9 Best Small Towns In Florida Panhandle For A Weekend Escape

The Florida Panhandle is known for bountiful beaches and significantly historic downtown areas, all set surrounded by wilderness. These gulf and bay-bounded small towns come with an unspoiled environment of pristine shores, endless turquoise depths, and prolific fishing opportunities. 

Apalachicola 

Old heritage wooden villas in Apalachicola, Florida
Old heritage wooden villas in Apalachicola, Florida. Editorial credit: travelview / Shutterstock.com

           

Set in the Gulf of Mexico, Apalachicola is one of the most charming small towns in Florida to visit for a weekend escape. Known as the region's seafood hub, it also comes with a stroll-worthy downtown area full of diverse eateries, where one is in for a real treat of the "Oyster Capital of the World." The town is bounded by one of the perfect beaches, set off-center for a secluded paradise feel where one can continue munching on the delectable shrimp, mussels, and blue crab. The conglomeration of historic buildings on the main street interspaced with trendy shops gives the townscape a strong picturesque appeal. Set behind the old stone-brick facades, one can browse for everything from antique glass fishing floats and modern art glass to sponge warehouses, the town's other specialty. Off the main street, one will find a historic neighborhood full of Victorian houses topped with turrets, along with stained glass wooden churches to marvel at endless wanders.

Alligator Point

Alligator Point, Florida
Alligator Point, Florida.

Placed between the Gulf of Mexico and Alligator Harbor, the charming and sparsely populated rural beach community is reminiscent of the old coastal Florida, with raw nature at the door. Offering one of the most secluded beach locales, it is the ultimate weekend escape for all the loners and romantics. The beach spread over a cozy 8-mile shoreline calls for reminiscent walks to get up-close and personal with Mother Nature's surrounding beauty. Set as a strip of land creating a bay between itself and Florida's lively coast, the town is known for its unspoiled environment, where the bay's favorable habitat produces the world's best saltwater clams. Just a few minutes away, the Bald Point State Park offers plenty of wildlife to explore via hiking, biking, canoeing, and kayaking. To recharge, one must visit Angelo's and Sons across the Ocklocknee River, known as one of the best and most beautiful seafood establishments in the state.

Carrabelle

A couple paddles in kayaks along the salt marsh near Carrabelle on the Florida Panhandle
A couple paddles in kayaks along the salt marsh near Carrabelle on the Florida Panhandle. 

The charming and sparsely populated beach getaway of Carrabelle is a perfect weekend destination for anyone wishing to immerse into a small, cool-town vibe. The vibrant atmosphere comes with the famed Oyster shacks, the annual Riverfront Festival, and great nightlife, among those private moments of true respite. One can have a sunset dinner at the waterfront restaurant serving freshly-caught seafood while watching the golden ball of flame fizzle into the waters and fire-up everything around in a truly unforgettable spectacle. One can stroll around the sun-drenched streets to get the feel of the laidback vibe in-town or opt for the lively full-fledged marina with vistas of dolphins frolicking in the Gulf and the famous Crooked River Lighthouse. The D-day fans will appreciate the intriguing detail behind the training procedures demonstrated at the Camp Gordon Johnston WWII museum when paratroopers landed on numerous beaches in France on June 6, 1944.

DeFuniak Springs

Aerial image of Lake DeFuniak in DeFuniak Springs, Florida
Aerial image of Lake DeFuniak in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. 

Known for the pronounced Victorian feel, the small town of DeFuniak Springs is an architectural paradise for all the history fanatics on a weekend getaway. Nestled around the namesake perfectly-circular lake, one of the two in the world, there is easy access to beautiful nature and bountiful outdoor activities right from the doorstep. Lake Stanley park offers hiking, fishing, and boat tours, while the Circle Dive Historic Centre sets one up for a great day of exploring the little town and enjoying its splendid Victorian structures by foot. The chamber of commerce building offers walking tour maps narrating the history of the homes for a deeper insight into the town's significant attractions. One can spend a scenic afternoon admiring the ornately detailed, turn-of-the-century Victorian houses, including one of the state's oldest libraries, from the sidewalk encircling the spring-fed lake. The mile-long pathway is great for a casual walk, jogs, and dog walks when visiting for a weekend with a pet.  

Mexico Beach

Beach Houses at Mexico Beach, Florida
Beach Houses at Mexico Beach, Florida. 

