Once a sleepy backwater, the beauty of the Emerald Coast of Florida now might be the worst kept secret in the Southeast. Because of that, it can be a challenge to grab a few family pics that don’t prominently feature condos and rental umbrellas.
It can be done though!
No…it isn’t some hidden beach access that only the locals know about. The secret to finding the best spots for pics is a combination of a little bit of effort and utilizing the parks and preserves that the state of Florida has set aside for all of us to use.
So grab your iPhone, tuck a few bucks in that swimsuit, and get ready for a walk along beach. Here are my 5 favorite spots for family beach photos along the Emerald Coast, from West to East.
St. Andrews State Park
Located at the very eastern tip of Panama City Beach, this park offers relatively easy access and a wonderful mix of jetty, beach and sunset action. The swim area adjacent to the bayside jetty is unique to the area and is a great place to shoot little swimmers without worrying about waves ruining their day. This may be the best state park that we have on the Emerald Coast.
I love shooting here, but sometimes the water can be busy with parasailers and sunset cruises in your background.
Camp Helen State Park
Located near Phillips Inlet, this is the closest park to the East end of Hwy 30A in South Walton, and would be the most conveniently located option to anyone staying near Rosemary Beach, Seacrest, or Alys Beach.
More than any location on this list, this park has low attendance due to the effort required to get there. The last 3rd of the walk to the beach is through soft sand. BUT there is plenty of opportunity to shoot along the way. Grab some shots of the little ones on dad’s shoulders as you’re walking. Once you arrive, there are typically very few people.
This location features the confluence of one of our super unique coastal dune lakes and the Gulf, so offers several settings to shoot in one spot.
Grayton Beach State Park
This is going to be your best choice if you are staying in Seaside, Watercolor or Grayton Beach. Because it is really the only game in town in these areas, it is VERY popular with family photographers. But it offers a great chance at pics in a dune setting, a super cool tree “fort”, and access to a beach with no umbrellas or buildings in the background, a virtual unicorn on the beaches of South Walton.
Unfortunately, there is a big gap in convenient beaches for Sandestin, Miramar Beach and Destin.
For those locations, I would recommend Okaloosa Island. Not technically a park, but owned by the U.S. Air Force, this stretch of beach between Destin and Fort Walton Beach is almost completely undeveloped. There are multiple unimproved beach accesses, but be warned, there are no bathrooms or showers. But for those willing to tolerate that inconvenience, this stretch offers something as close to old Florida as we have. You will see more native life here than anywhere in Destin, from ghost crabs to dolphin to many different kinds of birds. It’s a great place to shoot and right over the Destin Bridge.
Gulf Island National Seashore
Our final spot on the list is both the most impressive and the only national park in the area. Stretching many miles from Navarre Beach, through Pensacola Beach and all the way to Fort Pickens, it offers the most undeveloped coastline anywhere only the Emerald Coast. It is truly spectacular.
As always, if you would like someone to help you capture your memories while you are here, I would love to chat. Information on the types of sessions I offer can be found here and you can drop me a line here.
I hope you have a wonderful stay in our little corner of the world.