Jupiter Island in Florida Long coastal beaches along Florida's east coast.

6 Most Charming Towns in Florida's Emerald Coast

Stretching 100 miles along the Gulf of Mexico, Florida's Emerald Coast is also known as the state's "panhandle." The Emerald Coast gets its name from the blue-green color of the Gulf of Mexico water in that region, and is home to many white sandy beaches that delight both locals and visitors alike. In addition to having beautiful beaches to dig your toes into, this coastline is also blessed with charming towns that you can spend a weekend trip or extended holiday exploring. Whether you're into the Florida arts and shopping scene, or prefer to relax and recharge with outdoor activities, you'll find it in these six Emerald Coast towns. 


Destin, Florida. Aerial view of beautiful city skyline.
Destin, Florida: Aerial view of beautiful city skyline.

Situated in the middle of the Emerald Coast, Destin has been dubbed the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village" due to it's plentiful ocean fishing options. Take a saltwater fishing charter, or try your luck on the city's pier. Other ways to take advantage of Destin's seaside location is by signing up for a snorkeling or kayaking excursion, or just spending a few days laying on the beach or swimming in the warm ocean water.

Emerald Grande Hotel at HarborWalk Village in Destin, Florida
Emerald Grande Hotel at HarborWalk Village in Destin, Florida, via All Stock Photos / Shutterstock.com

If history is more your thing, take time to explore the Destin History and Fishing Museum, which features over 75 species of fish displayed on its walls, and also is home to Southeastern Native American and Civil War treasures and artifacts. Shoppers won't want to miss the Destin Commons, a collection of local boutiques and commercial stores in a breezy, open-air setting. The city's HarborWalk Village offers a waterfront shopping experience that allows you to take in the area's natural beauty.

Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach aerial view

Located next to Destin, Fort Walton Beach visitors are also treated to the Gulf of Mexico water and white sand, which originated from Appalachian quartz. For adventurous vacationers, book a spot with Blue Water Escape Fishing and Diving Charters, where you can see or catch deep sea fish such as mahi mahi, grouper, amberjack, cobia and even sharks.

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

Families won't want to miss spending a day or evening at the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island, which offers a varied mix of beachfront dining and shopping options. Take walk out on the boardwalk that reaches out into the Gulf of Mexico, enjoying the balmy ocean breezes and stunning views. Another kid-friendly activity in Fort Walton Beach is Wild Willy's Adventure Zone, Northwest Florida's most expansive family entertainment center. Bond with your loved ones in a state-of-the-art arcade, a 4D movie theater and a laser maze. 


Downtown Pensacola, Florida
Downtown Pensacola, Florida

The largest city on the Emerald Coast and the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle, Pensacola is home to the Naval Air Station and the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, otherwise known as the Blue Angels. The city also offers easy access into and out of the Emerald Coast via the Pensacola International Airport.

Immerse yourself in the coastal city's natural beauty by exploring one of the area's several state parks. The 400-acre Tarklin Bayou Preserve State Park plays host to endangered pitcher plants, a carnivorous species that is unique to the Gulf Coast. You can take a walk into the bayou via a boardwalk, and enjoy a picnic lunch surrounded by almost 100 rare plant and animals species.

Escambia County Court House in downtown Pensacola, Florida
Escambia County Court House in downtown Pensacola, Florida

History lovers won't want to miss the National Naval Aviation Museum, which offers over 4,000 artifacts and more than 150 restored aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The Pensacola Museum of History gives visitors an introspective look into the city's rich culture, while America's First Settlement Trail will lead you down a 3-mile path through the charming Pensacola Historic District. 

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach in Florida
Pensacola Beach in Florida

Stretching about 8 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, Pensacola is a small beach town full of sun, fun and plenty of charm. A majority of Pensacola Beach's white sandy coastline is available for public use, so you'll have no problem finding a place to set up your beach chair or towel for the day. 

One of the most notable things about Pensacola Beach is its pier, which extends into the Gulf and Mexico and beckons ocean lovers to take a stroll. If you need a break from the beach, take a drive out to the historic Fort Pickens on the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Preserved by the National Park Service, the fort offers the remnants of a brick Civil War military fortification, the Bluebird Marsh Trail, a campground and picnic areas. 

You can also shop for beach-inspired trinkets, clothing, toys and other gear at one of Pensacola Beach's shops. Have lunch or dinner overlooking the Gulf, or catch some live music at one of the local bars. 


Townhouses and condo with view of the scenic blue bay in Navarre Florida
Townhouses and condo with view of the scenic blue bay in Navarre Florida

Situated just east of Pensacola, Navarre offers everything you'd expect for a small Florida beach town. This quaint beach community features 12 miles of white, sandy shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico, as well as plenty of places to enjoy a waterfront picnic lunch or dinner, a walk or bike ride. 

The Navarre Beach Fishing Pier is the longest in Florida, and is available for walks over the ocean, as well as plenty of opportunities for deep sea fishing. The pier is over 1,500 feet long and towers 30 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, giving visitors an unparalleled, sweeping view of the ocean and beachfront.  As with the other charming Emerald Coast towns, you'll have no shortage of both fancy restaurants and casual beachfront cafes in which to enjoy scenic views and fresh seafood. Stock up on all of your beach gear and vacation souvenirs at the local shops.

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach, Florida, view of Front Beach Road
Panama City Beach, Florida, view of Front Beach Road

On the eastern end of the Emerald Coast, Panama City Beach beckons visitors with its 27 miles of white, sugar sand coastline. You won't have to choose between a relaxing beach vacation or an exciting, action-packed trip as Panama City Beach offers visitors a bit of both.

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, via Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock.com

Panama City Beach offers two state parks for those wanting to explore local wildlife, flora and fauna. Camp Helen State Park offers a variety of ecosystems to immerse yourself in, including freshwater wetlands and salt marshes. St. Andrews State Park features migratory birds, alligators and many other animal species, along with kayak, snorkeling and camping opportunities. 

If you're on a family vacation, check out the Hidden Lagoon Golf and Racetrack, which offers a mile-long go kart racetrack, as well as an outdoor mini-golf course. For more fun in the sun, take your family to the  city's Shipwreck Island Waterpark, where you can relax in a wave pool or take a trip down a kid-friendly water slide. 

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