Florida Panhandle Beaches … That’s what I’m talking about!
A fantastic idea for a road trip is to drive around the panhandle of Florida and visit all of its beaches.
“A fantastic road trip is brief enough to complete on time, but it packs in so much excitement that you don’t want to return home.” On this relatively short drive, you can reach more stunning beaches than you could in any other part of Florida. The area features an abundance of beaches, sand dunes, island beaches, family resorts, and amusements.
The total length of this road trip is only 252 miles, but it will take you to each and every beach in the Florida Panhandle. This is one of our most beloved times spent on the open road. You are going to want to drive further in order to take advantage of some of the detours. It will only take a few hours to drive through, but you should plan to spend a few days here to take in all of the breathtaking scenery. The ride is enjoyable in either case. You will need to make a decision regarding how much time you will be able to spend in this breathtaking rural area.
The westernmost significant city in northwest Florida in Pensacola, which is also its namesake. If you are traveling from west to east, this city will be the first one you come to. As we embark on this verbal journey together, this is the path that we will take to get from point A to point B.
The majority of people get into the Florida Panhandle by way of Interstate 10, which traverses the top of the state from western Alabama all the way down to the coast in Jacksonville, Florida. The drive across Interstate 10 is a typical drive on an interstate highway, but the drive along the coast is so remarkable that it will make you want to come back again and again. Along the Gulf Coast route, which will sometimes bring you right up to the water’s edge, there is some truly breathtaking scenery. The path that we are taking… winds its way along the mainland as well as the islands, passing through a variety of different coastal environments.
Our journey will take us from the northwest state line in Pensacola all the way to the east coast of Florida in Perry. At Perry, the path will turn south, and it will take a separate post to even provide a rough outline of the experiences and sights that are in store for you after that point. You can literally find something beautiful or exciting around every corner.
Pensacola, Florida one of America’s best historic cities
Even though the area surrounding Pensacola was first settled as early as the 15th century, it did not officially become a part of the United States until 1821. At that time, Andrew Jackson was appointed to the position of Provisional Governor of the territory. Both the city and the bay are known as Pensacola, which is the name of a Native American tribe that used to reside in this region back when it was still inhabited by primitive people. The Spanish gave this tribe its name.
There are museums in the area that are dedicated to the history of the area, which is to be expected from such a historical location. The following link will take you to an excellent website that contains all of the information on locations, tickets, and overviews of the breadth of each museum’s collection.
Every month, thousands of people pay a visit to the National Museum of Naval Aviation. Free admission is offered to what is consistently ranked as one of the most popular museums in the United States. It can be found at 1750 Radford Blvd., which is to the east of Pensacola, Florida. To all those who have a passion for flying, this is “the place.” You won’t just be able to look; instead, you’ll be able to touch, even hop into, and experience the thrill of flying through history. The onsite IMAX Theatre puts you in the cockpit of exhilarating adventures in the air and in space.
The renowned “Blue Angels,” the world’s best precision flight group, call the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, which was the first facility of its kind, home. The “Blue Angels” have thrilled millions of people at private and military flight shows in the United States and around the world.
Did you know The Florida Panhandle has amazing sunny beaches?
When traveling west along the Florida Panhandle, you will first arrive in the Pensacola area. Pensacola’s port makes use of the city’s ocean view, but a quick drive across Pensacola Bay on US Hwy 98 will take you to Gulf Breeze, Florida, which gives the impression of being on an island but is actually located on a peninsula. You have the option of taking a left turn at Gulf Breeze and driving directly toward Fort Walton on US 98, or you can continue straight through Gulf Breeze and cross what is either the English Navy Cove or the Santa Rosa Sound. Either way, you will arrive at Fort Walton. You can get to Pensacola Beach, a popular destination among locals and people who live relatively close by taking Gulf Breeze Blvd. You can drive much further, but you will not find any beaches in the Sunshine State that are superior to the ones here. During the summer months, the beach is bustling with activity thanks to the presence of lifeguards, a fully stocked snack bar, beach rentals, and a large number of beachgoers. The water is wonderful, and the sand is absolutely stunning.
You can continue on US 98 and end up in the same location as if you had driven down Santa Rosa Island from Pensacola Beach, or you can take a different route. You would, however, be missing out on some of the most breathtaking sand dunes, sea oats, and secluded beaches that our nation has to offer. I strongly suggest that you travel by way of the islands. To get to Navarre Beach from the east end of the island, you have to take a turn to the north. Here you rejoin US Hwy 98. From where I am, getting to Fort Walton, Florida, takes very little time in the car.
