Where to stay in the Florida Panhandle

  • Post last modified:January 26, 2023
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Stretching for more than 200 miles, the Florida Panhandle’s sugar-white beaches are enchanting. Add to that easy-going towns and a friendly southern vibe, and you know that you’re in for the best kind of vacation. But where to stay in the Florida Panhandle for the best experience?

Pensacola Beach is a great place to stay in the Florida Panhandle. Other options for where to stay when visiting Florida’s Panhandle are from west to east Navarre Beach, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Panama City Beach and St. George Island.

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Table of contents

Best places to stay in the Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle is the Sunshine State’s northwestern portion. Making visitors return year after year, its wide white beaches and blue-green waters are both balsam for your soul and true Instagram rockets.

But which are the best places to stay in the Florida Panhandle?

No guide to the best places to stay in the Florida Panhandle is complete without Santa Rosa Island. Not one but three delightful beach communities compete for your attention here: Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach and Fort Walton Beach.

Connected to Fort Walton Beach, Destin is another popular spot for where to stay in the Florida Panhandle. Then the show continues east with Destin and Panama City Beach.

For a true island experience, St. George Island is the easternmost option for where to stay when visiting Florida’s Panhandle. This is a quiet island that presents yet another shade of the Florida Panhandle.

Beach day on Pensacola Beach, FL — one of the best places to stay in the Florida Panhandle
The alluring Santa Rosa Island.

Pensacola Beach – Florida Panhandle hotels ticking every box

Almost where Florida becomes Alabama, Pensacola Beach is a top option for where to stay in the Florida Panhandle. Positioned on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, it’s one of those spots that caters to most travelers and delivers year in and year out.

Shooting out into the Gulf of Mexico, the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier is a regional landmark. Stroll its entire length, most likely accompanied by pelicans, to fully take in the gorgeous Santa Rosa Island surroundings.

Just make sure to bring your sunglasses, the sun is strong out there.

Home to the fishing pier, Casino Beach is the busiest part of Pensacola’s shoreline. If you want liveliness and ultimate access to restaurants, stores and bars, don’t look past the Florida Panhandle hotels here.

But one thing is certain in Pensacola Beach: you always find seclusion. Both to the east and west of the Pensacola Beach community, the unspoiled Gulf Islands National Seashore guarantees that.

Prepare to embrace a sugar-white world of solitude during your Panhandle stay.

As a bonus for history buffs, Fort Pickens guards the western end of Pensacola Beach. Surrounded by the Florida Panhandle’s sandy landscape, this is one of the largest brick forts ever built in the United States.

In short, Pensacola Beach is an option for where to stay when visiting the Florida Panhandle that offers both liveliness and quitness. So no matter what mood you’re in, you find a matching vibe here.

Pick Pensacola Beach for: A complete beach vacation.

Recommended Panhandle hotels in Pensacola Beach

Margaritaville Beach Hotel – A dreamy Panhandle hotel

A tropical paradise in the heart of Pensacola Beach, Margaritaville is an exceptional oceanfront Panhandle hotel. Although its decor radiates vacation vibes, you forget that when seeing the colors of the Gulf of Mexico from your balcony. Get ready for a WOW experience.

Portofino Island Resort – Luxurious seclusion

If you rather want a tucked-away place to stay in the Florida Panhandle, Pensacola’s Portofino Island Resort calls your name. A final outpost before the Gulf Islands National Seashore begins, this is luxurious seclusion.

The entrance of the historic Fort Pickens
Step into Pensacola’s Fort Pickens.

Related: See our guides for where to stay in Pensacola and things to do in Pensacola.

Lining up in pristine fashion, it’s not far between the Florida Panhandle’s enchanting beach towns. Just 20 minutes from Pensacola Beach, also on Santa Rosa Island, you find a more off-the-beaten-path option for where to stay in the Florida Panhandle: Navarre Beach.

Offering the same white beauty as Pensacola Beach, but with fewer distractions, Navarre Beach is a lovely beach community for an unhurried Florida vacation. So just slow down, get into vacation mode and find a favorite spot in the Navarre sand.

If you ever feel that you want more stimulation, Pensacola Beach is a short, and very scenic, Gulf coast drive away. Isn’t that a superb combo?

When staying in Navarre Beach, you might ask yourself how this spot manages to still fly under the radar. Navarre Beach’s relaxing state of mind is one of the best kept secrets of the Florida Panhandle.

