Top 6 Things You Don’t Want to Miss in Northwest Florida

March 21, 2024

With so many things to do in Northwest Florida, you’ll have dozens of options to add to your itinerary. With stunning beaches, beautiful parks, and a rich culture, the area’s charm is undeniable. If you’re wondering where to begin, here’s our hand-picked list of must-see attractions, hidden gems, and local favorites from Pensacola to Panama City Beach!

Northwest Florida State Parks

Our state parks offer an inexpensive way to pass the time and showcase pristine beaches, lush forests, and diverse ecosystems— the perfect backdrop for hiking, biking, paddleboarding, and more!

Spend the day enjoying the scenic shoreline and sugar sand beaches at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin. A playground for the kids, a nature trail, and boardwalks leading to the emerald waters offer serene spots for swimming, sunbathing, and fishing, with many restaurants serving delicious seafood nearby. St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach is excellent for snorkeling and surfing. A popular spot for migrating birds and butterflies, the park offers a ferry to nearby Shell Island, a seven-mile-long barrier island offering peace and solitude away from busier attractions. 

Landing at the top of beautiful beach lists year after year, Grayton Beach State Park on 30A is also home to Western Lake, the second-largest coastal dune lake in the area. Spend the day on the nature trail or paddle boarding along the shallow waters for incomparable views of the local environment. Bordered by Lake Powell and the Gulf of Mexico, Camp Helen State Park offers different views and experiences, including fresh and saltwater fishing, kayaking, and more! 

Historic Landmarks 

Local landmarks offer a glimpse into the region’s cultural heritage and make for fun family outings. Pensacola, known as the “City of Five Flags,” is home to two well-preserved forts along its picturesque coastline, offering a window into the area’s past.

Fort Pickens

Whether traveling solo or with a large group, Fort Pickens offers an immersive experience for all who visit. Involved in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and WWII, it served as an important stronghold and remains one of the best-preserved forts in the area. View historic structures, exhibits, and the park store, then hit Langdon Beach for a refreshing dip! 

Fort Barrancas

Constructed in the early 19th Century, Fort Barrancas held a critical defensive position during the Civil War, protecting Pensacola Bay from potential attacks. Today, visitors can hike the trails, learn more about the military fortification, and view the exhibits at the Visitor Center.

Interesting Museums 

Exhibits and interactive displays reveal this dynamic region’s history, art, and traditions, making visiting museums one of our favorite things to do in Northwest Florida. You’ll find several worthy of a look and here are a few of our favorites!

Man in the Sea Museum

View underwater submersibles, antique diving suits, and other exhibits and artifacts related to diving, underwater exploration, and maritime history at the Man in the Sea Museum in Panama City Beach. While there, tour the U.S. Navy SEALAB I, an experimental underwater habitat aquanauts used for living and working underwater in the mid-60s.

Indian Temple Mound Museum

Tour the Indian Temple Mound Museum in Fort Walton Beach. The center is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of Native American tribes inhabiting the region for thousands of years. View the artifacts and exhibits highlighting these indigenous people, unearthing tales of the area’s prehistoric past.

Pensacola Museum of Art

See rotating exhibitions of contemporary and historical artwork at the Pensacola Museum of Art. Enjoy paintings, sculptures, and more by local, national, and international artists, along with assorted educational programs and events. Located near the heart of downtown Pensacola, visitors can also enjoy the galleries, shops, and restaurants nearby! 

Pop Cultural Sights

Explore the charming town of Seaside, famously known for its picturesque streets, pastel homes, and community gathering spots. A popular beach destination, the community was also the backdrop for the famous film “The Truman Show.” Don’t miss the opportunity to hit the food trucks on Airstream Row and shop while visiting iconic spots in the movie, like Modica Market, Coleman Tower, and the Seaside post office.

Many locals responded to the mass casting call of the summer blockbuster, Jaws 2, back in the late 1970s and still fondly remember the buzz in the community. While the original filming locations of Jaws 2 have changed over the years, remnants linger in Destin, Navarre Beach, Choctawhatchee Bay, and Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach!

Natural Wonders

A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Northwest Florida offers unique and exciting natural wonders captivating locals and visitors alike!

Coastal Dune Lakes  

The communities along 30A in Walton County are home to 15 named coastal dune lakes, rare features found in only a few places worldwide. These shallow, permanent lakes lie near the coastline, intermittently sharing water with the Gulf of Mexico. Their unique combination of fresh and saltwater provides valuable habitats for plant and animal species. They also present ideal hiking, biking, paddleboarding, and fishing opportunities—some of our favorite things to do in Northwest Florida!

Nesting Sea Turtles

Northwest Florida is home to several sea turtle species swimming through our emerald waters. While loggerhead and green turtles typically nest from early spring to late fall, leatherbacks are much rarer occurrences and nest from March through July. You might catch them on our beaches or see their hatchlings scurrying to shore during your visit! Learn more about their habitats and how to help protect them at the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center.

Navarre Beach Fishing Pier

Although technically not a natural wonder, it is a Northwest Florida attraction. The Navarre Beach Fishing Pier is the longest in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, offering incredible views of the coastline and local marine life. Whether just out for a stroll or casting your line, it’s an excellent place to catch a sunset!

Scenic Highways

Winding roads showcase breathtaking vistas of pristine beaches and charming coastal communities in Northwest Florida, and here are two you don’t want to miss!

Scenic Highway 30A

Evolving from a few modest homes in the early 1900s to one of the more popular Northwest Florida attractions, Scenic Highway 30A is more than just a road. This pristine 26-mile stretch overlooks the sugar white sands, borders the Gulf of Mexico, and meanders through charming communities, offering some of the most picturesque scenery in the area. Whether exploring by car or bike (the preferred method), you’ll discover something new around every corner!

U.S. Highway 98

Stretching along Florida’s Gulf Coast, U.S. Highway 98 offers breathtaking coastline views and access to numerous beach towns and attractions from Pensacola to Panama City Beach. Follow the path through beachside towns, state parks, and endless family-friendly activities!

With so many things to do in Northwest Florida, deciding where to begin your adventure might prove challenging. No matter where you land, Scenic Stays has the perfect vacation home or condo to serve as your base camp!

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