we have visited so far.
We wanted to see the emerald blue water, but we got the tea-brown surf instead. The spring rains have really changed the looks of the Florida panhandle beaches right now. The water is still perfectly clear, just brown.
We paid the $8 fee to go to the beach at St. Andrews State Park. Most people will remain on the protected bay-side beach within the state park. But when we climbed on the rock jetty, we could look at the coveted island across the bay. Shell Island was just a boat ride away.
To get to Shell Island, we had several options. We could pay to ride the state park boat shuttle. We could rent a pontoon boat for the day. We could sell our motor home and buy one of the yachts that was cruising the ship channel in the bay. Or we could pump up our inflatable kayak and row ourselves between the "big boy boats" to get to Shell Island. We decided the last option was the best (and cheapest). As we paddled hard across the boat channel, we noticed the water got bluer as it got deeper. We also looked across the deeper channel and saw a football-size head of a loggerhead sea turtle not far from us. No proof because we were paddling too hard to snap turtle pictures, but it was a thrill.
We made it successfully across the channel, and landed among the big boats on the island. We were underwhelmed with the sea shells on the beach. We decided it was correctly named "Shell Island" instead of the plural "Shells Island." We only saw one shell as we walked around most of the perimeter of the island.
The afternoon winds picked up while we were walking Shell Island, making the paddle back across the bay even more challenging. We were both wet from the splashing waves and working our kayak paddles, but we made it successfully! Our first successful salt water journey! (The last salt water experience ended after two minutes with a hole in our inflatable boat from an oyster bar puncture.)
On our way out of St. Andrews State Park, we stopped at Alligator Lake. Named accurately, we spotted an alligator, sunning himself near the fresh water pools. We were glad that earlier we had paddled among 3-foot-long turtles instead of 6-foot-long alligators.
Panama City and Panama City Beach make up a sizable urban area, complete with high rise hotels and tourist-trap attractions. In our opinion, it's a nice place to visit for a day, but we're glad that we don't live here for our week on the coast.