8 Cutest Small Towns In Florida’s Emerald Coast To Visit In 2024

Athena Loukas May 10 2024 in Places
Beautiful white sands, blue sky, and the emerald green waters of Navarre Beach, Florida.
Florida’s Emerald Coast has plenty to offer with its emerald blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, quartz sand beaches, and year-round sunshine. Perfect for nature lovers, adventure seekers, wildlife enthusiasts, or those simply seeking some respite from the hustle of daily life, this coastal paradise has something for everyone. Whether it’s parasailing in Mexico Beach, admiring the natural beauty and wildlife at St. Andrews State Park, or appreciating the unique architecture in Seaside, these eight charming towns make Florida’s Emerald Coast a must-visit destination.

Mexico Beach

Beach houses at Mexico Beach, Florida, on a sunny day.
Beach houses at Mexico Beach, Florida, on a sunny day.

Mexico Beach offers an unforgettable coastal experience with its untouched beauty and diverse attractions. Its five-mile stretch of white-sand beach contrasts with the emerald-green waters, providing an idyllic haven for both relaxation and recreation. Catering to all types of travelers, it boasts a variety of attractions, from water sports and leisure to nature and wildlife.

Saltwater activities such as fishing, parasailing, and diving are readily available on the beach. Maritime Expeditions offers snorkeling and scuba charters, as well as training, providing guests with access to several offshore reefs. This diver’s paradise allows individuals to explore the underwater world, observe a rich variety of marine life, and visit the unique sight of Empire Mica, a historical shipwreck from 1942.

Water sports enthusiasts can indulge in swimming, boating, jet skiing, paddleboarding, and kiteboarding with numerous local vendors, like Barefoot Kayak & Paddle Board Rentals, that provide equipment for rent. For those seeking a more relaxing stay, the beaches offer a great spot for shell hunting, sunset watching, and soaking up the sun.

Preserving its small-town charm, Mexico Beach has largely been protected from overdevelopment, offering unobstructed beachfront views. The town’s authenticity is maintained through its predominantly locally owned shops and restaurants. Visitors can savor fresh-caught seafood and enjoy live entertainment at local hot spots like Killer Seafood and Mango Marley’s. Whether it’s the local seafood, water adventures, or the town’s natural beauty, Mexico Beach offers something for every visitor to Florida’s Emerald Coast.

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.

Despite its name, Panama City Beach is a coastal town with its allure extending far beyond its quartz sand beaches and stunning emerald waters. Flanked by St. Andrews State Park and Camp Helen State Park, the town is a paradise for nature lovers with its diverse landscapes, a wide range of water and land activities, and abundance of nature and wildlife.

In addition to its natural beauty, Panama City Beach boasts a variety of amenities from amusement parks such as Cobra Adventure Park to the family-friendly Coconut Creek Family Fun Park. At the heart of the city, Pier Park offers a unique blend of stores, restaurants, and entertainment options, catering to all tastes and preferences.

This sunny city takes full advantage of its 320 days of annual sunshine, offering countless outdoor experiences. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy a round at the award-winning Bay Point Golf Club, while nature lovers can explore the myriad trails of the Panama City Beach Conservation Park. For those seeking adventure on the water, a boat ride on the Sea Screamer offers a chance to spot bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat.

After a day packed with activities, unwind with happy hour at Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant or Pineapple Willy’s, or indulge in fresh oysters at Shuckums Oyster Pub & Seafood Grill. Numerous beachfront restaurants provide the perfect backdrop for a memorable dinner, with stunning views of the famous Gulf sunset. Whether you’re strolling on the pier, sipping a cocktail at a beachfront restaurant, or admiring the view from the Skywheel, the sunset is a sight not to be missed.

Port St. Joe

Port St. Joe is a small town in the Florida Panhandle.
Port St. Joe is a small town in the Florida Panhandle.

With just over 3,500 residents, Port St. Joe is a charming small town renowned for its fishing and boating activities. Situated on the bayfront, it houses the iconic Cape San Blas lighthouse and offers a variety of amenities and experiences for every traveler. A key attraction is its historic downtown, a short walk from the beach, which features the Reid Avenue shopping district lined with local boutiques, inviting cafes, and restaurants with charming patios. Additionally, Port St. Joe boasts two interconnected nature trails perfect for walking, hiking, or biking. Starting at the Marina, the Bay Walk Trail winds along the coastline and merges with the Port City Trail, providing direct access to six different parks.

For water activity enthusiasts, Port St. Joe provides a variety of options, including boating, swimming, and kayaking. Establishments like Happy Ours Kayaks offer guided tours, allowing visitors to easily explore the beautiful coastal environment. A short coastal drive leads to the picturesque T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, known for its stunning sand dunes, ample campsites, and diverse wildlife. Port St. Joe, free from the hustle and bustle typical of larger coastal towns, stands as a peaceful getaway, offering a laid-back experience without the hassle of large crowds and long queues. What it lacks in size, it surely makes up for in character, with a variety of amenities and experiences for every traveler.


Aerial view of Destin, Florida's beautiful city skyline.
Aerial view of Destin, Florida’s beautiful city skyline.

