With British Airways flights now direct into New Orleans, it's an ideal start to our Gulf of Mexico coastal holiday. New Orleans is renowned for many things: Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, voodoo, Creole and Cajun food, music and of course, the beignet. Simply put, it's a fried delight best served hot and fresh and no place does it quite like New Orleans.
From Louisiana, you'll travel coastal roads through Alabama, Mississippi and Florida staying on paths less travelled with visits to unique places you might not have heard of before. The majority of this holiday is in Florida and you'll discover a side to the sunshine state you didn't expect or knew existed. A few things are guaranteed though, plenty of great food, lots of southern hospitality and some of the best beaches in the USA.
Welcome to, as the locals say, N'awlins. Get ready to immerse yourself for two nights in all this amazing city has to offer. A truly unique blend of French, Spanish, African and American - the influence of each culture is everywhere - the architecture, the food, the music. We'd recommend a base in the French Quarter so everything is on the doorstep and you make the most of your time here. There are plenty of tours available and we'll help you plan before you go.
Distance: 162 miles
As you leave New Orleans, you'll drive over Lake Pontchartrain, an estuary that spans an area of 630 square miles. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway has held the Guinness World Record as the longest continuous bridge over water in the world. You can pay a toll and drive the 24 miles OR you can stick to the Interstate (I-10) with a five mile portion of bridge over the lake and the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife area.
About 20 minutes later, you'll be crossing state lines into Mississippi. Take the scenic gulf coast route along US-90 passing through Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport and Biloxi. This area was heavily affected by Hurricane Katrina, but thankfully is on the road to recovery. There are plenty of points of interest along the way and you'll be amazed how close you are to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
You'll cruise through Mississippi for about 90 miles before rejoining the interstate and crossing into Alabama. Ten minutes over the border is the State of Alabama Welcome Center which is definitely worth a stop. From there, it's a quick hour by interstate to your stop for the night, Fairhope.
You’ll fall in love with Fairhope’s antebellum homes, oak lined streets and charming, walkable downtown. Grab a bike from your hotel and explore the trails along the coast and beautiful historic neighbourhoods. If you didn’t get a chance to sample beignets in New Orleans, head to Panini Pete’s - a local institution, right in the middle of town, with beignets as delicious as they come!
Distance: 154 miles
It’s on to another state today - Florida. It's all about the white-sand beaches now!
Only an hour away from Fairhope, Pensacola was one of the earliest European settlements in the U.S and is home to the Blue Angels. Pensacola Beach is a vibrant, waterfront community on the barrier island of Santa Rosa. Pensacola Beach Boardwalk is full of fun shops, restaurants and dolphin watching cruises. Be sure to take a walk on Pensacola Beach Pier which stretches into the Gulf of Mexico. Neighbouring Opal Beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, displays a horizon unencumbered by any signs of modern life.
Continuing on, forget the interstate and drive over the Pensacola Bay Bridge for an interesting route along Santa Rosa Island. This barrier island is a 40-mile stretch, with some of the most pristine beaches you'll encounter and an interesting history too. During the American Civil War, the Battle of Santa Rosa Island took place here in 1861. Travel on to Fort Walton Beach and Destin – considered by many to be one of the most scenic beaches in the Florida panhandle. You’ll soon find out though, there isn’t a bad beach in sight. Continue on to the small, relaxing resort community of Seaside for two nights.
Distance: 114 miles
Sticking to the coastal road, travel through Panama City Beach and over the Grand Lagoon to Panama City.
Situated on St. Andrews Bay, the historic district’s marina and seafood restaurants make an ideal lunch stop.
Then it is on to the 22 mile barrier island of St. George in Apalachicola Bay. This area is referred to as the ‘Forgotten Coast’ and St. George is one of the last inhabited, yet unspoiled, barrier islands in Florida. Dig your toes in miles of uncrowded beach perfect for shelling, swimming and fishing.
Tonight, enjoy a stay in a quaint, southern style inn where the innkeepers will be thrilled to welcome you.
Distance: 221 miles
Today is all about being at one with nature! Leaving St. George, you'll travel along Tate's Hell State Forest, an important hydrologic area spanning more than 200,000 acres. You’ll also drive along the Apalachicola National Forest which is the largest U.S. National Forest in the state of Florida. Up next, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, established in the 1930s. It is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the USA and an important wintering ground for migratory birds. Also look out for St. Marks Lighthouse, the second oldest lighthouse in Florida.
You’ll end today in Crystal River, a city fed by warm springs, making it a safe home for manatee year-round. Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge is a great viewing area for these gentle marine mammals and the natural springs. If you'd like to get even closer, there are several companies who offer swimming with manatee tours which we'll help you sort before you go.
Distance: 88 miles
It's a quick journey to Clearwater, where you'll have three nights to park the car and explore.
Top of our list has to be Caladesi Island. It is consistently rated one of America’s best beaches and is one of the few completely natural islands along the Gulf Coast. Accessible only by boat or ferry, pack a picnic and spend the day.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which focuses on marine life rescue and rehabilitation is a definite must and don’t miss sunset celebrations every night at Pier 60. If you fancy a quick 25 minute drive, head north to Tarpon Springs. This quirky city is situated among a series of bayous that feed into the Gulf of Mexico. Back in the day, they had a booming sponge industry and many Greek sponge divers settled here in the 1900s with plenty of Greek heritage remaining today.
Distance: 125 miles
Spend a leisurely morning in Naples before heading to Miami for your evening flight. There are several routes you can take and if you fancy a slower ride and possible stop along the Everglades, stick to US 41. OR, you can get up and out bright and early and spend the day along Ocean Drive in Miami.
If you have the time, the holiday doesn't have to end here! Maybe a few nights in Miami or add on the Florida Keys. A drive along Florida's Atlantic Coast, possibly? All Bon Voyage itineraries are tailor-made, so let us know what your coastal adventure looks like.