Overlooking the Navarre Beach Pier.

10 Gorgeous Towns on Florida's Emerald Coast to Visit in 2023

Vacation-seeking travelers may find their next beach vacation on the Emerald Coast, a coastal destination in the Florida Panhandle encompassing the Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton, and Bay Counties. The turquoise waters and its 100-mile stretch of sandy shores are as beautiful as its name, though it's also been known as the "Miracle Strip." Travelers dreaming of waking up in cozy beachfront hotels or sinking their toes in soft and sugary sands on quiet beaches should consider booking their next vacation at these gorgeous towns across the Emerald Coast.

Pensacola Beach

Overlooking Pensacola, Beach.
Overlooking the turquoise waters at Pensacola Beach.

Often mistaken for its neighbor, Pensacola, Pensacola Beach beckons travelers' names with its crystalline waters and mild temperatures. Guests of Pensacola Beach will be staying on Santa Rosa Island at the western tip of Florida. Pensacola Beach is well-received and famous among traveler networks for its beautiful beaches, blessed with sugary sands and clear waters that emanate a turquoise hue. Here, visitors can take life at their own pace. Find solace at the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier and Observation Post, which stretches for 1,471 feet and features show-stopping views of the Gulf of Mexico.

Alternatively, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is another Pensacola Beach gem, which also straddles Perdido Key. Here, you can watch nature in action as great blue herons swoop to their nests while dolphins jump for joy in the pristine waters. The seashore invites adventure seekers to enjoy its landscape through a collection of recreational activities. Spend the day at the seashore kayaking, boating, fishing, snorkeling, biking, and wildlife watching.


Welcome to Navarre sign on Navarre Beach, Florida.
Welcome to Navarre sign on Navarre Beach, Florida. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via Shutterstock.com

Who wouldn't want to spend their vacation in a destination regarded as "Florida's Most Relaxing Place"? Navarre is Santa Rosa County's cozy and friendly beach community east of Pensacola, with 12 miles of gorgeous shoreline, ideal for vacationers seeking solitude and relaxation.

Navarre Beach draws beachgoers, whether it's because of its convenient location or picturesque shoreline. Enjoy the waters at Navarre, partaking in recreational activities like kayaking or paddling. Travelers visiting Navarre in a group or as a family can also venture to the Navarre Beach Marine Park, a 150-acre park with beach access and other amenities like picnic tables, playground equipment, and parking spaces. The beach marine park will also appeal to snorkelers and divers with its three artificial reef sites! These reef sites are free to visit and are open from sunset to sunrise.

Fort Walton Beach

Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Image credit pisaphotography via Shutterstock.com

Fort Walton Beach is an ideal family getaway, sitting between Pensacola and Panama City in Okaloosa County. Being part of the Emerald Coast, the waters and sands at Fort Walton Beach are a must-visit. However, this cozy residential community is also known for its family-friendly amenities, from parks to museums (with a side of premier golfing for avid golfers among the family).

Fort Walton has over 30 parks of different sizes and locations, including the waterfront Fort Walton Beach Landing Park in the downtown core, perfect for the entire family with its boardwalks, fishing pier, and children's playground. Families can also spend the day at the town's museums, including the Indian Temple Mound Museum. This historic museum includes interpretive exhibits that highlight 12,000 years of Native American history and a collection of over 1,000 artifacts from various materials. This museum is part of Fort Walton's Heritage Park, which is made up of the Indian Mound Museum, the Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, and the Garnier Post Office Museum, which are all within one minute's distance of each other.


Bluewater Bay Marina, Niceville, Florida
Bluewater Bay Marina, Niceville, Florida.

The vibe at Niceville is as pleasant as its name. This quaint college town makes up the Fort Walton Beach, Crestview, Destin Metropolitan Area and overlooks the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay. Snowbirds and beach-seeking travelers alike will adore Niceville's subtropical climate, blessed with few weather extremes, as well as mild winters and an average of 343 days of sunshine yearly!

Besides its pleasant weather, Niceville Bayous are a local attraction worth visiting. The town harbors a collection of bayous fed by the Choctawhatchee River. These water pools are not only pretty to look at; they play a vital role in the local ecosystem and have played some part in the area's history and heritage. While in Niceville, travelers should make some room in their itinerary to visit the area's well-known bayous like the Boggy, LaGrange, and Alaqua Bayous. Niceville is also known for the Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, which makes a great outing for hiking, boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

Panama City Beach

The Panama City Beach in Florida.
Panama City Beach in Florida.

Panama City Beach is part of Florida's Bay County, sitting about halfway between the state capitol in Tallahassee and Pensacola. Thanks to its soft white sands made of quartz crystal, Panama City Beach has been crowned as a destination with the "world's most beautiful beaches." This reputation is fitting for a popular US destination that attracts 4.5 million visitors every year!

Simply enjoy the emerald waters at Panama City Beach and its 27 miles of sandy beaches. These waters often lure fishermen and scuba divers who peruse the offshore artificial reefs. The scientifically-curious will also love that Panama City Beach hosts two state parks with unique ecological landscapes at the Camp Helen and St. Andrews State Parks. Outside of its natural attractions, there's hardly a dull moment at Panama City Beach, which hosts several events every year, including the Sand Jam, Pirates of the High Seas Festival, the Ironman Triathlon, and much more!


