Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, FL – March 4 – 16

Henderson Beach State Park is an oasis in the middle of the crowded, noisy Destin resort area. It includes over 6,000 feet of sugar-white sand beach, 30-foot sand dunes, 60 highly groomed campsites, immaculately clean restrooms, showers and laundry area and a large day-use area. It is definitely the most well-maintained campground we have ever seen.  We were thrilled to see our near-perfect campsite with a fair amount of foliage around it for privacy. Later, we realized ours had the least amount of privacy, but it was still very nice and we knew that we were lucky that we were able to get a reservation.

The walk out to the beach was at least a quarter of a mile, on a paved walkway and boardwalk. The walkway was very much like the beach access paths on Maui, making us feel instantly at home.  With only 60 campsites, the beach was uncrowded and was initially very quiet, with occasional military aircraft and a few tourist helicoptors. After our first week there, the helicoptor traffic became constant and was actually becoming quite annoying.

As we were planning our trip, a year ago, we were both anxious to see Destin again and to visit The Back Porch. We had both been to Destin over 30 years ago (long before we knew eachother) and remembered miles and miles of quiet beach and having lunch at The Back Porch. It was nothing more than a two-story shack, with large open windows, serving fresh fish sandwhiches and bottled beer. Now the main two-lane road is very much like Gratiot Avenue or Woodward Avenue during rush hour. The beach is lined with massive high-rise condos and hotels.  We went to the The Back Porch, which is now an upscale restaurant and bar, with prices equivalent to prices in Wailea or Kapalua (more than what we are used to in Lahaina or Kihei, Maui). We enjoyed a couple of good but expensive beers and did not return. I had to make an effort to not be sad about the changes.

The park is located just off of the main road, Emerald Coast Parkway. Though it was fairly quiet in the middle of the night, traffic noise was pretty loud most of the time. It seems that even though Florida has noise limits on vehicles, the authorities do not enforce them in Destin.  On the upside, we were able to take advantage of the Walmart (RV gear), the Vitamin Shoppe (stocked up on supplements) and an excellent shoe store (new Hoka running shoes, as my foot issues are evolving).

The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is one of the main tourist attractions. We went on a weekday, near the beginning of our stay. It was easy to imagine the crowds during peak season. Dave refers to this place as “the ten dollar parking lot” and “the place with ten dollar light beers”. It was worth seeing once.

We drove through Topsail Beach State Park and Grayton Beach State Park, while we were in the area. These parks are less groomed with less desireable campsites, but much more quiet. We also took our mountain bikes to Point Washington State Forest to ride the Eastern Lake Trail. One review of the trail said it was 25% sand. We found it was about 75% sand, which is challenging to ride in. At one point, the trail was completely flooded, so Dave decided to do a “recon” walk through some dense woods, around the trail. I immediately had a vision of a large snake and soon after, heard Dave gasping loudly. He saw a very large snake. We back-tracked, found a road and took another route to get back on the trail. For the remainder of the ride I was constantly looking for snakes and pedaled as hard and fast as possible past any standing water. My heart was pounding until we were back at the trailhead.

We were at this park on St Patrick’s Day. By then, spring break seemed to be ramping up, resulting in more people and traffic in the area. We spent the entire day at the park, rather than venture out to celebrate. By chance, a young woman at the campsite next to us was playing Irish music on her fiddle periodically throughout the day. She was quite talented. We were able to start the day listening to “Danny Boy”. What are the odds? I decided it was a sign of good luck for us.

The highlights at this location were walking, reading and flying Sharkey on the stunning beach and a couple of visits for a cold beer at The Crab Trap tiki bar.  We didn’t surf or paddle because it was too windy, every day. We also really enjoyed to newly renovated showers, which we referred to as “the spa”. They were quite an improvement over those in our previous campground at Fort Pickens. As the area was becoming more busy and noisy, we were happy to have been there, but also happy to head to the more remote St George Island.

Campsite at Henderson Beach State Park
Campsite at Henderson Beach State Park
Boardwalk to the beach at Henderson Beach State Park
Beach at Henderson Beach State Park
Destin Harbor Boardwalk  – Dave enjoying his $10 Miller Lite
Crossing the William T Marler Bridge into Destin
Sunset at Henderson Beach State Park
Trail riding on Eastern Lake Trail, Point Washington State Forest
Long Leaf Pine tree at Eastern Lake Trail, Point Washington State Forest
Dunes at Henderson Beach State Park
Beach day at Henderson Beach State Park
Sharkey’s first time flying since the Badlands
Tiki Bar at The Crap Trap, Destin
Sunset at Henderson Beach State Park

Fort Pickens Area – Gulf Islands National Seashore – Pensacola Beach, FL Feb 25 – Mar 3

Fort Pickens is located on Santa Rosa Island, in Pensacola Beach and is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The park includes a campground, day use areas, hiking trails, miles of beaches and an historic US military fort, It is managed by the National Park system.

