8 Stunning Towns to Visit on Florida's Emerald Coast

The Emerald Coast is a stretch of coastline in western Florida that faces the Gulf of Mexico. It includes many counties and numerous cities that are extremely popular among Americans and tourists worldwide. A mix of idyllic beaches, warm coastal waters, wonderful weather most of the year and a wealth of things to see and do in the towns themselves add to the appeal of the Emerald Coast.

Explore this area through the lens of these eight small towns. Find out what cultural, historical and natural destinations appeal to you when you take a trip through the Sunshine State.


Aerial view of beach houses in Seaside, Florida as seen from the Gulf of Mexico.

Seaside is the epitome of a quaint beach town, designed with the charm of a typical New England village but with a southern twist. It is famous for its “New Urbanism” architecture, where white picket fences and pastel-colored cottages line the streets, just like you see in New England, but in Florida, where the weather is sunny most of the year!

The central plaza is a draw for visitors and offers numerous essential amenities as well as delicious restaurants such as The Daytrader Tiki Bar and Restaurant, a lovely beachfront restaurant. The nearby Seaside Amphitheater offers all sorts of live music and events, adding to the relaxed and fun atmosphere.

A highlight of Seaside is its proximity to the white sand beaches and emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. With walkable streets and a range of outdoor activities, Seaside offers a perfect balance of relaxation and entertainment and is ideal for a vacation away from city life.

Panama City Beach

Turquoise waters of Panama City Beach, known for world-class resorts.
Turquoise waters of Panama City Beach, known for world-class resorts.

Panama City Beach, often abbreviated as PCB, like many beach towns on Florida's Emerald Coast, is popular for its beautiful beaches, nightlife, and family-friendly attractions. This city boasts more than 27 miles of white-sand beaches along the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Beyond its stunning coastline, Panama City Beach offers a variety of attractions to suit every interest. For families, there's Shipwreck Island Waterpark and Gulf World Marine Park, where visitors can interact with dolphins and other marine life. Pier Park, a large outdoor shopping and entertainment complex, offers a wide selection of retail stores, restaurants and an amusement park with a Ferris wheel. For a night on the town, you'll never run out of bars, live music venues, and beachfront clubs to hop around in. The Salty Goat is a popular spot in Panama Beach where you can grab a cool drink and enjoy live music.

For nature lovers, St. Andrews State Park is a popular spot for kayaking, snorkeling and hiking throughout the area.


View of Destin, Florida from Destin Harbor.
View of Destin, Florida, from Destin Harbor. By Destin Vacation Boat Rentals – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Destin is a bustling coastal city known for its crystal clear waters and world-class fishing culture. Often referred to as the “happiest fishing town in the world,” Destin has a wide selection of fishing charters to catch some of the most sought-after species in the warm coastal waters nearby. Visitors can participate in deep sea fishing trips with companies such as Semper Fish Destion, Emerald Coast Charters and several others.

If fishing isn't your thing, you can enjoy Destin's many other water activities like jet skiing, parasailing, and dolphin tours. HarborWalk Village is a popular spot for dining, shopping and entertainment, with an attractive selection of waterfront restaurants and live musical performances. For family fun, Destin is home to Big Kahuna's Water & Adventure Park, a family-friendly attraction with water slides and rides. Bring your sunscreen!

Grayton Beach

Aerial view of Grayton Beach, Florida.
Aerial view of Grayton Beach, Florida.

Grayton Beach, a close neighbor west of Seaside, is a historic town with a laid-back atmosphere. It's known for its eclectic mix of old Florida-style homes and modern architecture that really makes you feel like you're in a southern beach town. Be sure to visit the Studio Gallery to view and purchase your own Grayton Beach artwork. All exhibits come from local artists.

Grayton Beach is a gateway to the aptly named Grayton Beach State Park, a scenic area with multiple hiking trails, coastal dune lakes, and of course pristine beaches. This is also a place where you can enjoy the simplicity of a small town while being just minutes from outdoor adventures like kayaking, paddleboarding, and hiking.

For a cool drink after a long day of exploring (or at the start of a day, depending on how adventurous you're feeling on your vacation), the Red Bar, a local institution, is a must for live music, refreshments, and meals of the region.

