People walking around in downtown Seaside, Florida, via Andriy Blokhin /

6 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in Florida's Emerald Coast

While the Emerald Coast is an ‘unofficial’ term that covers a 100-mile stretch of the Florida Panhandle (roughly from Pensacola to Panama City Beach), it’s proven so popular that numerous destinations on either side of these two cities include the name in their marketing materials. Which is no big deal, as pretty much the entirety of the Panhandle’s Gulf-facing coastline boasts long, sun-soaked beaches and numerous pretty little communities that are a delight to explore.

From the iconic pastel-hued villas of Seaside to the laid-back and artsy vibe of Grayton Beach, with stops at Rosemary Beach, Destin, Apalachicola, and WaterColor along the way, these six most charming small towns to visit in Florida's Emerald Coast are just waiting to be explored.

Rosemary Beach

Aerial view of Rosemary Beach, Florida, showcasing the beautiful turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Aerial view of Rosemary Beach, Florida, showcasing the beautiful turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rosemary Beach stands out for its European-inspired vibes, most evident in the architectural flourishes seen in its homes and businesses. This planned community with its cobblestone streets and Dutch and West Indies-styling boasts one of the most charming downtowns you’ll find in the region. Known as Rosemary Beach Town Center, it’s here visitors venture to explore everything from boutique shops and art galleries to gourmet eateries offering superlative al fresco dining experiences.

The town’s lovely beach is a major draw with its soft, white sand and those clear, emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Other outdoor adventures can be enjoyed at places like the Rosemary Beach Racquet Club, popular for its clay tennis courts (lessons and clinics available), and the 18-mile Timpoochee Trail, a must-do for cyclists and hikers.


Coastal waters around Destin, Florida
Coastal waters around Destin, Florida

Destin is a popular Emerald Coast getaway that’s famous not only for its stunning beaches but also for its incredible fishing. Nicknamed "The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village," fishing opportunities here include casting a line off the Destin Harbor Boardwalk to embarking on a fishing adventure with one of the many charters offering deep-sea excursions. This area of the Gulf of Mexico is also great for dolphin-watching tours.

The beaches in Destin are among the finest in the country, with Henderson Beach State Park in particular being popular for its mile-long shoreline, nature trails, and picnic areas. Other fun things to do in Destin include the family-friendly Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park with its water slides, lazy river, and wave pool (accommodations are also available).

Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach in Florida
Grayton Beach in Florida, via Alan LeStourgeon /

Its location roughly halfway between Panama City and Fort Walton Beach makes Grayton Beach an ideal and easy day trip from its larger neighbors. This laid-back town is popular with tourists for its old-Florida charm, especially noticeable in its historic cottages. Highlights of a visit include Grayton Beach State Park with its nearly 2,000 acres of picturesque landscapes, including a stunning white sand beach that stretch along the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to sea swimming and fishing, the park also features a coastal dune lake, a rare natural phenomenon where fresh water mixes with seawater creating a rich biodiversity that’s ideal for kayaking and paddleboarding.

For hiking enthusiasts, the park provides well-maintained trails that meander through pine flatwoods and along the shoreline with opportunities to spot local wildlife. While small, Grayton Beach’s downtown area is home to art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants, as well as the famous Red Bar, a favorite local hangout that’s popular for its live jazz music and eclectic décor.


Historic square shopping area in Seaside, Florida
Historic square shopping area in Seaside, Florida. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock.

Ahhhhhh, Seaside! Visitors will instantly recognize this charming master-planned community as the backdrop for the hit Jim Carey movie, The Truman Show, especially its pretty pastel-colored cottages with their white picket fences. Central Square is the heart of Seaside and boasts an array of specialty shops, art galleries, and gourmet food trucks, all of it fun to explore as the town's unique design encourages walking and biking.

Other Seaside attractions include the amphitheater, a popular gathering place that hosts regular concerts, movie nights, and other public events; and, of course, those beautiful beaches. Public beach access points are easy to spot and are framed by unique pavilions, each architecturally distinct and providing picturesque entryways to the Gulf of Mexico.


The pier at Watercolor, Florida.
The pier at Watercolor, Florida.

WaterColor is another idyllic master-planned resort town that’s worth including on any Emerald Coast travel itinerary. This picturesque and distinctly upscale community is home to the classy WaterColor Beach Club (WCBC), a great getaway spot for its tiered pools, ocean views, poolside service, and easy beach access. It’s worth noting that while a private facility, this prestigious facility can be accessed by guests staying at the neighboring WaterColor Inn & Resort.

In addition to its excellent beaches, WaterColor hosts a variety of shops and restaurants in its charming town center, including boutique stores that offer unique local crafts, art, and high-end clothing. Dining options range from casual eateries to gourmet restaurants, where visitors can savor fresh, local seafood and other culinary delights.


Beautiful historic district in Apalachicola, Florida
Beautiful historic district in Apalachicola, Florida, By Ebyabe - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, File:Apalachicola HD street01.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Last but by no means least, Apalachicola is a charming coastal town at the eastern extremities of the Emerald Coast that’s fun to visit for its rich maritime history and its status as an oyster port. One of the town's most notable attractions is the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, an extensive area that delves into the region's diverse ecosystems through its nature center, trails, and boardwalks. for exploring the local flora and fauna. It's also an excellent spot for birdwatching, photography, and simply enjoying the tranquillity of this pristine natural setting.

The historic downtown area of Apalachicola is another must-visit. Here, visitors can stroll along picturesque streets lined with antique and boutique shops, and art galleries housed in well-preserved 19th-century buildings. A visit to the Apalachicola Maritime Museum is a must, too, and highlights the town's oystering industry and offers insights into its nautical past. Speaking of oysters, food fans will relish the chance to sample fresh seafood, particularly oysters, which are of course a staple of the local cuisine.

The Final Word

As these six charming towns attest, Florida's Emerald Coast is an area of the Panhandle that’s simply begging to be explored. From the film-star streets of Seaside to the historic shores of Apalachicola, and from the luxurious ambience of WaterColor to the European flourishes on display in Rosemary Beach, these six most charming small towns in Florida's Emerald Coast promise memorable experiences that invite travelers to return time and again.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 6 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in Florida's Emerald Coast

More in Places