A Local’s Guide to the Best Panhandle Beach Towns

You’re ready for a beach getaway, but want to avoid the usual tourist traps. As a Florida local, you know there are some hidden gem beach towns along the Panhandle that offer a perfect escape. Forget the high rises and chain restaurants of the mega-resorts, these beach havens have small-town charm, natural scenery, and a relaxing vibe you can only find in the places locals go. You’re looking for unspoiled beaches, adventures, culture, and cuisine. From east to west, these beach destinations have everything you need for a memorable summer escape in Old Florida.

Get ready to discover the Best Panhandle Beach Towns getaway in the Florida. The summer sun is calling your name!

Top Best Panhandle Beach Towns

Destin: The Quintessential Best Panhandle Beach Towns

Best Panhandle Beach Towns
Best Panhandle Beach Towns

Destin is the quintessential beach town experience in the Florida Panhandle. Miles of soft white sand and emerald green waters are the main attraction here.

Destin’s beaches are some of the best in the world, with sugar-white sand and azure blue waters. Some top spots are:

  • Henderson Beach State Park: A pristine beach with scenic dunes and trails. Admission fee includes amenities like bathrooms, showers and picnic areas.
  • Norriego Point: At the end of Scenic Highway 98, this secluded beach offers peace and quiet. Perfect for a romantic stroll at sunset.
  • Crab Island: A popular sandbar just off the coast, only accessible by boat. Anchor up and enjoy swimming, snorkeling with fish and rays, and people watching.

When you’re ready to dry off, there’s plenty to do in town. Destin Commons is an open-air mall with shopping, dining, movies and attractions like a giant Ferris wheel. For eats, AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar and Dewey Destin’s are local legends for fresh seafood. Or grab an ice cream cone and stroll the harborwalk village.

Come nightfall, catch a show at one of the beachfront resorts like the Henderson or Sterling Shores, or head to the clubs along HarborWalk Village. When the music’s over, find a spot on the beach to star gaze – the night sky over the Gulf is stunning!

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway or an activity-packed vacation, Destin has something for everyone. Once you visit, you’ll soon be planning your return to this little slice of paradise.

Panama City Beach: 27 Miles of Sugar-White Sand

Best Panhandle Beach Towns
Best Panhandle Beach Towns

Panama City Beach is a classic Florida beach town with 27 miles of bright white sand and emerald green waters. Located in the Florida Panhandle, it’s the perfect spot for a laid-back beach getaway.

Sugar-White Sand

The sand here is as soft as sugar and squeaks under your feet as you walk along the shore. Find your perfect spot along the expansive coastline, lay out your towel and umbrella, and soak in the sun. The stunning beach is also ideal for swimming, sandcastle building, beachcombing, and sunbathing.

Outdoor Adventures

In addition to beachgoing, Panama City Beach offers opportunities for outdoor recreation. Go boating or fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, try jet skiing or kayaking in the surf, or take a sunset stroll along the beach. For an adrenaline rush, check out the amusement and water parks like Shipwreck Island Waterpark and Coconut Creek Family Fun Park.

Delicious Eats

Recharge after a day in the sun at one of the casual beachfront restaurants. Fresh seafood like grouper sandwiches, fish tacos, and crab cakes are always a good choice. Or grab an ice cream cone and stroll the beach as the sun sets over the water, painting the sky with orange and pink hues.

Laid-Back Lodging

Panama City Beach has resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals to suit any budget. Wake up to beach vistas from the balcony of an oceanfront hotel or stay in a beach house and enjoy all the comforts of home. Either way, you’ll be just steps from the sand and surf.

With scenic natural beauty, outdoor recreation, great food, and relaxing places to stay, Panama City Beach has all the ingredients for an amazing beach getaway. Come experience the laid-back beach vibe and sugar-white sand of Panama City Beach.

Pensacola Beach: Beautiful Beaches and a Laid-Back Vibe

Best Panhandle Beach Towns
Best Panhandle Beach Towns

Pensacola Beach is a perfect destination for those seeking beautiful white sand beaches without the crowds. Its laid-back beach vibe will make you want to stay longer.

Miles of White Sand Beach

Pensacola Beach stretches along the Gulf Coast with over 15 miles of white sand beach and emerald green waters. The beach is wide open, never crowded, and the sunsets are stunning. You’ll have plenty of space to spread out, sunbathe, swim, and build sandcastles with the kids. The gentle surf is ideal for swimming and other beach activities.

