Destin, Florida: Closeup of city town village sign Pirate's Alley on Harbor Boardwalk, via krblokhin /

6 Delightful Towns to Visit in Florida's Emerald Coast

With the longest coastline in the contiguous United States and 825 miles of public shore, Florida stands as a top destination for beachgoers. Among its many beautiful shores, the Emerald Coast shines as one of the most exquisite stretches of sand in the state. Renowned for its crystal-clear emerald waters and pristine sugar-white sands, the Emerald Coast epitomizes the ideal postcard beach scene and promises some of the most unique coastal attractions in the state, from dolphin spotting to historic shipwrecks. For views almost too good to be true and coastal attractions you will never forget, here are 6 delightful Emerald Coast towns to consider for your next Florida escape.


Harborwalk Village, Destin, Florida.
Harborwalk Village, Destin, Florida. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via

A true “gem” of a town, Destin is famous for its shimmering quartz-sand beaches. Formed over thousands of years, the pristine sugar shores have the Appalachian Mountains to thank for their bright white hue, visible at popular locales like Henderson Beach State Park. Along with over 6,000 feet of shore, the park is popular for its nature trail through a rare coastal dune ecosystem.

Elsewhere in town, the bustling Destin Harbor Boardwalk is a hub of activity. In addition to waterfront restaurants like Harry T's Lighthouse and cute beach shops like Aloha Surf Company, the boardwalk is your gateway to exciting excursions. Whether booking a Flipper's Destin Snorkel & Dolphin Cruise or a Destin Parasailing Adventure, the opportunity for fun is endless.

But no visit to Destin would be complete without checking out its star attraction, Crab Island. Located on the southern entrance of the Choctawhatchee Bay, this famous sandbar can be reached by renting a boat or booking a Crab Island Catamaran. The latter is a great alternative for those looking to sit back, relax, and enjoy the views.


Aerial view of the beach in Navarre, Florida.
Aerial view of the beach in Navarre, Florida.

About an hour west of Destin, Navarre is an easy-going coastal town for those who prefer more peaceful beach days. In place of boardwalk crowds, you will find locals enjoying the unspoiled beauty of Navarre Beach, “Florida’s most relaxing place.” With a 12-mile shoreline, there's ample space for sunbathing and swimming. And throughout the year, beachside businesses like Andy D's Beachside Restaurant host fun family-friendly events like the Navarre Beach Bash, happening July 4th to 6th, 2024.

For those seeking scenic views, Navarre boasts Florida’s longest fishing pier. Stretching 1,500-feet, the 30-foot-tall pier makes for a pleasant day of angling or a delightful sunset stroll. Alternatively, for visitors looking to experience the waters up close, the beach is famous for its snorkeling. With 4 artificial reefs in the area, snorkelers will encounter a diverse range of marine life like sea turtles and octopuses, making for a truly breathtaking underwater adventure.

Nature enthusiasts will also love Navarre’s other wildlife attractions. The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center and the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge are 2 fun and educational experiences with interactive activities. Likewise, the nearby Gulf Breeze Zoo is a great place to bring the whole family. With over 800 other animals from around the world, people of all ages will appreciate the wonders of the animal kingdom at this Navarre attraction.

Panama City

Pier Park is Panama City Beach's premier shopping and entertainment destination located across the beach
Pier Park is Panama City Beach's premier shopping and entertainment destination located across the beach. Editorial credit: Fotoluminate LLC /

With one of the highest concentrations of bottlenose dolphins in the world, Panama City is another delightful vacation spot for animal lovers. The best place for dolphin spotting is at Shell Island, a pristine 7-mile barrier island just off the coast from this pleasant resort town. Visitors can take the Shell Island Ferry or book a more intimate excursion. Shell Island Eco-Tour & Dolphin Encounter with Captain Anderson’s Marina are a popular choice, as well as the Panama City Beach Pontoon Boat Rental.

