We’ve been catching whiffs of salty, ocean air on the Southern wind ever since Spring began to bloom in Tennessee. For a couple of people who aspire to be occasional beach bums, it’s been difficult not to jump in the car and drive down to the Panhandle any chance we get!
So when we returned from the Smoky Mountains, saw that the weather was going to be nice and didn’t have anything planned, we decided to go down to Destin for a couple days.
[Side note: we were also in the process of deciding whether or not we were going to move back to Minnesota. That’s a blog post for another day.]
We left that Sunday afternoon, taking one of the most beautiful drives in my experience. The hills of Tennessee rolled by, covered in green grasses and trees just beginning to show their leaves—all kissed by the golden, late afternoon light. I was positively giddy just looking at it all!
When we hit Alabama, I thought the landscape would flatten out somewhat, not realizing that the tail end of the Appalachians reaches into the Heart of Dixie. The hills climbed higher, and the vegetation grew more lush as we drove further south.
By sunset, we reached Birmingham, a city nestled amongst the mountains. The twinkling lights of the town, in combination with mountain profiles outlined against the pastel colors of the sky, made for an awesome view from our vantage point on I-65. We’re lucky Chad didn’t drive right off the road!
After passing through Birmingham, we still had about 4 1/2 hours to reach the Panhandle. So we turned up the music, and I gazed out the window to watch as the dark figures of tall pine trees flew by.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, save one unneeded detour that our GPS took us on:
We got onto Highway 31 from Interstate 65, intending to take it to State Highway 55. What we (and our GPS) didn’t realize is that Highway 31 had recently been rerouted, so we ended up taking the old road through McKenzie, AL.
Fellow travelers, if your GPS tells you to turn off of 31 (or 55, if you’re going north), just keep going straight. You’ll go right around McKenzie—saving you about 10 minutes of driving time. You're welcome. ;)
Regardless of our disoriented GPS, we made it to Destin, FL a little after Midnight. In an effort to save money, we slept in our car in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
I know what you’re thinking, but it was actually pretty comfortable! We had a memory foam mattress topper layered over pillows—it was like sleeping on a cloud. Well, a lumpy one.
The next morning, we went down to a public beach to watch the sunrise. Ever since the Caribbean cruise we took for our honeymoon a couple years ago, this is something that Chad and I love to do. There’s nothing like watching the sun dawn over a new location!
Afterward, we drove west down Highway 98 for about 45 minutes to Navarre, and crossed the bridge over to Gulf Islands National Seashore. Those white sands stretch for miles! We walked out on the pier for a while, watching as a hoard of fishermen hopefully cast their lines over the side. Then it was time for some exploring.
Check out the video below for some footage from our trip. Watch until the end for a special announcement!
There is a boulevard that runs the length of the narrow strip of beach housing the National Seashore, beginning at Destin and stretching all the way to its tip at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. We drove along it, meandering through stilted neighborhoods to take in their unique architecture, and stopping at public access points to dig our feet into the sand.
Later that evening, we drove back to Destin to watch the sun set from the same beach we had visited that morning. Around 10:30, we returned to the Wal-Mart parking lot for some much-needed rest.
Again, we rose early to watch the sunrise. No matter how long I live, I will never see enough sunrises.
As the colors faded into the light of day, we returned to the car to nap for a few hours, then walked back down to the beach to sit and enjoy the view.
Around 1:30 we were both exhausted, and felt like we had satisfied our craving for beach bumming, so we headed back to the car to begin the trip home.
The drive was absolutely beautiful, just as before. We were able to take in the forests of southern Alabama this time, marveling at trees that had been mere shadows in the darkness on our way down.
We skipped the detour through McKenzie, were in Birmingham again by sunset, and managed to make it home around 10:00—just in time to collapse, unconscious, on our bed.
In all, it was a wonderful trip. We were able to experience vast amounts of the beauty of God’s creation, and gained a newfound appreciation for our tiny RV home. Compared to our car, the RV feels like a mansion!
Thanks for reading about our trip! Have you been to Destin? Tell us about your experience in the comments!