Destin, founded in 1845 as a modest fishing village, has since evolved into one of the most coveted vacation destinations on the Emerald Coast. Often referred to as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin offers a range of fishing options. Whether casting a line from the pier, the sand, or venturing on the open water with a charter such as those offered by Destin Inshore Fishing Co., fishing enthusiasts have plenty of choices. After a day of fishing, one can enjoy fresh, delicious seafood at the popular destination The Back Porch, which is celebrated for its relaxed beachy atmosphere, stunning coastal views, and delectable oysters and seafood.

In addition to its fishing and dining offerings, Destin is home to Harborwalk Village, a vibrant entertainment center. This lively hub features a variety of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options, and it constantly hosts events for visitors to enjoy. For golf enthusiasts, the Kelly Plantation Golf Club, one of the best courses on the Emerald Coast, provides scenic views over 18 holes. To immerse in Florida’s natural beauty, a visit to Henderson Beach State Park is a must. This protected coastal strip offers nature trails, beach access, and campsites, making it a perfect spot for a family vacation or a little getaway.

Fort Walton Beach

People enjoy in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
People enjoy in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Fort Walton is a distinctive town, offering a blend of relaxation and historical exploration. Visitors can relax by the Gulf of Mexico’s crystal blue waters or explore the history of America’s early legacies. Immerse yourself in history by visiting the Fort Walton Mound or the Heritage Park Cultural Center. These sites provide a glimpse into the town’s rich past, showcasing the challenges and victories that shaped it.

Outdoor enthusiasts can cross the Miracle Strip Parkway bridge to Cattywampus Aquatic Adventures, offering a range of activities from snorkeling excursions to scenic boat tours. To cap off an eventful day, the Bay Cafe French Restaurant serves up a variety of seafood delicacies. Dining on the patio along the water’s edge, guests can savor the finest cuisine Fort Walton has to offer.

Navarre Beach

Welcome to Navarre sign on Navarre Beach, Florida. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via Shutterstock.com
Welcome to Navarre sign on Navarre Beach, Florida. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via Shutterstock.com

Navarre Beach, a small but vibrant town with a population of just over 1500, is an idyllic destination teeming with opportunities for relaxation, outdoor adventures, and wildlife exploration. Its diverse terrain – encompassing woodlands, wetlands, beaches, and lakes – caters to an array of preferences and offers an assortment of experiences. Cycling enthusiasts can explore the city’s numerous bike trails, each offering a unique perspective on Navarre Beach’s varied landscapes. From casual seaside cycles to challenging treks through the woodlands of the Blackwater Forest, there is a trail for every adventurer.

As a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise, Navarre Beach offers a multitude of immersive experiences both on land and underwater. The Navarre Beach Marine Park houses three artificial reefs, creating a vibrant underwater world for scuba divers and snorkelers. On land, the adventure continues with horseback riding through winding woodland trails, canoeing down serene lakes, and ziplining over the treetops. These activities offer visitors the chance to encounter a rich array of local wildlife, including great blue herons, bobcats, and deer. The Gulf Island National Seashore is another must-visit, known for its expansive sand dunes and, during the right season, a chance to witness sea turtles nesting on the beach. Completing the Navarre Beach experience is the town’s iconic pier, the longest fishing pier in Florida, offering stunning sunrise and sunset views over the perfect beach backdrop.

Grayton Beach

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

Grayton Beach, situated between Destin and Panama City, is a unique spot where nature, relaxation, and community come together. It’s renowned for Grayton Beach State Park, which boasts beautiful beaches and a 100-acre coastal dune lake. The park features diverse ecosystems with two distinct nature trails that wind through forests, lakes, salt marshes, and pine flatwoods. These trails are perfect for a range of activities, from hiking and biking to leisurely walks and wildlife spotting. The four miles of immaculate beach are ideal for swimming, shelling, or simply basking in the sun. Less than a mile from the shore and 58 feet beneath the water, an underwater garden of sculptures has become part of the local ecosystem. The Underwater Museum of Art is a truly unique sight, blending art, nature, and science.

A central hub in Grayton Beach is the Shops of Grayton, home to eight charming cottages that house a variety of establishments. Visitors can savor Asian cuisine at Nabu Noodle Bar or indulge in pastries at the upscale Black Bear Bread Company, which blends a Parisian influence with a coastal setting. The vibrant local art scene is showcased in art galleries like the Saczynski Gallery, while The Shard Shop offers classes for visitors to create their own artistic mementos. This captivating fusion of natural allure, artistic flair, and coastal charm makes Grayton Beach an unmissable destination on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

If the pristine beaches and beautiful weather of these eight sunny towns aren’t convincing enough, their natural beauty, culture, community, numerous attractions, and vibrant atmosphere might be. From the untouched beauty of Mexico Beach to the artistic charm of Grayton Beach, from the architectural allure of Seaside to the adventurous spirit of Fort Walton Beach, a variety of diverse and exciting experiences await you. So, book your tickets, pack your bags, and get ready to explore some of the cutest towns that Florida’s Emerald Coast has to offer.