Back when we were planning our first ever road Summer trip to Florida, my husband told me one day that one of his friends, who was not a Texan, had told him, "I don't understand Texans... They go and drive a whole day to go from such a hot place to an even hotter place. Why not escape it and go to a cooler destination, like Colorado, for example?” and I thought that maybe he was right. After all, we did have beaches and nice beautiful towns we could visit close to Houston. Now, after making the trip, I have to say, he was wrong. I COMPLETELY get why so many people do it. The long drive is an impressively low price to pay for all you get back. Eyes, limbs and bottoms (from all those hours in the car) might be sore, but faces are happy and skins are tanned... Pockets might be empty-ish, but hearts are full. It was all so worth it, and we will tell you all about it, right now.
Photo credit: www.30a.com
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, AND THE LESSONS LEARNED IN BETWEEN
Gosh, so many things were good about this trip. First one: How much money you save. By driving there, we saved four round trip airline tickets (the littlest one is already two years old), and during peak-season, they average around $400-$500 per person. And this is only for starters, because there are so many ways to make this a great affordable family vacation!
The house we stayed at was one of the things that made this trip so memorable. We stayed in the Santa Rosa Beach area, located along the now so popular Highway 30A, a small stretch of coastline that comprises some of the most sought-after and picturesque beach communities in Florida. The house we rented had large indoor and outdoor kitchen and living areas, and five bedrooms. More than enough, even for a large 3-family, 13-person group like ours. Even better: the neighborhood pool was located directly adjacent to the house, and the beach was only a 5-minute stroll from the house. It couldn't have worked out any better. If you are planning to make this trip at some point, we highly recommend this house, which happens to belong to a dear friend of mine.
Next, the BEST thing: The beach. Walking up to this beach makes you realize why so many people make such a long drive to this place. The beach is just so great. We love Texas, don't get us wrong, but you won't find a beach that even slightly resembles this one in our home state. Sure, it's not Hawaiian or Caribbean blue water, but it has beautiful shades of blue and green (appropriately giving it the name of the Emerald Coast). NOT too shabby, at all. And the sand? Gorgeous white sand! I particularly enjoyed it when my kiddos offered to rub sand over me to make me look like a "mummy". For me, it was an epic -and free- body scrub. And if you have always wondered about paddle boarding, this is your chance! Celebrities make it look so easy... well, it's not. We were a wobbly mess for the greater part of our time doing it, but we eventually got the hang of it. We fell from our board so many times, and it was hilarious. We had so much fun looking like Rihanna, not.
Need more pros? The food. And this depends on your budget and preferences. If you want to keep it simple, you can go to the grocery stores located in the area to buy your essentials. We got there our breakfast (eggs, bacon, pancakes, cereal, fruit, coffee and juice) and lunch (sandwiches at the beach!) ingredients, and a couple of options for dinner. To mix it up, we made a couple of dinner reservations at well-recommended restaurants, after which we would take a nice walk around the Seaside Central Square, which was just recently named as one of the 12 most beautiful spaces in the world by Business Insider. There's something to do for everyone! Adults were shopping for cool pieces with western character at Mercantile, or having delicious comfort food and a refreshing mojito at The Great Southern Cafe. Kiddos were loving their ice cream from Heavenly Shortcakes & Ice Cream, while enjoying Moana at the outdoor theatre, or buying souvenirs at Snappy Turtle. Another way to get around and sightsee? Take a bike ride! If you rent a house, the bikes might be included in the rental, which was the case for us. We took a 7-mile ride to the Rosemary Beach area, and to reward ourselves for this fun workout, we enjoyed some glorious ice cream at The Sugar Shak before heading back.
We also planned that one evening, it would be an adults-only getaway, and we succeeded (thank you, grandmas!). The Saldivia and Rivas clans had a much-needed, worry-free fun time at Whiskey Bravo. And lastly, right before heading back to Houston, we celebrated our Elsa’s birthday with a comforting seafront brunch at Bud and Alley’s.
Hands down, the bad was the traffic. But, it CAN be avoided by doing this: Leave early. No. Earlier. We left Houston at 5 am, and we wished we had left sooner. My husband did get this as the biggest recommendation, and we thought we listened. But, with two kids ages 5 and 2, we should have known that we were going to make more pit stops than we had planned. The thing is, it's almost infallible that, around 12pm, the Mobile, Alabama Bay Bridge gets congested by some accident, and if you get caught in it, you can be stuck for HOURS. We did get caught, but thankfully, it was "only" for about an hour. Because of this, and our more-than-desired pit stops, our 9-hour trip turned into an 11-hour one. Oh well, at least the kids were good :)
Kids got sick :( They came down with some sort of 24-hour virus, so thankfully they didn't suffer long from it, but while it was happening, it was bad. Every kid is different. My 5 year old is more like a regular child whose fever comes down after a dose of Children's Advil, so that was manageable, but my 2 year old's fevers not only get high fast and furious, but they also are very stubborn, so it's not the first time that I've had to alternate in between ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) to keep them under control. If you have little ones, we highly recommend bringing a first aid kit that contains these. And of course, a thermometer, because if the fever gets higher than the limit for their age, you'd have to take them to Urgent Care. Once again, looking at things on the bright side, they were their happy and crazy active-selves in no time :)
We. LOVED. It. Even though I was told once that, at least until your kids are older, these family vacations are not "vacations", but actually “family trips”, because you are still working very hard on keeping your children alive and well. And, that for at least a few years, those nice sunbaths you dream on taking in peace will have to wait. Still. It’s so worth it. Just seeing the smiles on your children's faces while building sand castles or “fighting the waves” with their Papa, makes your heart skip a beat. Ok, I'll stop before I start crying. Ha.
We recommend it 100%. DO IT.
IN A NUTSHELL
Where we stayed
What we did (Besides the beach and pool!):
Bike rides: Included with the house rental.
Paddle Boarding: Butterfly Bike and Kayak - http://www.mybikerental.net/
Where we ate:
Bud and Alley’s - https://www.budandalleys.com/
Dinner & Drinks:
The Great Southern Cafe - http://thegreatsoutherncafe.com/
Cafe Thirty-A - http://cafethirtya.com/
723 Whiskey Bravo – http://www.723whiskeybravo.com/
Heavenly Shortcakes & Ice Cream - http://www.sweetwilliamsltd.com/heavenly.asp
The Sugar Shak - https://30a.com/locations/sugar-shak/
Where we shopped/souvenirs:
Mercantile - https://www.shopmerc.com/
Snappy Turtle - http://www.snappy-turtle.com/