maclay_gardens_tmomThe Gulf Coast needs your support now more than ever. I was just reading in the paper this morning that 4th of July weekend was a good one, but there is still a lot of ground to make up financially.

Lots of you have watched the tar balls and sludge on television as it washed up on the Northwest Florida shore as well as other parts of the Gulf Coast.  Many Gulf Coast beaches are still clean and untouched by oil. You can find out what the beach looks like by going to most Visitor Bureau websites for the area you are interested in visiting. However, the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast area has so much more to offer besides our beaches: the amazing restaurants (lots of famous ones too!), the shops on the beach and in town, the museums and other attractions. Southern Traveling Mom’s family favorite? Florida State Parks! You can check out Florida’s tallest waterfall, explore caverns, tube down a river, go camping or see carnivorous plants.

Blackwater River State Park

When I first moved to the area, the only kind of tubing I knew of was the kind where an inner tube is dragged behind a boat. I quickly learned that tubing down the river was a very different thing. Keeping with the stereotypical caring attitude and slow pace known to the South, you hop in a tube, stuff your cooler in another and float lazily down the river. Stop to join a party and make new friends or find a small beach for a picnic lunch along the way. If you don’t want to tube, you can canoe or kayak as well as swim, fish, or camp at Blackwater River State Park.

Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park

Tarklin Bayou Preserve State Park is home to the endangered carnivorous pitcher plant. There is a quiet boardwalk through the preserve as well as other hiking trails. The boardwalk is paved and well marked.

Ponce de Leon Springs

Who can resist crystal clear spring water that is the perfectly cool temperature on a hot sunny day? You can snorkel in the areas allowed as well as swim in the springs. There are picnic tables available for your picnic lunch and you can also take a hike on the nature trails.

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens

These beautiful gardens always have something blooming.  The paved walkways under the majestic trees will keep the kids occupied.  If you need to rest for a while, put your feet up in the wrought iron chairs overlooking the water.

Florida Caverns State Park

For a small fee, take a cave tour and see stalactites, stalagmites, and soda straws. The cave tour is a little under an hour so when you are finished you can have a picnic or go for a hike. The camping here is great (it is one of our favorite camp spots) and there is a swimming area at the Blue Hole Spring.

Falling Waters State Park

Falling Waters State Park is home to Florida’s highest waterfall! We haven’t seen it flowing very much…it is usually just a small trickle. The kids love walking up and down the boardwalks that surround the waterfall and the various sinkholes.

Eden State Gardens

When you look at the gorgeous home at Eden State Gardens you will imagine yourself sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair watching the sun go down. There is a beautiful Camellia garden and if you are lucky, you might catch a wedding in progress while you eat your picnic lunch.

Big Lagoon State Park

Our favorite activity at Big Lagoon State Park is to walk on the different boardwalks through the park. Kayaking is popular in this state park as well. There is an observation tower that the kids will love to climb up.