The Best Florida Panhandle Beaches for Families

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beautiful view of the beach in the Florida panhandle

Northwest Florida is home to a variety of beautiful beaches that are perfect for families. Our list of favorite Florida Panhandle beaches includes some popular hot spots and a few hidden beach gems that you won’t want to miss. 

Many states and Disney World are within a day’s drive of the Panhandle in Florida, making it a popular destination among families. Each year, millions of visitors travel to the Gulf of Mexico for Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Emerald Coast waters. 

My husband and I have traveled all over the Panhandle for many years with our three girls, now ages 12, 9 and 7 and have found that this area of Florida holds some incredible beach gems!

Here is a list of our favorite Florida Panhandle beaches to visit with your family.

Free things to do in Panama City Beach Florida - walk on the expansive white sand beach.
The expansive white sands of Panama City Beach Florida. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

1. Panama City Beach

This is easily one of the most popular Gulf Coast beach destinations for families. Panama City Beach is a 27-mile long beach covered in beautiful sugar white sand. The beaches are well kept and filled with families.

When we’re looking for a fun-filled beach destination, we choose Panama City Beach because we never run out of fun things to do and restaurants to try. If you love seafood you’ll have plenty of options to enjoy it while visiting Panama City Beach, also known as the seafood capital of the south! 

This is a destination I’d highly recommend when taking a multi-generational vacation because of the variety of activities available to families on and off the beach.

The beaches are breathtaking and we could easily spend all of our time on the beach. But when the kids start to get to a little sun kissed, we head to Pier Park, PCB’s entertainment, shopping and dining complex. It has more than 100 stores, several dining options and a movie theatre.

When we need a break from the sand, we head to Shipwreck Island Waterpark.

Panama City Beach also has one of the highest concentrations of wild bottlenose dolphins in the world so we always try to schedule a dolphin tour.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Panama City Beach is a very popular destination. Book your accommodations early if you’re planning to travel during the busy summer season. And check out our list of 20 fun family-friendly things to do in Panama City Beach FL with kids. 

Spend the day on the beach in Pensacola. Photo credit: Visit Pensacola

2. Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach is one of my family’s personal favorite beach towns. It has an even split of fun, lively beach areas and quiet sections that are better suited for those looking to escapes the crowds. The emerald-green coastline is breathtaking to see from the Pensacola Beach shoreline!

When we visit the Pensacola Beach, our must-see attraction is the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier and Observation Post. This pier is 1,471 feet long, walking you right over the Gulf of Mexico to capture some incredible views. This is always a highlight when we visit. Sadly, the pier is temporarily closed due to hurricane damage. Check here for the latest updates.

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we’re traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If your family enjoys exploring historical sites, check out Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach. It was active during the Civil War and you can take tours. Read all about our experience touring this old fort here.

Beach at Perdido Key. Photo courtesy of VisitFlorida.

3. Perdido Key State Park

Looking for a family-friendly quiet beach area? The Perdido Key State Park is your spot. It’s located about 14 miles East of Gulf Shores and is open for day use from 8 a.m. to sunset.

This is a great beach area to take a picnic lunch and relax with the family for the day. You can make this a day trip from Orange Beach or Pensacola for a change of scenery. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Use this handy packing list for a family day at the beach.

Santa Rosa Beach is one of the best Florida Panhandle beaches.
Topsail Hill State Park in Santa Rosa Beach. Photo courtesy of VisitFlorida.

4. Santa Rosa Beach

Travel + Leisure magazine named Santa Rosa Beach one of its top five favorite towns in America and it maintains a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor.

This is considered to be more of a luxurious beach vacation destination and attracts families looking for that type of vacation experience. Many choose to rent a beachfront luxury home when staying in the area. The beaches are stunning and the water is crystal clear!

One of the coolest experiences for a family is to have 30a Blaze set up a beach bonfire for your group. The bonfires come with chairs, roasting sticks for s’mores, tiki torches and more. This is a special way to amp up your beach vacation!

View of the beach in Navarre, Florida
Navarre, Florida Photo Credit: Breeze Leonard

5. Navarre Beach

I almost hate to put Navarre Beach on this list. It has often been referred to as the best kept secret in Florida. And a part of me would like to keep it that way!

But, if I had to pick a favorite Florida beach getaway in the Panhandle it would easily be Navarre Beach!

My family and I have been visiting Navarre Beach for years. There is something special about this beach town. There are far fewer tourists in Navarre than other beach towns and the atmosphere is very laid-back and relaxed. The restaurants cater to families and we feel very welcomed everywhere we go. 

In addition to visiting the beach, there are other nearby attractions that are ideal for families like a zoo and a fun place to rent paddle boards.

This Florida gem is ideal for families who like to venture off the beaten bath and explore underrated destinations. 

Read More: Navarre Beach: Family Vacation Perfection

6. Miramar Beach

This beach is found in South Walton, FL and is considered one of the best beaches to visit when staying in or near Destin, FL.

Why do we love Miramar Beach? Because it has the old beach town vibes! You’ll start to feel like a local in no time. The shopping and dining options in the area are excellent.

