Hermitage by the Bay

1330 Miracle Strip Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, 32548, United States
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okaloosa island pierokaloosa island pier

Wow, this white sands still amazes meWow, this white sands still amazes me

Camp Walton Schoolhouse 1912Camp Walton Schoolhouse 1912

Entrance to museumEntrance to museum

Travel Tips for Fort Walton Beach

#12 a, d Gulfview Hotel District 1906-1945

by grandmaR

12a - Gulfview Hotel - 1906 - Miracle Strip Parkway

The hotel is actually end on to the Miracle Strip a bit behind the Staff Restaurant. This was one of the first hotels in Camp Walton and is of the architectural style of the turn of the century. It was purchased by the Gerlach/Staff families in 1913 and served as a social center for guests who arrived by boat. There are 14 guest rooms with private baths, a lobby, dining room, kitchen, service rooms and porch.

12b will have a separate tip and so will 12c which is Staffs Restaurant

12d is the Boat House - 1945 - Miracle Strip Parkway

If I am correct about the location of this house, it was toward the water from the hotel. This was the vacation home of Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Staff, part owners of the Gulfview Hotel. It was constructed on a dock over pilings of an earlier boat house.

Located at the entrance to the Gulfview Hotel is a Great Floridian plaque dedicated to Adam J. Gerlach, who was born in 1846 in Indiana and came to Camp Walton in 1912. The following year, along with his son-in-law and daughter, he purchased the Gulfview Hotel. The Gulfview was built in 1906 as a hunting and fishing lodge and is one of the earliest structures remaining in Fort Walton Beach. Adam Gerlach died in 1920.

Gulfview Hotel Historic District (added 1992 - District - #92001402)
Also known as Gulfview Hotel;8Ok652
12 Miracle Strip Pkway, SE., Fort Walton Beach

Historic Significance: Architecture/Engineering, Event
Architect, builder, or engineer: Goodrich,E.B.
Area of Significance: Architecture, Social History, Commerce
Period of Significance: 1900-1924, 1925-1949
Owner: Private
Historic Function: Commerce/Trade, Domestic
Historic Sub-function: Hotel, Restaurant, Single Dwelling
Current Function: Commerce/Trade, Domestic
Current Sub-function: Restaurant, Single Dwelling

Navy Planes

by grandmaR

We've made two trips to visit this museum without seeing everything. The museum is way too big to see all of it in one visit - 291,000 square feet of exhibit space and 37 acres of grounds. This is one of the three largest air museums in the US - the other two are the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and an AF museum in Ohio.

And it is free

I took pictures of the model of the Essex (aircraft carrier - photo 2). I though Bob was on the last cruise in this ship in 1962 when the keel was broken by a North Atlantic winter storm, but the info said that the Essex was not decommissioned until 1969. I didn't see a model of the Intrepid.

Both of us took pictures of the N3N (photo 3) which was the trainer seaplane in which Bob took his first flights on at the USNA and which gave him the idea that he wanted to fly instead of do submarines, and we both took pictures of the T-28 and T-34 which were the trainers that he learned on when he was in flight school here in Pensacola. I also took pictures of the four A-4 Skyhawks in formation suspended in the Blue Angels Atrium.

The Flight Line Tour which they used to have was not available because of storm damage. When it is running, the Bus leaves from the museum entrance every half hour 10:00 AM through 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM through 4:00 PM Tickets are free and available at the Information Desk

On the second visit, we went to the IMAX "History of Flight" show (there is a charge for that). Afterwards we walked around the museum - listened in on a tour group, took a weather quiz, and took pictures of Cessna OE-1 (Army L-19) that Bob's brother flew

The museum is open 9:00 to 5:00 every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day

Address: 1750 Radford Blvd. Suite C N.A.S. Pensacola, FL
Directions: From I-10 East or West:
-Follow signs to Pine Forest Road (Exit 7, Route 297)
-Take exit and go about 1.5 miles to Blue Angel Parkway
-Turn right and drive about 12 miles to the back (west) gate of N.A.S.
-Continue for 3 miles and Museum on the left.

Who Needs High Tech?

by grandmaR about Coach N Four

After we ate lunch at What-a-Burger, which is the only fast food restaurant I've ever been in that gave us a pager so that we could come and pick up our orders when they were ready, we went back to the unit. That night we finally found our way to the Coach-N-Four which the lady at the condo recommended as having an Early Bird Special. And this time, they actually DID have Early Bird Specials.

