Planning an Affordable Family Beach Vacation

June 29, 2011

Planning an Affordable Family Beach Vacation from

I’m not an expert on much, but I have been deemed a “beach professional” by some. Every year we pack up the kiddos and head to the beach for some much needed R&R and family downtime. Through the years, I have helped many friends and family members plan affordable beach vacations (in and out of The USA). So here it goes, thought I’d take all of my blogging friends on a tour of the Alabama / Florida Gulf Coast, sharing some of the highlights from the places we’ve stayed. Maybe you’ll find some place you’d like to visit!

A couple of things to know before you go:

  • We always vacation during the off season (Before Memorial Day or After Labor Day)
    • If you homeschool or have small children, vacation during the off season! The prices are much lower and the crowds are gone. Homeschooling is portable! We homeschool during our vacation.
    • If you have to travel in high season you can still get good deals.
  • We always stay in a condo. The longer the stay, the better the price. Much cheaper than a hotel.
    • I use the website (Vacation Rentals By Owner) to search for condos. There are plenty of photos so you can pick the right location and condo for your family. Take your time and ask the condo owners questions. I want to know exactly what I’m getting for my money.
  • We cook most of our meals.
  • We spend most of our time on the beach, rather than getting caught up in the tourists traps.
  • The beach is FREE! Sit back, grab a coke and watch your children play and explore the sand and the surf.
  • I like reading tripadvisor before I go to find restaurants and things to do in the area.
  • Next week, I’ll share more details on finding a beautiful condo at a great price and what you’ll need for a hassle free trip.

Fort Morgan, Alabama


  • Peace and quite! If like us you seek-out vacations where you can totally get-away-from-it-all, Fort Morgan is your place.
  • We left all of our beach chairs, umbrellas and toys out on the beach every night. Each evening we put everything in a neat little pile and the next morning it was waiting for us. Very nice not having to lug everything down to the beach every day.
  • Alligator Alley Day Trip located off of Highway 59. About 30 minute drive from Fort Morgan. Your children can hold a real baby alligator!

  • The children experienced a ton of ocean life up close and personal while on vacation! (FREE printable book featuring ocean life from Fort Morgan Beach: I Went to the Beach)
  • Visit Fort Morgan for FREE.  Some scholars regard it as one of the finest examples of military architecture in the New World.
  • Because Fort Morgan Beach is out of the way, prices are a bit cheaper.

Things to consider:

  • Groceries, restaurants and touristy fun is about a 15- 30 minute drive.
  • Because it is at the mouth of Mobile Bay, the water is not as clear as other parts of Alabama and Florida.

Where to stay and eat:

  • The Indies - View from our balcony at The Indies. We snagged a bargain when staying in a beautiful, family friendly, 3 bdrm condo.
  • Sea-n-Suds - Worth the drive for family friendly dining right on the beach. The best gumbo on the planet!
  • Billy’s Seafood – Fresh shrimp and seafood to cook-up at the condo. Try the shrimp and crab bisque!
  • Souvenir City of Gulf Shores – Look for the souvenir shop with the big shark mouth entry. Run of the mill souvenir junk, but your kids will loooooove this place. It has tons of shells and of course beach junk. MacGyver can spend hours combing over all of the shells.

Perdido Key, Florida


  • Gorgeous fluffy, sugar white sand.
  • Family friendly.
  • Much less crowded and a bit cheaper than Gulf Shores, Alabama.
  • Watch the dolphins from your balcony every morning and evening. Such a thrill.
  • Blue Angels - Short drive to Pensacola to watch the Blue Angels Flight Demonstrations. Don’t miss this!
  • Alligator Alley Day Trip located off of Highway 59. About 40 minute drive from Perdido Key. You can do this on your drive to the beach. Your children can hold a real baby alligator!

Things to consider:

  • If you need action and night life, you’ll need to travel about 20 minutes to Gulf Shores or Pensacola.

Where to stay and eat:

  • Indigo East and West – If you’re looking for luxury, this upscale condo complex has the best swimming pool and hot-tub in the area! The children can’t get enough of this pool. There’s even a zero entry shallow end for the tiny children. Off season the prices go down!
  • Lost Key Golf and Beach Club - My sister and niece grabbed a bargain, during high-season, for a beautiful, 3 bdrm condo. Their hubbies enjoyed the FREE golfing perks that came with the rental.
  • vrbo Perdido Key - you can find many condo’s listed at each of these complexes.
  • Nix Brothers’ Seafood - Get your shrimp recipes ready and start cooking. They have the freshest and best gulf shrimp. Totally delicious! We hit this market every morning for fresh shrimp.
  • Sea-n-Suds - Worth the drive for family friendly dining right on the beach. The best gumbo on the planet!

Navarre Beach, Florida


  • I’m tempted NOT to share this find! We loooooved secluded Navarre Beach! How about waking up to that view every morning and watching the dolphins swim through the clear water? Priceless!

  • Crystal clear, blue-green water! A picture is worth a thousand words!
  • Peace and Quiet.
  • Same beautiful sand and water as Destin, but without all of the people or amusement park atmosphere.