In conclusion, Navarre Beach refreshing uncrowdedness is perfect for everyone who looks for a quieter place to stay in the Florida Panhandle. Hidden on Santa Rosa Island, this feels like a downsized version of other Florida Panhandle towns.

Pick Navarre Beach for: A change of scenery.

Recommended Panhandle hotels in Navarre Beach

SpringHill Suites – Embrace Navarre Beach

Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, SpringHill Suites makes the most of its stunning Navarre Beach location. Tip your feet in the ocean, lounge on the beach or just hang out by the hotel pool. This is one of the best places to stay in the Florida Panhandle for families, or anyone else, who just wants to recharge without distractions.

Beach house in Navarre Beach, FL
The off-the-beaten-path Navarre Beach.

Fort Walton Beach – Well-balanced Florida Panhandle hotels

A third Santa Rosa Island option, on top of Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach, is Fort Walton Beach. Also known as Okaloosa Island, Fort Walton Beach welcomes you to the eastern end of Santa Rosa Island.

Miracle Strip Parkway, framed by hotels, shops, restaurants, attractions and, of course, Okaloosa Island Pier, connects Fort Walton Beach with Destin. This is the commercial hub of Okaloosa Island.

If you want even more things to do, continue the few miles to Destin.

But for peacefulness, check in at a Florida Panhandle hotel along Santa Rosa Boulevard instead. Although the road extends west almost all the way to Navarre Beach, you don’t have to go far to find that treasured privacy.

Soon it’s just you, the sand and the sun.

All in all, you could really hear a pin drop towards Fort Walton Beach’s western end. But also with a busier eastern area and easy Destin access, this is a nicely balanced place to stay in the Florida Panhandle.

Pick Fort Walton Beach for: A Panhandle stay of both worlds.

Recommended Panhandle hotels in Fort Walton Beach

Fairfield Inn & Suites – Peacefulness on Santa Rosa Boulevard

Tucked away on Santa Rosa Boulevard, Fairfield Inn & Suites showcases the reasons why people return to Fort Walton Beach year after year. The only question for you is: Will you like its peaceful oceanfront location or convenient access to activities the most?

Orange sunset at Okaloosa Island Pier in the Florida Panhandle
Okaloosa Island Pier is a pretty sunset spot.

Destin – Panhandle accommodations in the luckiest fishing village

Called the world’s luckiest fishing village for its favorable fishing conditions, there’s much more to feel lucky about in Destin. It’s one of the most all-round options for where to stay in the Florida Panhandle.

A glistening beach, check, fun activities for families, check, and nightlife for those 21 and over, check. With the beach as the number one attraction but much more on offer, Destin is an outgoing Florida Panhandle hub.

Stretching almost a quarter of a mile, Destin’s Harbor Boardwalk is the Panhandle city’s heart. Browse stores, try a restaurant, book a boat tour, sip on a drink or just enjoy the stunning waterfront setting.

This is vacation.

For party on the water, Crab Island is a legendary Destin attraction. A raised sand bar like no other, people come from far and wide to anchor their boats and have a good time here.

Even if you don’t want to go to Crab Island yourself, you can see the unique Florida Panhandle party spot as you cross Destin Bridge.

In short, Destin is a city where the whole family can have a good time. But if you prefer it quieter, look towards other options for where to stay in Florida’s Panhandle, such as the nearby Fort Walton Beach.

Pick Destin for: Outgoing fun for all ages.

Florida Panhandle hotels in Destin give you easy access to the unique Crab Island
Crab Island, a unique Panhandle sand bar.

Panama City Beach – A sprawling Panhandle hub

Fringed by white sand beaches and dotted with grand high rises, Panama City Beach has featured in many Florida Panhandle tourist brochures over the years. This is a picture-perfect hub in Northwest Florida.

Enjoy swimming, sunbathing and sandcastle building just steps from your Florida Panhandle hotel. Or for another perspective of the stunning coastline, stroll the Russel-Fields City Pier or M.B. Miller County Pier.

Can you feel that pleasant salty breeze?

Complementing days on the beach, Panama City Beach offers a renowned entertainment scene. Pier Park is a mall with more than 100 stores, eateries and its SkyWheel reaching up towards the Florida sky.

When day turns into night, Panama City Beach shows off its bubbling nightlife scene. Offering a lineup of low-key beach bars and live music venues, this is a great destination for a memorable night out.

In conclusion, Panama City Beach is a buzzing option for where to stay in the Florida Panhandle. Few other options for where to stay when visiting Florida’s Panhandle, if any, comes close to Panama City Beach’s vibrancy.

