Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

The Best Small Towns in Florida's Emerald Coast to Chill Out In 2024

The Emerald Coast is a great place to chill out in Florida's Panhandle region in 2024. Its tropical beaches and azure-colored water beckon beachcombers, anglers, and family vacationers alike. There are secluded beaches with live entertainment, beach bars, and family parks.

The area stretches through seven counties and is world-famous for its laidback vibes and jaw-dropping scenery. Towns like Panama City Beach are known for their party scene, primarily during Spring Break, while towns like Santa Rosa Beach are known for their seclusion. Here are the best places to chill in the Emerald Coast in 2024.

Panama City Beach

View of Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida.

View of Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida.

Panama City Beach, or PCB, becomes a party hub every Spring Break. However, there is much more to this perfect beach town throughout the year. Among the many attractions are two state parks, St. Andrews and Camp Helen, along with 27 miles of pristine coastline.

The Sky Wheel is a fun attraction right on the beach. It is a 200-foot observation deck that rotates for unparalleled views of the Gulf of Mexico and the town. For a more chill experience, book a two-hour sunset cruise with Island Time Sailing, which offers a relaxing cruise through the waters around Shell Island.

Santa Rosa Beach

Aerial view of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, showcasing the town, beach, and ocean.

Aerial view of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, showcasing the town, beach, and ocean.

Santa Rosa Beach is a few miles east of Destin and is a tranquil setting when the crowds get too large. The coastal dunes and several parks offer a relaxing atmosphere with beautiful scenery. Topsail State Park is named for the shape of its dunes, along with its wetlands and old-growth pine forests.

You can also tour the impressive Wesley House, the centerpiece of Eden Gardens State Park in the historic Point Washington community. The Victorian home received an antebellum renovation and more extensive restoration in the mid-1960s. Guests are allowed to tour the mansion and gardens on the 163-acre property. Santa Rosa Beach is the ideal Emerald Coast town for tranquility and to avoid large crowds.


Harborwalk Village sign in Destin, Florida, USA, with people walking, shopping, and dining at cafes and street vendor restaurants.

Harborwalk Village sign in Destin, Florida, USA. Editorial credit: Andriy Blokhin /

Known as the "world's luckiest fishing village," Destin is a tropical paradise with multiple golf courses, state parks, and hiking trails. Henderson State Park offers 30-foot dunes, nature trails, 60 camping sites, and gorgeous coastline views. Destin Harbor Boardwalk winds around Florida's largest fishing fleet and offers numerous shopping and dining opportunities.

Another great spot to chill is Crab Island. The island is a massive sandbar in the emerald water, and you can enjoy the floating bars and obstacle courses by boat or simply by wading out. The Destin History and Fishing Museum offers a respite from the heat while learning about the fascinating history of this coastal town through exhibits and memorial walls.

Grayton Beach

Aerial view of Grayton Beach, Florida, on a beautiful spring afternoon.

Aerial view of Grayton Beach, Florida, on a beautiful spring afternoon.

Grayton Beach is a small, historic coastal village with a gorgeous coastline and an award-winning state park. Grayton Beach State Park is a 2,000-acre paradise with four miles of trails through scrub oaks and pines and primitive and cabin camping. West Lake is a premier fishing and kayaking destination with dunes and pine forest views.

The Underwater Museum of Art is a unique and very relaxing attraction. 58 feet below the surface, the sculptures rotate annually and include works from around the world. If you do not have a SCUBA certification, you can snorkel at Sea Turtle Reef, a collection of 58 reefs shaped like a sea turtle.

Rosemary Beach

Rosemary Beach, FL, USA. Locals and tourists often navigate this coastal town on bicycles, which are a common sight at the town center year-round.

Rosemary Beach, Florida, USA. Editorial credit: Ken Schulze /

Rosemary Beach is a planned community developed in 1995 for the climate, crowd-less beach, and scenic road. The designers used New Urbanist and traditional beachfront architecture with cobblestone streets for a visually stunning and laidback aesthetic. The Rosemary Town Center is a focal point for many, and the walkable streets are wrapped in three-story street-facing residences and rooftop bars.

The architecture and several restaurants, like Havana Beach Bar and Grill, evoke the Caribbean. You can also opt for relaxed fine dining at Edward's Fine Food and Wine. However, the best sunset view is at the Pescado Seafood Grill and Rooftop Bar. The relaxed atmosphere, natural scenery, and casual fine dining at Rosemary Beach make this a unique destination on the Emerald Coast.


Beachfront homes in Seaside, Florida, captured in a 4K aerial flyover from the Gulf of Mexico.

Beachfront homes in Seaside, Florida.

The small resort town of Seaside is known for its New Urbanist designs and pastel-colored homes with white picket fences. There is also a classic white-washed post office and stylish walkways leading to the sugar sand and tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The local art galleries are interspersed between independent shops like Sundog Books and Central Square Records.

The culinary scene is another fantastic aspect of Seaside. Airstream Row is a collection of retro Airstream food trucks serving everything from 100-layered donuts to barbeque. If you are looking for a restaurant setting, you cannot go wrong with Bud and Alley's. The waterfront restaurant and bar has been a staple for over 30 years, serving Gulf Coast classics and celebrating sunsets on the rooftop.

Navarre Beach

Navarre Beach, view down the beach.

Navarre Beach, view down the beach.

Navarre Beach is a peaceful retreat known for its many outdoor adventures. It is also a relaxing beach destination with natural wonders. The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge is an educational and rehabilitative center where you can learn about this coast's natural species and habitats.

Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Area is another marine life educational center with live exhibits and is home to Sweet Pea, the resident sea turtle. The 1,500-foot Navarre Beach Fishing Pier is ideal for sunsets and relaxation. The oldest family-owned restaurant in Navarre Beach is on the pier and serves some of the best food and views on the Emerald Coast.


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

Niceville is on the northwest shore of Choctawhatchee Bay, 14 miles from Fort Walton Beach. It is a quiet town near Eglin Air Force Base that is full of natural beauty. Nature lovers will enjoy Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. Previously a WWII gunnery barracks, the park is shaded by longleaf pines, some centuries old, and is a premier fishing and hiking destination.

The Turkey Creek Nature Trail is popular among visitors and locals. The family-friendly park has pavilions, swimming areas, and a shaded boardwalk leading past park benches and kayak slips. The walkable downtown is full of small-town charm and local retailers and is a perfect way to unwind after a day at the nature trail.

Relax and Explore the Charm of Florida's Emerald Coast

There may be no better place in the Southeast for chilling than the Emerald Coast. The beaches are some of the best in the world, with sugary sand and clear blue water, and there are many state parks and nature trails, like in Niceville and Grayton Beach.

Part of the attraction to this area is the small-town charm, hospitality, and fine casual dining. This unique combination provides a pleasant atmosphere where you can throw all your cares away. Seaside and Rosemary Beach were developed for the tranquil environment, offering an authentic beach aesthetic and attractions. There is a lot to see and do along this coast, but it is also the best place to do nothing but relax.

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