  • Navarre Beach Fishing Pier – The Longest fishing pier in the gulf. People were catching some seriously big fish from this pier.

  • National Seashore – This is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in my life.

  • Seashells – The kiddos and I spent hours combing the beach for beautiful seashells and sand dollars. I’ve never been to a beach with so many shells. However, the fluffy, white sands are the main attraction. The shells are never hard on the feet.

  • The Ocean Life – One of the benefits of planning a relaxed, “unplugged,” beach vacation is the opportunity it gives the children to experience nature up close and personal.
    • MacGyver spotted this teeny, tiny baby flounder. What good Eyes!
    • Through the years we’ve experienced so much beach life right in the ocean (and none of it through the glass in an aquarium): dolphins, turtles, sting rays, pipefish, fish, fish, fish, crabs of all shapes and sizes, jellyfish of all shapes and sizes . . .

Things to consider:

  • If you need action and night life, you’ll need to drive about 20 minutes to Destin or Pensacola.
  • Not many dining out choices. (But you’re cooking-in to save money. Right?)

Where to stay and eat:

  • Beach Colony Resort – The big tall buildings in the photo. We had a great stay in a lovely condo; however, one picky detail. From your balcony you don’t have much privacy and you can only see in one direction down the beach. I know, I’m picky!
    • There’s a nice pool, but no hot-tub. A hot-tub is nice in the evenings during the off season.
  • Cactus Flower Cafe – I had the incredibly fresh and delicious Mango Shrimp as an appetizer. I’m still dreaming of this dish!  Also try the Mahi, Mahi tacos. The food is very fresh and not too heavy. I’m counting down the days until my next meal at this restaurant!

Okaloosa Island, Florida


Things to consider:

  • If you like action and a bit of night life, Destin is a short 6 mile drive.
  • However, you’ll find many restaurants and shopping close by on Okaloosa Island.

Where to Stay & Eat:

Island Princess 215, Okaloosa Island Florida Beach Front Condo

Be Our Guest at Island Princess 215!

  • We have been vacationing along the Florida Gulf Coast for over 20 years. For many of those years we have dreamed of purchasing our own beach condo and sharing it with other families. Well, we’ve finally done it and now we are ready to share it with you!
  • You can find more information and pictures of our Beach Condo listed on #673339.


Island Princess 215, Okaloosa Island Florida Beach Front Condo



Morning Views from Our Balcony, Island Princess 215 Okaloosa Island

How about starting the morning with a cup of coffee while watching the dolphins play in the surf? Not a bad way to begin each day!

  • Island Princess is small enough to offer a less crowded beach while providing one of the best pools and hot tubs.
  • Other condos have smaller pools and often NO hot tub.
  •  Island Princess condos include FREE chair service in season. Most often, chair rental is an additional fee. Since we vacation at the beach every year, we have our own fabulous beach chairs and umbrella. However, it is such a treat not having to lug our own chairs to the beach each day!
  • Anglers Beachside Grill – Watch the sun set while the kiddos play on the beach playground.
  • The Crab Trap – Fabulous playground. You can watch the kids play while you dine with a view of the ocean.
  • Stewby’s Seafood Shanty – Not on the beach, but excellent, affordable seafood to grab and go (or dine-in).
  • Caffe’ Italia One89 – Who doesn’t like Italian? This is a new restaurant and it is delicious! Outdoor water view that is kid friendly.
  • Cactus Flower Cafe – One of our favorite restaurants in the area and worth the drive to Navarre, Florida.

My mother-in-law has been vacationing along the Alabama / Florida beaches since she was a small child. I first traveled with my in-laws to Perdido Key, Florida for a big family vacation when I was still a teenager. Being from Texas where the beaches are brown, I was actually shocked by the fluffy, sugary white sand. Since that first trip to Perdido Key, my addiction to the beach has been progressing.

Maybe next year we’ll head to the mountains for a change. Maybe!

Life with Jeannine

For more tips on finding a condo and planning your beach vacation, including a FREE printable list for both Mom and kiddos visit . . .

Planning an Affordable Family Beach Vacation: Part 2

What is your favorite family vacation spot? Please share!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

maryanne June 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Are any of these places near Panama City (or have you been to a beach near there?) My parents move there this summer, and I’m super excited to take my kids to a gorgeous beach when we visit!

Jeannine June 16, 2011 at 7:43 am

Panama City is just to the East of the Okaloosa / Destin area. We’ve never driven as far as Panama City but my understanding is that it has the same gorgeous sand and water. Your children are going to have a blast and they’ll enjoy so many natural learning experiences.

Merelyn - Real Kid Friendly June 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Great post!
I think I want to go to the beach now.

Julie@The Adventures of Bear June 17, 2011 at 3:41 am

Thank you for this post! I am always looking for beach ideas. I want to try new beaches, especially some with sea life. We always go to Hilton Head (3 years in a row including this year) and looking for somewhere with more shells and wildlife (and fewer people!) for next year. Navarre beach looks beautiful!

elizabeth708 September 7, 2013 at 4:09 am

I wish I was going with you guys. :(

Jeannine September 9, 2013 at 7:46 am

Elizabeth, Sail on down!

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