15 Best Things to Do in the Florida Panhandle

Florida Panhandle
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The idyllic Florida Panhandle is a vast strip of land bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama, and Georgia.

It’s culturally closer to the charming South than the rest of the state, so you can expect a welcoming community that’s as warm as the Florida sun.

It boasts many natural attractions for every preference: state parks, swamps, islands, and more.

With the Emerald and Forgotten Coasts as the most popular areas in the region, you can also expect many idyllic beaches.

And aside from the rich natural features, the Florida Panhandle has a vibrant culture seen in the major cities within the territory: Tallahassee, Panama City, Fort Walton Beach, and Pensacola.

You can join festivals, visit museums, and partake in various other celebrations that showcase the unique blend of cultures in the region.

It will take more than a few days to explore this area's wonders, so check out this list and plan accordingly.

Here are the 15 best things to do in the Florida Panhandle:

Go Kayaking at Blackwater River State Park

View of Blackwater River State Park
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Blackwater River State Park is a 590-acre attraction popular for water-related activities that don't involve the sea.

The eponymous river is the main feature of this destination, with the calm waters frequented for kayaking and canoeing opportunities.

View of Blackwater River State Park
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While cruising the meandering river, you’d encounter some of the unique land features in this side of the US: pure sand river bottoms.

A few other places in the country have such features, but the Blackwater River has the longest segments among them.

View of Blackwater River State Park
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As you paddle with current, you’d encounter mounds of white sand along the banks, redirecting the waters to create a wavy path.

You can also explore the trails that go deep into the woods of the state park.

Some have boardwalks while others only have packed dirt, but they all guarantee fun adventures into the Florida wilderness—just keep an eye out for alligators!

View of Blackwater River State Park
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Marvel at the Displays of National Naval Aviation Museum

Front View of National Naval Aviation Museum
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A few other facilities in the country compare to the majesty of Pensacola’s National Naval Aviation Museum.

This destination was established in 1962 to “select, collect, preserve, and display” artifacts that showcase the naval aviation history of the country.

“Naval Aviation” is a very particular term, as it disregards other aircraft that can still qualify under the general aviation history of the US.

Displays of National Naval Aviation Museum
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Here, you will find fully intact airplanes that were instrumental in the many conflicts the country has been involved in.

There’s even spacecraft from past missions, perfectly preserved for your viewing pleasure.

Whether inside the facility or outside on the sunny grounds, you’d see majestic jets and planes proudly mounted or hung from the ceiling, simulating their flying days.

There are also other displays apart from the airplanes, including a library and flight simulators.

Displays of National Naval Aviation Museum
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Go Camping at St. Andrews State Park

Boardwalk at St. Andrews State Park
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St. Andrews State Park is another natural attraction in the Emerald Coast, located in the charming Panama City.

It covers an area of 1,200 acres, most of which consists of sugar sand beaches and coastal forests with diminutive trees.

Because of the long stretches of unspoiled coastline, the state park has become a favorite destination for beachgoers, especially those who like peace and relaxation.

Swamp at St. Andrews State Park
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It was protected from development thanks to past military activity, so there are few modern facilities and lots of pristine wilderness.

Camping is one of the most sought-after activities at the park, so early reservation is needed if you want a guaranteed spot.

Aside from that, waters activities like parasailing, surfing, scuba diving, and swimming are allowed.

Boats in St. Andrews State Park
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Walk Amongst the Trees of Tallahassee Museum

The magnificent Tallahassee Museum is not your usual educational facility.

This attraction spans 52 acres of lakeside property with indoor and outdoor attractions.

Here, visitors will learn about the region's natural history outside of the four walls that most other museums have.

While there are exhibits inside the buildings, most are located outside.

One of the most famous sections of the facility is the Tree-to-Tree Adventures, which lets visitors explore the forests on high bridges and platforms supported by the trees.

The path will take you to areas where rescued animals live, including the rare Florida panther, red wolves, black bears, and many types of snakes.

A boardwalk also brings you the small lakes bordered by bald cypress trees—an enchanting sight taken right out of a fairytale.

Explore the Interiors of Fort Pickens

View of Fort Pickens
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Thanks to its strategic location, the coastlines of the Florida Panhandle were used widely for military operations.

