The Emerald Coast beaches are some of the best beaches in the United States, so it's not hard to understand why vacations in this region are only growing in popularity. The region itself roughly stretches from Pensacola in the west to Port St. Joe, and found along much of the coastline are white-sand beaches and azure-green waters. It is the dynamic color of the Gulf of Mexico waters that serves as the inspiration for the region's nickname, and there are plenty of isolated spots to take it all in if you want to avoid the crowds.
Many of the beaches on the Emerald Coast beaches are protected and maintain a very pristine appeal. Such is the case with the beaches that are found within the boundaries of the extensive Gulf Shores National Seashore. Some of the best Pensacola beaches are part of this amazing reserve, and they alone are reason enough to start planning Emerald Coast beach vacations. Pensacola also offers beaches that have a more developed feel. These beaches include Casino Beach, which is just steps from hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants, and bars.
Heading east of Pensacola, you will find more portions of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, such as the Okaloosa portion near Destin and Fort Walton Beach. It is in this area that you will also find two state parks that offer protected beaches. These state parks are Henderson Beach State Park and Grayton Beach State Park. It should be noted that Grayton Beach State Park claims what many consider to be the best beach on the entire Gulf of Mexico. The white sand on this beach slopes gently down to the water, which exhibits a color that you might expect to encounter in the Caribbean. Sunning, swimming, and surf fishing are the main activities at the state park beaches that can be found along Florida's Emerald Coast, and on most days, the sunsets are divine.
Not all of the Emerald Coast parks that have beaches are state parks. A good example of this is John Beasley Park, which is found on beautiful Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach. Two dune walkovers provide access to this heavenly strip of sand, and there is parking for about 200 vehicles. Beach facilities include a dozen picnic tables, two pavilions, restrooms, and changing rooms. Okaloosa Island is also home to resort hotels, a few amusement parks, and a strip known as the Boardwalk that features an arcade, a restaurant, a saloon, covered picnic areas, and a snack bar that opens up in the summer.
Another Emerald Coast Florida destination that is known for its fantastic white-sand beaches is Panama City. In the Panama City Beach area, there are more than twenty miles of beaches to enjoy. These beaches include some highly developed strips that are backed by bars, restaurants, condos, and resorts.
The beaches in Panama City Beach actually combine to create one large strip of sand, and you will arguably find the best section of this extended beach at St. Andrews State Park. At this park, the sugar-sand beach is approximately one and a half miles long and features picturesque dunes. Much like some of the other Emerald Coast beaches, it also has a fishing pier (actually two), and visitors will also find a jetty and a boat ramp at the delightful St. Andrews State Park Beach.
Also of great interest for beach lovers in the Panama City Beach area is Shell Island. This pristine barrier island can only be reached by boat and is just across the inlet from St. Andrews State Park. There is a boat shuttle service if you need it, and visitors are allowed to bring over things like coolers, chairs, and other beach gear. Swimming, sunbathing, and simply relaxing are top pursuits at the sublime beaches of Shell Island, and you can rent a one or two-seat kayak or go snorkeling if you wish.
Wherever you choose to base yourself along the Emerald Coast, you won't be far from world-class beaches. You also won't have trouble finding fun things to do when you're not at the beach. Deep sea fishing and golfing are among the top overall pursuits, and you can always add things such as sea kayaking, scuba diving, and hiking to the mix. Thanks in part to the parks that can be found in the region, camping is also a possibility, so you don't have to stay in a hotel or vacation rental if you don't want to.
March through October is the peak travel season along the Emerald Coast. As such, anyone planning on visiting during this time might plan as far in advance as possible. Arranging everything well ahead of your anticipated arrival date can be an especially good idea if you have your heart set on a specific hotel or vacation rental property, and it also provides more time for comparing things like flights and vacation package deals.