Planning a Florida beach vacation? Don’t skip over the chance to laze on the best beaches in the Florida Panhandle. Located in Northwest Florida, the skinny Florida Panhandle and Emerald Coast are dotted with pristine, white powdery sand beaches, emerald green waters, and charming Gulf Coast seaside villages.
With 100 miles of beaches along the northwestern corridor of Florida, these top-rated Emerald Coast beaches offer outstanding snorkeling, swimming, and fishing. Best of all, you’ll also see smaller crowds than on Florida’s Atlantic Ocean and Southern Gulf of Mexico beaches.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet retreat or a lively party scene, the Emerald Coast has got it all. From Pensacola Beach to Panama City Beach, start planning your trip with this guide to the best Florida Panhandle beaches.
Top-rated Florida Panhandle beaches
Panama City Beach
Need a primer for your Florida Panhandle beach vacay? Start with Panama City Beach. For solo travelers, families, and couples, there’s plenty to see & do in this famed beach town. Spend the day walking the 27-mile-long beach, exploring the top Panama City Beach attractions, or relaxing its white quartz sand.
Although famous for its spring break antics, Panama City Beach is a great family-friendly destination year-round. The city hosts a smattering of fun adventure parks, including Shipwreck Island Waterpark. You’ll also stumble upon cool attractions like the SkyWheel and Gulf World Marine Park. For those who wish to explore fabulous dining complexes and shops, Pier Park is a prime destination.
Be sure to carve out time to explore the waters around Panama City Beach and go snorkeling or scuba diving. The area is often touted as the Wreck Diving Capital of the South.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed place to soak in the water vibes, take a dolphin-watching tour or sunset boat trip.
Looking to escape the crowds of Panama City Beach? Navarre Beach offers a quiet setting and a luxurious shoreline. Located on Santa Rosa Island between Destin and Pensacola, it’s a must-visit Emerald Coast beach for nature-lovers and eco-tourists.
Along the beach, you’ll find Navarre Beach Fishing Pier. At 1,525 feet, it’s one of Florida’s longest fishing piers. Here, you can spend the day doing some world-class fishing or enjoy a sunset dinner at Wind Jammers Restaurant. You can rent fishing poles and purchase bait on the pier.
Navarre Beach also offers visitors white sandy beaches with emerald waters and a scenic bike path. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for various sea turtles between May and October.
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Grab your snorkel gear and venture to the artificial reef offshore, and swim amongst the turtles and reef fish.
Grayton Beach State Park
For a tranquil, unspoiled beach vacation throw a visit to Grayton Beach State Park into your itinerary. Grayton Beach is often named one of the most beautiful beaches in the USA.
At Grayton Beach State Park, you can spend the entire day on the beach, enjoy a magnificent sunrise to sunbathing in the sunset. You’ll also be able to partake in activities like surf fishing, canoeing, or swimming.
Launch your kayak at the boat ramp and explore one of the coastal dune lakes. Among the most popular is Western Lake, where you’ll paddle through a salt marsh ecosystem and get up close to nature.
For land lovers, stroll through the beautiful magnolia and scrub oaks trees along the nature trail or pedal your bike four miles through the pines on the trails.
Want to spend more than a few hours in this idyllic environment? Rent one of the 30 two-bedroom, one-bath cabins or 61 campsites with full hookups and spend the week.
Santa Rosa Beach
Covered with pristine white sand and overlooking the turquoise waters, Santa Rosa Beach is the perfect oasis for a gorgeous day at the beach.
Walking along the 3.2 miles of Santa Rosa Beach, your feet will sink into the soft powdery sand as the gentle breeze blows your hair under a beautiful blue Florida sky.
When you’re done soaking up the rays, explore the upscale dining options and Gulf Place, an artist colony in this beautiful beach community.
Along eight miles of the Santa Rosa barrier island lies Pensacola Beach. This popular family-friendly beach, just south of the city of Pensacola, offers a wide variety of amenities, including lifeguards.
At Pensacola Beach, the emerald green waters meet a white sandy beach. For beachgoers, it’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset, stargaze, relax, and sunbathe. While soaking up the sea views, you’ll also want to keep your eyes out for dolphins off the Gulf Coast.