The place was exceedingly popular and even though we got here early it was crowded with lots of families waiting in line and a lot of cars in the parking lot. We were given a little piece of paper with a number on it - no pagers here. We were called in fairly short order because most of the people there were large groups. We both had the small (8 oz) ribeye ($12.95), which came with a salad, a side, and a little cup of lime sherbert. I also had the Cookies and Cream Cake for $4.00. We were quite happy with the food, and the total bill before tip was only $26.40.

However Groo says:
The coach n four is a ponderosa quality steakhouse. Meat cuts were thin and very fatty. The onion rings were over breaded and lacked flavor. Outback is a serious step up from this. If you are accustomed to steakhouses, this is probably not for you.

Feeding the seagulls. They...

by Beachdave

Feeding the seagulls. They are always ready for a free meal. We feed them bread or crackers. They will hover beside you until you extend your hand for them to eat. They come in large groups and can be quite noisy.
It is free except for what you choose to feed them. They are all over the place.

A Week in Fort Walton Beach

by grandmaR

"Arrival - December 16th - Friday"

They did let us check in several hours early.

We have two rooms which look out on the water (which Bob thinks is part of the ICW but I have no charts for this area so I can't tell). There is a small marina here. Unfortunately, while I have free local calls, the dial up internet is very slow.

We weren't able to find any diesel at any local gas stations, so we started out to find fuel and a place to eat. We finally stopped at a Longhorn Steakhouse in Mary Ester, and then had to wait half an hour for a table. It was a cold night, but we waited outside. Bob saw a diesel Excursion, and went up and asked the man where he got fuel and was told to go out Racetrack road.

So we ate dinner. Bob had a half rack of baby back ribs for $13.99 and I had a 12 oz. ribeye with a huge sweet potato for $15.99. We didn't have dessert although it would have been interesting to see what the fried cheesecake was like

We found our way to Racetrack Road in the dark, and got fuel for $2.59/gal. A lot of the gas and diesel pumps have their nozzles bagged indicating that they are out of fuel. Then we drove back to the unit.

"December 17th - Saturday"

Rainy. Most of the stuff to see here is outdoors. So we eventually got underway about 11 after I got a map of the town from the front desk (which I think is a copy of the one in the phone book). I wanted to go to AAA, but the call center told me that the AAA in Ft. Walton Beach isn't open on Saturday. We drove east toward Destin. We saw the white sand beaches, which under the clouds look almost like snow.

I had thought that the Gulfarium would be a good place to visit in the rain, but when I looked at the brochure I saw that it was mostly live mammal shows (dolphin and sea lions) and was outdoors. So we just drove by and drove the length of the islands (saw diesel for $2.49), and then came back and had lunch at Chick-fil-A which Bob had never been to. Bob had chicken nuggets and I had a chicken strip salad for $9.95. Then we came back to the unit and watched football. About the halftime of the Giants game, we went out to dinner to a Mexican place named La Bamba which was on the other side of the street. Bob thought we were going to walk there so he brought an umbrella. It wasn't that close.

I had the #46 - Quesadilla Rellena ($8.99), which was very good, and Bob had the A Combination (Taco and Enchilada with rice, refried beans and melted cheese for $6.59). Then we each had a huge fried ice cream which Bob basically regretted all night. They had a mockup at the entrance of all the desserts. This cost us $27.99

"Dec 18th - Sunday"

Sunny - but we slept late and didn't get started until after lunch. Bob walked across the street and got the Sunday paper which had the TV Guide in it, and read it after breakfast. We also got one in the unit, so now we have one for each room.

Then I realized that the Gulfarium was closed Monday and Tuesday in the off season (which this is), so we decided to do on Sunday what I had planned for Saturday.

We went over the John Brooks Bridge to Okaloosa Island about 12:15. One thing about this place that absolutely astonishes me is that about every other store is a tattoo or piercing place.

First we went to John Beasley Park. After we parked (in the parking lot), I took a picture of Bob under a sign that said Beasley Park that was right next to a sign that said "No Parking". We walked out on the boardwalk over the dunes to where we could look up and down the beach. There were some people on the beach (it was Sunday after all), but not swimming - it was way too cold for that. The sand is so white that Bob keeps remarking that it looks like snow.

Then we went to the Visitor's Center and picked up a lot of brochures, and finally about 1 p.m. we got to the Gulfarium. I had a coupon for $1 off the admission, and as seniors, we were supposed to get admission for $14.50. The girl in the admissions center first asked if we were local (locals get in for half price on Sundays in the off-season) and then said that since the Multi-Species Show (i.e. a show with both Sea Lions and Dolphins) wasn't running, they were knocking $2.00 off the admission. I figured that would mean our price would be $11.50, but she charged us $12.50 each.

