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Seeking advice for road trip through Florida/Gulf Coast

Seeking advice for road trip through Florida/Gulf Coast

Old May 5, 19, 3:59 pm
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Question Seeking advice for road trip through Florida/Gulf Coast

In late February, my wife and i and two friends visiting from abroad plan on taking a five-day drive, starting in Marco Island, Florida and possibly ending up in New Orleans (though we might just confine ourselves to Florida). I'd welcome advice about pretty, relatively quiet and uncrowded towns in Florida and/or further up the Gulf Coast en route to NO, including any specific accommodations. FWIW, even if recommendations exceed five days' worth of travel, that's fine, as our friends will stay on longer in the USA while we return to California. Also, we've all done a good amount of travel in the USA before, but not to Florida's Gulf Coast, other parts of the Gulf Coast, or Key West for that matter.

Also FWIW:

1. We like to walk, so places near parks or beaches that allow for long walks, scenic walks, even including some wildlife, would be welcome.
2. As for the towns themselves: small shops and restaurants with water views, as well as some history or culture to explore, would be great. No places with high rises, unless the other redeeming features are really powerful. Off the beaten track, if that's possible.
3. I've got lots of Hilton, Marriott and other hotel points to burn, though maybe the nicest towns are too small for such places. Anyway, any chain recommendations are fine; but if it comes down to a chain hotel or a nice town, we'd definitely opt for the latter.
4. I'm under the vague impression that the Everglades are basically worth just a day trip. But if I'm wrong, please let me know. Any particular town to stay in, right near the Everglades, would be nice to know about.
5. I'm also under the vague impression that Key West and the rest of the keys would be very crowded that time of year, that parts of that stretch is more a party scene than a quieter one, and that it doesn't afford great opportunities for long walks. But again, I could be wrong and would welcome being educated otherwise.

Thanks for any advice!
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Old May 7, 19, 11:01 am
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I've only ever driven through it, but friends love Fairhope AL, it's a quaint small town on the east side of Mobile Bay that sounds like what you're looking for. There's even a cat 5 Marriott resort there.
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Old May 7, 19, 12:59 pm
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Thanks very much, swag. This indeed looks like what we're looking for.
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Old May 7, 19, 3:00 pm
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If you decide to visit Fairhope, you might want to stay a night or two at Marriott's The Grand Hotel Golf Resort (that would be the Cat. 5 hotel mentioned above). I've enjoyed every stay I've had there.
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Old May 7, 19, 3:28 pm
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Pensacola resident here... I'll echo the previous poster about Daphne/Fairhope. Those are beautiful little towns.

Destinations:

The 30A stretch is beautiful and quiet. Towns like Alys Beach, Seaside, and Rosemary Beach are designed to be walkable.

Destin is the commercial hub of the area. Plenty of high rises, but plenty of good eating and shopping.

Navarre is quiet and free from high rises.

Downtown Pensacola has a vibrant nightlife. There are ferries that take you from Pensacola to Fort Pickens to Pensacola Beach. Gulf Islands National Seashore has some of the finest beaches in the world.

NAS Pensacola Museum of Naval Aviation is free and great to visit. Plus, it's air conditioned! The Blue Angels are stationed here and have practice 1-2x per week, free and open to the public.

Hotels:

Hilton Sandestin is fantastic. Hilton Pensacola Beach, not so much. The Lodge at Gulf State Park is a Hilton property and is across the street from a ton of walking trails surrounding the inter-coastal waterway. As another poster has said, The Grand at Pointe Clear is world-class.

Dining:

Stinky's Fish Camp in Destin is my favorite in the area.

Restaurant Iron in Pensacola may be the best restaurant on the coast east of New Orleans.

Joe Patti's Seafood in Pensacola has the freshest and cheapest "caught today" seafood.

Other favorites include The Fish House (Pensacola), Sunset Bar and Grill (Perdido Key, FL), Union Public House (Pensacola), and Fish River Grill (Foley, AL).

Pensacola Blue Wahoo's have a great stadium on the water. Fantastic family atmosphere.

Edit: I just re-read and saw where you said February. The beaches will be very, very quiet. They'll be beautiful, but not quite good for swimming. Also, the Blue Angels will be in California (winter home) and the Wahoos season doesn't start until April. But, the food is good year 'round! Welcome!
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Old May 7, 19, 3:46 pm
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Wow, great stuff! Thanks to you both, hh and aww, but especially to aww for the detailed recommendations. I really appreciate it.

