7 Beautiful Beach Towns on Florida's Emerald Coast

The Emerald Coast runs from Pensacola to Port St. Joe in Florida's Panhandle region. It boasts some of Florida's most picturesque beach towns bordering emerald waters in the Gulf of Mexico. These seven towns offer pristine beaches, untouched sand dunes, and refreshing parks for scenic fishing, seafood dinners, and tranquility.

Cedar Key

Waterfront buildings on stilts in Cedar Key, Florida
Waterfront buildings on stilts in Cedar Key, Florida. Editorial credit: JRP Studio / Shutterstock.com

The beautiful town is set in the north-central part of Florida's Emerald Coast, just an hour southwest of Gainesville. Cedar Key brims with an authentic island-life vibe that attracts couples, fishermen, and artists to live and visit. The tiny enclave features an idyllic combination of "old" New Orleans architecture embraced by pristine beaches. One must get out into the waters to capture the town's most-instagrammable facade adorned in wild nature. The houses and storefronts are perched scenically on stilts above the Gulf of Mexico in the surroundings of lush nature preserves. The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge covers 762 acres of natural beauty spread over 13 Keys for endless explorative outings.  

The town is located near the end of State Road 24 and over four cute bridges that span across salt marshes and channels. The old fishing village of some 700 residents promotes relaxation to forget worries back home, away from everything and everyone. The idyllically-tranquil destination comes with many natural pursuits and in-town attractions. There are many popular joints to throw back a few beers and taste the region's renowned clam chowder prepared from fresh catch. Hikers enjoy discovering many nature trails with wildlife sightings, including shore and migratory birds, bald eagles, as well as bison, and bears. Evidence of spears and arrowheads in the area suggests a deeply-historic locale dating back to at least 12,000 years ago. One can also go on a hunt to uncover the wondrous shell mounds that were left behind by ancient Native Americans. 

Destin

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

Destin is one of the most beautiful Florida beach towns along the Emerald Coast. It is known for its rich local culture and spanned-out tourism sector that keeps investing in itself. Destin has become world-renowned as one of Florida's best cities for a beach vacation. It boasts beaches with powder-white sands bounding crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Despite being a widely sought-after destination, the city meticulously preserves one of the most pristine environments in Florida along the beaches. Destin also boasts the moniker "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village" to the delight of anglers and seafood lovers alike.

There are several distinct communities in town, with the westernmost area defined by the Destin Harbor, many high-rise hotels, and various activities to pursue. Those looking for a solemn place to live or visit must head to Crystal Beach or Destiny just east of the Henderson Beach State Park. The quaint Crystal Beach offers locally-owned inns, homes, and vacation rentals for a respite. Destiny is the high-end part of town where people move to settle. Young families thoroughly enjoy the beautiful city with many kid-friendly pastimes, great shopping ops for moms, and golf courses for the dads.

Fort Walton

Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Editorial credit: pisaphotography / Shutterstock.com

Fort Walton offers a fuss-free beach destination that keeps it real and simple with a complimenting moniker of the "Redneck Riviera." It is a beloved stop along the Emerald Coast with many attractions and one-of-a-kind culture in-town. Fort Walton boasts a perfect mix of Florida's most gorgeous natural scenery surrounding the busy central area with modern attractions. In-town, one will find various shops and popular joints that are always packed with regulars. There is also the pier for atmospheric strolls, fishing, and photo ops with wonderful views over the waters.

The rustic Giovanni's One89 is renowned for homemade Italian cuisine, while the Hightide right across the bridge to Okaloosa Island is made for seafood-lovers with the freshest oysters on the menu. The Gulf is an entertainment-laden scene with ping pong, hammocks in the sand, and movies, along with fire pits and beers on tap. Fort Walton boasts a tranquil shoreline for some R&R, while the beaches are bountiful with active pursuits. There's year-round fishing, sunset strolls, and live music at the docks during summer. Other family-friendly attractions include fresh-air parks, museums, and aquariums in the area.  

Grayton Beach

Overhead view of Grayton Beach, Florida
Overhead view of Grayton Beach, Florida. 

Grayton Beach is soaked with an old-Florida vibe and natural scenery for activities in and around the town. The picturesque townscape is full of Hemingway-style wooden homes and vibrant art galleries along the streets that lead to wonderful swimming beaches. The town hosts some of the most unspoiled environments at the beaches, including the main beach and the secluded Grayton Beach State Park with emerald-green waters. There's also plentiful hiking and biking around the natural paradise. The two nearby coastal dune lakes offer a rare opportunity to kayak or canoe in one of the most breathtaking settings for hundreds of miles around. 