I’m posting this almost two weeks after leaving Fort Pickens, which has given me sufficient time to miss what I really loved about the park.  Our site was in the smaller and likely older campground loop. We had one of the most private sites, with a great view out of our side and rear windows. Backing in without driving off of the pavement (a three-inch drop) was quite challenging, but we were successful. We avoided some fairly low branches driving in, though some other larger rigs sustained some damage while we were there. Our section of the campground was very quiet, compared with the larger campground loop, which was more open, with sites closer together.

The beach and hiking trails were beautiful and uncrowded.  The rest of the park was fairly empty. It wasn’t high season, yet, with daily high temperatures in the 60’s. The main bridge from Pensacola was stiill closed, due to damage from Hurricane Sally.  We are pretty sure that affected how many people were in the park and also around Pensacola Beach. There was a fair amount of military air traffic and the occasional boat. Otherwise, all we could hear was the surf and birds.

Most of the other campers were retired military couples. We met several people from Michigan, including an FCA design engineer, who was working remotely, and a couple from Traverse city. There was a couple from Owosso, MI who was spending winter in a pop-up trailer, with their very sweet 18-month old German shepherd named Skallywag. They were friends with another camper from Colorado. The guys would spend all day fishing on the beach together and the wife would play with Skallywag in the campground. It was great to meet such nice peole who were truly enjoying retirement. As in every campground we got to meet many very cute dogs. Here we saw several cats on leashes, which was a real treat for me.

A couple of days we drove to the resort area of Pensacola beach. We checked out Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, and watched part of a corn hole tournament on the beach. We discovered the outdoor bar at a restaurant called Red Fish Blue Fish. It was uncrowded (probably due to the closed bridge) and had nice view of the water. The area reminded us of both Maui (nice beachside dining and palm trees) and St Clair Shores (boats, docks and corn hole tournament).

We walked and ran all of the hiking trails in the park. We also rode our bikes everywhere. It was a great way to explore all of the fort. Fort Pickens was built in 1834 and named  after American Revolutionary War hero Andrew Pickens.  It is very much like Fort Sumter and Fort Morgan, as it was built in the same era.  The fort remained under Union control throughout the Civil War.  After the Civil War, the US Army added several gun batteries outside of the Fort. It was an active military installation until 1947, after World War ll.  In 1886 Apache Chief Geronimo and his men were imprisoned there. This was a reminder of another part of US history that I didn’t enjoy learning about, but feel it’s important to know.

During our last few days it was very cold and rained pretty heavily, most of the time. It was a good time to do our laundry in the park’s excellent laundry facility. The machines were likely just replaced, following the hurricane. The forcast at our next location looked promising and I was hopeful that the restroom and shower facilities would be better, there. We have had water hook-ups at all of our campsites, but no sewer. We have been using the facilities as much as possible to avoid running out of black tank and gray tank space. Over the past year, we have been learning that the facilities at state parks are cleaner and better maintained than at the national parks.

As we drove away, we were looking forward to new scenery and new adventures, but were a little sad to leave this quiet, beautiful place.  I was also a little sad to leave Skallywag, the Owosso couple and their friend, but it’s quite possible we will cross paths again.  Afterall, that is how the three of them met and became friends. This reminds me of the quote by Bob Wells, full-time, real-life camper and traveler, in the movie Nomadland: “One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, “I’ll see you down the road.” And I do. And whether it’s a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I see them again.”

Campsite at Fort Pickens
The Fort Pickens campground walkway to the beach was still damaged from Hurricane Sally
The beach near Fort Pickens Campground
Slushie, enjoying the sunset and palm trees
At sunset, the day before the Snow Moon
Exploring the fort on our bikes
My bike at Fort Pickens
Morning walk on the beach at Fort Pickens
Exploring the fort
Fort Pickens
Sunset at Fort Pickens
Dave interacting with the wildlife. He is talking to the resident armadillo and named him Armie
Armie, the armadillo
View from one of the Fort Pickens trails
A turtle at Fort Pickens
Outdoor bar at Red Fish Blue Fish, Pensacola Beach
Patio at Red Fish Blue Fish, Pensacola Beach
Fort Pickens
Dave surfing “ankle-biters” at Fort Pickens
More surfing. Small waves are better than no waves.
Relaxing at the beach
Dave and Slushie enjoying afternoon at our Fort Pickens campsite
Fort Pickens
Fort Pickens
Fort Pickens
Foggy morning at the fort
Another beautiful sunset at Fort Pickens
Morning hike at Fort Pickens
Osprey at sunset
Osprey at sunset

Gulf seafood and other campsite cooking

After 33 days traveling, we have yet to eat in a restaurant. Restaurants are at full capacity in Florida. Some places require employees to wear masks and others don’t. It appears that no one cares about “social distancing”. As the weather has been improving and outdoor patios are often available, we still haven’t dined out.  This is partly out of habit, but also we are worried that we would be disappointed, as our own cooking has been improving.

