A mom asked: “My family and I are looking to go the the Florida Panhandle beaches for a week or a few days this summer. We heard Destin was fun, but we heard there are other nice beaches. In addition to the beach, we like good restaurants (family friendly), activities for the kids, and good people watching. We have two boys, ages 8 and 4, plus we are on a budget. We have never been to that part of Florida. Any suggestions for which beach to go to and where to stay?”

We recently covered which beach is closest – check this post for details.

gulfmapView Florida/Alabama Panhandle Beaches in a larger map

Destin, FL

  • Hands down, Destin. It’s the complete package
  • In destin seaside condos called ariel dunes!
  • If you are in the Destin area Baytowne Wharf is a fun place to visit one day and lots of kids activities!
  • Destin for sure. I am from Alabama and have spent a lot of time on the Gulf Coast. Baytown Wharf is a lot of fun for families. I love Surfside in Destin, it’s on the less crowded side down close to Sandestin

Panama City, FL
We always go to Panama City and get a motel right on the beach

Okaloosa Island, FL

  • Okaloosa Island is about 7 miles west of Destin. More affordable condos and the same wonderful beaches. Cross the bridge to go into Ft Walton for your typical fast food. It’s an easy drive to Destin for eating, shopping, activities.
  • I forgot an okaloosa island! It’s pretty awesome as well! The first yr we went down we stayed at ft Walton beach.

Highway 30-A Area
Discover 30-A
Visit South Walton

  • I highly recommend the area on 30-A such as Rosemary Beach, Watercolor, Seaside. Less crowded than Destin and much prettier and still very kid-friendly. It’s going to be pricey anywhere you go in that area this time of year.
  • Grayton Beach. www.rivardnet.com to rent a house on one of the 30A beaches
  • Dunes of Seagrove in Seagrove beach
  • All of those 30A beaches are beautiful, but man you’re going to pay for it. You’ve really got to head west if you’re working on a budget…
  • We go to Seagrove every summer. It is between Seaside and Rosemary Beach on 30-A. We love it because it is small, child-friendly and not crowded. We stay in a condo directly on the beach. Look up Dunes Realty for realty info.

Gulf Shores, AL/Perdido Key, FL Area
Visit Gulf Shores & Orange Beach
Visit Perdido

  • IMO, Destin is more suited to families than Panama City. But we Iike Orange Beach/Gulf Shores in Alabama even better than Destin.
  • I completely agree with Samantha and Stefanie. Having lived there for several years, I much prefer the Perdido Key and Orange Beach areas. Food, shopping, little zoo, water park in season, dolphin watching, parasailing, fishing and pristine beaches. There are tourists that come, but they are quiet and very family friendly. I’ve never seen it overcrowded. It’s like a well kept secret. =)
  • If you head west a bit, closer to the AL/FL border, there are a lot of great little beaches that are far less crowded and touristy and less expensive than Destin but still have the great restaurants, close shopping, etc. We stayed at Perdido Beach (right outside of Pensacola) last summer at a great spot if you are watching your budget. Our place was not Gulf Front (ie–right on the beach–was blocked by a high-rise) but the beach was very easily accessible. If we had opted for a 3rd of 4th floor unit, we’d have had the gulf view from our balcony but with the kids, we opted for the ground floor unit for easy pool access. You can look on VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner) or, if you’d rather go through a rental company, I suggest Resort Quest of NW Florida. Good luck!
  • I would recommend a rental on VRBO.com to minimize costs by cooking at home, etc (my 3 boys enjoyed burgers and hot dogs, and eating out was a treat rather than a chore.) we stayed at SeaGrove Beach, next to Seaside and much cheaper, during springbreak and it was not crowded at all. Any small town between Panama City and Destin has beautiful beaches.
  • We just booked Purple Parrott Resort in Perdido
  • Fort Morgan, AL. Just west of gulf shores. Offbeaten path but still close enough to waterpark, zoo, go carts, and mini golf. Used to go to destin but gulf is soooo much closer.
  • We do Navarre Beach – can easily get to Destin or Pensacola, beautiful beaches, and not very crowded
  • Navarre Beach FL, hands down. Quieter, less crazy and affordable, but very nice. Very accessible. We had a condo there for many years.
  • Ft. Morgan, AL. My favorite rental company is Reed Realty. www.gulfrentals.com

And in case you’re wondering….here’s why the moms do not recommend beaches in the Mississippi Sound:

  • Beaches in Gulfport/ Biloxi are on the Mississippi Sound, not the actual Gulf. Because of this, they are not very enjoyable. Sand is not white,water is murky and warm. It’s all just kind of icky. That’s why everyone goes further east. 
  • I’m from Gulfport originally and I think the beaches are fine. But if you want surf, go to gulf shores. The Mississippi coast is less crowded though, and you can take a ferry to Ship Island, which is really pretty and has great beaches.
  • We took a trip there a few years ago and did not enjoy the beaches. 
  • The beaches at Biloxi are very ugly. The water is brown and murky. Go alittle farther east to Orange Beach, Alabama
  • I agree, the beaches in Gulfport and Biloxi are very filthy. You’ll see needles, bottles etc washed up on the shore. A lot of times they have warning signs up that you can’t even swim in them if you wanted to due to water being unhealthy. I would go over to Orange Beach area as well. Worth the little extra!!