The enclave with funky roots and the unofficial slogan of "Nice dogs, strange people" attracts many artists and hippies. It brims with many sights and entertainment options along the eclectic streets. The low-lit dive of The Red Bar features live bluegrass folk bands, while the Chanticleer Eatery's Creole serves delectable crab claws and spicy jambalaya. The Shard Art is a beloved shopping locale for un-replicable sea glass collages. They make for the coolest souvenirs to bring home and reminisce forever after about the heavenly locale. The popular Beau Interiors is renowned among decor fanatics for beach-vibe furnishings that dreams are made of. 

Navarre

Aerial view of the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier in Navarre, Florida
Aerial view of the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier in Navarre, Florida. 

Navarre is perched along the long and narrow Santa Rosa barrier island, with the neighboring Gulf Islands National Seashore and Pensacola Beach further down. Its former official nickname of "Florida's Best Kept Secret" has been "uncovered," with a new defining slogan of "Florida's Most Relaxing Place." Many know the scenic town along Florida's Emerald Coast as the best for relaxed vibes to attain well-deserved peace and tranquility. There is also a myriad of active pursuits around, such as scenic bike cruises and strolls, as well as the coast's longest pier for bountiful angling ops and endless water vistas.

Beautiful relaxing scenic landscape views of Navarre Beach, Florida
Beautiful relaxing scenic landscape views of Navarre Beach, Florida. 

The destination for solitude-seekers promotes peace and relaxation in a naturally beautiful setting that has it all. The beach area retains a lower crowd ratio even during the summer months, while the warm temperatures hold through the fall-time for swimming. The beach boasts snowy white sands bounding emerald green waters in the surrounding wilderness. The truly laid-back atmosphere on the streets can only be experienced in person, with the town's prominent character and vibe imprinted forever following a visit. Culture fans will appreciate military aircraft sightings and historical attractions such as the Eglin Air Force Base and the Hulburt Air Force Base. 

Pensacola

A panoramic view of Pensacola beach, Pensacola, Florida
A panoramic view of Pensacola beach, Pensacola, Florida. Editorial credit: ABEMOS / Shutterstock.com

Pensacola Beach comprises a perfect getaway for the upcoming fall season when the beach crowds begin to thin after mid-September, but the temperatures remain warm even through the winter. The most suitable time is November for a beautiful combination of perfect weather strolls along the shorelines and overcast, rainy days featuring rough waters for that special beach atmosphere. Pensacola is renowned for breathtaking sunsets from the pristine beaches no matter what time of year. 

The iconic Pensacola Beach Ball located mere steps from the sugar-white sands of Pensacola Beach
The iconic Pensacola Beach Ball located mere steps from the sugar-white sands of Pensacola Beach. Editorial credit: Rotorhead 30A Productions / Shutterstock.com

The site of the Pensacola Beach water tower is just across the bridge to Santa Rosa Island. It is the community's symbol set in the parking lot of the legendary Pensacola Pier Park. The city trolleys are a great way to get a scope of everything Pensacola has to offer via a stroll. The vibrant streets are lined with various themed restaurants, great shopping opportunities, along with a water park. The town is also home to the Blue Angels Navel Base, with opportunities to sight the dexterous fleet performing tricks in the sky. 

Seaside

A late-afternoon aerial view of picturesque Seaside, Florida from the Gulf of Mexico
A late-afternoon aerial view of picturesque Seaside, Florida from the Gulf of Mexico. Editorial credit: Rotorhead 30A Productions / Shutterstock.com

The beach town was initially established along the beautiful Emerald Coast as a movie set for the Truman Show. The little gem offers a great getaway to spend days soaking scenery in the sun, with a renowned shopping and food scene in town. Pastel-colored houses and white picket fences adorn the sandy shores. The beaches are known for gentle surf and shores draped with magnolias, hickories, and pines. The real tranquil setting also comes with a pedestrian-friendly area calling to stroll down the scenic, brick-paved streets lined with many attractions.

Seaside's tranquil vibe comprises a popular destination among families. It is the postcard-perfect locale with kids riding bikes down the alleyways and adults perusing through town in golf carts. The idyllic town also features manicured lawns aligned with rows of food trucks selling everything from a grilled cheese sandwiches to organic cuisine. The tiny post office and the cute clothing stands give off a real seaside vacation vibe, while the atmospheric Bud and Alley's restaurant overlooks the pristine sands, with a top deck for al fresco dining and drinks. 

Emerald Coast is a lesser-known treasure cove of sights, adventures, and some of Florida's most beautiful beaches. The scenery transports one right into the Caribbean for the best vacation-spent along the sugar white-sanded shores that locals refer to as Florida Snow. 

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