Florida’s Gulf Coast is known for its beautiful beaches that offer postcard-perfect landscapes with swaying palm trees and emerald waters, where laid-back towns invite you to embrace the coastal lifestyle with water sports adventures, fresh seafood delicacies and family-friendly attractions. Stretching from the Panhandle down to South Florida, these beaches don’t get the attention they deserve, which is perfect for those looking for a quiet vacation away from the tourist crowds. Offering the perfect setting for your next holiday in the sun, these are the most underrated beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
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Located 20 miles east of Panama City, Mexico Beach is a blend of preserved natural beauty and small-town charm. Perfect for one of Florida’s famed sunny days, spend your afternoons here swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, shelling for treasures and watching the dolphins playing at sunset. A nature lover’s paradise, here you can often spot numerous species of birds including bald eagles, osprey, pelicans in addition to loggerhead turtles.
Update: Despite the devastation from Hurricane Michael, Mexico Beach is re-building and is still a beautiful destination.
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, head to Miramar Beach. This is where you’ll find classic beach views of coastal enclaves alongside charming seafood restaurants, scenic beach roads and beachfront resorts. With a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico, adventurous water-based activities such as jet skis and parasailing are popular activities.
Santa Rosa Beach
Offering miles of clear blue waters set against a backdrop of blue skies, Santa Rosa Beach is the perfect summertime escape for couples, families or solo travelers. Located between Pensacola and Panama City, its convenient location means you’re never far from the action but can enjoy the peace and quiet away from the crowds. Luring in beachgoers from around the world, the only thing that needs to be on your itinerary here is to kick back and relax.
Artsy and full of character, Grayton Beach is a funky area with Hemingway-style wooden homes situated in side streets paved with crushed oyster shells. Consistently ranking among the most beautiful beaches the United States, you simply can’t beat its famous one-mile shoreline of clear emerald green waters. Hit the nature trail, kayak through the nearby Western Lake, or bike through the 4 miles of pine flatwoods.
Full of coastal charm, Rosemary Beach is a small beach community that’s been dubbed one of America’s most romantic small towns by CNN. Relax along the shoreline for a day of uncrowded bliss, then make a quick stop at Summer Kitchen Cafe for fresh, healthy fare or indulge in creative cuisine at The Pearl’s Havana Beach Bar & Grill. The kids will delight in a chocolate treat at the Sugar Shack, while shoppers will enjoy browsing the handpicked books at The Hidden Lantern.
Dubbed the “Grouper Capital of the World”, Madeira Beach, or “Mad Beach” is a beautiful Gulfside getaway with white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Start your exploration at John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk to see its waterside restaurants, or time your visit for the annual John’s Pass Seafood Festival to sample some of the local delicacies.
A sun-drenched jewel nestled on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, Marco Island boasts white sand beaches, quaint seafood restaurants and water-based activities. You’re spoiled for choice with Barefoot Beach, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park and Naples Beach nearby, while fishing charters, dolphin watching and shelling are also popular in summer. Enjoy water slides at Sun-N-Fun Lagoon, meet otters at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary or explore interactive exhibits at Golisano Children’s Museum.
Fort Walton Beach
A short drive from Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach is an excellent family-friendly destination on Florida’s Emerald Coast. With 24 miles of picturesque coastline, it offers plenty of activities in the summer. Take the kids to see the marine life at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park or explore hands-on exhibits at the Emerald Coast Science Center. Perfect for beach hopping, you can also visit the quiet landscapes of nearby Navarre Beach and Miramar Beach.
Longboat Key is perfect for those looking to spend their vacation shelling, birding and taking romantic moonlit strolls. The island has its own unique flavor, a vibrant combination of secluded beaches, waterfront golf, fine dining and luxury resorts. Nature enthusiasts can join eco-tours that explore the lagoons and mangroves and spot wildlife at Quick Point Nature Preserve. Anglers can cast a line in the at Ken Thompson Park or under New Pass Bridge, while the island’s bayside and Intra-coastal Waterway offers plenty of opportunities to go wind and kite surfing, kayaking or paddleboarding.
A small town with a big heart, Venice is a beautiful town in Florida with pearly white beaches and a lushly landscaped historic district. Just south of Sarasota, Venice offers plenty of recreational opportunities, including swimming, sunbathing, fishing and boating, while searching for fossilized shark’s teeth is also a favorite pastime of both locals and visitors alike. Stroll the downtown area to see Italian architecture that dates back to 1925, where a romantic ambience is highlighted by elegant arches and red tile roofs that are home to boutiques, restaurants and locally owned businesses.
Made famous by the movie “The Truman Show,” Seaside is an idyllic town on Florida’s Panhandle. Boasting pastel-colored houses and white picket fences, this quaint area is the perfect escape for families, as beachgoers of all ages can play in the gentle surf of the shores and soak in the sunshine under a canopy of magnolias, hickories and pines. A pedestrian-friendly area, you can take a walk along the brick-paved streets to find an array of local treasures.
An alluring barrier island with over 12 miles of white sand coastline, Navarre Beach is where you go to find complete solitude. An underrated gem on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, this area is consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the state. While relaxation is king at Navarre, you can also go swimming in its emerald waters, fish from the coast’s longest pier, or take a cruise along the scenic bike paths.
Home to white sandy beaches with gorgeous turquoise waters, Naples is a nature-lovers paradise. Situated on Florida’s Gulf Coast, here you can soak up the sunshine at Lowdermilk Beach, stroll along the iconic Naples Pier or take in the expansive landscape and wildlife views at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The kids will love the thrilling slides found at Sun-N-Fun Lagoon, while parents can find respite with a cold brew at Naples Beach Brewery.