They were just finishing up the sea lion show, so we walked past the black footed penguins (who were hiding in their cave - found out later that they were mating), the shark moat (lemon sharks, remoras, and a turtle), the stingray pool and the touch pool to the Dune Lagoon where they were feeding the brown pelicans. Then it was back to where they fed the blackfooted penguins, and then they fed the N. American River
Otters.

Then they announced that there would be a diver in the Living Sea tank, so I eventually found my way there after circling the Dolphin Show tank about three times. There were sharks, cobia, moray and a sea turtle. A lady diver got in the tank, and fed them including feeding the sea turtle some squid. I thought the turtles were vegetarians. The announcer answered someone's question about the hurricanes and said that they lost power (I think during Ivan last year) and therefore had no way to run the water circulating pumps, so a lot of the fish died. Before that this tank (60,000 gallon) had many more fish in it.

Then I walked out through the Tropical Aquarium part which had White Tailed and Domino Damselfish, Coral Beauty, Lionfish, Atlantic Spadefish, Panther Grouper, Paddle Finned Wrasse, Pencil Urchin, Sergeant Major and Spotted Moray.

After we watched the dolphin show and then the sea lion show, we walked to the rehabilitation pools (behind the bleachers for the Sea Lion show), and behind that was the Seal and Sea Lion Rookery, so after the Sea Lion show we went over there but I couldn't really tell which was which.

We left about 3:15 and drove as far down Santa Rosa Blvd on Okaloosa Island as we could, until we got to a sign that said "Warning Road Undermined", and then we turned around and went on back.

About 6:30 we went out to dinner. I though we would go to Ricks which I knew was right under the Brooks Bridge, but I thought it was the far end, and it was the near end. So we ended up at McGuire's Irish Pub which is kind of a tourist interpretation of a NYC Irish Pub. The whole ceiling and most of the walls have dollar bills stapled to them hanging down like stalactites. Then we came back to the unit and watched football until I fell asleep at the computer.

"Dec 19th -Monday"

We went to the coffee and pastry welcome breakfast. The central courtyard here in addition to a heated pool has a hot tub and a shuffleboard court. The lady doing the presentation said they just got the roof fixed here last week since the hurricanes. Ivan last year did a lot of damage.

About 11, we drove out the highway along the coast until we got to Navarre. The bridge wasn't even a toll bridge anymore and non-residents are being allowed to drive over it.

On the other side of the bridge, we couldn't go to the left (east) as that area was completely covered with sand. This was the way that originally connected with Okaloosa Island where we were yesterday. So we turned to the right. Navarre Beach was basically a construction zone. Some things had been rebuilt and some had not. Again the sand (which was all over everything including the road in some places) looked like snow. We drove only about 8 minutes and came to the Road Closed sign - it wasn't even necessary to fence it off, it was just sand dunes beyond that point.

Back over the bridge - about 11:50 we got to the Gulf Islands National Seashore Visitor's Center at the Naval Oaks section. We went in and looked at the exhibits. The Fort Pickens part of the site (out west of Pensacola Beach) is closed due to hurricane damage, and the Naval Oaks center doesn't have their normal tape show because the auditorium and the tape equipment was damaged. More information will be posted under Navarre.

After that, we drove on down the coast and went out the toll bridge ($1) to Pensacola Beach. They are demolishing the old bridge which is the one that we used and I have a picture driving out the old bridge while the 'new' bridge is being constructed next to it - that was in 1960.

Neither one of us can remember that we went out to Pensacola Beach but once when we lived here. I remember Bob getting a bad sunburn, and that I got an ear infection. More will be posted under Pensacola Beach.

It was too late to get to the 2:00 tour of Fort Barancas on the NAS, so we decided to see if we could find the house we rented in Avalon Beach. We crossed the bay on a bridge which had apparently been rebuilt with metal sections similar to what you see when you have a bascule bridge replacing the concrete bridge which had apparently been damaged by the hurricane. It was kind of rickity and they wouldn't allow any heavy trucks on it. There was another bridge next to the two highway bridges, which turned out to be a railroad bridge.

We were absolutely lost in Avalon Beach and couldn't find anything that looked remotely like we remembered. There were a bunch of houses and trailers, and then on the other side of the road were houses with horses, and stables, and then a great big golf course. Link to Avalon Beach has no return link - you will have to click 'back' on your browser.