Pick Panama City Beach for: A Panhandle stay with a buzz.

St. George Island – Embrace the Panhandle’s Forgotten Coast

Begging you to get sand between your toes, the glittering St. George Island quietly floats at the eastern end of the Florida Panhandle. Welcome to Florida’s Forgotten Coast.

This slice of the coastline is much different than the household options for where to stay in the Florida Panhandle, including Pensacola Beach, Destin and Panama City Beach.

An island where nature comes first and second, high rises shine with their absence. Celebrated by locals and visitors alike, strict building codes ensure that St. George Island keeps its natural look.

Although this certainly isn’t where you go if you want a lively Florida Panhandle vacation, it’s hard to imagine a better spot than St. George Island if you look for tranquility.

To sum up, St. George Island invites you to Florida’s Forgotten Coast. Rightfully so the region’s nickname hints about a stay away from crowds. For secludedness, you have found the best place to stay in the Florida Panhandle.

Pick St. George Island for: Secluded Panhandle hotels.

White lighthouse across a bridge on St. George Island, FL
Kick back on St. George Island.

Tips for staying in the Florida Panhandle

Now your trouble-free Florida Panhandle vacation is so close. But have these tips in mind when you book your amazing Florida Panhandle stay.

  • Lively or quiet – Finding the best place to stay in the Florida Panhandle doesn’t have to be complicated. Pensacola Beach, Destin and Panama City Beach are the most vibrant hubs along the coastline. Navarre Beach, Fort Walton Beach and St. George Island are better if you just want to get away from it all.
  • Winters are cooler – The Panhandle’s prettiness is there year round. But unlike South Florida, the summer isn’t endless in Northwest Florida. For a winter stay in the Panhandle, expect daily highs in the low 60s and nightly lows in the mid 40s.
  • Know Spring break – With happy college kids swarming the Sunshine State’s beaches, Spring break is one of those school traditions that people seem to either love or hate. Panama City Beach is an iconic Spring break destination, while Pensacola Beach and Destin are other likely Panhandle targets for spring breakers.
  • Score a budget stay – As a result of lower temperatures, December, January and February are the best months to visit the Florida Panhandle on a budget. Sure, the days are significantly cooler now, but they are still clear and sunny most of the time.
Sunset over Pensacola Bay
Park your car at Pensacola Bay.

Final words about where to stay in Florida’s Panhandle

When you review the best places to stay in the Florida Panhandle, it gets very clear that it’s a region that receives much less attention than it deserves. There are just so many beautiful spots in the Florida Panhandle.

But from the bright side — this means more Florida Panhandle space (and lower hotel rates) for you.

Check in at a Panhandle hotel in Pensacola Beach, Destin or Panama City Beach if you prefer liveliness. For a quiet getaway, envision Navarre Beach, Fort Walton Beach or St. George Island instead.

Where to stay in the Florida Panhandle FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about where to stay in the Florida Panhandle.

Where should I stay when visiting Florida’s Panhandle?

There are places to stay in the Florida Panhandle for every traveler. If you prefer vibrancy, Pensacola Beach, Destin and Panama City Beach are the top options. For quieter Panhandle stays, consider Navarre Beach, Fort Walton Beach and St. George Island.

Where to stay in the Florida Panhandle for nightlife?

When it comes to nightlife, three Florida Panhandle towns stand out. With many delightful venues for yummy dinners and revitalizing drinks, Pensacola Beach, Destin and Panama City Beach are the best places to stay in the Florida Panhandle for nightlife.

What is the least crowded place to stay in Florida’s Panhandle?

The extensiveness is a huge advantage with the Florida Panhandle. Even if you stay in Pensacola Beach, Destin or Panama City Beach, it’s never far to an uncrowded beach. Still the least crowded options for where to stay when visiting the Florida Panhandle are Navarre Beach and St. George Island.

Where can I stay near Gulf Islands National Seashore?

Gulf Islands National Seashore, offering pristine recreation opportunities, consists of several different areas along the Gulf coast. In the Florida Panhandle these are the Fort Barrancas Area, Fort Pickens Area, Naval Live Oaks Area, Okaloosa Area, Perdido Key Area and Santa Rosa Area.

For places to stay near Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach has both the Fort Pickens Area to its west and the Santa Rosa Island Area to its east. Navarre Beach, with the Santa Rosa Island Area to its west, is another option that gives you effortless access to the unique Gulf coast seashore.

There’s more: Discover our full guide to Florida too.

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