We’ve found that this is a great beach to visit when one half of our group wants to be a beach bum for the day and the other half wants to shop or enjoy some water sports like jet skiing and parasailing. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Keep in mind that all beaches will experience crowds during Spring Break (March-April).

Walton Beach is one of the best Florida Panhandle beaches.
South Walton Beach. Photo courtesy of VisitFlorida.

7. Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach is located near Destin, Florida, and best known for being family-friendly. In fact, it’s fair to say that this beach is the ultimate family playground!

We’ve visited this beach many times and we love relaxing on the pristine white sands and snorkeling in the ocean. Most of the activities like taking a charter boat ride or going fishing are suitable for the whole family which is why we frequent this area of Florida. 

The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island is a must-do because you will find public beach access to one of the best beaches in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, with lots of sand dunes. The boardwalk also has the winning trio: shopping, dining and entertainment!

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking the family to the beach is to hire a photographer for sunset family photos. This is a special gift I treat myself to each year. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer for a photo session right on the beach! Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.

A view of the sand dunes in Destin, Florida
The sand dunes in Destin, Florida/ Photo credit: Visit Florida

8. Henderson Beach State Park in Destin

If you’re looking for a beach that has “natural Florida” vibes and feels more like a nature experience, then Henderson Beach State Park in Destin is the place for you!

The 6,000 feet of natural scenic shoreline is perfect for taking the family on a stroll off the Emerald Coast or to play in the sandy beach playground designed for kids. You’ll find a pet friendly nature trail there that will help you appreciate the surrounding coastal dune ecosystem. We really love this beach spot!

Read More: Best Destin Resorts

Snorkeling in St. Andrews Bay
Snorkeling in St. Andrews Bay is one of many fun things to do with kids in Panama City Beach. Photo: Visit PCB

9. St. Andrews State Park

Only a few miles from Panama City Beach, St Andrews State Park says that you can “experience five distinct ecological landscapes in one stunning location” when visiting this park.

This state park has a mile-and-a-half of beautiful beach area to spend the day with your family. There’s a playground and many other fun activities inside the park.

This is another beach destination that I highly recommend for nature and adventure lovers. The variety of activities makes it a great beach for families to visit. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: As of April 2021, several construction projects are underway at St. Andrews State Park. A portion of the campground is being renovated.

The stunning sunsets and wildlife of the Florida Panhandle beaches
The stunning sunsets and wildlife of the Florida Panhandle beaches.

10. Crystal Beach in Destin

Are clear waters and sugar-sand calling your name? If so, this might be the beach you want to visit and stay near.

Destin is a place we’ve visited annually since our kids were babies. We explored the many beaches located in and around Destin. Crystal Beach is the one we recommend. This beach is located near Henderson Beach State Park so you could spend a little time at each of these beaches during your stay in Destin

SheBuysTravel Tip: The area around Crystal Beach has become a sought-after vacation destination, so book early if you plan to visit. 

Grayton Beach State Park is one of the best Florida panhandle beaches.
Boardwalk at Grayton Beach State Park. Photo courtesy of VisitFlorida.

11. Grayton Beach State Park

Located between Panama City Beach and Destin, this 2,000 acre State Park is home to a great beach area. You can even rent cabins at the state park so you can wake up to the sunrises and finish the day with the sunsets on this beach.

Our family loves the beach, but sometimes we need a break to stretch our legs for awhile and the Grayton Beach State Park has 4 miles of trails so you can let the kids run off some energy before heading back to relax on the beach. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Seaside Beach is nearby, but unless you’re staying in Seaside, access to the beach area is restricted.

Sunrise over St. George Island, one of the best Florida panhandle beaches.
Sunrise at St. George Island. Photo courtesy of VisitFlorida.

12. St. George Island

This may be the last in the list but it’s certainly not our last choice! The uncrowded beaches on St. George Island are especially good for families traveling with younger kids.

In addition to the unspoiled beaches, this 22-mile barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico has a ton of family-friendly activities. If you visit in early summer and walk the beach in the early morning hours, you may see nesting sea turtles! What a fun experience for the entire family. Kayaking is also a popular sport for families when visiting St. George Island.

You can stay right on the island with several lodging, dining and shopping options available. It’s not only a great beach to visit but a great place to spend your entire vacation. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Packing for the beach can be a chore when you’re traveling with a family. Don’t worry, our packing experts have created the Ultimate Beach Packing list just for YOU!

Where to Stay in the Florida Panhandle

To find vacation rentals and hotels near these beautiful Florida Panhandle beaches, use this interactive map!

More Florida Family Vacation Ideas

Breeze Leonard is a travel enthusiast and the affiliate manager for SheBuysTravel. A marketing and advertising specialist, she is also a social media strategist and travel writer, with several years’ experience writing for digital media. A Texan born and raised, Breeze left a corporate career to fulfill her passion for seeing the world with her three little girls. Their adventures have taken them across the globe, spanning visits to favorite Caribbean isles and motoring cross-country in an RV through some of America’s most beloved national parks. She believes that no adventure is too small and that every memory made, good or bad, is part of the family’s story.
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