A further question: What are the weather, traffic and crowds likely to be like from northern Florida through to New Orleans at the end of February? I realize that weather in particular is hard to predict, though I've checked out monthly averages online. (One site says 64° / 47° high/low for Pensacola in February.) No problem that it's not beach weather. But any sense of whether and to what extent it's usually cloudy versus sunny, dry versus rainy, etc. would be welcome.

And given that it's not a particularly warm time of year, does that mean that the area isn't very crowded with tourists and cars?

Finally, the hotel recommendations are wonderful. But our otherwise wonderful friends are, shall we say thrifty (and not because of any lack of resources). We might well avail of one or more of the recommended places anyway, perhaps helping them out via a points stay. But any suggestions re places of $100/night or less per couple?

Thanks again!
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Old May 7, 19, 3:56 pm
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There I see no telling what the weather will be like, most probably it will be very nice but it can get cold. There will be no crowds, if I were you I wouldn't book ahead anywhere, except your first night. Just go where you wish and stay where you want, there will be no problem. The Destin-Pensacola area is great but so is Mobile and the Alabama coast.
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Old May 7, 19, 3:57 pm
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Originally Posted by Hornetcoach View Post
There I see no telling what the weather will be like, most probably it will be very nice but it can get cold. There will be no crowds, if I were you I wouldn't book ahead anywhere, except your first night. Just go where you wish and stay where you want, there will be no problem. The Destin-Pensacola area is great but so is Mobile and the Alabama coast.
Thanks very much!
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Old May 7, 19, 6:28 pm
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That time frame is the lowest of the low season. Between the holidays and spring break. But, hotels sub-$100/night is going to be tough anywhere.

You'll definitely be able to find some deals in VRBO compared to hotels. We’ve stayed at some phenomenal condos in Gulf Shores on low-season weekends for $100/couple/night. These all come with indoor pools, etc.

Pensacola Ice Flyers will be playing. Minor league hockey is always fun.
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Old May 8, 19, 10:24 am
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Originally Posted by aww3583 View Post
That time frame is the lowest of the low season. Between the holidays and spring break. But, hotels sub-$100/night is going to be tough anywhere.

You'll definitely be able to find some deals in VRBO compared to hotels. We’ve stayed at some phenomenal condos in Gulf Shores on low-season weekends for $100/couple/night. These all come with indoor pools, etc.

Pensacola Ice Flyers will be playing. Minor league hockey is always fun.
Thanks again!
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Old May 8, 19, 12:12 pm
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If you go through Mobile, you might enjoy visiting the USS Alabama. There is also a WWII sub you can walk through, as well as, a small aviation museum (much smaller than the Naval Aviation museum in Pensacola, but it used to have an SR-71 there. Its been a few years since I last visited. So not sure if the SR-71 is still there.
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Old May 8, 19, 4:07 pm
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You can easily stay in Florida for those five days doing easy drive and seeing different things.

If you want a day in Key West there is a ferry you can take. You can do a day trip or stay overnight. https://www.keywestexpress.net/

Dunedin is a cute small town that has some of what you are looking for. It's a 15 drive to Honeymoon Island State Park (and Clearwater Beach). The Pinellas Trail can be walked for miles. Ft Desoto Park in the St Petersburg area always gets high marks.

Weeki Wachee is another good day if you have never been there! https://weekiwachee.com/

There are places up the coast from Naples so an easy drive.
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Old May 8, 19, 5:08 pm
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Great suggestions above. But lodging in the St Pete, Clearwater area will be pricey in February.
I would add Cedar Key to that list.
And there is some great springs in and around Ocala National Forest as well.

Last edited by pbiflyer; May 9, 19 at 9:33 am
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Old May 15, 19, 9:28 pm
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Mardi Gras is February 25 in 2020. New Orleans will be most crowded and expensive at that time. Not so much from the 26th on.

If you're still considering New Orleans as part of your itinerary you might want to time your visit to either engage or avoid, depending on your preferences and budget.

Mobile, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and even Pensacola also have some Mardi Gras events.

Last edited by kale73; May 18, 19 at 6:00 pm Reason: off by a decade
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Old May 15, 19, 11:55 pm
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Thanks very much for these additional suggestions and information, folks.
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