Aerial view of Navarre, Florida.

7 Coziest Towns To Visit In Florida's Emerald Coast In 2024

Florida is undoubtedly one of the best states in the country for beaches and amusement parks. From Miami Beach to Universal Orlando, millions flock to these attractions every year. Some prefer a different side of Florida, with mellow beaches, tranquil lakes, and charming town centers. On Florida’s Emerald Coast, you will find these features in high supply. Endowed with relaxing Gulf of Mexico shores, secluded islands, and adorable historic districts, whether you visit these towns for a day or more, you will leave feeling rested and refreshed. Rejuvenate and slow down this year with a calmer, more romantic side of Florida. Uncover seven cozy Emerald Coast towns that will help you do just that.


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

For a cozy coastal town with plenty of sand to go around, Navarre is home to “Florida’s most relaxing place”: Navarre Beach. The Pensacola News Journal put it best, saying, “Navarre ‘busy’ isn’t the same as Pensacola Beach ‘busy.’” This Santa Rosa County beach town is truly the cozier alternative to the busier Pensacola, offering visitors a more laid-back experience with the same beautiful seashore.

With thinner crowds and laid-back vibes, this is why Family Destinations Guide listed Navarre Beacasng as one of America's favorite secret beaches. Guests can lounge, snorkel to the offshore artificial reefs, and enjoy Florida’s longest fishing pier, the 1,500-foot Navarre Beach Pier. If you are down to venture a bit from town, the nearby Gulf Breeze Zoo is also tons of fun for the whole family. On August 3, 2024, the serene town of Gulf Breeze is also set to host a screening of Jaws 2, which was actually filmed at Navarre Beach.


Bluewater Bay Marina, Niceville Florida
Bluewater Bay Marina, Niceville, Florida.

In addition to being ranked one of the best places to live in Florida, the Northwest Florida Daily News describes Niceville as "a very pleasant place to be" in general. Once called “Boggy” due to its location on the Boggy Bayou, locals will tell you the town’s new name is all the more fitting. Kindness and hospitality are some of the town’s greatest charms, along with some of the prettiest nature in the state.

The Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park shines as a top attraction, offering excellent opportunities for fishing and boating in the Rocky Bayou and a spacious arm of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Elsewhere in town, the Turkey Creek Nature Trail is Niceville’s secondary nature highlight, with scenic swimming areas and a boardwalk for wildlife spotting.

Beyond being a nature haven, families with young kids will appreciate town attractions like the Niceville Children's Park and the Honeybee Ice Cream & Arcade. For adults, Niceville’s Eglin Golf Course and Mattie Kelly Arts Center offer the perfect way to relax and enjoy a more slow-paced activity.

Cedar Key

Waterfront buildings on stilts in Cedar Key, Florida.
Waterfront buildings on stilts in Cedar Key, Florida. Image credit JRP Studio via Shutterstock

The island town of Cedar Key is another charming place to visit for those looking to get out into nature more this 2024. To reach the 13 gorgeous islands in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, visitors can book tours with Cedar Key Boat Rentals or even set out on a fishing expedition with companies like Southern Salt Charters. As the name implies, wildlife viewing is a thing of true beauty in the refuge, from sky to sea. The island offers sightings of everything from eagles and seabirds to dolphins.

Back in Cedar Key, visitors can experience the cozy offerings of Old Florida. A stroll through town will open you to views of the historic architecture like the Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast. This bright teal Victorian manor was built in 1880 and makes for the perfect photo-op and an even better place to rest your head. History extends to attractions like the Cedar Key Museum State Park and the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum. But if you find yourself wanting more of the outdoors, Cedar Key’s Fishing Pier and the Cedar Key Public Beach are equally enticing as well as a great alternative for those who want to stay on the island.


The charming town of Seaside, Florida
The charming town of Seaside, Florida. Editorial credit: Kristi Blokhin /

If the brightly-painted Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast intrigues you, then the vibrant homes of Seaside will take your breath away. Once a backdrop for the hit film “The Truman Show,” Seaside’s pastel buildings and cottages are a town signature. The color scheme not only photographs beautifully but also creates a cohesive coziness that draws thousands of families to the beach town every year.

Keep in mind that access to Seaside’s beachfront requires visitors to either have a vacation rental or book a spot through Cabana Man at the Coleman Pavilion. While this may feel like a hassle for some, other beachgoers find that the gorgeous ocean views and sugar-sand shores make it well worth the effort. The reservation process also makes for a more intimate and comfortable beach vibe, favored by those craving a less crowded shore.