Outdoor Adventures

In addition to swimming and sunbathing, Pensacola Beach offers opportunities for kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, and jet skiing. Rent gear right on the beach to explore the coastline and search for dolphins. For thrill-seekers, parasailing high above the gulf is a bucket list experience. You can also go deep sea fishing and catch your dinner, with charters leaving right from the beach.

Delicious Fresh Seafood

Speaking of dinner, the seafood in Pensacola Beach is amazing and fresh from the Gulf. Casual beachfront restaurants have outdoor patios where you can dine in your swimsuit and flip flops. Try the blackened redfish, crawfish etouffee, or a “shrimp basket”. And you can’t go wrong with a bushwacker, Pensacola Beach’s signature frozen cocktail.

Low Key, Relaxed Lifestyle

Unlike some flashy beach resorts, Pensacola Beach has a simple, laid-back vibe that embraces the natural surroundings. You won’t find massive high-rise condos or upscale resorts. Instead, beach cottages, vacation rentals, and a few motels with retro flair keep things casual. The pace is slow, and the attitude is chill. For a relaxing beach getaway without pretense, Pensacola Beach delivers.

Best Panhandle Beach Towns
Best Panhandle Beach Towns

Navarre Beach is one of the Panhandle’s best kept secrets. Tucked between Pensacola Beach and Fort Walton Beach, this small beach town has maintained its retro Old Florida vibe.

Miles of Uncrowded Beach

Navarre Beach is home to over 9 miles of undeveloped beachfront. You can walk for over an hour in either direction and rarely see another person. The soft white sand and gently rolling dunes feel like stepping back in time. The beach has a rustic appeal with little development aside from a few beach houses and small condos. You won’t find massive high-rises or a bustling boardwalk scene here.

Outdoor Adventures

In addition to swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing, Navarre Beach offers opportunities for kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and bird watching. Just offshore lies Santa Rosa Sound, a brackish estuary perfect for paddling. You can spot herons, egrets, pelicans, and bald eagles along the shore and in the Sound. For anglers, the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier extends 1,545 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. You never know what you might catch—pompano, flounder, mackerel, redfish, and even sharks are common catches.

Where to Eat & Stay

Dining options are limited to casual beach fare, but the views are hard to beat. Juana’s Pagodas and Sailors’ Grill are popular spots right on the beach with fresh seafood and cocktails. As for accommodations, check into an old-school beach motel like the retro Holiday Inn Express or one of the beachfront vacation rentals. There are only about 30 small condo complexes and no major resorts.

Navarre Beach is ideal for a quiet beach getaway with an authentic Old Florida vibe. Lounge on the deserted beach, go paddle boarding at sunset, reel in fish from the pier, and dine al fresco under beachy pagodas. This little beach town may not stay a secret for long, so discover its retro charms now. The undeveloped natural setting and slower pace of life will make you want to stay and move in permanently.

Mexico Beach: A Peaceful Escape From the Crowds

Best Panhandle Beach Towns
Best Panhandle Beach Towns

Mexico Beach is a peaceful beach town on Florida’s Panhandle, ideal for a relaxing getaway from the crowds. Located just east of Panama City Beach, this quiet community has a retro beachy vibe and miles of undeveloped shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico.

If you’re looking to escape the party scene of Panama City Beach, Mexico Beach is a perfect alternative. You won’t find any high-rise condos, nightclubs or amusement parks here. Instead, this small town has a nostalgic beach village feel with colorful beach houses, beach shops, and laid-back seafood shacks. The pace is slow and the beaches are often nearly empty, especially if you head east of the pier.

You can easily spend your days swimming, sunbathing, beachcombing, or kayaking on the calm gulf waters. Chartered fishing trips are also popular, with opportunities to reel in mackerel, cobia, red drum, and pompano. At night, stroll the beach under the stars or grab fresh seafood at Killer Seafood, Mango Marley’s or Toucan’s Bar & Grill.

Some highlights of Mexico Beach include:

  • Uncrowded white sand beaches perfect for a relaxing day in the sun. The beaches east of the pier are especially secluded.
  •  Historic pier – At 1,500 feet long, the Mexico Beach Pier is a popular spot for walking, fishing and sunset photos.
  • Beach shops – Browse beachy boutiques like Gulf Foods, Sandcastle Gifts and Forgotten Coast Designs for souvenirs, beach gear and local art.
  • St. Joseph Peninsula State Park – Just 15 minutes away, this pristine state park has picturesque beaches, sand dunes and trails for hiking, biking and camping. Entrance fees apply.
  • Sunset cruises – For a memorable evening on the water, take a sunset dolphin cruise or sailing trip along the gulf coast. Several charter companies offer tours from Mexico Beach.

