In Northwest Florida, lights are softer and cities are smaller and friendlier. The attractions are as often natural as they are artificial and the beaches, golf courses, shopping areas, hotels, cultural amenities and restaurants aren’t quite as crowded as some of the state’s larger urban areas. This is the one part of Florida where you’ll still hear plenty of “ya’lls.”
ALL IN A DAY
THE EMERALD COAST
Begin your day with a half-day fishing trip, dolphin cruise or sailing adventure and be soothed by the emerald-green waters of the Gulf. Venture over to The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island where you can lunch on fresh seafood with beachfront views of the sugar-white sand and the Okaloosa fishing pier. In the afternoon, stroll downtown Fort Walton Beach’s Heritage Park and Cultural Center, comprised of the Indian Temple Mound, 1912 Camp Walton Schoolhouse and Garnier Post 0ffice Museums.
Authentic Florida thrives in quiet coastal communities like Apalachicola, St. George Island, Carrabelle, Eastpoint and Alligator Point. Enjoy quiet, pet-friendly beaches on St. George Island and Alligator Point. Climb historic lighthouses. Camp, paddle or hike along wooded trails and quiet sloughs. Watch commercial fishing boats unload their daily catch or charter a trip with an oyster fisherman to learn how to catch your own. Explore the area’s historic charm, boutiques, galleries and museums. End with fresh local seafood served at more than 3o area restaurants and seafood markets.
PANAMA CITY BEACH
At Zen Garden or Finn’s Island Style Grub, start your day with gourmet coffee and a yoga session or a quick surf check. From there, explore 27 miles of beautiful beaches. Try snorkeling or paddleboarding at St. Andrews State Park, or catch a boat to Shell Island, a seven-mile-long natural barrier island. Explore diving history at the Man in the Sea Museum, before shopping at Pier Park. Catch the sunset from Schooner’s restaurant, where the nightly event is celebrated with a cannon blast?
SANTA ROSA COUNTY
Enjoy the sugar-white sandy beaches of Santa Rosa County. Fish from the Navarre Beach Pier (Gulf of Mexico’s longest) or visit the Gulf Breeze Zoo, Navarre Beach Marine Science Station or Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. Tour Coldwater Gardens near Milton. See why this part of Florida is known as the Canoe Capital of Florida with Adventures Unlimited. Canoe, kayak and tube along Coldwater Creek past secluded sandbars, through the pristine ecosystem of Blackwater River State Forest, or soar on its zipIine canopy tour.
If you’re bringing Fido with you, St. George Island and Alligator Point in Franklin County have pet-friendly beaches. Take the road less travelled in Jackson County, where wildlife, farms, rolling hills, wooded areas, streams and canopy trees line nearly 800 miles of unpaved roads. In Panama City, Bay Town Trolley offers convenient public transportation and has multiple stops throughout the city (baytowntroiley.org). Pier Park in Panama City Beach offers unforgettable outdoor shopping and dining experiences. From your favorite retail stores and one-of-a-kind boutiques to great restaurants, sweet shops and amusement rides, there’s something for everyone here!
The Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau hosts free nighttime educational beach walks from June to October, suitable for ages six and over. Get up close and personal with sea turtles and learn about their nesting habits, along the beaches of Okaloosa Island and Destin. Reservations are required.