Our first night on the road, we ate carry-out El Charo, our favorite quick meal, which we usually take to our Northern outpost in Frankfort.  It travels well in a cooler and is easy to microwave. We have also had pizza twice and another Mexican carry-out dinner once.

We found excellent seafood markets near each park, which carry fresh, locally-caught fish, shrimp, crab, and crawfish. One place even sold crab cakes. We have been doing most of our grocery shopping at Publix.  They have a good selection of produce, fresh baked goods and other things we normally buy.

Oysters are very popular here, but we learned that The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a measure that suspended all harvesting of wild oysters from Appalachiacola Bay through December 2025, or “until 300 bags per acre of adult oysters can be found on a significant number of reefs.” 90% of Florida oysters come from that bay. Apparently they are getting oysters shipped from Texas. At some point, I may try some, but we have no plans to prepare them ourselves.

We met some friendly retirees from Owosso, MI who buy their shrimp at the bait stores, since it is cheaper.  We will not likely do that because we are assuming they have different freshness standards and probably do not devein the shrimp. I know how to do it, but prefer not to.

We have cooked yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, grouper and Gulf royal red shrimp. Combining our own experience with seasonings and some instruction from Bon Appetite and Epicurious, we have cooked some really delicious meals.  I’m pretty sure that the very fresh seafood would be delicious without any cooking skills. Typically, I do the seasoning and chop veggies for sides and/or salads. Dave cooks the fish and any rice or pasta. We are a pretty good team in the kitchen.

A standard RV favorite meal is veggie burgers on a brioche bun, with seasoned tater tots. Dave is currently hooked on Beyond Meat burgers (I love them, too), which are available at a decent price at Publix. This is a great option when we don’t want to clean a lot of dishes and if I am lacking motivation. Dave handles all of the preparation for this meal, including seasoning the tots and cooking them in the toaster oven. Another typical meal is linguine with pesto and mushrooms. We usually get two meals out of it. It requires a lot of dish clean-up and is not a great option when when it’s really cold and the windows can steam up.

So far, our favorite meal was sushi grade yellowfin tuna, with sesame oil, soy sauce, coarse-ground pepper, hot paprika and sesame seeds, pan seared rare and served on tacos.  Sushi grade can be eaten raw, so rare is safe.  Yellowfin is similar to Ahi or Bigeye tuna, which we eat in Hawaii. Yellowfin is a lot less expensive and just as tasty. The Gulf mahi mahi has been just as good as Hawaiian and the shrimp has been the best we’ve ever had.

I have finally come up with a spicy chipotle ranch recipe that we like as much as the fish taco sauce at Leilani’s or Cool Cat Cafe, in Maui. It’s not exactly the same, but really good.  I also found some pico de gayo and cilantro, which further improves the tacos. This will also be good on our veggie tacos in Michigan. You should know that when we are in Hawaii, Dave eats fish tacos almost every day. We haven’t had any great fish tacos in Michigan, except at El Berto’s in Elberta, which is no longer in business. We learned from the tacos there, that cooking and seasoning the tortillas improves the texture and adds another layer of flavor.

We have mostly been cooking indoors because it is dark outside. As the weather is warming up and days are getting longer, we are looking forward to using the outdoor kitchen and grill more.

(Please excuse the paper plates in some of the photos. We are minimizing dish washing at some campsites without a sewer hook-up, to avoid filling our tanks over the course of 2 weeks.)


Pan seared yellowfin tuna (medium rare), lightly coated with sesame oil and soy sauce, then encrusted with sesame seeds, Hungarian hot paprika black pepper
Medium rare Yellofin tuna sliced for tacos
Taco toppings
Yellowfin tuna taco, with spicy chipotle ranch
Gulf Royal Red shrimp, sauteed in butter with cayenne, black pepper and seasoning salt, with a locally-made crab cake
Gulf Royal Reds, with pesto & mushroom linguine
Spicy grilled gulf grouper
Mahi Mahi tacos
Pan seared tuna with veggie fried rice