Set between Panama City and Port St. Joe, the coastal gem of "Mayberry on the Water" is hidden along the Florida Panhandle for a truly quaint getaway, with only one stoplight in town. The quieter and less expensive destination also comes with 5 miles of white sandy shores, prolific Gulf fishing, and water fun in a remote setting. The cute townscape is dotted with small, local eateries and shops that add to the vibe, along with many vacation rentals and one El Governor Motel for staying. The casual dining places include Killer SeafoodCaribbean Coffee, and Mango Marley's, known for Watermelon Margaritas. Upon getting hit hard by Hurricane Michael, the town bounced back with new local hotspots, including boutiques and art galleries. Comprising a real respite in a small-town atmosphere, one can still make the evening drive to the nearby party life at Panama City Beach. In the vicinity, one will also find many rivers, canals, lakes, and bays with kayaking opportunities and wilderness to explore. 

Navarre

Pier at Navarre Beach, Florida
Pier at Navarre Beach, Florida. 

Sandwiched in-between Pensacola Beach and Fort Walton Beach, the small coastal gem of Navarre is known for a cozy townscape bounded by one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. With an apt name that induces tranquility, Navarre offers a peaceful and calm environment with complementing activities for a real respite. While strolling along the beaches, one will come upon the notable Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, known as one of the most beautiful fishing piers in Florida, with the best, Instagram-worthy views. The many family attractions include the Navarre Beach Marine Park, the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station, the Sea Turtle Conservation Center, and the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary. One can grab a delicious breakfast taco at JJ Chagos before checking out the artificial reefs or hitting the scenic hiking trails at the Blackwater River State Forest.

Port St. Joe

Aerial view of Port St. Joe, Florida
Aerial view of Port St. Joe, Florida. 

Steeped in deep history, the culturally vibrant town was once a prominent port city and the birthplace of Florida's state constitution. Formerly the Town of St. Joe, it was abandoned in 1842 when a plague hit the town with an outbreak of Yellow fever. Furthermore, having weathered severe storms, Port St. Joe came back stronger than ever in 1999, with a new color and a dressed-up beach scene. Nestled on the upper Gulf Coast, the small port town is one of the most affordable and famous getaways along Florida's Panhandle for the beautiful beaches and the laid-back vibe in-town with friendly locals. The charming downtown sprawling the bay's banks comes with a beautiful marina for those evening strolls with endless picturesque views and photo ops. One will find streets lined with early 20th-century storefronts, Southern diners, and a renovated historic hotel, along with the must-visit historic Constitution Convention Museum State Park.

Seaside

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

Just minutes west of Panama City Beach, Seaside offers a weekend escape with a beach resort vibe coupled with a beautiful and peaceful environment. Suitable to its name, the townscape emanates calming vibes, while its picturesque pastel-colored houses set stark against the sapphire waters induce the brain chemicals to feel inspired. Known for its New Urbanism stance, the town is equipped with great pedestrian shopping areas, beautiful beaches, and various accommodation options, all within a 10-minute reach. The locale was also used for some scenes in the Jim Carrey hit movie, The Truman Show, with its quirky character showing through the eclectic local eateries, set alongside great seafood dining establishments. The streets are lined with quaint shops, galleries, and cafés, while the annual 30A Songwriters Festival features live music performances at the venues and along the scenic 30A Highway. In the center, one will also find a weekly market and outdoor concerts, among other annual events hoarded by tourists and locals alike.  

St. George Island

St. George Island, Florida
St. George Island, Florida. 

Just off the main coastline of Florida's northern Gulf Coast, St. George Island extends for some 28 miles from the St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge Island to Dog Island. Located 1.5 hours east of Panama City, the island location offers an exclusive weekend getaway that can be reached via a bridge from the town of Eastpoint. Set near Apalachicola Bay, it is in the area known as the seafood lover's paradise, along with many beaches for fishing and other water fun. One can opt for the easily-accessible public beaches or pay to enter the Florida State Park with the advantage of camping access, which is perfect to set base and explore the area around during a weekend escape. Bounded by beautiful sand dunes, the wondrous park also comes with endlessly scenic trails for hiking throughout, as well as great pavilions for scenic picnicking.

Comprising a real respite in a small-town atmosphere, one can spend days basking away under the remaining summer's sun rays and tasting the state's best seafood. The cute townscapes come, straddling pristine sands with unforgettable sunsets behind the turquoise depths of the waters for one scenic weekend to remember.

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