One of the most prominent and long-standing structures in the region is Fort Pickens, which has been around since 1834.

It was involved in the Civil War, Indian Wars, and both the World Wars.

View of Fort Pickens
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In fact, it’s one of the few forts that remained under the control of the Union through the bloody Civil War.

Today, the fort stands as a historical attraction open to all who want to learn the storied past of the structure and the surrounding area.

You’ll find gun batteries, cannons, and the vast network of the pentagonal fort, all perfectly preserved for visitors’ viewing pleasure.

View of Fort Pickens
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The grounds around the fort also serve as famous camping sites, thanks to their proximity to the beach.

Stay awhile and enjoy the peaceful ambiance of the location, a far cry from the cannon explosions heard from decades ago.

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Play a Few Rounds at Emerald Bay Golf Club

The scenic Emerald Bay Golf Club is arguably one of the most visited sporting facilities in the Florida Panhandle.

This elaborate 18-hole course takes advantage of the Emerald Coast’s natural beauty, resulting in a breathtaking layout that makes the trip worth it.

While playing on the well-manicured fairways and greens, you’d be treated to sweeping views of rolling hills and the Choctawhatchee Bay glimmering in the distance.

Just don’t let the beauty distract you too much from making an accurate shot!

After playing a few rounds, visit the club’s famous restaurant: The Grille.

They have an extensive menu of Southern and Florida staples that you can eat indoors or on a covered porch that offers stunning views of the course.

Discover Mystical Waters at Ponce De Leon Springs State Park

Beautiful Waters at Ponce De Leon Springs State Park
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Ponce De Leon was a Spanish conquistador connected to the Fountain of Youth legend.

Unfortunately, the Ponce De Leon Springs State Park, named after him, does not have the mythical healing waters.

But the crystal clear springs of this 386-acre attraction are the closest you can get to swimming in rejuvenating fountains.

The state park was established to protect these aquifers and prevent human development from polluting the pristine waters.

Beautiful Waters at Ponce De Leon Springs State Park
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The result is a year-round attraction that’s popular thanks to the light blue springs surrounded by bald cypress trees.

So visit the park and take cooling dips in the springs, which stay at a constant temperature of 68°f, even in winter.

The rest of the park is open for exploration, with many opportunities for encounters with the area's exotic wildlife.

Beautiful Waters at Ponce De Leon Springs State Park
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Lay on the Soft Sands of Pensacola Beach

Aerial View of Pensacola Beach
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The gorgeous town of Pensacola Beach is located on the barrier islands of the Emerald Coast, and it is considered one of the most iconic beaches in all of Florida.

The city itself is a paradise, but the most prominent attraction here is the majestic Casino Beach, which spans most of its southern coastline.

As the hub of activity in the community, Casino Beach has all that visitors can ask for: restaurants, outfitters, boat rentals, and of course, the sugar-white sand.

Aerial View of Pensacola Beach
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The sand’s incomparable color and fineness make for picture-perfect views that rival the Caribbean islands.

You can go sunbathing, try watersports, or take stunning photos to show off on your socials.

Don’t forget to visit the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, a lengthy manmade structure that reaches 1,471 feet into the Gulf.

It’s a great spot to catch large game and see playful dolphins frolicking near the coast!

Smell the Flowers at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park

Flowers at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park
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There’s no shortage of state parks in the Florida Panhandle, and one of the most visited ones is the gorgeous Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park.

This attraction serves as a botanical garden and historical site, covering more than 1,176 acres.

On the historic side of the state park, you’d find the Killearn Plantation Archeological and Historic District.

Flowers at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park
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It showcases the region’s colonial history and antebellum African American culture.

Then there’s the rest of the park, composed of forests, landscaped gardens, and verdant grounds next to lakes.

Here, you’d find native Florida flora like azaleas, camellias, bald cypress, sago palm, and Florida anise.

Ride a Go-Kart at Race City

The thrilling Race City is one of the favorite family-friendly attractions in the Florida Panhandle.

Located in Panama City, this amusement park combines elements of racing, rollercoasters, and arcades to create a fun and memorable experience for everyone.

Its Go-Kart tracks are the most popular attraction, with elevated tracks that take your ride to new heights—literally.

