My family and I have been camped in dozens of campgrounds in the Southeast United States over the past nine years. Here are our favorites!
St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, Florida, was voted "America's Best Beach" in 1995, and believe me, it's still worthy of the title! It is a beautiful destination for a family-friendly vacation, and there are plenty of activities for everyone.
The 1,260-acre park is located on a peninsula that bisects the Gulf of Mexico and the Grand Lagoon. Many activities there are free or reasonably priced. There is an entrance fee from $2 to $8 depending on the number in your party and your mode of transportation (car, bus, bicycle, etc.).
What Can You Do at St. Andrews State Park?
Swim, swim, swim!
There are two separate beach areas at St. Andrews, and both have a concession store, showers and restrooms. Our favorite is Jetty Beach, where there are two choices for swimming. Jetty Beach has a large, almost totally enclosed beach area, and the water at its deepest point is usually no more than four or five feet. It's a great place for the little ones because the water is so shallow near the shore and there is virtually no wave activity. The other area at Jetty Beach is across the dunes. It is not sheltered by the jetties and has more waves.
No matter which beach you choose, swimming the 1.5 miles of coastline here is a most popular activity. The water is warm and clear during the summer months, and the sand looks like white sugar. There is no pool at St. Andrews State Park, but who needs it?
The beautiful emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico provide a wealth of shells that wash up on the beach at St. Andrews. Some of the most common ones are olive shells, moon snails and conchs. Many lucky folks can find a whole sand dollar or two if they look closely. A little digging with the edge of a broken shell at the tide line can reveal some beautiful surprises!
Take the Shuttle to Shell Island
For about $14.95 per person, a boat leaves St. Andrews every half hour daily during the season and will take you to unspoiled and uninhabited Shell Island where you can fish, snorkel, swim or sunbathe. Bottle-nose dolphins are often seen nearby, as well. Note that there are no facilities available on the island, but there are concessions for purchase on the boat. The shuttle also offers a snorkel package and kayak rentals.
Snorkel or Scuba Dive
Equipment can be rented from the concessions area at both beaches or can be acquired elsewhere. Scuba diving is also possible. The snorkeling by the jetties themselves provides a great venue to see such marine life as sea urchins, rays, hermit crabs and tons of different kinds of fish.
Read More from WanderWisdom
Observe the Local Wildlife
White-tailed deer, raccoons, alligators, great white herons and many other birds can be seen throughout the park. There is an exhibit at the campground registration office that tells more about wildlife in the area.
For a very budget-friendly price of about $28.00 per night, you can camp in one of the 176 sites in the campground. It is very popular and does fill quickly. Electricity and water, picnic tables and grills are available at all standard sites. There are five bathhouses, a laundry facility and dump stations.
For a cost of between $12 and $16, you can launch your boat at the dock or bring your rod and reel and fish from the jetties or one of the two fishing piers. Spanish mackerel, sea trout and bluefish are just a few of the numerous fish in these waters.
Note: A Florida fishing license is required to fish here.
Take a Hike
There are two hiking trails at the park. The Heron Pond hiking trail meanders past the Turpentine Still near the boat dock. There is also the Gator Lake Trail where you may see an alligator or two.
Fly a Kite!
Kite Flying in the often breezy conditions is an inexpensive (and fun!) way to pass the time.
No matter what your activity level or desire, there is always something for families to do at St. Andrews State Park!