But have no fear, spontaneous vacationers: Seaside also offers plenty of other activities for those who prefer to stop by without a reservation. Visitors can grab food at Airstream Row, a collection of vintage Airstream trailers serving food truck-style bites. In 2024, the crowd-pleaser Frost Bites Hawaiian shaved ice trailer relaunched, and there are tons of other incredible treats to sample. The Seaside Amphitheater, for example, is another standout feature of the town. It hosts a variety of live performances throughout the year, like the Sounds of Seaside Concert Series happening on July 3, 2024.

Rosemary Beach

Rosemary Beach, Florida
Aerial view of the seaside town of Rosemary Beach, Florida.

Less than 30 minutes from Seaside, the vibrant town of Rosemary Beach has a similar relaxing atmosphere. Guests renting a place in town like the Worry Be Gone Cottage, or Beach Haven Cottage can savor romantic ocean views and private beach access. And while Rosemary Beach unfortunately lacks public shores, a brief five-minute drive will bring you to Camp Helen State Park. With a pristine beach and access to Lake Powell (Florida’s largest coastal dune lake), Rosemary Beach is your gateway to some of the best sights and experiences on the Emerald Coast.

Beyond its breathtaking coastline, Rosemary Beach is renowned for its charming town center. Visitors could, by all means, devote an entire day to the center, with leisurely strolls along cobblestone streets, cozy coffee dates, and upscale window shopping. Cafes like Amavida Coffee & Tea are the perfect place to grab a drink in the morning, while nighttime fares better at places like Gallion’s Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge. For dinner with a view, Havana Beach Bar & Grill has a fabulous rooftop dining option, or you could grab a light snack at Playa Bowls to explore more of the center’s shops and attractions, like the Curate art gallery. With adorable businesses at every turn, Rosemary Beach is truly so much more than its shores.

DeFuniak Springs

The beautiful Lake DeFuniak in DeFuniak Springs, Florida
The beautiful Lake DeFuniak in DeFuniak Springs, Florida.

If you are someone who prefers the comforts and charms of a more casual destination, the underrated town of DeFuniak Springs is the perfect place for a cozy lake day with the family. One of only two perfectly round spring-fed lakes in the world, Lake DeFuniak is the town’s unique anchor. Best accessed from Chipley Park, boating, fishing, and swimming are just a few of the family-friendly activities you will encounter at Lake DeFuniak. Visitors can rent a boat with nearby services like Gator Road Rentals or enjoy the lake’s beauty from one of the several piers.

From June 21 to 22nd, 2024, DeFuniak Springs will also host its annual LakeFest, a celebration of the rare lake and all it has to offer. Featuring paddleboarding, Cardboard Boat Races, live entertainment, and waterslides, the festival is one to mark your calendars for. Shortly after, June 28, the town will also have its Food Truck Throwdown, where you can sample a variety of delicious bites and vote for your favorite. But even if you miss these exciting events, Lake DeFuniak will still be waiting with the promise of endless fun.


Aerial view of Apalachicola, Florida.
Aerial view of Apalachicola, Florida.

Apalachicola, one of Florida’s most historic towns, is a charming port community that offers a delightful escape for those seeking simple pleasures. Settled where the Apalachicola River merges with Apalachicola Bay, it is no surprise that maritime culture and outdoor recreation are 2 thriving features of Apalachicola. Renowned as Florida’s largest producer of oysters, the town proudly lives up to its “Oystertown” moniker, boasting some of the finest seafood restaurants in the state.

For those eager to savor the famous shellfish, Up The Creek Raw Bar is the perfect spot to start, while establishments like Owl Café offer an array of other delectable American seafood classics. Once you have indulged in the local culinary scene, a hike along the Scipio Creek Boardwalk and Overlook is a great follow-up, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the area’s stunning scenes. This quarter-mile nature trail culminates in an overlook above the Apalachicola River, providing a perfect post-dinner view.

While Florida’s theme parks and busy shores offer their own exciting features, there is something refreshing about a slow-paced beach or a friendly lake town. The Emerald Coast does have its fair share of bustling shores and spirited resorts, but for those craving rejuvenation and relaxation, the towns on this list will have you forgetting the stresses of everyday life in no time. Whether enjoying Navarre’s relaxing seashore or slowing down with a day of dining and hiking in Apalachicola, these cozy Emerald Coast towns promise sunshine, bliss, and memories to last a lifetime.

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