By STEVE WINSTON
In Northwest Florida, lights are softer and cities are smaller and friendlier. The attractions are as often natural as they are artificial and the beaches, golf courses, shopping areas, hotels, cultural amenities and restaurants aren’t quite as crowded as some of the state’s larger urban areas. This is the one part of Florida where you’ll still hear plenty of "ya'lls."
A Day in...
The Emerald Coast

Begin your day with a half-day fishing trip, dolphin cruise or sailing adventure and be soothed by the emerald-green waters of the Gulf. Venture over to The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island where you can lunch on fresh Gulf-to-table seafood with beachfront views of the sugar-white sand and the Okaloosa Fishing Pier. In the afternoon, stroll downtown Fort Walton Beach’s Heritage Park and Cultural Center, comprised of the Indian Temple Mound, 1912 Camp Walton Schoolhouse and Garnier Post Office Museum.

Franklin County

Authentic Florida thrives in quiet coastal communities like Apalachicola, St. George Island, Carrabelle, Eastpoint and Alligator Point. Enjoy quiet, pet-friendly beaches on St. George Island and Alligator Point. Climb historical lighthouses. Camp, paddle or hike along wooded trails and quiet sloughs. Watch commercial fishing boats unload their daily catch or charter a trip with an oyster fisherman to learn how to catch your own. Explore the area’s charm, boutiques, galleries and museums. End with fresh local seafood served at more than 30 area restaurants and seafood markets.

Panama City Beach

At Zen Garden or Finn’s Island Style Grub, start your day with gourmet coffee and a yoga session or a quick surf check. From there, explore 27 miles of beautiful beaches. Try snor-keling or paddleboarding in the emerald green waters at St. Andrews State Park, or catch a boat to Shell Island, a seven-mile-long natural barrier island. Explore diving history at the Man in the Sea Museum, before shopping at Pier Park. Catch the sunset from Schooner’s restaurant, where the nightly event is celebrated with a cannon blast!

Santa Rosa County

Enjoy the sugar-white sandy beaches of Santa Rosa County. Fish from the Navarre Beach Pier (Gulf of Mexico’s longest) or visit the Gulf Breeze Zoo, Navarre Beach Marine Science Station or Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. Tour Coldwater Gardens near Milton. See why this part of Florida is known as the Canoe Capital of Florida with Adventures Unlimited. Canoe, kayak and tube along Coldwater Creek past secluded sandbars, through the pristine ecosystem of Blackwater River State Forest, or soar on its zip line canopy tour.

ANNUAL EVENTS
JANUARY
  • 30A Songwriters Festival, South Walton
  • Apalachicola Oyster Cook-off
  • Pensacola Beach Run Half Marathon and 10K/5K
  • Stars & Guitars, Panama City
FEBRUARY
  • 30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach, South Walton
  • Emerald Coast Parrot Head Annual Chili Cook-off, Destin
  • Mardi Gras, Pensacola
  • St. Andrews Mardi Gras, Panama City
  • Sandestin Gumbo Festival, South Walton
MARCH
  • Carrabelle Riverfront Festival
  • Down Home Street Festival, Bonifay
  • Gulf Breeze Celebrates the Arts Festival
  • Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire and Pirate Festival, Pensacola
  • St. George Island Chili Cook-off and Auction
  • UnWineD, Panama City Beach
APRIL
  • Apalachicola Antique & Classic Boat & Car Show
  • Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party, Perdido Key
  • North Florida Wildflower Festival, Blountstown
  • Pensacola Crawfish Festival
  • Rock the Falls Music Festival, Chipley
  • Sandestin Wine Festival
  • South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival
MAY
  • Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival, Fort Walton Beach
  • Digital Graffiti at Alys Beach, South Walton
  • Forgotten Coast En Plein Air Paint-out, Franklin County/Gulf County
  • Marianna Municipal Airport Fly-In
  • Tupelo Honey Festival, Wewahitchka
JUNE
  • Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, Sandestin
  • Panhandle Watermelon Festival, Chipley
  • South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival
JULY
  • Firecracker Day, Vernon
  • July 4th Fireworks, Panama City Beach
  • Pensacola Beach Air Show
AUGUST
  • Paddle at the Porch, Destin
  • Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, Panama City Beach
  • Wausau Funday & Possum Festival
SEPTEMBER
  • Gulf Coast Summer Fest, Pensacola Pensacola Seafood Festival Sandestin RUN/SUP Race
  • Vettes at the Beach (Corvettes), Pensacola Beach
  • WC Heritage Festival, Chiple
  • Florida Heritage Book Festival Writers Conference, St. Augustine
OCTOBER
  • BBQ in the Pines, Chipley
  • Billy Brock Farms Fall Days
  • Boggy Fest, Niceville
  • Destin Fishing Rodeo
  • Destin Seafood Festival
  • Florida Caverns Cultural Celebration, Marianna
  • Goat Day & Pioneers Day, Blountstown
  • Graceville Harvest Festival
  • Northwest Florida Championship Rodeo, Bonifay
  • Oktoberfest, Panama City
  • Pensacola Beach Art & Wine Festival
  • Pensacola Greek Festival
  • Schooners Lobster Festival, Panama City Beach
  • Taste of the Beach, Pensacola
NOVEMBER
  • Blue Angel Homecoming Air Show, Pensacola
  • Creek Indian Celebration Days, Pensacola
  • Emerald Coast Cruizin’, Panama City Beach
  • Florida Seafood Festival, Apalachicola
  • Foo Foo Festival, Pensacola
  • Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival, Pensacola
  • Seeing Red Wine Festival, Seaside
  • Thunderbird Intertribal Powwow, Destin
NOVEMBER - DECEMBER
  • Malone Pecan Festival
  • Pensacola Winterfest
DECEMBER
  • Destin Holiday on the Harbor
  • Lighted Boat Parade Lighted Boat Parade, Pensacola
  • New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, Panama City Beach
  • NYE Pelican Drop, Pensacola
  • Robert E. Long Cane Syrup Day, Two Egg
  • Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle, Chattahoochee