Northwest Florida, aka the Florida Panhandle, is known for its stellar white sand beaches and glowing blue-green waters. The beaches of northwest Florida provide the area's most popular attractions for visitors. Surrounding the surf and sand are a variety of parks, restaurants and shops. Within this region is the Emerald Coast that runs from Pensacola to Port St. Joe, and the Forgotten Coast that runs from Mexico Beach to St. Marks.
Things to Do in Northwest Florida
National Museum of Naval Aviation: Anyone interested in space travel is sure to enjoy the rich history found here. With more than 140 restored aircraft from the Navy, Coast Guard Aviation and Marine Corps, this space offers plenty to explore. Watch a live Blue Angels flight demonstration, experience flight and motion-based simulators and learn about the interior of a cockpit.
Gulf World Marine Park: Tons of family fun can be had at Gulf World Marine Park. With the park's dolphin, scuba, sea lion and tropical bird shows, visitors can see these local animals up close and personal performing entertaining and amazing tricks and feats. As you stroll though, don’t miss Tropical Gardens, where you can pet a live string ray and visit the exhibits of otters, iguanas, alligators and penguins.
Panhandle Butterfly House: Along U.S. Highway 98 you’ll find the Navarre Visitor Center, and at the foot of the beach bridge is an interactive butterfly garden that’s home to migrating butterflies and a nursery housing local butterfly species. The facility is operated by volunteers, and visitors can take a class to learn about butterfly gardening, ecosystem management and habitat conservation. Step inside and witness dozens of types of butterflies flying around. These colorful, winged creations are certainly a sight to see.
Mission San Luis: This exciting northwestern Florida attraction is a popular living history park. More than 60 acres rest on a quiet oasis away from city living. As you walk through the park you’ll feel as though you’ve gone back in time. Examine the exhibit gallery and museum in the visitor center, which houses artifacts both excavated and from private collections. The theater produces live entertainment and a classroom offers workshops and special events. If you visit on Sunday, take an Archeology Tour to learn how the site’s been excavated and how artifacts are preserved.
Panhandle Opry: To get a taste of some good ol’ fashioned country western music, check out the Panhandle Opry on the first and third Saturday of each month. A collection of musical artists gets together to put on a traditional show for visitors who love the genre.
Pensacola Museum of Art: Situated in Pensacola’s historic Old City Jail Building, this public institution encourages creativity in visual arts with 18 annual exhibitions, workshops, lectures and films.
Best Beaches of Northwest Florida
Santa Rosa Beach: Santa Rosa Beach was founded in 1910 and was the start of South Walton as its known today. Surrounding this sandy area are luxurious beach houses, a unique artist colony and plenty of upscale dining. Follow up a day of sun and surf with an elegant evening out, complete with fine dining and plenty of culture.
Pensacola Beach: Famously known for pearly white sand and stunningly green waters, Pensacola Beach is certainly one to put on the must-see list. There are endless opportunities for both fun and relaxation here. Stroll down Pensacola Beach Pier or set up your rod for a morning of fishing. Stake your claim on the beach itself for some quality time with loved ones in the sun before grabbing a lunch of fresh seafood at a nearby eatery.
Topsail Hill State Preserve: At Topsail Hill you’ll find amazing natural features, including 3.2 miles of secluded sandy beaches and dunes rising more than 25 feet tall. The state preserve offers and excellent location for an afternoon of fishing off the shore or hiking through the trees while on the lookout for local birds. Of course, there’s the beach itself, where you can soak up some rays, build an epic sand castle or have a swimming race.