From the squeaky-soft, white sand to the most perfect shade of turquoise water, it’s no wonder how the Emerald Coast has earned its name. Not only is it a hot vacation destination for those that reside in the southern region of the USA, but it’s also a favorite weekend getaway spot for local Floridians.
The Emerald Coast has something for everyone. Dining options are seemingly endless, with some of the best seafood served up beautifully at restaurants overlooking the water. It’s also a shopper’s dream, with plenty of antique shops, luxe boutiques, and massive outlet malls to peruse on a rainy day. “Support Local” is the mantra of many, and it’s evident as you drive through places like Blue Mountain Beach, Fort Walton Beach, and Seaside as you see names of coffee shops and bakeries you’ve never heard of before.
There’s something about this area that feels like home. The beaches are quiet enough to feel that they’re yours, especially in the evenings as you catch the rays of the sun waving goodnight. Late-night ice cream shops grow lines out the door, bringing back sweet nostalgia of ice cream at the beach as a kid.
Such beautiful coasts along the Gulf are at unfortunate risk, like many other coastlines in the world today, due to rising sea levels. Between thermal expansion, glaciers melting, and an overall rise in global temperatures, the coastline is changing at a rapid pace. The Emerald Coast is actively taking measures to keep their beaches as pristine and intact as ever by doing things like replenishing seawalls.
If you want to experience it for yourself and have just a few days to explore, here is an itinerary for a weekend in the Emerald Coast:
Start by staying at a vacation rental in Destin.
You can’t go wrong with a cozy beach house near the water in Destin. There are so many shops and restaurants in close proximity, including grocery stores, and you’ll be nearly walking distance to a beach anywhere you opt to stay.
Though there are a plethora of hotels you can book, it helps authenticate your Emerald Coast experience by living as the locals do. Tourism is huge in cities like Destin and Fort Walton Beach, which greatly benefits Florida’s economic impact (tourism is the #1 driver in the state), so finding a quiet escape can make your beach getaway more tranquil.
Grab breakfast at La Loba’s.
If you enjoy cinnamon rolls that are drowning in homemade frosting, La Loba’s bakery is your first stop in the Emerald Coast for a meal. They’re a sweet mom and pop shop and you’ll see many locals popping in on their way to work. Their quiche, homemade granola, breakfast sandwiches, and scones are all well-loved in Blue Mountain Beach.
Walk the soft, sandy beaches.
Of course this is a must! Spend your day lounging on the beach. In the Emerald Coast, you have many to choose from, like Watercolor Beach, Seaside, Blue Mountain Beach, Fort Walton Beach, and more. They aren’t lying when they say the sand is so soft that it squeaks.
On days where the water is smooth, you can see straight through the crystal-clear shore to the sand. It never gets old to look at.
Dine at Red Bar and watch the sunset.
This is a dive spot but in all the right ways. On the weekend, you’ll catch tunes played live by local bands, their stage surrounded by vintage furniture. The red lighting and retro rocker decor creates a fun, upbeat atmosphere for all ages enjoying their night.
Though the bar knows what they’re doing by crafting delightful cocktail concoctions, the food is even better. Waiters swing from table to table with a large chalkboard in hand, describing the five items they serve on their menu. Seafood is their specialty, but they offer one or two non-seafood options, like a chicken or pasta entree.
Get there early, as the wait can be upwards of an hour on a busy weekend night. But don’t fret, you can put your name down and go for a stroll on the beach while you wait, or sip sangria at the bar. Do note that they’re cash-only.
Shop your heart out.
The Silver Sand Premium Outlets have any store you can possibly imagine, from Sax Fifth Avenue to Kate Spade to Cole Haan. If it rains on your Emerald Coast parade, you can make a day out of shopping at the outlets and coming home with bags full of goodies.
Around the holidays, these places are slammed. If antiquing is your thing, the Fort Walton Beach Flea Market or Resort Resale in Santa Rosa Beach are the places to go. Gorgeous pieces will take your breathe away for those with a knack for interior design.
Grab some 30A suds.
The Grayton Company is a must-see for beer lovers, or for a group looking for an entertaining night out. With delicious craft beer made on site, 30A is often populated by both locals and visitors alike. Pale ales, amber ales, IPAs and more are featured on their diverse beverage menu.
Photos provided by Anthony Russo.
About the Author
Andrea Barnhill is the founder and writer for Weekend Wander Club, a travel blog for young professionals featuring destinations all over the world. One of Destination Marketing Association International’s 30 Under 30, Andrea is recognized as a young leader in the travel and tourism marketing industry.