The Florida Panhandle :: Paradise is Only 4 Hours From New Orleans

Does your New Orleans family enjoy traveling with kids? So do we! As such, over the years we have compiled dozens of family travel tips and vacation ideas on New Orleans Mom. Whether you are looking for a short weekend getaway within Louisiana, your next budget friendly road trip under 10 hours, a great place to camp with kids near New Orleans or a cross-country flight to the Pacific Northwest … we have you covered. Your next family adventure is not far from New Orleans!

Road Trip From New Orleans With Kids :: The Florida Panhandle

Like most New Orleans families, we look very forward to our annual summer beach trip! While there are beaches in Mississippi that make a great weekend getaway, our favorite family vacation destination is the beaches of South Walton, Florida.

I’m sure a vacation to the Florida panhandle isn’t unique to just our family; in fact, I know it isn’t. Every year, as we sit on the beach and breathe in that delicious salty air, we always seem to find fellow Louisianians among those enjoying the pristine white sand and emerald toned water. There is no doubt that Florida’s Emerald Coast is a favorite family summer vacation destination for those of us in the New Orleans area, and there are many reasons why.

The Florida Panhandle is Accessible and {Generally} Affordable

A short four to five hour drive from New Orleans, the beaches of Northwest Florida are an easily accessible and affordable vacation choice. The close proximity makes the Destin area pretty workable for a weekend visit, the amount of inexpensive vacation rentals is unrivaled, and the fact that the actual beach is free makes it doable for any budget.

There is no denying that the beaches of Florida are a prime destination; the secret is out when it comes to visiting the Florida panhandle. Within a four hour drive of New Orleans, you have access to sand as soft as cotton and water that pretty much mimics parts of the Caribbean. In fact, a few years ago, some friends of mine from up north saw my pictures and thought we had gone on vacation in the Riviera Maya. Because the emerald coast beaches stretch over nearly 100 miles, you can stay as close as Pensacola Beach (about three hours from New Orleans), a little further in downtown Destin, or go even further down Highway 98 and take a right onto Highway 30A, home to beautiful beachside towns like Watercolor, Seaside and Rosemary Beach. 30A is generally the most expensive option along the Florida coast, but don’t let the prices deter you because there are many affordable options elsewhere in the panhandle with access to the same gorgeous water and beaches.

Where to Stay in the Panhandle With Kids

One thing is for sure: there is no shortage of places to stay along the Northwest Florida coast. Whether you like high rise condominiums, hotel resorts or luxury beach houses, there is something for every family and their budget. You can even find a pet-friendly rental along the Gulf Coast if you wish. My own family often stays in Miramar Beach, which is east of Destin and has a much slower, laid back vibe that we enjoy. We also love all of the beaches of 30A, although 30A is going to be on the higher end of rental prices.

Florida Panhandle Beach: New Orleans MomSome of the best properties along the coast can be found via the magical online resource called VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). This site is a great place to search for your vacation accommodations. Note :: many Florida panhandle rentals book up well in advance, so it is to your advantage to book a coastal vacation early. New Orleans families love driving to Florida, so you won’t be the only family with this idea! On VRBO, you can narrow down the choices by size (bedrooms), location, date, amenities (pool or pet-friendly) and even how many bathrooms it includes. Almost every listing has a direct email and phone number to the owner(s) and details and photographs of all of their amenities. If you have a specific area in mind, you can pick it from the map, scroll through the different complexes, and select one that meets your needs.

Dining in the Panhandle With Kids

Because we stay in a fully equipped condo, we rarely go out to eat when on a beach vacation. To me, this is one of the best parts of visiting the Florida panhandle; we can cook what we like, grab fresh seafood from one of the markets and generally enjoy our time together while sticking to a reasonable budget. Restaurant meals can add up fast, and a lot of coastal restaurants with views come with a crazy long wait. Therefore, we rather cook in the condo (or rental house) and eat at home. However, we usually will reserve one or two nights on our vacation for a special dinner out (usually the first and last night in town), but overall, when we arrive, we stop over at Publix (AKA the best grocery ever) and grocery shop for the week’s meals. If you want to make it even more effortless, Publix is typically readily available on Shipt.

