Pirate's Alley on Harbor Boardwalk during sunny day in Destin, Florida. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

8 Most Inviting Towns in Florida's Emerald Coast

Often overshadowed by the glamor of nearby vacation destinations such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa, Florida’s western coast spanning along the calm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, features some of the state’s best-kept secrets.

Florida’s Emerald Coast stretches approximately 100 miles from the Florida peninsula to that state’s border with Alabama. The Emerald Coast plays host to pristine beaches, charming towns, and hidden histories that await your discovery. So pack your bags and head out to the Sunshine State’s most inviting towns.


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

Seaside sits along the sugary white beaches of Florida’s emerald coast. The town is largely known as a vacationer's dream as the local community is used to having plenty of visitors to this coastal oasis.

The heart of Seaside revolves around its breathtaking beaches. Sink your toes into the soft sand at Seagrove Beach and wade into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The beach is the perfect spot to work on your tan or have a family outing, as there are numerous activities along the beach. If you prefer to be on the move, then hit the paved trails at Grayton Beach State Park, which proves to be the ideal place to enjoy the views while getting exercise.

Following a day on the beach, sit back, relax, and enjoy a performance at the Seaside Amphitheatre, which hosts everything from children’s book readings to local band performances. The town also has amazing culinary experiences. Visit local restaurants such as the Shrimp Shack or the Great Southern Café for delicious southern cuisine.


The popular Harborwalk Village, Destin, Florida.
The popular Harborwalk Village, Destin, Florida. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via Shutterstock.com

With consistent averages year-round, this oceanside town is the spot for a vacation regardless of the season. Whether you are planning a family vacation or a romantic getaway with that special someone, there is plenty to fill your itinerary.

Start your visit to Destin by getting up close and personal with the ocean’s greatest creatures at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. For a wilder experience, head out to sea and hop aboard the Dolphin Sunset Cruise which will take you to the heart of dolphin territory so that you can witness these intelligent creatures in their natural habitat.

After, take in the local attractions as you walk up and down the harbor boardwalk which not only offers stunning views of the ocean but excitement as well. There is also nautical history that can be explored, tour through the Destin History & Fishing Museum to see local records and tall tales of the sea.

Miramar Beach

Aerial view of Miramar Beach, Florida, showcasing turquoise waters, pristine white sands, and coastal buildings under a clear blue sky.
Miramar Beach, Florida, showcasing turquoise waters and pristine white sands.

Sitting atop the list of "must-visit locations" in the entire state is Miramar Beach. The town is an affordable retreat that prides itself on being a family-friendly destination.

Head to Miramar Beach and secure prime real estate as the Florida sun begins to soar. As temperatures climb, you won’t have to travel too far to cool off. Take a refreshing dip in the ocean, which also offers an opportunity for swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and jet skiing, ensuring endless hours of aquatic fun for visitors of all ages. If you prefer Florida’s favorite pastime, hit the links at one of the local courses. Raven Golf Club comes highly recommended for those who visit.

After obtaining vitamin D, head back into town, where the excitement never ends. Miramar Beach is known for its blend of cultural influences, explore them by visiting the Emerald Coast Theatre Gallery, which hosts everything from standup comedy to renowned Broadway shows.

Port St. Joe

Setting sun behind 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

Situated just outside the hotbed of spring break vacations, Port St, Joe is about a 45-minute drive down the coastline. If you are looking for all the excitement Panama City can offer without the crowded beaches and long lines, then head to Port St. Joe.

Without a doubt, the smooth sand of St. Joe's Beach ranks among the highest in Florida. This beach is the ideal spot for swimming and kayaking, as the outer peninsula around the town allows for calm waters without the crashing waves from the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to explore Florida’s rugged outdoors, then head over to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. The park has plenty of walking trails and the lucky few might get to witness Florida’s wild animals in their natural habitats.

The town itself has a fascinating history. Dive into local legends, artifacts, and exhibits at the Constitution Convention Museum State Park, which proves quite popular among visitors. Also, the town always has something going on, so be sure to check local calendars for exciting events such as the iconic Sea Turtle Festival.

Fort Walton Beach

Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Overlooking Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Image credit pisaphotography via Shutterstock.com

Protected by the outer layer of Florida’s emerald coast, Fort Walton Beach was once a fortified outpost and important stronghold for the Spanish Armada, English Army, and even the Confederate Army due to the town’s strategic location.

Today, Fort Walton has transformed into a relaxed seaside town, but the town’s legacy can still be explored by visiting the Heritage Park and Cultural Center, which showcases the town’s past dating back to 1528. To explore even further back in time, learn about the town’s Native American ancestry at the Indian Temple Mound, which is a historic landmark dedicated to the earliest inhabitants of the land.

Stroll through the downtown area and take your pick from restaurants, cafes, and shops as you approach Fort Walton Beach Landing Park. Located just outside the downtown core, the park provides an opportunity to enjoy the boardwalk, relax in the grass, or enjoy a show at the amphitheater inside the park.


The Crestview Commercial Historic District in Crestview, Florida.
The Crestview Commercial Historic District in Crestview, Florida. Image credit Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

While Crestview is not directly located on the Gulf, it is only 25 miles away and remains part of Florida’s Emerald Coast. The town has long been in the shadow of its coastal neighbors, despite having plenty of exciting attractions to share with its visitors.

Start your exciting visit to Crestview by getting up close and personal with nature's wildest animals, head to the Emerald Coast Zoo for your chance to see wild animals ranging from massive bears to huge sea turtles. Or simply relax in the Florida sun, enjoy a book, a family picnic, or a walk in nearby Twin Hills Park. To learn about the town’s origins, visit the Crestview Historical Museum, which hosts exhibits ranging from Native American artifacts to key figures who once called the town home.


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

Enjoy the warm gusts of wind rolling off the ocean as you begin your search to find that perfect patch of sand at Navarre Beach, or spend your day wandering throughout the town. Regardless of your decision, there is plenty for everyone in this hotspot.

As the sun rises, grab a freshly brewed coffee at Cactus Flower Café and head over to the Navarre Beach fishing pier, the 1,545 feet long boardwalk stretches out into the deep crystal blue water and is a great spot to soak in the ambiance of the town. After, go check out nature's most beloved creatures at the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center which allows visitors to gain a better understanding of these majestical animals.

Afterward, continue to learn about the complexity of earth’s last great frontier, the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station is an environmental research center that focuses on educating visitors on marine life through its exciting and interactive exhibits.

Rosemary Beach

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

Not often do towns end up being as pleasant as they sound, but Rosemary Beach will surely exceed your expectations as it possesses southern charm unlike any other.

One of the best aspects of Rosemary Beach is the feeling of community the town can provide. It hosts plenty of events aimed at bringing the residents and visitors together, so be sure to check local calendars not to miss special events such as live concerts on the beach or the Rosemary Beach Uncorked wine festival.

For a more adventurous excursion, schedule time to visit Eden Gardens State Park, which is home to a vast forest and features exciting attractions such as the historic Wesley House. If the beach is more your vibe, head to Rosemary Beach and enjoy fun in the sun. As the night sets in, keep the beach vibe going by scheduling a campfire on the beach, visitors can book this unique event through the Rosemary Beach Service.

As one of the premier vacation destinations in the world, it should come as no surprise that Florida has plenty of must-visit vacation destinations. But if you want to avoid the tourist gimmicks while enjoying the sandy beaches and vibrant sunshine, then the emerald coast is the place for you. So, lather on your sunscreen, it’s time to relax and enjoy the sense of community visitors often experience during their visits to these most inviting towns along Florida’s Emerald Coast.

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