So we went through to Milton. Bob said he thought that Whiting Field (where he learned to fly) would be deactivated now, but it was not, and we went in and drove around a little bit. He didn't remember it at all, but he saw that they were still using the trainer that they were testing in TPS when he was there in 1974. Then we found diesel for $2.49/gal, so we filled up and drove on back to Fort Walton Beach.

When we got there, it was almost 5, so we went to the Sealand Restaurant for dinner. They were expecting a large party of 60 but they seated us in the back. They had early bird specials from 4:30 to 6:30 for $10.95. Bob got prime rib and I got chicken parmesan. Each came with a vegetable or potato and a salad and bread. Bob got a baked potato, and I got steamed rice.

The restaurant was named for the ship (probably one of the Sealand-Marek group) that picked up the proprietor when he was escaping from Viet Nam in a boat.

"Dec 20th - Tuesday"

Today I got up at 6:30 and took a picture of the sunrise (it wasn't much), and then went back to bed. The way things are situated here, we are facing south so if we look to the left, we can sort of see the sunrise, and ditto to the right for the sunset.

We we to Eglin AFB and visited the museum which is called the United States Air Force Armament Museum. We spent about a hour there.

There were four planes inside the building and over 25 more outside. This wasn't just an airplane museum though - it was a weapons museum. They had a whole display of guns (a Browning automatic training rifle was way bigger than I would have thought), and a replica of the Fat Man - the second nuclear bomb used in WWII in Japan. They had a model of the Pratt Whitney R4360 engine which you could turn on and see it running, a cockpit of a Warthog trainer, and a model aircraft exhibit.

My big moment was asking them why the ABCCC (Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center) Exhibit Entrance was labeled "Door Closed" and "Do Not Enter", so that people were forced to go in the exit door, which was open. (It was because no-one had opened the door - if the door was open, the signs on the door wouldn't be very visible). This was a mock-up of the inside of a plane with a whole bunch of desks for people to sit and do navigation etc.

After Bob walked out and looked at the big black plane (which was so big it was hard to get it all in one picture) in the front of the museum, we went back to the unit.

[Bob tells me that this plane was the Blackbird (I don't remember the numeric designation) which was a high altitude very fast spy plane. He said they had them on Okinawa, and that when they came out in about October 1966 they were tops secret and no one was supposed to know about them. But in December, the man next door (he had little kids - not the Thompson's on the other side) had a model of one to give his little boy for Xmas.]

When we went back to the unit, we had lunch at the 'cookout' that they had. Hot dogs were 50 cents, soft drinks were 50 cents and chips were 50 cents, so lunch for both of us was $3.00.

Then we basically sat around the unit and I edited pictures etc until time for dinner. We went out to Ricks to see if they had early bird specials, and their sign said that they did, but they were closed on Tuesday, so we went to Staff's instead.

Staff's didn't have early bird specials, but they did have specials. I had the stuffed shrimp special for $19.95, which came with dark bread, a tossed salad (the dressing came in Mason jars), a piece of corn on the cob, boiled potatoes, and six shrimp with crab meat on top. A dessert from the display table was also included in the price. I got lemon meringue pie. Bob had a tossed salad with shrimp for $15.95 and he had carrot cake for dessert. The bill after tax was added was $37.

"Dec 21st - Wednesday"

We spent the 21st in Pensacola. After we drove across the 3 mile long bridge (there are signs saying to check your fuel before you start across and also signs along the bridge saying that it is illegal to stop and change a tire or do repairs on the bridge subject to a large fine), we stopped at the Visitor's center and got some brochures, had a cookie and bought a map of Pensacola ($3). On looking at the map, I remembered that we lived in Warrenton in an area called Beach Haven. Then we drove through part of old Pensacola until we got to the NAS gate.

We were at the National Museum of Naval Aviation by 11:15. This is one of the three largest air museums in the US - the other two are the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and an AF museum in Ohio. And like the Eglin AFB museum that we saw yesterday, it is free. For more on this museum see my Pensacola page.

By this time it was getting toward lunch time, and I couldn't find Bob anywhere, so I went up to the second level to see if I could see him down below somewhere, and sure enough there he was. We went to eat lunch in the Cubi Bar Cafe in the museum. I had a chicken salad sandwich ($5.50) which came with chips and cole slaw, and a root beer float ($3.00) which came in a cup that I could take home. Bob had a half sandwich (tuna on rye) and a cup of chicken noodle soup for $5.75 which came with carrot and celery sticks and crackers, and a plain root beer which was $1.50.