When not sunbathing on the beach, there are plenty of cool places to see in Pensacola. Fishermen will want to head to the 1,500-foot Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier to try their luck. Or take a leisurely stroll along the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk to get a bite to eat and peruse the shops.
Perdido Key State Park
Just down the road from Pensacola, Perdido Key State Park is a 247-acre barrier island with rolling sand dunes and breathtaking ocean views.
At the park, you can spend the day hiking along the boardwalks, breathing in the salty air, lounging amongst the white sandy dunes, and playing in the Gulf Coast’s warm water.
When you need a break, head to the picnic tables and enjoy a picnic lunch or dinner while looking out onto the water and enjoying the astounding views.
On the beach, keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles swimming in the water and the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse camouflaged in the sand.
Located in South Walton, Rosemary Beach is the perfect Florida Panhandle beach town. You’ll love strolling down the brick sidewalks to boutique shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
During the day, relax on its pristine beaches. Or explore the farmer’s market and architecture along the winding streets.
When hunger strikes, relish in dinner on an outdoor patio, watching the sunset from Edward’s Fine Food and Wine, or the casual Cowgirl Kitchen. Finish it off with a dessert from La Crema.
Rosemary Beach also hosts a few scenic rooftop bars. End the evening savoring cold cocktails to breathtaking views at the Seafood Grill and Rooftop Bar.
Located along Florida Scenic Highway 30A, Miramar Beach is one of the top-rated beaches near Destin. This Emerald Coast beach offers plenty of fun for everyone to fill a day, weekend, or week-long vacation.
At the Silver Sands Premium Outlets, shoppers will dig browsing the 100 stores, including Lululemon, Williams Sonoma, and Anthropologie. The area also has a wide selection of antique shops to peruse.
Beach bums will enjoy playing beach volleyball along Miramar Beach, taking to the skies on a parasailing adventure, or jet skiing over the turquoise waters.
The excitement for sports enthusiasts doesn’t stop at the beach. Head to Hidden Dunes Beach and Tennis Resort or jog and bike along the 3-mile Scenic Highway 98 Trail.
In the evening, the diverse beach community offers several excellent dining options. Choose everything from fine dining at Emeril’s Coata Italian to beachfront dining at Pompano Joe’s and the Surf Hut.
Fort Walton Beach
Situated between Panama City and Pensacola near Destin, Fort Walton Beach has plenty goin’ on. Aside from its emerald waters and wide white sand beaches, the area is home to a multitude of stellar golf courses.
Fort Walton Beach is a favorite family destination, loaded with some of top tourist attractions near Destin. Visit the Emerald Coast Science Center to see all kinds of guns, bombs, and missiles at the Air Force Armament Museum. History buffs can also learn more about the local Native Americans at the Indian Temple and Mound Museum, or visit the marine wildlife at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
The Fort Walton area is a golfer’s fantasy, too. You’ll discover two courses in town and twenty others within a short drive.
Grab your fishing pole and head to the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier to see if you can catch dinner. Or for a more relaxed option, head to The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island to peruse its wide variety of restaurants, shops, and entertainment.
Walking across the powdery white quartz sand beach at Mexico Beach, you’ll be sure to need your sunglasses. As sunny as this Florida Panhandle beach is you may also be surprised to discover how cool the sand stays, even in the middle of summer.
Along the five-mile stretch of Mexico Beach, you’ll find easy beach access. Several convenient walkovers will get you safely from the shops and restaurants across Highway 98 to the emerald water and pristine white sand.
As you explore Mexico Beach, keep your eyes peeled for the perfect shell and for dolphins playing out in the water. It’s also a wonderful place to take in beautiful Gulf of Mexico sunsets.
Henderson Beach State Park
Sitting along Florida’s Emerald Coast in Destin, Henderson Beach State Park is home to some of the most popular beaches on the Panhandle. The 200-acre state park offers plenty to do during your visit—whether you spend an hour or an entire week.
Choose between enjoying the 6,000-feet of Gulf of Mexico shoreline to sunbathe, play in the surf, fish, or soak in a beautiful sunset. If you want to extend your stay overnight, head to one of the 60 campsites and park your RV or pitch your tent.
