Have you reserved your next Emerald Coast vacation yet? Though the beach is the top reason most folks plan a trip to Northwest Florida, this pristine stretch of coastline offers so much more for visitors! This includes picturesque beach towns, coastal dune lakes, serene state parks, nature trails, recreation experiences, and more.
One of these must-visit destinations is St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach.
St. Andrews State Park is a picture-perfect oasis full of diverse flora and fauna. It is and bordered by the Gulf on one side and St. Andrews Bay on the other. This charming refuge was first inhabited by Theodore Tollefson, who shipwrecked here in 1929. Tollefson liked it so much that he decided to stay. He homesteaded in the area for the next 25 years, prompting the affectionate nickname "Teddy the Hermit."
Upon its inception as a state park in 1947, St. Andrews was just over 300 acres large. Nearly 75 years later, St. Andrews State Park covers over 1,200 acres of beautiful land, including crystalline shores and longleaf pine forests.
There are a number of reasons that visiting this stunning state park should be on your vacation to-do list.
When you're this close to the Gulf and the Bay, of course you'll want to get out on the water! Snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, and surfing are popular activities at St. Andrews. The park boasts beach access from the mainland, as well as daily trips to the beach on Shell Island, and both of these areas are great areas for swimming.
With the Grand Lagoon surrounded by jetties and the beach, the current and depth is super mild, making it ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. The smooth water is also a great place for kids, as there are hardly any waves, and the water is incredibly clear. Bring your own snorkeling or scuba gear, or rent equipment at any of the concession stores. Most days, you can walk out to the jetties with the water rising to only about waist deep. Once there, you can snorkel on your own, exploring the amazing marine life. There are tons of shells in the water and on shore, so be sure to keep a look out, and maybe even challenge your fellow vacationers to see who can find the coolest ones!
Kayaking is another great way to enjoy the park's natural beauty. Kayak and paddleboards are available to rent at the rental shack, which is located near the boat ramp. Explore everywhere from the lagoon to Shell Island. If you'd rather catch some waves, head to the Gulf-side of the park, which is a popular surfing spot.
Fishing is another enjoyable pastime for many, and this state park offers plenty of opportunities to do just that, from deep-sea to surf fishing. The piers and jetties are prime fishing spots. Be sure to obtain a Florida Saltwater Fishing License prior to your fishing excursion.
Great news for bird watchers! St. Andrews State Park is a popular migratory spot for a variety of bird species. Birdwatchers will love the scenic points and trails that are scattered throughout the park. Both the Gator Lake Overlook and Button Bush Marsh Overlook are great for spotting birds, gators, and other animals. If you're quiet, you'll likely catch sight of herons and other birds among the protected wetlands and marshes. This unique coastal environment is a great place for seeing animals that you may not otherwise see.
Related article: Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
If you enjoy camping, you'll love the opportunity to camp in this natural oasis. The park's campground consists of 60 sites located near the lagoon. Each site has electricity, water, picnic tables, and grills for your convenience. Whether you prefer tent camping or bringing your RV, these sites will accommodate your needs. Pets are welcome, so you can bring your furry friends along for the fun. With trails, beaches, and a boat launch only a short distance away, there's no better place to camp on the coast!
Nature Walks & Exercise
St. Andrews State Park features a couple of nature trails that are perfect for taking a nature walk or going on a leisurely run. Long walks along the lagoon shore to secluded spots also give you a sense of the real, natural Florida. You can walk the shore around the harbor for a long way with nothing but the beach to get in your way. There are plenty of trees growing in the water in this area, too, which is neat to explore.
In addition to nature trails, the state park includes a paved, two-mile road. This is great for both runners and cyclists, as there's nothing better than exercising amidst beautiful scenery.
Other things to note about St. Andrews State Park is that there are tons of picnic tables and grills, plenty of bathrooms, a general store, and ample parking with two major beach parking areas. These conveniences ensure visitors can make the best of their time at the park. Finally, our photographer, who is passionate about St. Andrews's natural landscape, shared some advice. He says that he likes "to get there early to avoid the crowds. We walk the shore and swim and spend a few hours there, then head out before lunch when it gets crowded." In other words, the early bird gets the worm!
If you've got an Emerald Coast trip coming up, be sure to put St. Andrews State Park on your radar. Of course, booking a Panama City Beach vacation rental in the area will make it even easier to visit and enjoy the park. Browse our rental availabilities to find the right place for you.