Best Beach In The Panhandle: The Florida Panhandle is often referred to as the “Forgotten Coast” with many vacationers forgetting to even add this gem to their travel lists! The Panhandle’s allure can be attributed to the abundance of gorgeous white sandy beaches and the small town atmosphere you’ll find in most of the Panhandle towns. The Florida panhandle beaches tend to be a lot quieter and less crowded than many of the other popular beaches scattered across Florida’s coastline and the Keys. It is almost impossible to pick the best beach in the Panhandle, so instead we’re highlighting our top 10!
In fact all the beaches we’ve selected are pretty close to one another, so if you’ll be in the Panhandle for a while, there’s ample opportunity to explore them all. The beaches in the Florida Panhandle fly very much under the radar, making many of them popular amongst beachgoers after a peaceful getaway, away from large crowds.
1. Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is one of the most well-known beaches in the Florida Panhandle. The quartz sand makes for a shimmering oasis with plenty for nature lovers and families to enjoy. As the “Wreck Diving Capital of the South,” Panama City Beach is a popular destination for divers. The surf is also excellent for those looking to hang ten in the waves! If you’d like to take a couple of day trips around the Panhandle, Panama City Beach is a great place to stay as many of the most popular excursions depart from the town.
The city’s slogan is “The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches,” and it is hard to make any arguments otherwise. Panama City Beach’s beaches are vast, with white sands and emerald waters, and plenty of space to accommodate all visitors. Popular activities on the beach and in the ocean include swimming, surfing, boating, fishing, paddleboarding, kayaking, jogging, walking, and relaxing in the sun.
The beach also has multiple prominent piers that extend far into the ocean, and are great for fishing and walking along. There are also plenty of beachfront hotels, condos, and rentals available, so it is easy to find a great place to stay that is well within walking distance.
Aside from the beach, Panama City Beach’s main attractions include:
Pier Park – An outdoor shopping and entertainment center that has nearly 150 popular stores and restaurants.
SkyWheel – A 200 foot tall ferris wheel that offers some of the best views of the city available.
Shipwreck Island Park – A great waterpark with slides, pools, and a lazy river. Fun for the whole family.
The best resorts in Panama City Beach include:
Calypso Resort & Towers – A beachfront resort with condo-style accommodations, two pools, a gym, and stunning views of the gulf.
Marriott’s Legends Edge at Bay Point – A 4-star hotel featuring two-bedroom villas offering convenient access to nearby golf courses, and with the beach just a short drive away.
Grand Panama Beach Resort by Emerald View Resorts – A 4-star gulf-front resort with condos that have balconies overlooking the gulf and full kitchens. Plus, the resort has two pools and a poolside tiki bar.
2. Fort Walton Beach
Fort Walton Beach is the best beach in the Panhandle for families traveling with kids, with a bustling town jam-packed with attractions for the whole family. If a full itinerary is your idea of a vacation well-spent, then you’ll love visiting the various parks, museums and aquariums. When you need a day of rest, the emerald waters and soft-as-sugar sand down on the beach makes for a relaxing day outdoors.
Smaller and quieter than the major beach towns in the Panhandle, Fort Walton Beach is great for travelers who want to avoid the crowds and get the most out of their vacation. Plus, there is no better place in the state to go for anyone interested in watersports. Parasailing, deep sea fishing, dolphin tours, jet-skiing, and boat rentals are all very popular activities on Fort Walton Beach.
Aside from watersports and beach activities, popular attractions in Fort Walton Beach include:
Air Force Armament Museum – Founded in 1975, the Armament Museum features a wide variety of fighter jets, historical weapons, and other fascinating military exhibits.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park – A marine adventure park with dolphins, sea lions, seals, turtles, and other marine animals.
Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone – A family fun center that features a roller coaster, arcade, mini-golf, and more.
The best hotels and resorts in Fort Walton Beach include:
The Island Resort at Fort Walton Beach – A beachfront hotel with two pools and a five-story waterfall, plus easy access to great dining and entertainment.
Hilton Garden Inn Ft. Walton Beach – A beachfront hotel with spacious rooms, a pool, a poolside bar, an on-site restaurant, a lazy river, and more.
