Beautiful turquoise water of Panama City Beach, Flordida.

6 Budget-Friendly Towns in Florida's Emerald Coast for Retirees

The sunny state of Florida is a hotspot amongst retirees and seniors, known for its laid-back lifestyle and plenty of activities to keep you busy. Many of the coastal towns sit along the Gulf of Mexico, a part of the Atlantic. Here, you will find the Emerald Coast, a section of beaches famous for their emerald green waters and white, sandy beaches. Take part in dozens of watersports, world-class fishing, and relaxing boardwalk strolls. Many of these towns are not only designed for families, but the 50+ crowd as well, with hospitals, senior centers, and a lax law on driving your golf cart around the neighborhood.

The only downside to retiring to the Emerald Coast? Deciding which community you can afford to call home. While median home sales prices sit around $420,000 in the US and just over $400,000 in the state of Florida, there are several budget-friendly towns to consider.

Port St. Joe

Setting sun behind Cape San Blas Lighthouse in Port St. Joe, Florida.
Setting sun behind Cape San Blas Lighthouse in Port St. Joe, Florida. Image credit Arctyx Creative Studios via Shutterstock

A small beach town, Port St. Joe is known for its historic pet-friendly downtown area, Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Festival, and plenty of sandy beaches and golf courses to choose from.

If boating is your activity of choice, check out the Point South Marina. You can purchase your own boat, or rent one for the day. There are also fishing charters you can climb aboard. Another abundant activity is golfing. Join the St. Joseph Bay Golf Club, and take part in yearly events. Stretch your legs with the Port City Trail, a four-mile walking path for any level. BayWalk Trail passes through many of the waterfront parks. Still want more recreation options? Port St. Joe has 11 parks to choose from.

When it comes to eating out, try Joe Mama's Wood-Fired Pizza, or the Indian Pass Raw Bar for mouth-watering oysters. Shopping can be done at the many boutiques and gift shops, as well as the liquor stores, and the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket. There is also a Family Dollar, Dollar General, Farmers Market, and Wood's Fisheries seafood market.

As for health, take comfort in knowing there is an onsite hospital, pharmacy, diagnostic center, medical clinic, and pharmacy.

The median home price listings in Port St. Joe average around $446,900 (according to While this is higher than the state average, rental properties are reasonable, with a median gross rent of $1,227, compared with the state average of $1,525 (according to

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach, Florida at dusk.
Turquoise waters of Panama City Beach, at night.

Panama City Beach brings together shopping, outdoor adventure, and pure relaxation.

Get your heart pumping with activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, rollerskating, snorkeling, and beach yoga. You can also take part in explorations like fishing charters, swimming with dolphins, airboat tours, sailing, and beachcombing. There is also the Bay Point Golf Club and the Panama Country Club for the golfers. If fishing off a pier sounds like fun, visit one of the many available, and catch fish like snapper and Spanish Mackeral. The town also offers beach-accessible wheelchairs for those who want to enjoy the white sandy beaches but need extra assistance.

Embrace local culture at the Panama City Center for the Arts, or by joining a local art group. There is also the Seabreeze Jazz Festival to look forward to every year.

Shopping is easy with centers like Decor by the Shore, a walkway featuring 15 shops and boutiques. Pier Park offers big names like Target, Old Navy, and more as well as boutiques and restaurants like a sushi bar, and Margaritaville. You can also hit the local farmers market, or find stores around town selling everything from bedding and linens to home decor, furniture, and groceries.

As for health, hospitals in Panama City are easily accessible, as are salons, spas, and fitness centers. The Senior Center offers wood shop, wood carving, dancing, yoga, coffee socials, classes, and exercise events.

Median home price listings in Panama City Beach sit around $475,000, which is a bit higher than the state average. However, with 27 miles of free beaches, and 100 free access points, you won't have to spend a penny to relax everyday on the beach.

Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Fort Walton Beach, while still retaining some tourist aspects, is more laid back than Panama City.

Get your exercise in by joining the Golf Club, which features two courses; The Pines and the Oaks. Play in yearly events, and make lifelong friends. You can also find places to snorkel and dive along the coast, as well as take part in a fishing charter or tour. There is also the church softball league, for those who want to play team sports.

Further your knowledge with the library, which offers computer services, a book club, and volunteer opportunities. You can also learn about the town's history and culture at places like the Heritage Park Cultural Center, Air Force Armament Museum, and the Emerald Coast Science Center. There is also the senior center, which hosts art classes, bingo, workshops, sports opportunities, lunches, and a monthly potluck.