If you’re searching for an uncomplicated beach getaway without the crowds, Mexico Beach should be at the top of your list. Its peaceful setting and natural surroundings are perfect for a relaxing escape.

Port St. Joe: A Charming Beach Town With Stunning Sunsets

Port St. Joe is a picturesque beach town on Florida’s Forgotten Coast with stunning beaches and fiery sunsets. About 45 minutes from Panama City Beach, Port St. Joe has a charming small-town vibe without the crowds.

Beach Bliss

St. Joseph State Park boasts scenic nature trails and beaches with soft white sand and emerald green waters. You may spot dolphins frolicking offshore or birds soaring overhead. For solitude, head to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, a pristine barrier island with 9 miles of undeveloped beach. You can beachcomb for shells or just enjoy the peaceful sounds of the waves.

Sunset Spectacle

As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky ignites in a dazzling display of oranges and pinks. The St. Joseph Bay sunsets are legendary, with many considering them the best in Florida. For the perfect sunset viewing spot, go to Frank Pate Municipal Park, where you can see the sun setting over the bay and wetlands. The colors reflecting off the rippling water are a sight to behold.

Fresh Seafood

With its location on St. Joseph Bay, Port St. Joe offers fantastic fresh seafood. Indian Pass Raw Bar is an institution, serving up oysters, shrimp, crab cakes and gumbo since the 1930s. Grab a cold beer and a picnic table to enjoy the bayfront views. Or try Dockside Seafood and Raw Bar for lobster tails, mahi mahi and Apalachicola oysters.

Outdoor Adventures

Explore the bayous and estuaries of St. Joseph Bay by kayak or paddleboard. Rent gear or take a guided tour to spot herons, egrets, turtles and alligators in their natural habitat. For fishing, you can surf fish right from the beach or charter a boat to reel in mackerel, cobia and red snapper. Birdwatchers will delight in the diverse species that inhabit the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge just north of town.

With stunning natural scenery, fresh Gulf seafood and outdoor recreation galore, Port St. Joe is an idyllic beach getaway. Come for the sunsets, stay for the Southern hospitality and small-town charm. This unassuming beach town may just capture your heart.

Apalachicola: A Historic Town With Unspoiled Natural Beauty

Apalachicola, located in Florida’s Panhandle, is a charming historic town with miles of unspoiled beaches and natural scenery. This unpretentious beach getaway has something for everyone.

Stunning Beaches

Apalachicola is home to over 20 miles of white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Some top spots are St. George Island State Park, considered one of the best beaches in the U.S. with 9 miles of secluded coastline, and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, a 15-mile barrier island with rolling dunes and pine forests. You’ll find smaller crowds, soft sand, and gorgeous sunsets.

Delicious Fresh Seafood

Being a historic fishing village, Apalachicola offers some of the freshest seafood around. Head to any of the casual restaurants like Up the Creek Raw Bar for oysters, Boss Oyster for po’boys, or Tamara’s Cafe for shrimp Creole. Or buy directly from seafood markets like 13 Mile Seafood Market or Lynn’s Quality Oysters and cook up your own feast.

Unique Shopping

Downtown Apalachicola, with its antebellum architecture, is perfect for strolling, shopping, and dining. You’ll find art galleries like Gadsden Arts Center, bookstores like Downtown Books, and clothing boutiques. For local flavor, check out gator-themed souvenirs, raw honey, handmade jewelry, and Tupelo honey—a delicacy made from honey bees that pollinate Tupelo gum trees.

Outdoor Activities

When you want to enjoy the natural surroundings, go boating or kayaking in Apalachicola Bay, one of the most productive estuaries in the Northern hemisphere. It’s also a popular spot for bird watching, with many migratory birds. You can go hiking or biking in St. George Island State Park, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and Apalachicola National Forest. Or go fishing in the bay, river, creeks or Gulf—you may catch grouper, flounder, redfish, trout, and pompano.

Apalachicola’s fusion of natural and cultural attractions, along with its unspoiled and undeveloped feel, make it an idyllic beach getaway. No high rises, no crowds, just southern charm and hospitality. Discover this hidden gem in Florida’s forgotten coast.

