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A Guide To Florida Panhandle Beaches: The Best Of The Best (2022)

Florida is known for its endless beaches, but not all are as celebrated as others.

The Northwest coast, has never ending white sand beaches, emerald waters, and plenty of warmth from the Gulf, yet it’s easy to find secluded spots as this area is still a hidden gem to international tourists.

With no shortage of beauty, this overview guide to the Florida Panhandle beaches covers the best destinations to visit, how to get there, where to stay and what to do.

All the essentials you need to make your next trip to Northwest Florida unforgettable!

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Disclaimer: My trip to the Florida Panhandle was sponsored by Visit Florida. As always, all words and opinions are my own. This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Whilst in Florida, you might also like to check out:

Where is the Florida Panhandle Located?

The Panhandle is located in the Northwest of Florida.

It is a strip of land roughly 200 miles (320 km) long and 50 to 100 miles (80 to 161 km) wide, lying between Alabama on the North and the West, Georgia on the North, and the Gulf of Mexico to the South.

This means the Florida Panhandle is actually closer in proximity to Atlanta, Memphis, New Orleans and Nashville than it is to Miami or Orlando.

Is Florida Panhandle Worth Visiting?

It might not be the first destination in Florida that comes to mind, but the Panhandle is definitely worth a visit.

The Panhandle is renowned for its white sand beaches and emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The sand here is unique as it is composed of fine quartz crystal eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains, and trust me, you can really feel the difference in the texture!

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Santa Rosa in 30A was my top Florida panhandle beach

Is the Florida Panhandle a good place to vacation?

The Florida Panhandle is a great place to vacation if you want to get away from the crowds, that are inevitable in other parts of Florida.

The Emerald Coast beaches are relatively quiet (especially during the week) so you can soak up the sun in peace.

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Florida hidden gem: Watercolor is one of the Panhandle beaches Florida

What makes the Florida Panhandle different from other areas of Florida?

The Florida Panhandle is is a mix of picture perfect beaches and Southern charm, which isn’t found anywhere else in the Sunshine State.

You can experience this in the food, the hospitality and the overall vibe.

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Sunset from the best beaches on Florida Panhandle

Best Florida Panhandle Beaches

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The pristine Panhandle beaches in Florida

Which Beaches Should You Visit on the Florida Panhandle?

Start your Florida Panhandle road trip with a few nights in laid back Panama City Beach, then drive only 40 minutes along the Scenic Highway 30A to upscale South Walton County for a few days of luxury, before taking in the historical sights of Pensacola Beach, which is only another two hours along the coast.

This road trip is designed to last a week, but could easily last longer if you want to take it slower and absorb more of the destinations.

Panama City Beach

Why Go There

This easy-going destination is the perfect place for families, couples and friends who want a relaxed beach break, with plenty of fun in the sun.

Panama City Beach (or PCB as it is known), has 27 miles of Florida’s most pristine beaches, made up of the most unbelievably white sand derived from crystal quartz all the way from the Appalachian mountains.

Once a hotspot for Spring Break, it is now a great place for taking in nature, surfing, and scuba diving, in fact PCB is dubbed the “Wreck Diving Capital of the South”.

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Panama City Beach is one of the best Panhandle beaches of Florida

Where to Stay

We stayed at Calypso Resort & Towers which was conveniently located next to Pier Park (the best place for shopping and entertainment in PCB), and opposite the crystal-clear waters of the beach.

There are three towers made up of different sized luxury condos sleeping up to 11 people.

They have sea views and access to plenty of amenities including a private stretch of beach, a gym, outdoor swimming pool, and sun loungers.

Where to Eat

What to Do

There are so many things to do in Panama City Beach but the best activities include a boat ride to Shell Island, shopping at Pier Park, and exploring both Camp Helen and St. Andrews State Park.

South Walton (30A)

Why Go There

This hidden paradise is lined with miles of endless beaches.

Yet there are 16 diverse beach communities that make up 30A.

Each of them differ in their architecture, colour palette and the clientele they provide for, but as the city slogan (“Find Your Perfect Beach”) suggests, everyone is catered for in South Walton.

Some of the best 30A beaches to visit include:

  • Santa Rosa Beach – is the biggest beach community in the 30A Florida area. There are plenty of things to do here, like visit Justin Gaffrey’s art gallery, go beer tasting at Idyll Hounds or just soak up the rays on one of the most pristine public beaches in the US.
  • Alys Beach – this upscale town feels like its been plucked out of the Mediterranean. The all white colour palette makes it incredibly Instagrammable.
  • Seaside – this town is colour washed in pastel hues and its picture perfect streets may look familiar as the town was used to film the Truman Show.
  • Grayton Beach – this pet friendly town has the unofficial motto “Nice Dogs, Strange People”. It is also home to Grayton Beach State Park which houses some rare coastal dune lakes that can only be found in a handful of places in the world.

Where to Stay

One of the best beach communities to stay in is Miramar Beach.

It is great for families and friends, especially if you base yourself at Sandestin.

From hotels to villas and condos, Sandestin has the feel of a beach resort village.

There are plenty of options for food, shopping and entertainment all within walking distance from your accommodation at Baytowne Wharf, or you can grab a golf cart to make the journeys that much faster.

Where to Eat

From street food on Airstream Row, to fine dining at Hotel Effie Sandestin, South Walton caters for all types of diners.

Some stand out places to visit include the beautiful FOOW on Watercolor beach and the Ara rooftop for cocktails.

What to Do

This travel guide to South Walton covers all the best things to do, but here are the highlights:

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Paddle boarding is one of the top Florida Panhandle things to do
  • Take in the art scene by visiting one of the many art galleries in South Walton, including Justin Gaffrey’s.
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Florida hidden gems – Beautiful beaches South Walton 30A

Pensacola Beach

Why Go There

This is the epicentre of the Florida Gulf Coast.

Unlike the other destinations in the Florida Panhandle, Pensacola is oozing with history as it was America’s First Settlement.

This means there are plenty of historical buildings and even a fort you can visit!

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It gets busy on the weekends in the cities in the Florida Panhandle, so try and visit during the week!

Where to Stay

There are plenty of hotels in Pensacola Beach, but we stayed on the beachfront at Hampton Inn Pensacola Beach.

It was perfect for us as it is only a 5 minute walk to Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, which is a great spot for shopping, entertainment and dining.

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This hotel is located on one of the best beaches in Pensacola

Where to Eat

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Tasting the seafood is one of the best things to do in Florida Panhandle

What to Do

Pensacola has a diverse selection of beach vacation activities including:

  • Try your hand at glow kayaking or paddle boarding. View the sea life through the glass bottom kayaks as you float around Little Sabine Bay.
  • Go dolphin spotting at sunset on a trimaran. There are only 21 racing trimarans in the world so this experience is one of the most unique things to do in Pensacola!
  • Visit one of the most popular National Parks in the USA, Gulf Islands National Seashore. You can choose to camp at Fort Pickens, or drive there for a day trip.

Planning a Trip to Florida?

If you want to read more, check out some of my most popular related posts below or the Visit Florida website for more details:

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