We're calling this one "Panhandle paradise."

By Zoe Denenberg
March 08, 2021
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If you love Florida destinations like Apalachicola and Destin, allow us to introduce you to another Emerald Coast gem that flies even further under the radar: Meet Mexico Beach, Florida, also known as the town without one traffic light to its name. Beloved for its white-sanded shores and slow pace, this coastal community on the Gulf of Mexico has become a popular retirement destination, but this seaside town is not to be overlooked: In fact, its uncrowded beaches, local charm, and relaxed attitude are what make this pretty Florida spot such an oasis.

When we say that these beaches are a gem, we really mean it. "The sand found on the majority of the world's beaches contains a mixture of approximately twenty different materials. The sugar-like white sand found in Mexico Beach, however, contains only one: evenly sized quartz crystals," writes the Mexico Beach Community Development Council. "Because our area lacks the influence of silt-bearing rivers, our sand remains pure and white. This white quartz sand is highly reflective—which is the reason our beaches remain cool, even during the hottest summer months!"

Mexico Beach Florida
Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Pristine white-sanded beaches that stay cool in the Florida heat? If this doesn't sound like a slice of paradise, we don't know what does. Accordingly, many of the activities in Mexico Beach revolve around the shore. Fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling are three of the town's favorite aquatic attractions.

In fact, the seaside town has its very own organization focused on developing and preserving natural and artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) provides a complete guide to the 200 reefs that you can explore off the coast of Mexico Beach. Scuba divers can also check out a number of historic shipwreck dives, such as The Empire Mica and The Lumber Ship Vamar. MBARA also organizes an annual Kingfish Tournament that's not to be missed.

After you've gained your sea legs, head back to shore for some of Florida's best birding. Conveniently located near a number of sites on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a 2,000-mile trail connecting 510 wildlife viewing sites, Mexico Beach is a fantastic jumping off point to explore the area's wildlife. Make a day trip to St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, a shelter for waterfowl and endangered species like Loggerhead Turtles and Bald Eagles.

Start your morning with a cup of joe and a fresh pastry at Caribbean Coffee; for lunch or dinner, snag a seat outdoors at Killer Seafood, a casual local joint with baskets of fried shrimp and grouper po boys. The pace of this pleasant town is only as fast as you make it.