Then there are the exhilarating rollercoasters that ascend, loop, descend, and turn on twisting tracks.

If you want a more relaxing activity, check out the indoor minigolf course, which has nine holes and a fantasy-themed design that will leave you awestruck.

It’s the perfect place to practice your putting skills while having fun with the whole family!

Then there’s the Mega Arcade, the largest one in Panama City with an area of 10,000 square feet.

You’ll find old classics, new games, and hybrid versions that will have you playing for hours.

Play under the Sun at Henderson Beach State Park

View of Henderson Beach State Park
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The beautiful Henderson Beach State Park is a three-quarter mile-long strip of scenic coastline that covers 208 acres.

It has majestic, thirty-foot sand dunes, coastal scrub forests, and a warm sea breeze blowing from the Gulf.

Since the state protects it, the park has seen little development.

This makes it a prime destination for those who want to escape the city’s noise and their busy lives.

View of Henderson Beach State Park
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You can stay in one of the 60 campsites, explore the trails that go into the forest, and climb the dunes to get a good view of the surroundings.

The strip of white-sand beach offers plenty of opportunities for sunbathing, strolling, and relaxing.

Then there’s the warm water of the Gulf, perfect for quick dips or surfing adventures when the conditions are right.

View of Henderson Beach State Park
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See Florida’s Wildlife at Apalachicola National Forest

Sign of  Apalachicola National Forest
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The expansive Apalachicola National Forest is the only national forest in the Florida Panhandle, covering an area of 632,890 acres.

Within this vast region are many of the state’s signature habitats, such as Southeastern conifer forests, sandhills, floodplain forests, and swamps.

Because of these diverse settings, the national forest has become the home to many native flora and fauna.

Trees at  Apalachicola National Forest
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These include black bears, woodpeckers, foxes of various species, and the fearsome alligator.

You can try spotting them by visiting the many recreational areas, scenic trails, and wildlife refuges in the national forest.

Aside from wildlife encounters, the forest is open for hiking, camping, off-road ATV, and horseback riding.

Hunting is allowed to control the population of some species, but there are restrictions that hunters must follow.

Play with Animals at ZooWorld Zoological Park

If you want to take a break from the beaches and forests and interact with wildlife up close, make a stopover at ZooWorld Zoological Park.

This favorite Panama City attraction covers 5 acres and houses more than 260 individual animals from all over the world.

Since the management is focused on conservation, the animals are given the attention and care they need to thrive.

So you can expect happy and comfortable creatures during your visit.

There are many interactive exhibits in the zoo, giving you a chance to pet tapirs, feed alligators, meet giraffes, and snuggle with lemurs.

Aside from playing with these exotic animals, you can unleash your inner lumberjack by playing at the hatchet throwing arena.

Marvel at the Cars in Tallahassee Automobile Museum

A Car inTallahassee Automobile Museum
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If you have a taste for fine vintage cars, then Tallahassee Automobile Museum is a great place to visit.

This opulent attraction is owned by Tallahassee-based businessman DeVoe L. Moore, who has a vast collection of Americana cars proudly displayed at the facility.

While touring the museum, you’d find 160 automobiles polished and shined to look like new models.

View of Tallahassee Automobile Museum
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These include Deloreans, Ford Model Ts, Kayser Darrin Roadster, and not just one but three Batmobiles.

Aside from the cars, the collection includes Steinway grand pianos, boating memorabilia, and golfing equipment that are every bit as luxurious as the vehicles.

So make sure this place is on your itinerary if you want to get up close and personal with rare and expensive items.

Play with Dolphins at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

For those who want to get up close and personal with the marine mammals of the Gulf, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is the place to be.

This attraction in Fort Walton Beach has daily animal shows, aquatic exhibits, animal encounters, and various other activities and events for the whole family.

Watch dolphins swim and perform tricks, play with seals, and marvel at the sea rays gliding serenely—there’s a lot to see and do here!

Final Thoughts

This side of the Sunshine State is far removed from the bustling cities of the peninsula, so you’re promised a serene experience while traveling the 200-mile span of land.

So take the road less traveled and see mystical springs, cypress swamps, immaculate beaches, luxurious museums, and many other attractions.

When planning your itinerary, check out this list and add the top spots to your route!