3. Santa Rosa Beach
Santa Rosa Beach is a favorite amongst outdoor enthusiasts and is the best beach in the Panhandle for active nature lovers. The pristine beach aside, there are tons of nature trails, hikes, bike paths and birdwatching spots to explore.
The beach in Santa Rosa Beach is gorgeous, with white sands and crystal clear waters with sandbars and fish and manta rays swimming in the shallows. The beach itself is narrower than many of the other beaches in the Panhandle, so it is not as good for walking or jogging, but is great for just about every other beach activity.
Santa Rosa Beach is also an excellent place for beach camping. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and Grayton Beach State Park are excellent places to camp in a beach environment, while enjoying the sun, sand, and water.
Off the beach, Santa Rosa Beach’s major attractions include:
Grayton Beer Company – A large brewery with great beer and great service.
Point Washington State Forest – a 15,000 acre state forest with plenty of hiking trails and campsites.
The best hotels and resorts in Santa Rosa Beach include:
WaterColor Inn – A four-star hotel located right on the beach, the WaterColor Inn has spacious rooms, pools, three dining options, a spa, complimentary bikes, and more.
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa – A four-star beachfront hotel with amazing views of the gulf, eight bars and restaurants, and access to some of the best golf courses in the area.
4. St. George Island
The 22 mile long island gives off a real “untouched” vibe despite just under 1000 inhabitants calling the island home. The quaint island town offers incredible views of the Gulf of Mexico with two lighthouses to explore and plenty of fun activities to enjoy including kayaking, swimming and fishing in the crystal clear ocean.
The beaches on St. George Island are uncrowded, and the island is much less developed than most of the other beach destinations on the Panhandle, with no high rise hotels and condos. Popular activities on the beach include swimming, snorkeling, fishing, jet-skiing, and boating.
Main points of interest on the island include:
Saint George Island State Park – A beautiful park with vast beaches. Perfect for enjoying the sun during the day, and gazing at the stars at night.
Saint George Island Lighthouse – A historic lighthouse first built in 1833. There is a museum and a gift shop on the site.
The best hotels and resorts on St. George Island include:
St George Inn – A rustic hotel with southern charm, the St. George Inn is in an excellent location, and features everything you will need for a stay of a couple days, or longer.
Island Suites – St. George Island – A small boutique hotel located right on the beach. The Island Suites – St. George Island features rooms with balconies and stunning views of the gulf.
Destin is the most popular city in the Panhandle, attracting over 4.5 million visitors each year. People flock from all around the world to enjoy Destin’s pristine beaches and clear green waters.
Destin is the best beach in the Panhandle for fishing enthusiasts, with the town being dubbed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” As the nickname suggests, Destin is known for being one of the best fishing spots in the world with most fishermen reeling in impressive catches during their stays! When you’re not busy casting a line, enjoy some time out on the white sandy beaches or take a dip in the emerald waters.
Even if you are not interested in fishing, Destin still has plenty for you to do. From its popular beach activities, which include swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, paddle boarding, jet-skiing, and more, to its bars, shopping centers, and restaurants, Destin has endless options to keep you entertained.
Some other major attractions in Destin include:
Village of Baytowne Wharf – A historic section of Destin that is home to some of the city’s best dining, shopping, and nightlife. It also hosts frequent outdoor festivals and events that are fun for the whole family.
Destin Harbor Boardwalk – A quarter-mile long boardwalk offering some of the best view of Destin’s famous harbor.
Destin Commons – An open-air shopping mall with 80+ restaurants and museums.
Destin History & Fishing Museum – A small but interesting museum that preserves the storied history of the city.
6. Perdido Key
Perdido Key is one of the Panhandle’s lesser known islands and rings true to its name, which translates to “lost.” This hidden gem is by far one of the most beautiful beaches in the Panhandle. Spotting sea turtles, sea birds and the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse are common occurrences making Perdido Key the best beach in the Panhandle for wildlife lovers. On the beach itself, you’ll find sand dunes and breathtaking views of the Gulf and its emerald waters.
Perdido Key is much more laid back than its larger neighbors, like Destin and Panama City Beach. The city is perfect for a slow, relaxing vacation away from most of the crowds that come to the pandhandle. 16 miles in length, over 60 percent of the island is made up of federal or state parks, making Perdido Key the perfect place to get in touch with nature.
