Coastal waters around Destin, Florida

8 Lovely Small Towns to Visit in Florida's Emerald Coast This Summer

The Emerald Coast is in the Florida Panhandle along the Gulf Coast. It is about 100 miles of white sand, azure water, and laidback towns. The townspeople are friendly and welcoming, and the scenery is breathtaking. There is plenty of natural beauty interspersed with historical sites.

Boating, scuba diving, and lounging on the sugar sand beach are popular activities. But there are also great restaurants, cultural sites, and luxurious accommodations. Here are eight lovely small towns on the Emerald Coast this summer to visit.

Panama City Beach

Pier Park is Panama City Beach
Pier Park is Panama City Beach’s, via Fotoluminate LLC /

Panama City Beach, or PCB in local parlance, is the Spring Break Capital of the world. The pure white sand and clear water draw college revelers in the Spring, but there is more to PCB than just partying. Besides the beautiful beach are two state parks: Andrews and Camp Helen. Each state park offers hiking and biking trails and a chance to see native wildlife in their habitat.

For families, Hidden Lagoon Golf and Racetrack offers a one-mile go-kart racetrack and mini-golf. Shipwreck Island Waterpark has a wave pool and children-friendly water slides. Panama City Beach offers everything for thrill seekers and families. There is a reason why this slice of paradise is a highly sought-after destination.


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

Niceville is near Eglin Air Force Base and borders the Boggy Bayou, which opened to the Choctawhatchee Bay. This quaint and friendly town is only about ten minutes from the beach. With 150 years of history, Niceville is one of Florida's oldest continually habited communities.

Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park is a great spot for tremendous saltwater fishing and watching sunsets. In town, there are breweries and restaurants like 3rd Planet Brewing, a great way to end a day of hiking and exploring. Niceville is perfect for nature lovers and provides plenty of photo opportunities. Turkey Creek Nature Trail is one of the best spots and provides a serene hiking trail.


Harborwalk village and boardwalk in Destin, Florida.
Harborwalk village and boardwalk in Destin, Florida. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via

Known as "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village," Destin is an angler's dream. Its white sand beaches and clear water attract beachcombers from all over the world. A key attraction is the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, which is ideal for coastal anglers and watching sunsets.

While water adventures are Destin's biggest draw, there are also cultural attractions. The Destin History and Fishing Museum features 75 fish species on the walls and in other exhibits. While in town, stop at the waterfront Harborwalk Village. This is a hub for shopping, dining, and boat rentals.


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

Seaside is a picturesque resort town with pastel-colored houses and the birthplace of the New Urbanist home design. The town and the beach are so picture-perfect that "The Truman Show," with John Carrey, was filmed here. While you walk around town, you can find a wide variety of shopping and dining options.

Airstream Row is a collection of retrofitted Airstream food trucks that serve gourmet food along a tree-canopied sidewalk. The best way to get around town is by walking or biking. At the end of town is the 18-mile Timpoochee Trail. Bud and Alley's Waterfront Restaurant is a favorite spot for locals and the perfect place to watch sunsets.

Rosemary Beach

Aerial view of Rosemary Beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Aerial view of Rosemary Beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Just east of Destin is the quaint town of Rosemary Beach. The town center has a variety of restaurants and shopping centers. This beach town offers a sophisticated yet relaxing atmosphere with cobblestone streets for a romantic getaway.

Pescado Seafood Grill and Rooftop Bar has unbeatable sunset views and great food, making it a top spot among residents and guests. La Crema Tapas and Chocolate are ideal for small plates and desserts. The Rosemary Beach Inn is a great place to stay. It is a European-style boutique hotel in the heart of town. The Pearl is a luxury hotel on Main Street that gives you immediate access to the shops and restaurants.


Facade of colorful houses along the bay in Navarre, Florida.
Facade of colorful houses along the bay in Navarre, Florida.

Navarre locals consider their tranquil beach town "Florida's most relaxing place." This small town on Santa Rosa Island has outdoor recreation, pristine beaches, and award-winning seaside dining. The Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, at 1,545 feet, is the longest in Florida and the 15th longest pier in the US.

The Navarre Beach Marine Science Center opened in 2009. It hosts seminars and classes, and visitors are encouraged to become one of over 4,000 students. The best times to visit are April, May, and September through November. These months are stainless, and the temperature is 60℉-80℉.

Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach.
Fort Walton Beach. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock.

Fort Walton Beach, or FWB as locals call it, is a quaint town with white sand beaches on Okaloosa Island. The main attraction for visitors is the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. The park has dolphins, alligators, and even penguins.

FWB has several cultural attractions, including the Temple Mound Museum. The museum showcases the prehistoric mound and Native American exhibits. The Camp Walton Schoolhouse is a historic one-room schoolhouse constructed in the 1930s. After visiting the sites and attractions, stop at Dewey Destin's Seafood for seaside dining. The restaurant has a long history on the Emerald Coast and a fascinating back story.

Port St. Joe

Cape San Blas Lighthouse in Port St. Joe, Florida.
Cape San Blas Lighthouse in Port St. Joe, Florida. Image credit Arctyx Creative Studios via Shutterstock

Port St. Joe is a charming bayfront town with a laid-back atmosphere. It is a hub for anglers and boaters, and its downtown is walkable. Standing on St Joe Beach, you can see the TH Memorial Stone across the Joseph Peninsula. The peninsular stretches 20 miles into the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The historic Cape San Blass Lighthouse was relocated to Port St Joe in 2014 due to beach erosion, and visitors can climb it for a nominal fee. There are plenty of good restaurants like Sisters Bistros and Krazyfish Grille. Port St Joe has an old Florida feel and is a perfect location for a summer vacation.

The Emerald Coast has some of the prettiest beaches and water in Florida. The eight towns are ideal for a summer visit because of the sugar sand beaches, outdoor activities, and exquisite dining options. Seaside is a beautiful town with sophisticated amenities and a relaxed atmosphere.

Panama City Beach is a well-known party beach, but the smaller beaches of Navarre or Port St Joe are perfect for a relaxing vacation. The Emerald Coast has everything you need if you are looking for historical sites, tropical beaches, or a relaxed atmosphere.

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