When we do head out to eat, our beach side favorites include Pompano Joe’s and The Crab Trap, which are both on Scenic 98 and boast beautiful views and tasty food for everyone in the family. The Crab Trap also has an awesome beach playground (literally right on the beach) to keep the little ones entertained while you wait for a table (or as a bribe for behaving!). Another great choice is Boshamps, which has great views of the water set back from the beach and delicious bloody marys and smoked tuna dip. If you’re willing to drive just a bit to Sandestin, Baytowne Wharf features several restaurants along with fun for kids like the Adventure Zone, Adventure Land Playground, a carousel, and Blast Fun & Games. There is also live music on some nights.

If you are staying along 30A, there are dozens of delicious places to dine! Of course, you can drive to 30A from Miramar or Destin but it’s pretty far, especially at night with tired kids. Want delicious donuts in an idyllic setting? Charlie’s Donut Truck in Alys Beach is a popular favorite, especially for the little ones! Seaside is home to an excellent farmer’s market as well as a large collection of delicious food trucks in their city square. It’s fun to head to Seaside a little before sunset, grab food and a drink and just let your sun-kissed kids run free. Another great family friendly restaurant, especially at lunch, is George’s in Alys Beach or Old Florida Fish House in Santa Rosa Beach. For a sweet finish, you can head on over to The Sugar Shak in Rosemary Beach. If you are looking for a date night option, both Edward’s and Cafe Thirty-A are absolutely delicious and higher end meals. In fact, if we could pick just one place to eat on 30a, it would probably be Cafe Thirty-A. Of course, this barely scrapes the surface of food in the panhandle, but the bottom line is that you can eat out every meal if that’s your vacation jam!

Rainy Day Fun in the Florida Panhandle

It never fails; if on a week long trip to the beach, it will eventually rain. It’s part of the joy of living on the coast. That being said, you will not have to worry about hearing your kids say “I’m bored!” when you head to Florida’s Northwest coast. From Pensacola to Rosemary Beach, there are TONS of activities to keep your kids busy if the beach isn’t an option or if everyone is BURNT out (pun intended).

Florida Gulfarium :: a few years ago, the Gulfarium completed a huge renovation and has rave reviews! This aquarium/sea img 114life center is home to many species that we can find all across the Gulf Coast. What makes the Gulfarium even more fun is that they also offer interactive animal encounters, animal feedings, and even fun shows along with additional education through its traditional aquarium. There is an admission fee, but well worth the expense to avoid hearing “I’m bored!” on a rainy day and sure to give the kids an unforgettable experience. Tip: Kids 2 and under are FREE!

Bowling :: What better way to pass the time on a rainy day at the beach than by going bowling? Hurricane Lanes is right on Highway 98 in Destin and also offers family fun with everything from bowling to ping pong. Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl is a truly unique bowling alley, too!

Destin Commons :: Destin Commons is another great destination for shopping and family fun if the weather isn’t cooperating. You can eat and shop to your heart’s content here. Not only is it home to over 75 specialty shops and restaurants, including Bass Pro Shop (this is a popular visit in our family), but it is also is home to the AMC 14 Cinema, which is a great place to settle in for a movie if the weather isn’t the best.

Silver Sands Outlet Mall :: I don’t know about y’all, but no trip to the beach is complete without a jaunt the the outlet mall. This outlet mall in Destin is home to many well known brands; some of the deals are better than others, but either way it is a great rainy day activity.

4424_105528866512_3792873_nThere is no doubt that a family beach trip to the panhandle of Florida is guaranteed to be one that will create memories for a lifetime, as well as provide a perfect opportunity to enjoy each other’s company. We feel so blessed that we live on the Gulf Coast and have access to such a beautiful place to have a great beach trip! I know in our family, we always return from our trips refreshed, connected and happy from our time in paradise. The best part is that it is right down the road in Florida!

Do you travel from New Orleans to Florida for your yearly beach vacation? Where do you like to stay? What are some of your tips? Favorite Eateries? Things to do? Tell us everything you love about the panhandle in a comment below! And if you’re looking for something different than the beach, we have tons of other vacation ideas here.


  1. We go at least once a year to Santa Rosa Island in pensacola. I LOVE it there. We do go to Seaside also but its just soo expensive and the beach last year was packed. We always stay at Hilton in Santa Rosa. They have all kinds of family style rooms with Bunk beds and a kitchen and balcony. The breakfast is very good there also. Our favorite restaurant to go to is Flounders, it has a playground on sand for kids, live music, and the BEST Bushwackers lol.


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