Points of interest in Perdido Key include:
Blue Dolphin Cruises – one of the best dolphin cruises in the state. Dolphins frequently come right up to the boat.
Lost Key Golf Club – 18-hole Arnold Palmer signature course.
Pensacola is one of the most famous beaches in the Panhandle, known and loved for its picture-perfect powdery beaches and emerald-hued shores. In fact, Pensacola Beach is consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in Florida. There is plenty for beachgoers to do including strolls, shelling, snorkeling, sundowners and a monthly gathering to gaze at the stars.
Pensacola is one of the Panhandle’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting over 2 million visitors annually. The beaches can get crowded, but there is plenty of room for everyone, with multiple beaches, oceanfront recreation areas, and beach state parks to choose from.
Popular activities on Pensacola’s beaches include swimming, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, walking, and jogging.
Off the beaches, popular attractions in Pensacola include:
Fort Pickens – Near Pensacola, Fort Pickens is a historic fort built in 1834, which saw combat in the Civil War. Today, the fort is a historical site open to tours.
Palafox Street – Widely considered the heart of Pensacola, Palafox Street is one of the city’s oldest streets, and runs right through the city’s downtown center. Plenty of great shops, bars, and restaurants line the street.
Seville Quarter – In downtown Pensacola, right off of Palafox Street, the Seville Quarter is the city’s premier nightlife destination.
8. Navarre Beach
Navarre Beach is the best beach in the Panhandle for eco-tourism and nature lovers to visit. It’s main attraction is its endlessly long pier, in fact the longest pier in the whole of Florida. You’ll definitely want to take a walk to the end and feel like you’re out in the middle of the ocean. Attractions include parks for kids, a butterfly park and duck ponds while popular activities include boating, swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Navarre Beach is one of the best-kept secrets in the Panhandle, so it’s very quiet and not crowded at all, perfect for a relaxing vacation.
If you want to experience the panhandle’s beautiful white sand beaches, emerald waters, and great weather at a slower pace than you’d experience in Destin or Panama City Beach, there are few places better than Navarre Beach.
Aside from the beach and pier, be sure to check out:
Navarre Beach Marine Science Station – A science station dedicated to teaching visitors about the marine ecosystem of Florida’s coast.
Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center – A sea turtle study and rehabilitation center with a 15,000 gallon aquarium. Attracts over 15,000 visitors annually.
9. Grayton Beach
Nestled between Destin and Panama City Beach, you’ll find one of the prettiest beaches in Florida, Grayton Beach. Enjoy the glass-like water and bright white sand while the quaint town rich in history provides a serene backdrop to lazy days spent on the beach.
Pay a visit to Grayton Beach State Park for fun activities like kayaking, hiking and cycling. The 400-acre state park features some of the most beautiful beach terrain in the Panhandle, and also includes a coastal forest, salt marsh, and plenty of sand dunes.
Other attractions in Grayton Beach area include:
Grayton Beer Company – A large brewery with great beer and great service.
The Shard Shop – An art boutique and workshop offering lessons and art for sale.
10. Okaloosa Island
Okaloosa Island spans across almost 900 acres of protected sand dunes with not a single high-rise in sight, making it well worth the entry fee. Instead, the pristine beach enjoys a postcard-like backdrop of clear blue skies. There are some great restaurants nearby for a spot of lunch plus some great shops to browse around in the main street. End off a perfect day with an outdoor movie experience, a popular evening activity on Okaloosa Island.
Other popular attractions on Okaloosa Island include:
The Okaloosa Island Boardwalk – Enjoy the best waterfront shops, bars, and restaurants Okaloosa Island has to offer.
Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier – Stretching 1,262 feet into the gulf, the pier is the perfect place to cast a line, take in the beauty of the area, or snap pictures of the dolphins, sea turtles, and sea birds that frequent the area.
Which is the best beach in the Panhandle?
There is no one best beach in the Panhandle because each one offers a different experience, atmosphere and other attractions. Whether you’re a newlywed couple, family with kids or nature lovers looking for an eco-tourism getaway, there’s a beach in the Panhandle calling your name! The one thing each beach has in common is how quiet and peaceful they are, you won’t find hordes of people on any of these beaches at a given time.
When Is The Best Time To Visit The Florida Panhandle?
Destin vs Panama City Beach: Which Beach Is Best?