St. George Island: A Serene Barrier Island Getaway

Best Panhandle Beach Towns
Best Panhandle Beach Towns

One of the most serene spots on the Panhandle coast is St. George Island. This 28-mile barrier island off Apalachicola Bay feels worlds away from the bustle of Panama City Beach. With secluded beaches, sand dunes, and salt marshes, St. George Island offers a peaceful escape in a pristine natural setting.

Miles of Secluded Shoreline

St. George Island State Park encompasses 9 miles of undeveloped beach with sea oats swaying in the breeze and sandpipers skittering along the shore. You may have this stretch of paradise all to yourself, especially if you go beachcombing at sunrise or sunset. The state park also protects sand dunes, salt marshes, and pine forests that are home to seabirds, turtles, and other coastal wildlife.

Laid-Back Island Vibe

The island has a deliciously unhurried vibe. Stay in a beach house or condo and stock up on supplies, because once you arrive, you won’t want to leave. Enjoy leisurely meals on the deck or screened-in porch and long walks on the beach. For dining out, the Blue Parrot Oceanfront Cafe is a popular spot with fresh seafood, icy cocktails, and beachfront views.

Outdoor Adventures

In addition to swimming, sunbathing, and beach walks, St. George Island offers opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and bird watching. Paddle through Apalachicola Bay, one of the most productive estuaries in the northern hemisphere, teeming with oysters, blue crabs, and finfish. Or hike the 4.5-mile trail through the maritime forest and marshland in Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park. Climb the lighthouse for panoramic views, then check out the replica of an early 1900s fish camp in the park’s interpretive center.

Whether you seek solitude, natural beauty or low-key adventure, St. George Island’s unspoiled charms are sure to refresh your spirit. Plan to stay awhile—you’ll find it hard to say goodbye to this little slice of paradise.

FAQs: Everything You Need to Know About Best Panhandle Beach Towns

So you’ve decided to take a beach vacation in Florida’s Panhandle. Smart choice! The soft white sand and emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico await. But with so many charming beach towns to choose from, how do you decide where to go? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions to help you plan your perfect getaway.

What’s the weather like?

The Panhandle has a humid subtropical climate, with hot, humid summers and short, mild winters. Summers are long, from May through October, with average highs of 88 F. The water stays warm through September, making it perfect for swimming and other watersports. Spring and fall can also be pleasant times to visit, with smaller crowds and lower prices. Winters are short and mild, ranging from December through February, with average highs of 64 F.

Which towns are the most family-friendly?

Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City Beach are very popular for families with kids. They boast quiet, shallow waters, kid-friendly attractions like water parks and mini golf, and more budget-friendly options for lodging and dining. For a quieter vibe, head to Grayton Beach or Seaside. They have beautiful beaches but more of a focus on outdoor recreation and natural scenery.

What’s the nightlife like?

If you’re looking to party, head to Panama City Beach or Pensacola Beach. They have the most bars, nightclubs, and live music venues along the coast. Fort Walton Beach and Destin also have an active nightlife scene, with many beach bars featuring live bands and DJs, especially during the peak summer season. For a quieter evening, choose a smaller town like Rosemary Beach or Watercolor. They have a few wine bars and restaurants but mostly shut down after dark.

What kind of accommodations are available?

You’ll find a range of lodging in the Panhandle’s beach towns, from luxury resorts and condos to budget-friendly motels and campgrounds. Condo rentals, especially in Destin and Panama City Beach, are very popular for families and groups. Pensacola Beach, Fort Walton Beach, and Grayton Beach also have hotel options right on the beach. For a quieter escape, try a beach cottage or bed and breakfast in Seaside, Watercolor or Rosemary Beach. No matter your budget, you’ll find the perfect place to rest your sun-drenched head.


So there you have it, a local’s guide to the Best Panhandle Beach Towns. Pack your bags, grab your sunscreen and a good book, and head out for a relaxing beach getaway. From the bustling boardwalks of Pensacola Beach to the secluded shores of St. George Island, there’s a perfect spot of sand waiting for you. Whether you’re looking for family fun, nightlife, or just peace and quiet, one of these charming beach towns is sure to fit the bill. The soft white sand and emerald waters of the Gulf are calling your name. Don’t miss your chance to soak in the laid-back beach vibe of the Panhandle. The summer sun won’t last forever, so get out there and make some memories. You’ll be glad you did!