You will go through a number of different hamlets and towns along the way. You also go by Hurlburt Field, which is an Air Force Base in the United States, but you can’t see it. Mary Esther, Florida is the first significant town that you will come to. Any kind of everyday shopping would be well served by coming here. This is where the majority of the locals congregate. Take a left turn onto Mary Esther Blvd., which heads north. You can’t miss Santa Rosa Mall. You’re going to have a good time there because, despite its average appearance, the mall is very well stocked.
Fort Walton, FL is a long-time favorite
Keeping to the east on US 98 will bring you along the outskirts of Fort Walton in Florida’s Panhandle region. The name “The Emerald Coast” comes from the naturally occurring dark green tint that the waters have, and Fort Walton serves as the eastern gateway to “The Emerald Coast.” Since many decades ago, Fort Walton has served as the primary port of entry for vacationers. They are anticipating your arrival and have plenty of eateries, motels, and gift shops for you to indulge to your heart’s content. As soon as you cross the bridge to the east of town, the setting abruptly transforms from a historic seaside community in the south to a verdant and contemporary tourist mecca. Because it travels across the barrier island, Highway 98 provides a breathtaking view from this vantage point.
The beach in Fort Walton, much like the beach in Pensacola, is an island unto itself and is not connected to the mainland. You can get there by crossing a sturdy four-lane bridge that’s not very long. This bridge marks the beginning of the “Miracle Strip Parkway” at its eastern terminus. The elevation of the bridge provides a breathtaking view of the coastline below. When facing west, the island is known as Santa Rosa Island; however, when facing east, the island is known as Okaloosa Island, and U.S. Route 98 changes its name to Miracle Strip Parkway SE. Because of all of the different beach options, a large number of people who are interested in visiting the beaches of the Florida Panhandle choose this region.
The beach on Okaloosa Island, which is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, is the most popular beach among visitors to Fort Walton. It is packed with a variety of amusements, deep-sea fishing excursions, and, of course, beachgoing, which is everyone’s number one favorite activity. Motels are typically preferred over high-rise condos as a place to stay because of their lower prices and higher levels of comfort. You are making yourself at ease in this environment. The island features undeveloped camping areas, sand dunes, secluded beaches, and great swimming and surfing conditions.
Welcome to Destin, FL
You will arrive at the bridge that crosses Choctawhatchee Bay if you are traveling east on Okaloosa Island. No matter what else you do during this trip, you should absolutely walk across this bridge a few times. It’s possible you won’t find a more picturesque or beautiful water scene anywhere else. On a sunny day, the waters are teeming with all manner of watercraft, including sailboats, Seadoos, water skiers, fishermen, and unknown others. You are now in the Destin, Florida area, so keep an eye on the road and slow down. You’ll be able to locate any type of lodging that you’re looking for in this area, from more affordable motels to high-rise private condos that are either for sale or for rent.
Although there is a large variety of restaurants in Destin that serve delicious food, we have two favorites. While traveling through town on Highway 98, make a pit stop at the Donut Hole. The bakery and the restaurant are both located within the same unassuming building. There is frequently a line of people waiting to be served, so if we don’t have time to sit down and eat, we buy a loaf of cheese or raisin bread and nibble as we walk along the street. “The Back Porch Restaurant” is the other establishment in the area. It is located on the beachfront and the scenic Highway 98 in the easternmost part of Destin. While you watch the crowds of people tanning themselves on the dazzling white beach, you can feast on freshly caught seafood at this establishment. This is a large and noisy restaurant with excellent service that serves fantastic seafood from the area.
If they did not come with amazing attractions as a free bonus, visitors to the Florida Panhandle beaches would not visit nearly as often as they do now. I’ll just give you a few examples of the entertainment options available in Destin and Fort Walton: Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park, Destin Laser Tag, Emerald Coast Dirt and Vert (a BMX sanctioned track), beaches, golf, a public fishing pier, helicopter rides, the Zoo, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, The Track Family Recreation Center, Zip Adventures, and so much more. In reality, there is a connection between Destin and Fort Walton; the only thing that separates the two is a surveyor’s tape, and both cities share all of the attractions that were mentioned earlier. You can get pleasure from either option regardless of which one you pick, so don’t let that decision stress you out.
