The elements of a summertime favorite cocktail, the margarita, are simple: tequila, salt, lime, Cointreau. So, too, are the elements of summer’s favorite camping environment, the beach: salt, water, sand, sun. When the outdoors is seemingly the very last place you want to be, don’t be afraid to branch out and hit the beach. Instead of a simple afternoon nap on the sand, beach camping is made for some well-rounded R&R. The crash of the waves is a welcome sound for those brave enough to be without A/C. Weekend getaways or week-long trips are both ideal if you find the right place.
Below are three great spots to get outside and stay cool this summer.
St. Joseph Peninsula Campground
Location: Port St. Joe, Florida (The middle of the Florida Panhandle).
Accessibility: The drive is a little mundane, and you need to be paying attention to notice the sign on the right side of the road to turn into the park.
Type of Camping: Tent/RV/cabin.
Best Local Restaurant: Indian Pass Raw Bar.
Unique Unknowns: The secluded beach yields water on all sides of the tent sites, but most are tucked into the woods away from the view.
One Thing to Remember: You have to hike in your firewood and water. Try and get the campsites closest to the parking lot or you will have to pack in lots of weight over soft, white sand for one to three miles.
This location is perfect for a long weekend away from responsibilities, jobs, and technology. The beaches and water surrounding the peninsula are the best that the region, which is typically known for its brackish environment only suitable for fishing and oysters, has to offer. The hike in is a bit rough since it is on loose sand, but once you set foot off the parking lot and onto the path, you enter a timeless world. Campsites are equipped with tent locations and a fire pit but little else. Each campsite has a mildly different feel to it: either right on the path, set far away under sprawling trees, or at the very end where you can drive a boat ashore.
Make sure you stop by the Indian Pass Raw Bar on the way out of town. This restaurant is run on an “honor system” where you write down your order and grab as many beers as you like or fill up your pint glass as many times as you’d like. The “salt of the earth” feel is one seldom seen anymore, even on the Panhandle.
Grand Isle State Park
Location: Grand Isle, Louisiana (The southern tip of Louisiana).
Accessibility: Easily accessible from New Orleans via a picturesque drive, much like going to Key West.
Type of Camping: RV/car/tent, either in a green parking area or right on the beach.
Best Local Restaurants: Starfish or Pirate Daiquiris.
Unique Unknowns: The Gulf water is the color of Guinness.
One Thing to Remember: Don’t forget about the $3.75 toll bridge charge on the way onto the island.
The drive to Grand Isle includes beautiful expanses of water and bayous, locals fishing off the side of the two-lane highway, and local seafood markets at every intersection, similar to Key West. It is a town relatively well-known to outsiders, yet seldom visited outside of a charter-fishing excursion. If you are an outsider, you will stand out immediately to the 1,500 inhabitants when you enter the town. The state park takes up the eastern point and Gulf-side of the island. The camp sites are very well-kempt and have a picnic table and fire pit at each one. The beach camping is by far the best, with a view directly outside your tent. If you stay in an RV or at the electrical/water hook-ups, you will be in a typical parking lot-style set-up. The town is right there, so it’s easy to leave and go buy fresh or boiled seafood and a daiquiri and then hit the beach again.
Buy your seafood from Dean Blanchard on Oak Street for the freshest seafood straight from the boat. Just remember that a majority of places have an abundance of live shrimp, but not much else.
Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board
Location: Dauphin Island, Alabama (A quick drive along the coast and onto the barrier island).
Accessibility: Easily accessible via highway over Mobile Bay.
Type of Camping: Tent/RV in a wooded area set away from the beach. Friendly campers, but cramped layout.
Best Local Restaurants: Dority’s Bar and Grill or Miguel’s Beach’n Baja.
Unique Unknowns: The company offers a lot of activities to do, such as line-dancing, bingo, yoga, art shows, craft fairs, and potlucks. So, it’s great for retirees.
One thing to remember: The island has a host of sites to visit, from Audubon Bird Sanctuary to Ft. Gaines to the Mobile Bay Ferry.
This campground is highly trafficked, but with good cause. It’s this junction at Mobile Bay where the shores of the Gulf of Mexico turn sugar white and the water begins to take on a majestic teal color. Retirees settle here in their RVs and campers, and the maximum stay is between four and six months. There are lots of places of interest on and around the island, including the famous Dauphin Island Sea Labs Estuarium, the USS Alabama, and Fort Morgan.
Expect a traditional Southern feel on the island with fried seafood and cold beer everywhere. This may not be a well-kept-secret kind of place, but that’s for a reason. The cool breeze and scenic views have kept generations of outdoor enthusiasts coming back for more.