In addition to wildlife spotting, Panama City tops other charts, like being the Seafood Capital of the South and the Wreck Capital of the South. Restaurants like the Shrimp Basket and Harpoon Harry's Beachfront Restaurant are some landmark seafood joints right on the Gulf.

As for shipwrecks, Panama City Beach is a gateway to some gorgeous diving spots with historic sunken ships. Companies like Empire Mica Dive Charters allow divers the chance to dive and witness vessels like the Empire Mica, a British Tanker torpedoed in 1942. Back on land, visitors can learn more about deep sea diving at one of the only deep sea diving museums in the US, the Man in the Sea Museum.

Mexico Beach

Beach Houses at Mexico Beach, Florida.
Beach Houses at Mexico Beach, Florida.

As the "Artificial Reef Capital of the World,” the idyllic town of Mexico Beach also knows a thing or 2 about diving. With nearly 300 artificial reefs deployed since 1997 by the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, this Bay County town has become a paradise amongst divers and snorkelers. Tour agencies like Maritime Expeditions make both a breeze, offering everything from daily scuba charters to equipment rentals.

As the name implies, Mexico Beach also has 5 miles of gorgeous beach. While some sections are private, the town prides itself in boasting ample public beach spaces, including Canal Park, Parker Park, and Sunset Park to name a few. The Mexico Beach City Pier is also open to the public and makes for a lovely stroll. For the more adventurous beachgoers, booking a ride with Crazy Waverunner Parasail is the perfect addition to your time in Mexico Beach.

Fort Walton Beach

Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

With an estimated 40,000 dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico waters surrounding Fort Walton Beach, much like Panama City, dolphin adventures are in high demand here. With companies like Soundside Cruiser and Bikkini Bottom Boat Charters, adventurers can experience the Gulf in all its glory. From sunset tours to dolphin cruises, no matter your reason for venturing out, you are guaranteed to make memories that last a lifetime.

If you would prefer to enjoy Fort Walton Beach back on land, there is still plenty to see and do, including 24 miles of beach in the area. Families will also enjoy attractions like the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Here, kids and adults alike can marvel at dolphins, stingrays, alligators, and even penguins. Elsewhere in town, another popular spot for families is the Emerald Coast Science Center, whose interactive exhibits are equally fun and educational.


Street view of the Dixie Theater in Apalachicola, Florida
Street view of the Dixie Theater in Apalachicola, Florida

Nested where the Apalachicola River merges with the Apalachicola Bay, the town of Apalachicola promises a laid-back atmosphere with some truly underrated landmarks. Perfect for a day trip or weekend away from the stresses of everyday life, this friendly port promises hospitality, world-class seafood dining, and nature that will take your breath away.

Nicknamed “Oystertown” for producing 90% of Florida’s oysters, you can reap the benefits of this local delicacy at restaurants like Half Shell Dockside, Up The Creek Raw Bar, and Apalachicola Seafood Grill. Later this year on November 1st and 2nd 2024, Apalachicola will also host the Annual Florida Seafood Festival. With an Oyster Eating Contest, Oyster Shucking Contest, and Fresh Florida Seafood selling some of the best seafood in the state, this is one event to mark your calendars for.

Beyond its culinary delights, Apalachicola is also a portal to outdoor attractions like Dr. Julian G. Bruce St George Island State Park, “a little strip of paradise.” With white sand shores on one side and forested marshlands on the other, relaxation and exploration are within arm’s reach. Whether lounging beachside or hiking nature paths like the 1-mile East Slough Overlook Trail, this island park is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and soak up some sun.

Final Thoughts

With 825 miles of public shore to choose from, it may feel overwhelming to decide your next Florida destination. And while all of these shores boast their own distinct features, these Emerald Coast towns stand out as some of Florida’s finest. From Destin’s quartz-sand seashores to the "Artificial Reef Capital of the World” in Mexico Beach, these towns promise a truly delightful and unforgettable experience that will beckon you back time and time again.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 6 Delightful Towns to Visit in Florida's Emerald Coast

More in Places