Northwest Florida Gulf Coast for Families

Seaside Florida

Seaside, Florida food trucks

Still dreaming of a little sun and surf? Jennifer from Two Kids and a Map reflects on her favorite beach towns in Florida. SPF 50 may be required when reading. 

After nearly sixteen years of perfecting flip-flop tans and watching sunsets while sitting in the white sugary sand, my family moved across the country to landlocked Denver.  While we love everything the mountains have to offer (yes, even the snowy winters!), we have spent the past few weeks wishing for warmer weather and reflecting on some of our favorite spots along the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast.

Pensacola, FL

Pensacola, FL


My love for Pensacola is a little bit biased because it has been my home for the past sixteen years.  I moved there for college, fell in love with my Southern gentleman and the town.  Pensacola is just a short drive from the Alabama border and I think it is often overlooked as a family hotspot.  My favorite way to spend a lazy Saturday is exploring the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  We visit Ft. Pickens and then head to the beach where the kids build sand castles and try to catch the waves.  After we are thoroughly sun-kissed, we head to Peg Leg Pete’s for some peel and eat shrimp.

If the beach isn’t your thing, head downtown and learn more about the history of Pensacola at the Pensacola Children’s Museum.  The National Naval Aviation Museum is one of the largest in the country and is home to the Blue Angels.  There is always a chance that you might run into one of the pilots.

Destin, FL

Destin, FL


Destin, Florida is our go-to spot for girlfriend getaways, romantic weekends, and family days out.  It offers shopping, fresh seafood, small museums and more.  Our favorite place to stay is Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.  This hot spot has accommodations of all kinds: vacation homes, condos, and hotel rooms.  You will find the typical beach activities like parasailing, surfing and jet skiing as well as the more commercial go-kart tracks and mini golf courses.  Our favorite thing to do is visit the different state parks along this area.  There is a whole lot of beach to explore,  and even though it does get crowded, it can feel like you are the only one there for miles.


Seaside might look familiar to those who remember the movie The Truman Show.  It was filmed in this little neighborhood.  Though the neighborhood has changed a bit, it is still fun to find the house where Jim Carey’s character watched his life change before his eyes.  Once you have wandered around, the highlight of this visit will be the Airstream food trailers.  There is a little row of food trailers in the main square full of delicious goodness like gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, snow cones and more.  Put your toes in the sand and watch the sunset before heading back to your room.

Panama City, FL

Panama City, FL

Panama City

Panama City is where we went if we wanted the full touristy beach experience.  Though the beaches can get crowded, there is so much to do off of the sand.  If you are tired of the beach but don’t want to stop all of the fun in the water, head to Shipwreck Island.  This is a great water park full of slides, pools, and fun for all ages.  Our favorite activity is to visit the Coconut Creek Gran Maze.  My children can spend hours exploring the maze and trying to find their way to the different stations.  Miracle Strip at Pier Park has vintage rides from the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park.  A Ferris wheel, carousel, tilt-a-whirl and more will take you back to a time when small amusement parks were the Friday night entertainment in town.

While we are spending this summer exploring more of Colorado, we are daydreaming about a lengthy trip to the Gulf Coast next summer.  I can’t wait to remind my kids of the white sandy beaches that they called home for the first few years of their lives.

Jennifer Close writes about family travel at Two Kids and a Map and Traveling Mom.  She lives with her husband and two kids in Denver, Colorado.  She likes to read, craft and look for adventures with her children.  You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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Showing 5 comments
  • Reply

    We have a house in Destin and love it – but we really love driving over to Seaside, Watercolor, Rosemary, all of 30A, it is so cute!

    • Jen

      Oh! A house in Destin sounds lovely! I do love driving up and down 30A!

  • Kate

    Great area for vacation! We went last year to Florida Gulf Coast with our 10 month old. This year we went to the Alabama Gulf coast, Dauphin Island. Both were very nice!

    • Jen

      We didn’t get to spend as much time on the Alabama coast as I would have liked. I love Fairhope. We stayed at Point Clear Resort a few times.

  • tripsbylance

    I’m about to be making my 11th trip to Panama City Beach. Been to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Destin and Seaside countless other times. I prefer traveling the world, but there is just something about the Gulf Coast that constantly draws me back.

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