A number of opulent resorts can be found along Emerald Beach, which is situated on the easternmost tip of Destin. A short while ago, my family and I stayed at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, which is located on the northern side of Emerald Coast Parkway. The accommodations are absolute of the highest caliber. The rooms are roomy, the food is delicious, there are plenty of shopping opportunities nearby, and there are so many options that it is impossible to try them all. Although I didn’t participate in the sport, I did speak with a few people who did, and they all praised the highly rated course that was located within the resort.
Next Stop … Panama City Beach, FL
Set the cruise control and leave Destin in an easterly direction on US 98. The coastline will have a slight southerly direction, but US 98 will be traveling in a more direct easterly direction. The highway takes a turn to the south and passes through Laguna Beach as well as Panama City Beach before arriving in Panama City, Florida.
The area surrounding Panama City Beach is a popular destination for youth groups that require housing in the form of dormitories and want to do some of their own cooking. The majority of these buildings have their own beachfront, which provides some degree of privacy from surrounding structures. Along the approximately 27 miles of sandy beach that is uninterrupted by beautiful water, there are several smaller communities.
Amusements include the following, but there are too many to list them all individually: go-cart tracks, Blacklight Mini Golf, Skycoaster, arcades, Drag Strip, Haunted House, Bumper Cars and Bumper Boats, Ripley Believe it or Not, Wonderworks, and Shipwreck Island Water Park.
Panama City, FL anchor’s it all
In the year 1909, Panama City, Florida was incorporated as a city. Despite having a population of fewer than 40,000 people, it is the largest city located between the state capital of Tallahassee and Pensacola. They have winters that are relatively short and mild, while the summers are exceptionally long, hot, and humid. It’s impossible to have it both ways!
A bridge that separates West Bay, North Bay, and St. Andrew Bay are what you’ll cross to get into Panama City if you approach it from the city’s western side. While you’re driving across this bridge, if you enjoy taking in the sights of the ocean, you might have to rein in your overactive thyroid gland. It is so stunning that I’m almost out of superlatives to describe it in my vocabulary.
The central business district of Panama City is traversed by Highway 98. The city is well planned out and very pretty. When you leave the city and head in an easterly direction, the highway changes its name to the Tyndall Parkway and passes through East Bay on its way to the Tyndall Air Force Base. The HHT 1-153 CAV calls Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida their home. It is a significant military installation that makes a sizeable contribution to both this country’s economy and culture. On the way to a breathtaking panorama of the Gulf of Mexico from a seaside vantage point, the road goes by the entrance to the Tyndall Air Force Base.
Brace yourself … for another jolt of pleasure
Between Panama City and Perry, Florida, there is only one significant town that can be found. This part of the coast is known as the “Forgotten Coast.” Although this stretch of the Gulf Coast is relatively undeveloped, you probably won’t mind it. You can get a glimpse of what the Florida Coast looked like before it was discovered by a grateful nation here. This particular beach on the Florida Panhandle is distinguished from the others on the list. Although there are beaches, hotels, and restaurants here, the primary attraction is the natural beauty of the area, which includes but is not limited to things like thrill rides, sunbathing, and sand. It is simply lovely to look at.
Apalachicola Bay is renowned for its breathtaking natural scenery.
Apalachicola, the primary town in this area, got its name from the bay that bears the same name. Two additional communities can be found in this area: St. George Island and Eastpoint. Even if it were just for the view while driving over the old bridge that stretches across Apalachicola Bay, this drive would be worth taking.
When you get to the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll notice that the highway follows the coast very closely. We have witnessed large groups of Brown Pelicans foraging for their meal in the shallows, while others roosted on the rotting pilings of abandoned piers. You could simply allow yourself to become extremely slothful, pull over to the grassy shoulder between the highway and the Gulf of Mexico, and wrap yourself in a blanket to take a nap beneath one of the trees there.
The city of Apalachicola, Florida, is known for its robust maritime culture, which can be seen in the charming old town’s abundance of arts and crafts stores. The town takes great pride in its locally owned shops, galleries, and restaurants, many of which serve fresh seafood caught in the waters surrounding the town. There are hotels and bed and breakfasts that have been meticulously renovated. Even if you don’t have time to spend the night here, you should at least take the time to look around and eat. This is one of those locations that will leave an impression on your mind and be stored in your memory for the times when you are unable to visit.
Stay on US 98 and it will take you through a number of different cities, towns, and villages before finally bringing you to Perry in Florida. This is a relatively small town that has done very well for itself over the years thanks to the traffic that US Highway 27 receives in both directions.