It is a narrow strip lying between Alabama and Georgia to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Culturally and in terms of history and climate, the region is more closely tied to the Deep South than to peninsular Florida.
West Florida draws more than seven million visitors annually from around the world. Attractions include golf courses, zoos, world-class beaches, water sports and fine restaurants. It is second only to Orlando's Walt Disney World in terms of visitors traveling to Florida and is one of the most popular vacation destination in the country.
The Emerald Coast, which is slowly becoming the American Riviera, is an area in the southeastern United States on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, roughly bounded by Pensacola, Florida on the west and Panama City, Florida on the east. The area is known to have some of the most stunning and finest beaches in the world, famous for their sugar-white sands and warm, emerald-green waters. The beaches were also deemed to have the whitest sand in the world where it sparkled in the sun and squeaked when walked on. Contrary to popular belief, the sand is not bleached by the sun, but is comprised of Appalachian quartz that filters down to the coast from the mountains. The emerald-green color of the water is due to the sugar-white color of the sand laying beneath the clear blue water thus providing the area's namesake feature. The quartz sand on the beaches of the Panhandle is so white that some traders reportedly sold it as sugar in World War II.
The beach towns, many of which play host to college students during spring break. Popular vacation destinations include Pensacola Beach, Gulf Breeze, Navarre Beach, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, relative newcomer Destin, and Seaside, a development community whose iconic pastel-paint and tin-roof construction was made famous in the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, filmed in the area from 1996-1997. Other communities on the Emerald Coast include Perdido Key, Navarre, Sandestin, Grayton Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, and Seagrove.
The area is known as a family drive destination, although in the past decade, its popularity has expanded greatly, leading to new construction booms and seemingly overnight changes. Many development communities similar to Seaside have sprung up in Walton County and the west end of Panama City Beach, raising property values, and some might argue, aesthetic appeal.
Deep-sea fishing is a huge draw for the area, with Destin holding the nickname "World's Luckiest Fishing Village" (and several saltwater world records) and Panama City Beach hosting the annual high-dollar Bay Point Billfish Invitational. Eating seafood is perhaps even more popular than catching it, with a seafood restaurant and/or oyster house seemingly on every other corner.
This roughly 100-mile stretch is home to several military bases, with installations including Pensacola Naval Air Station (home of the Navy's famed Blue Angels flying squadron and the initial training site where all naval aviators earn their "wings of gold"), Hurlburt Field, Eglin Air Force Base (one of the largest military bases in America), Tyndall Air Force Base (home to the Air Force's new F-22 Raptor fighter jets), Coastal Systems Station-Naval Surface Warfare Center (home to the Navy Experimental Diving Unit and Naval Diving & Salvage Training Center), and Corry Station Naval Technical Training Center. The Florida Panhandle has been marked by upscale developments that include Seaside, Sandestin, and countless others. Development in the coastal area is so commonplace that very little beachfront property remains untouched, unless it is under the stewardship of the Federal or State Government.
- Pensacola International Airport — the gateway to the Western Florida Panhandle, and the largest airport in West Florida. Flights from as far away as Houston, Miami, Chicago, Newark, and Denver. No international flights as of Nov 2020.
- Fort Walton Beach-Destin Airport — this airport is smaller than Pensacola's airport and serves a number of destinations. It is a focus city for Allegiant.
Escambia Bay, Fort Pickens, and the Pensacola Naval Air Station are well-known locally.