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Walking at Sunset on the Shore of St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, Florida
A family walks at sunset along the pristine shore of St. Andrew State Park in Panama City Beach, Florida. St. Andrews State Park is a 1,200-acre Florida State Park with amenities including two-and-a-half miles of beaches, bicycling, birding, boat tours, boating, canoeing, two fishing piers, hiking, kayaking, picnicking areas and full camping facilities.
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Whether you know it as The Emerald Coast, the Panhandle, or—our favorite—The Redneck Riviera, the 127-mile stretch between Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida, is one of the most popular coastal getaways in the South. This stretch of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico is known for its emerald green, gently lapping waves, and sandbars just ripe for exploring. The sugar-white sands and shallow waters at the beach make a perfect family-friendly destination for swimming, wading, kayaking, and bodysurfing, while small towns provide old-school charm sure to please the whole crowd. Whether you're looking for a place to take the kids when school lets out or a quiet getaway for two to relax and recharge, try one of our favorite Gulf Coast destinations when planning your next vacation.

Grayton Beach State Park in Florida
Credit: Courtesy Kurt Lischka/Visit South Walton

Grayton Beach in Florida

This tiny coastal village in Florida along Highway 30A that encourages free-spirited fun. Grayton Beach is full of funky mom-and-pop diners and shops and home to the world famous Red Bar. Nearby, Grayton Beach State Park is known for gorgeous dune lakes and miles of trails in the coastal forest.

Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida
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Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Florida

This preserve in Santa Rosa Beach features three breathtaking freshwater coastal dune lakes and is home to 13 imperiled species, including gopher tortoises and carnivorous pitcher plants. The Topsail Hill dune the park is named for towers 25 feet above pristine white sands. Campout luxuriously at the Fancy Camps glampsite and spend your days swimming, snorkeling, birding, and fishing.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau

Fort Morgan Beach in Alabama

Bypass Gulf Shores and the crowds for quiet Fort Morgan at the inlet to Mobile Bay. Visit the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to witness the beauty of an untouched barrier island habitat; three sea turtle species and migratory tropical songbirds stopover here. Learn local history at the Fort Morgan Historic Site, which has guarded Mobile Bay since the War of 1812.

Okaloosa Fishing Pier Fort Walton Beach
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Okaloosa Island in Florida

Okaloosa Island is the destination for old-fashioned family fun, with a beach boardwalk, fishing pier, mini golf, and Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. There are plenty of public beaches, and all the conveniences in Destin and Fort Walton Beach are nearby. Grab a bite at Al's Beach Club and take in the view of sparkling Gulf waters on the eastern end of Santa Rosa Island. 

Walking at Sunset on the Shore of St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, Florida
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St. Andrews State Park in Florida

Just miles from the hustle and bustle of the Panama City strip is this quiet gem of a state park. St. Andrews State Park is great for shelling and uninterrupted views. Hike along dunes and through coastal pine forest, and take the ferry to Shell Island, a secluded wildlife haven and prime spot for sighting dolphins.

Gulf Islands National Seashore, Perdido Key
Credit: Mike Mahon

Perdido Key in Florida

Named by a Spanish explorer as the "lost island," Perdido Key is a quiet sanctuary near Pensacola with stunning views of the Gulf, wetlands, and wildlife. Formerly used as a military base, today it's open to day use for fishing and swimming—camping is available just over the bridge at Big Lagoon State Park.

Mexico Beach Florida
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Mexico Beach in Florida

This quaint beach community 20 miles east of Panama City is just the place to rent a cottage and dig your toes in pure white sand. Not to mention, there are more than 200 artificial and natural reefs and a couple of historic shipwrecks off the coast of Mexico Beach for scuba divers to explore. You'll also find just the right amount of shops and restaurants to satisfy your hunger for a small-town experience.

Navarre Beach, Florida
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Navarre Beach in Florida

In the center of Santa Rosa island, Navarre Beach offers 12 miles of pristine white sands —plenty of space to find your piece of peace. If that's not quiet enough, travel further west to Opal Beach in the Gulf Islands National Seashore, where sands regularly drift across the highway. After all that solitude, fun activities like fishing on the pier and the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary await. Rent a vacation cottage or stay at the Navarre Beach Camping Resort.