Take a relaxing nature walk along the nature trail. Along the trail, you’ll explore coastal dunes, wildlife, and various endangered plants. The trail is even pet-friendly. You can also jump on your bikes and take a mile-long ride down the park’s paved road.
Nearby, the Shores at Crystal Beach Park is the perfect getaway for a picnic along the emerald green waters and to watch the sunset.
Located in South Walton County, the village of Alys Beach is one of the coolest luxury hotspots on the Florida Gulf Coast. The beach community reminisces of Greece and the Mediterranean with its beautiful architecture, green spaces, and palm-lined courtyards.
Besides its lovely beach, there’s plenty to keep you occupied here. If you’d rather not frolic in the ocean, head to Caliza Pool. Enjoy the shade of a cabana as you lounge with a drink in your hand.
Or, for a more active pursuit, spend your day moseying along the Timpoochee Trail, enjoying the beautiful views along your way.
Looking for the perfect dinner spot in Alys Beach? Head to George’s or Calisa Restaurant for some of Northwest Florida’s most unique ocean-to-table entrees.
Nestled among the old magnolia and oak trees along scenic Country Road 30A lies Seagrove Beach. Home to some of the finest Northwest Florida beaches, Seagrove Beach is the perfect base for exploring the Emerald Coast while cooling down in its shady groves.
When not on the sand, visit boutiques in Seagrove Plaza or the many local art galleries. Buy artwork from a local Northwest Florida artist to take a piece of South Walton home with you.
Nature lovers will love spending their time around Seagrove Beach exploring Deer Lake State Park by kayak or biking along the Timpoochee Trail.
Worked up an appetite? Dine at Café Thirty-A, grab a shrimp po-boy or groper sandwich at the Seagrove Village Market, or enjoy live music with a side of sushi at the Old Florida Fish House.
Blue Mountain Beach
Located in SoWal between Santa Rosa Beach and Grayton Beach along Scenic 30A, Blue Mountain Beach is a laid-back town with a ton of local charm. With its emerald-green water and low-key vibes, it’s the perfect backdrop for a Florida Panhandle beach vacation.
Aside from chillin’ by the water, you’ll want to put on your hiking shoes to climb to the top of Blue Mountain. The 65-foot mountain is the highest point in South Walton. While exploring, be sure to snap a picture or two of the blue lupine flowers that grow among the white sand dunes with the turquoise water in the background.
After your hike, stop at the Blue Mountain Creamery for some homemade banana pudding ice cream. Or for a more filling meal, chow down on street tacos from Red Fish Taco.
Grab your kayak and fishing pole and enjoy a relaxing day on one of three coastal dune lakes: Draper Lake, Little Big Redfish Lake, and Big Redfish Lake. After your outing, pop into Johnny McTighe’s Irish Pub for a drink paired with corned beef and cabbage.
Just north of Blue Mountain Beach, you can also explore Point Washington State Forest. The reserve teems with hiking & biking trails winding through cypress swamps and wildflower fields.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
The longest protected seashore in the United States, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is a must-see for any visit to this narrow strip of land. Whether exploring its beautiful natural landscapes on foot, by bike, or by kayak, this outdoor adventure destination will be one of the highlights of your Florida Gulf Coast vacation.
Along the seashore, be sure to watch for the diverse wildlife, including great blue herons, gopher tortoise, loggerhead sea turtles, osprey, and shorebirds.
Head out on a kayaking adventure to explore the fort and brackish marshes. Or join a ranger-led tour through the gnarled live oaks to the three forts, Fort Pickens, Fort McRee, and Fort Barrancas.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Spanning 1,640 acres, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park showcases 20-foot-tall sand dunes, longleaf pine forests, crystalline water, and over three miles of coastline. Located in Santa Rosa Beach, it’s one of the most interesting places to check out between Destin and Panama City Beach.
Besides its pristine white beach, visitors will love the variety of hiking trails crisscrossing the park. Cyclists should save time for the paved Beach Tram Trail or the Campbell Lake Bike Trail.
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Hikers, on the other hand, can tackle the Deer Track Trail or the Morris Lake Trail to dazzle at the park’s natural wonders. All the trailheads are accessible from the Santa Rosa parking lot.
Want to spend the night? Topsail Hill Preserve State Park also offers 209 campsites, many with full hookups, as well as 32 rental cabins.