People walking at a shopping mall park in Seaside, Florida.
Shopping mall park in Seaside, Florida. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock.com

Seaside is an adorable beach community in Northwest Florida and was featured as the gorgeous backdrop for The Truman Show. Seaside is dubbed the birthplace of the New Urbanism architecture movement, evident throughout this cozy beach town. Travelers will fall in love with pastel-colored beach houses, beautiful walkways leading to the sugary sanded beaches, and its iconic whitewashed post office.

Tourists visiting Seaside can take it slow and savor life's little moments. On Saturday mornings, visit the Seaside Farmers Market in the Amphitheater to peruse through an array of local goodies, from produce to dog treats. At night, take the family back to the Amphitheater to enjoy live music, plays, concerts, or movie nights. Don't forget to bring your appetite to Seaside as this cozy beach town hosts rows of gourmet food trucks and vintage air streams selling various delectable delights, including Hawaiian shaved ice, BBQ, smoothies, and hot dogs!


Sandestin Resort Florida at dusk
Sandestin Resort, Florida at dusk.

Sandestin is a premier resort community on the Emerald Coast, spanning 2,400 acres and hosting 1,300 accommodations within arms reach of the beach! Travelers should check their worries outside Sandestin because this resort community is meant for relaxation, so the overused cliche "stop and smell the roses" applies here.

Sandestin hosts a range of convenient, affordable, and enjoyable amenities for its guests, including, but definitely not limited to, tennis facilities, golf courses, relaxing pools, shopping centers, and restaurants. Stop by the village of Baytowne Wharf, known for its year-round events, family-friendly activities, shopping options, and nightlife. From the Baytowne Carousel to the Village Door Nightclub, this friendly village has something going on for Sandestin guests.

Grayton Beach

Aerial view of Grayton Beach Florida on a beautiful spring afternoon
Grayton Beach, Florida, on a beautiful afternoon.

This South Walton County destination has attracted family vacationers for decades, welcoming tourists to its stunning waters. Grayton Beach may sit among other small towns in the area, like Seaside and Fort Walton Beach, but this Emerald Coast beach town is famous for its freshwater dune lakes, which stretch for 20 miles.

The Grayton Beach State Park is one of the only two locations in the US to see coastal sand dunes (the other location being in Oregon). Otherwise, this rare geological feature is only viewable in four countries around the globe! Visitors checking out this state park will have the opportunity to see this rare natural landscape at home: the coastal dune Alligator, Little Redfish, and Western Lakes. The state park also makes for a great opportunity to witness local wildlife and migratory birds.

Travelers looking for a vacation full of beach days need not worry when visiting Grayton Beach, as the town's beach remains one of the most popular attractions! The beach has plenty of regional access points with convenient visitor facilities like ample parking, bathrooms, lifeguards, and showers (which is not the case for neighborhood beaches).

DeFuniak Springs

Aerial view of Defuniak Springs in Florida
Overlooking Defuniak Springs in Florida.

History-loving tourists keen on exploring America's history can satiate their curiosities with a visit to DeFuniak Springs in Walton County. DeFuniak Springs offers visitors an opportunity to explore the historic side of the Emerald Coast besides its soft sands and shimmering waters. The town features almost 200 historic buildings around Lake DeFuniak, many of which are historic homes emanating Victorian era, Colonial Revival, and Queen Anne architectural styles. Of these buildings, about 40 of them are registered on the National Register of Historic Places.

For a vibrant display of lights, visitors can experience "Christmas Reflections," a time in DeFuniak Springs when local homes and the area are adorned with festive lights. Reportedly, it's said that 6 to 10 million lights are used! Visitors can also come across family-friendly events encompassing DeFuniak's historical spirit and culture, including the Florida Chautauqua Assembly, Gras Fest, the biennial Quilt Show, and more.

Santa Rosa Beach

Gulf Place on Iconic 30A in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
Overlooking Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

The Santa Rosa Beach is the largest beach neighborhood in South Walton, offering visitors a mix of coastal views and history thanks to encompassing the historic community of Point Washington. This makes Santa Rosa Beach an ideal destination for those who want to experience the Emerald Coast while keen on learning a little local history.

History buffs should check out the Eden Gardens State Park during their stay. This state park features 163 acres of land as part of the Wesley Homestead. Here, visitors can also tour the late 19th-century Wesley Mansion and peruse a collection of original Louis XVI antiques. The ornamental gardens also make for a pretty and peaceful walk, while the Tucker Bayou is a perfect place for picnicking and fishing off the dock.

For a nature-filled activity, visitors can hike, bike, or embark on a horse trail at the Point Washington State Forest. This massive forest covers over 15,100 acres of area, featuring over 27 miles of trails that highlight the area's swamplands, wet prairie, coastal scrub, and longleaf pine flatwoods environments.

From Navarre to Santa Rosa Beach, the gorgeous towns of Emerald Coast are as vibrant and alluring as the world-famous turquoise waters and sugary sands. Besides providing a beachside and relaxing vacation, each of these Emerald Coast towns are must-visit destinations that offer visitors a unique experience, whether through its nature-filled attractions or local historic architecture!

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