I’d strongly recommend you visit the Emerald Coast ASAP.
I’d actually never heard of the Emerald Coast until November, but now I’ve been, I’m hooked. I rented a car from Hertz at Pensacola Airport and drove to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (longest airport name ever?) over a week. I stayed in Destin, Okaloosa Island and Panama City Beach along the way, amazed by the beaches and the food at every point.
The Emerald Coast actually stretches 100 miles (160km) covering, from west to east:
Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, Fort Walton, Destin, Sandestin, Grayton Beach, Watercolor, Seaside,
Rosemary Beach, Carillon Beach and Panama City Beach.
– Used with kind permission from Linda Theobald Art.
There’s enough along the route for a great Emerald Coast road trip, but not too much that you feel stressed with the burden of choice. The focus here is to relax, explore the waters and towns, and to eat.
The Emerald Coast is now one of my favourite places I’ve been, in the WORLD. I’ve tried to work out why I loved it so much and I think my love comes down to the following 13 reasons…
13 Reasons to Visit the Emerald Coast
1. For the easy road trip along the beach
I drove 700 miles in the week that I was there, exactly, according to the papers I got back from Hertz. Not that I needed to drive that far but I just loved having my little Nissan Accent and cruising the Scenic Gulf Drive, 30A and Front Beach Road. I knew that if the ocean was on my right, I was going the right way.
I actually only needed to do around 130 miles, from Pensacola Airport to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, but as the roads were so wide, people so patient and scenery so gorgeous, I couldn’t help myself but get behind the wheel.
Along the route you can expect long scenic bridges, beach views for at least 70% of the way and cute, colourful houses lining the route.
2. The amazing white sand beaches
I’ve been to Mexico, to Belize, St Lucia and Honduras, but never have I ever seen such beautiful, white sand, long beaches as the ones on the Emerald Coast. And they were so empty.
I was there from the 5th to the 12th December and it was really quiet, although the sea was too cold for me to venture in, which could’ve been part of why.
Interesting fact for you, the sand particles on the Emerald Coast are all the same size, which means they rub together and squeak as you walk. This also means the sand stays cool whatever the weather.
3. The fresh food
Oh gawd, the food on the Emerald Coast was delicious. Absolutely delicious. So fresh and straight out of the ocean onto my plate. When I say ‘food’, I mean seafood, because that’s all I ate the entire week. Apart from a quick trip to drive thru Krispy Kreme, just because I had a car.
Every meal I had was yum, and to be honest, I’d recommend the Emerald Coast just for that, never mind the beaches. You can check out my weekly vlogs on my YouTube channel to see more of what I ate, especially Day 2, hold on for that.
4. To watch the beach sunsets
Yep, this needs a separate category to the beaches, because they were awesome. You can’t visit the Emerald Coast without timing your day around a sunset. In Carillon Beach, pictured above, I was with a friend from the area, who reckoned they weren’t that good that time of year, but just look at this.
I mean, what was he used to?!
5. Henderson Park Inn and Resort
I stayed at the Henderson Park Inn, right on the beach, and decided that it was the best accommodation I stayed in last year, out of the 112. The bed was huge and comfortable, the room big enough to twirl around in, and the location, just absolutely perfect. I can totally see why it’s been voted the Most Romantic Hotel in the USA too (so says Trip Advisor).
The Henderson Park Resort, just a 5-minute walk away, was only finished two weeks before my arrival. Especially for me, y’know? If you stay at either the Resort or the Inn you get access to the other. Which means, amazing beaches, beach loungers and swings, two pools, cabanas, three restaurants, a huge spa and plenty of space to lounge about.
6. To cycle along the beach front
The back roads are so quiet in the Emerald Coast, and the cycle lanes are improving all the time. I went on a little cycle ride using the customer bikes from the Henderson Park Inn and made my way down to the beach. If I’d had the time I definitely would’ve gone cycling in the Henderson National Park too.
Too busy with my new car :).
7. To see the Henderson Beach State Park
The Henderson Beach State Park is a big draw to the Emerald Coast, with its trails, boardwalks, pavilions and picnic benches. The protected park means that the beach here will never be one of those decorated with high rises all the way long. Good for us, for all the wildlife you’ll see there, and for the views from the Henderson Park Inn.
8. To go extreme at the Harborwalk Village
Unfortunately I was in the Emerald Coast and the Harborwalk Village a little out of season, in December, but if you go a little earlier in the year, then there are all the watersports you could imagine to try. Paddle boarding, kite surfing, surfing, boat trips… all sorts. And a lot of the activities leave from the piers here.
I tried to go on the dolphin trip that was running, but unfortunately it didn’t fit with my days that I was there. There are boat trips and sunset sails all year round though, so I’d definitely recommend you get involved with that at some point. This is also the epicentre of fishing, the sport the Emerald Coast is best known for. And if that’s not your thing you can just chill in the restaurants and shops.
9. To chill at Baytowne Village Wharf
I went on a little quest to Miramar Beach and came across the Baytowne Village Wharf. Again, it was kind of quiet when I was there, as you can see from the photos, but it was a lovely place.
There were coffee shops, breakfast cafes, bars, shops and family activities. I had a coffee and wandered around a bit, but there weren’t many people about because of the time of year. The drive to to the Wharf, from Destin, was beautiful too, especially with the Autumnal sun coming through the trees.
10. To pretend you have your own beach condo
After my awesome stay at the Henderson Park Inn I went to check out the Azure Condos on Okaloosa Island, just up the road. The apartment I was given was hu-uge. I had three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a massive kitchen and lounge, and an incredible view of the condo’s pools and beach.
11. To shop!
Of course, the shopping! Walmart and Target come as standard on the Emerald Coast, you’ll find one every few miles. May not be exciting to Americans, but us Brits love a duck and delve into a discount store.
Once you’ve got that out of your system though, get yourself to Destin Commons. Here you’ll find Forever 21, a huge book shop called Books a Million, H&M, American Eagle Outfitters, and loads more. It’s a really nice shopping experience here, as proven by my little treat purchases for myself. It was Christmas, there were sales, who could resist?
12. To relax
The Emerald Coast is definitely one of the most chilled places I’ve been. The roads were clear, the people friendly, there was no rush, meals were leisurely and there’s always the beach to lay out on.
I’d recommend you visit the Emerald Coast as a holiday in itself, but I’d just like to point out that Panama City Beach is only 5 hours, 30 minutes from Orlando, and Pensacola is only a THREE-hour drive from New Orleans. Dream trip?
I’ll just leave that there.