Find all the best shopping at the Uptown Shopping District or at the Downtown Arts and Entertainment District. There is also the Fort Walton Flea Market, and big-name stores like Walmart, Target, Publix, and Piggly Wiggly. As for dining, try out KC's Sandbar and Grill, Magnolia Grill, or a local bakery and cafe.

The median home price listings in Fort Walton are below the state average, and an affordable $370,000.


Navarre Beach along Florida's Gulf Coast.
Navarre Beach along Florida's Gulf Coast.

Navarre, despite being a small town, has endless opportunities for recreation and livelihood. Median home price listings in Navarre average around $492,500; however, there are plenty of free beaches and activities to discover.

Fish at the fishing pier, or visit and volunteer at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge. There are several beach areas to choose from, including Navarre Beach, Pensacola Beach, and Santa Rosa Beach (which all have free access), and Gulf Island National Seashore. Here, you can paddleboard, rent a pontoon, snorkel, visit the Sea Turtle Conservation Center, and browse the Marine Science Station. There are also lots of places to rent bikes, golf carts, beach gear, wheelchairs, and more. Other activities for retirees include hiking, cycling, and golfing at Hidden Creek Golf Club.

Cold beers and cocktails can be found at places like St. Michaels Brewing Company, and the Ye Olde Brothers Brewery. There is also a Walmart for the essentials. A grocery and meal delivery service is also offered in town, making it easy to have your favorites brought right to your front door.

Gulf Breeze

Overlooking Gulf Breeze, Florida.
Overlooking Gulf Breeze, Florida.

Perfect for retirement, Gulf Breeze has a vast amount of dedicated programs and events for seniors. There are yoga groups, the senior bridge club, senior luncheon and bingo, Zumba, jazzercise, and senior fitness, which focuses on stretching and aerobics. Adult-oriented groups include pickleball, basketball, volleyball, disc golf, and horseshoe leagues.

For those who love to walk, check out the trails at Woodland Park. You can also play tennis at Highpoint Park, or take your furry friend to either the Shoreline Beachside Dog Park. The boat launch is perfect for setting sail, whether you own your own watercraft or are renting one. The Gulf Breeze Zoo is ideal for taking your visiting grandkids, or you can join a dolphin tour.

Find delicious restaurants serving up cuisine like Italian, pizza, Japanese, and burgers, as well as favorites like Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A. Shopping can be done at Walmart and Publix. And health and safety is a priority with the onsite hospital, police department, and fire department.

Getting around Gulf Breeze is easy with the town's golf cart policy. Zip around your neighborhood, or easily get yourself to the beach. In addition, you won't have to spend a fortune on real estate. Median home price listings in Gulf Breeze are close to the US average, and a reasonable $439,400.


Aerial view of Destin, Florida.
Overlooking Destin, Florida.

The median home price listings in Destin average around $650,000, which is a little on the pricey side, but the free natural surroundings make it more than worth the price. The town of Destin is right on the beach and is also surrounded by neighboring communities like Fort Walton and Miramar Beach.

Fill your days with fun activities like helicopter tours, snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours, jet skiing, and golfing at the Emerald Bay Golf Club, or at the Regatta Bay Golf and Yacht Club.

Explore your new home by walking the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, which includes Harborwalk Village, a center filled with delicious restaurants and fun shopping experiences. There is also the Destin Commons, which has major clothing retailers, a Bass Pro Shop, restaurants, and a movie theater. Shopping can also be done at retailers like Dollar Tree, Publix, Target, and Winn-Dixie. Restaurants throughout town include seafood bistros, steakhouses, cafes, and an iconic Margaritaville.

Health needs are covered by spas, urgent care centers, nearby hospitals, and vet clinics. And getting around Destin is easy with golf cart-friendly streets, and the EC Rider Transit System.

The local library is the perfect free place to relax, with its reading lounge, media lab, and outdoor gardens, including the Butterfly Garden and Journeys of Imagination Garden.

You can look forward to yearly events such as the Spring Craft Show, Community Yard Sale, and Christmas Tree Lighting. The town also offers many volunteer opportunities in areas like public works, sports, and the Adopt a Street Program.

So if palm trees, calming waves, and beachside afternoons are on your list of the perfect places to retire, Florida and the Emerald Coast might just be calling your name. Indulge in delicious restaurant options, get some shopping done at boutiques and brand-name stores, and find your new favorite sport or activity. Florida was made for you, and with affordable options for real estate, as well as prestigious senior living condos, you might as well get the moving truck ready now.

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