Rosemary Beach

Aerial view of Rosemary Beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Aerial view of Rosemary Beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Rosemary Beach combines a European-inspired aesthetic with a coastal feel you've come to expect from this region. With cobblestone streets covering much of the city center, well-maintained public green spaces, and hidden courtyards, it's no wonder so many notice that this neighborhood has a distinct European vibe.

Rosemary Beach also hosts regular events such as farmers markets and arts festivals that promote a vibrant community spirit. If you want to do something indoors, check out the Cuate 30A art gallery just opposite the Pearl Hotel, an iconic place to stay with fantastic Gulf views.

Like many cities on this list, Rosemary Beach is known for its many beautiful beaches, where the turquoise waters and soft sand create an idyllic setting to kick back, read a book, have a drink or take an afternoon break.

Alys Beach

Mediterranean-inspired architecture in Alys Beach, near Florida's Emerald Coast.
Mediterranean-inspired architecture in Alys Beach, near Florida's Emerald Coast.

Alys Beach stands out from other towns along Florida's Emerald Coast with its Mediterranean-inspired architecture, with whitewashed walls and distinctive roofs. This city was originally designed to be pedestrian-friendly, with narrow streets and eye-catching landscaping that will hopefully make you want to get around by car.

Alys Beach is home to unique attractions such as the Alys Beach Tower and Caliza Pool, a stunning swimming pool with a resort-like feel. In the city center you will find high-quality boutiques and fine restaurants. Reserve a table at The Citizen, an upscale restaurant serving fresh seafood and handcrafted cocktails.

This beach town hosts a number of festivals including the 30A Wine Festival and Digital Graffiti, an outdoor art and digital art event that is spectacular to see at night.

Miramar Beach

Miramar Beach stretches across Destin, Florida, with emerald Gulf waters.
Miramar Beach stretches across Destin, Florida, with emerald Gulf waters.

With its mix of resorts, high-rise condos, and beach homes, Miramar Beach is a popular spot for those looking to own a piece of their own property in this idyllic part of Florida. For a shorter stay, a stay at one of the many resorts such as Mahjextic Sun or Henderson Beach Resort might be highly recommended. The expansive beach, with its vast stretches of soft sand and warm, clear water, is home to dozens of other accommodation options during your stay, so you don't always need to make a reservation in advance.

Miramar Beach is home to Silver Sands Premium Outlets, one of the largest outlet shopping centers in the area with several brand name stores. Miramar Beach's central location on the Emerald Coast also makes it easy to explore nearby attractions, including golf courses (Seascape Golf Course, right in the heart of the city) and amusement parks (Baytowne Adventure Zone, a short drive northeast).


Panoramic view of a tranquil pond in Niceville, Florida.
Panoramic view of a tranquil pond in Niceville, Florida.

As a destination not directly on the coast but a little further inland on Choctawhatchee Bay, Niceville offers a quieter alternative to the bustling coastal towns nearby. A standout feature of Niceville is its proximity to Eglin Air Force Base, making it a popular location for active military members or anyone simply interested in aviation. The city is also home to Northwest Florida State College, in case you want to feel like you're on vacation while studying.

Outdoor adventurers can appreciate the variety of recreational activities in and around Niceville. The Turkey Creek Nature Trail is a popular spot for hiking, jogging and boating. The boardwalks wind through lush forests and over a picturesque stream. There are also a number of places for boating, hiking and wildlife viewing at Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park.

The annual Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival draws visitors from across the region for live music, arts and crafts, and local food served fresh from the many vendors that have set up shop there.

Soak up the sun on the Emerald Coast

An alternative to Miami or Tampa Bay in South Florida, the Emerald Coast is a fantastic place to enjoy some sun on the beach and experience Florida's beautiful western seascapes. From the beaches and nightclubs of Panama City Beach to the many scenic amenities and wetland parks of Niceville, a trip through the emerald coats can be special given this region's almost always beautiful weather year-round. Tick ​​any of these eight small towns and you certainly can't go wrong if you're looking for a more relaxing time away from big city life.

List all the facts about places, landmarks, and history that you need clarification on, and then start checking all of those facts online. Keep going until you're done, so do multiple online searches until you're done. However, only check up to eight facts and only check the things you are unsure about.

Anna Harden

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