After lunch, we drove over to the Pensacola Lighthouse (construction started in 1856) which proved to be just back of the range which guides ships into the only entrance to Pensacola harbor. Actually the back range light is in a cutout of the picket fence around the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's house and the range is right in line with the lighthouse.

Next, we tried to find Fort Barrancas, to take the 2 p.m. tour. In front of the fort was the Water Battery, which was initially constructed by the Spanish in 1797. The guns in this battery were designed to fire directly across the water - skipping along the surface until they hit the hull of a ship. So no problem with trajectory or anything like that. We went by the water battery (which is whitewashed) and had to turn around and go back to access the main fort visitor's center.

We drove out past the Fort Barrancas cemetery, and then went out into Warrenton and drove around to Beach Haven. The place where I thought our rental house might have been was full of FEMA trailers. So we drove back to Fort Walton Beach, and tried Rick's for the Early Bird Specials. On the way, we drove by "Okaloosa on Ice" which is an outdoor ice rink set up in a local park from Nov 18th to Jan 2nd.

Ricks was almost under the Brooks bridge (relatively deserted and with very little parking), but they have ABSOLUTELY NO CONCEPT of early bird specials even though their sign out on the road advertises "Lunch and Early Bird Specials". They said the special was all you could eat fried shrimp for $19.00. But while that might be a special, it wasn't an early bird special because it was for all night.

Bob had a cup of seafood gumbo ($3) and a tossed salad with shrimp ($7.50) which came in a big blue-green plastic clamshell - very unstable. I had the crabcake dinner - two crabcakes, 2 hush puppies, fries and cole slaw for $14.95. Then I had something called chocolate confusion for dessert ($3.25). This was a layer of chocolate cake, a layer of chocolate with the texture of cheesecake, topped with chocolate icing with chocolate chips in it.

Afterwards Bob went to Publix and bought a turkey breast to have on Xmas. I decided to see if we could stay at the Commando Inn on Hurlbert Field on Friday night instead of going to Alpine and staying there an extra day. When I called Alpine to tell them we wouldn't be coming in a day early, I asked them about what restaurants would be open on Xmas, and they said none that they knew of, so that's why Bob bought some turkey (and dressing and cranberry sauce).

"December 22nd - Thursday"

On our last day, we went to the Indian Mound Museum, which is a Fort Walton Beach city museum ($2 each for old people) and a the Indian mound itself dating to 800 A.D. is a National Historic Landmark. The museum itself had lots of interactive exhibits for children, and I tried my hand at weaving with reeds and Bob took my picture. After we went though the museum, we walked up and looked at the mound and the replica shrine house on the top.

Then we walked around the historic part of Fort Walton Beach. After we got back to the car (which Bob insisted on parking on the other side of a very busy street), we drove around to see (and take pictures of) some of the other historic buildings. Then we had lunch at Whataburger. I had a bacon cheese Whataburger and Bob just had a plain Whataburger. They gave us a pager while they fixed our burgers. The lunch cost $11.88.

Entertainment was furnished by the people using ladders to fix hurricane damage or put up Xmas lights. But no accidents happened while we were watching, so we went on back to our unit and downloaded the pictures.

For dinner, I decided that I wanted steak, so I directed Bob to the Coach N Four. This place HAS early bird specials. If you get there between 4:30 and 6, you get $2 off the ribeye and several other dishes. Unlike the Whataburger with their electronic pagers, this place gives you a square of paper with a number crayoned on it to tell you your place in the queue. Bob and I both had the rib-eye.

"Dec 23rd - Friday"

We have to check out this morning, but we are just going over to Hurtlbut Field because our reservation in Alpine isn't until tomorrow. Before we checked in I tried to get some more pictures of Historic Fort Walton Beach, and then we drove around the base trying to find the commissary. When we checked in, we got a map with the commissary on it. Bob went and bought the aluminum foil.

When we went out to dinner, Bob got fuel west of the base, and then we started out to find some of the restaurants that were listed as being in Navarre. Could not find any of them and ended up in Gulf Shores almost all the way to Pensacola - 20 miles from the gas station.

There were several restaurants there - Ruby Tuesday which was toooo crowded, Zaxbys which was tooo empty, Firehouse Subs, a Chinese place called James Kitchen, and Toro Bravo (Mexican) which was JUST RIGHT. They had the chips and salsa on the table almost before we had a chance to open our menu. I got a cheese quesadilla ($3.90), iced tea ($1.65) and a fried ice cream ($2.25) which was made with strawberry ice cream, and Bob had a Combo #17 for $7.25 (burrito, enchillada, rice and beans).

Next: A rainy drive to Alpine Alabama

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