150 Things We Love About The EC

Mari Darr~Welch

The fishing pier at the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island is a great place to catch a stunning sunset and fresh local Gulf fish.

We choose to live, work and play in the Emerald Coast because it has a distinct sense of place that gives us a true sense of belonging. 

Locals will tell you that the quality of life here is unlike any other, not because of the sugar-sand beaches, though they are spectacular. Not because of the weather, though the Southern tropical climate is desirable all year. It is surely because of the people who give this little patch of Florida personality plus. They are our earnest, hardworking friends, family and neighbors who pour their hearts and souls into all they do — including delicious restaurants, quaint retail shops and service-centric businesses they own and operate, and the exceptional professional services they dutifully provide to each of us day in and day out.

After 15 years, EC Magazine is still proud to be the first consumer magazine on the scene dedicated to celebrating all the Emerald Coast has to offer through compelling stories about local people, places and things that make the EC the distinctive place it is.

We would not be here without the hard work of our talented EC publishing team, the loyal support of our readers and the financial support of our advertisers, so to our extended EC family, we extend a heartfelt thank you for 15 fantastic years.

In celebration of our 15th anniversary we decided to mark the occasion with a few “love notes” — 150 in fact. We asked friends, family and fans  “What do you love about the Emerald Coast?” This is what some of you had to say, and we added a few more of our favs. 

1 I love the local spirit and community of the Emerald Coast. The locals support the locals, and the Emerald Coast family can’t be beat.

Tiffany Clemons
Fort Walton Beach

2 Downtown Fort Walton Beach is a hidden gem on the Emerald Coast. It is home to beautiful public spaces, historical monuments, art galleries, unique boutiques and events that cannot be found online or in big box stores. More importantly, it is a great place to see the true culture and community of Fort Walton Beach. With merchants who truly care about the products they are selling, these entrepreneurs are not only passionate but also very knowledgeable about their niche markets. In Downtown Fort Walton it is not only about the products, it is about the experience and the community.

Mercedes Rodgers
Fort Walton Beach

3 With roots to the area that go back hundreds of years, it is our people, the cuisine, the coastal culture mixed with the mannerisms and customs of the Deep South that I love. May we preserve and nurture it all, for generations to come.

Margaret Biggs
Gulf Breeze

4 I love the great diversity of amenities, dining and health care options. Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast is the crown jewel of health care.

Scott Jackson

5 I love the Forgotten Coast … St. Teresa Beach, Alligator Point and Dog Island. No hotels, no stores, all old beach cottages filled with people laughing, singing, cooking out and enjoying the beach. 

Sara Noel Childers

6 The diversity of fishing the Emerald Coast is unmatched. You can run out in the Gulf in the mornings and catch snapper and grouper then hit the flats in the afternoon and get a box full of trout and reds. You’re never a cast away from great fishing. 

Hunter Ray

7 All of the caring folks with big hearts, specifically, the staff behind local non-profits such as Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center and Gulf Coast Kid’s House, helping abused and neglected kids in Northwest Florida.

Jennie McKeon

8 1. The Emerald Coast Science Center, of course. Where else can you go on a rainy day with your kids?
2. Running! There is a 5K and 10K road race almost every weekend.

James W. LaFollette Jr.

9 I love our Thursday night supper club on Grayton Beach. Grilling out with our friends and watching our children enjoy the beauty of our home is unbeatable. The friendships and memories that are being made are priceless. As we say, “More sunsets than TV!”

Megan Harrison
Grayton Beach

10 I love the Emerald Coast because there are always fun festivals! 

Shaye Smith

11 The people and diverse amenities in this coastal community that make the Emerald Coast the best place to live, work and play!  

Marcia Hull

12 The Heart Walk and the Heart Ball! 

Inger Alderfer
Fort Walton Beach

13 What do I love about the Emerald Coast? Quite obviously, the art scene. With all the beauty of a serene coastal landscape and gorgeous architecture that goes with it … comes art that represents it. And with the art comes the people that make art and people that appreciate art, and if you appreciate art, then, you appreciate food, family, God and life!  

Mary Hong

14 The Emerald Coast is a mash tun of characters from all over this great continent. Each adds its own spice to the area, and the results are smooth and definitely best enjoyed on the beach.

Chas Swanson
Santa Rosa Beach

15 Total relaxation to sit with friends over a cocktail at Elephant Walk restaurant in Sandestin overlooking the beautiful Gulf waters.

Kay Phelan

16 I love that there is much more than our beautiful beaches — between the beaches of South Walton and the Bay lie several diverse ecosystems, including 15 rare coastal dune lakes and 56,000 acres of state parks. During the shoulder season it’s such a joy to be a resident here and share our beautiful area with our nation’s treasure, the bald eagles who come here to nest.

Angela Vaughn
Santa Rosa Beach

17 Best thing on Emerald Coast? Four working orchestras — Pensacola, Sinfonia, Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and Panama City POPS — and they all use double bassists!

David Goldflies (aka TNEO)
Panama City Beach

18 There is a certain anonymity that follows life in a big city, but here on the Emerald Coast our small community boasts partnerships in every aspect of your life. You can walk into your local grocery store and certainly, more than likely, run into someone you know. There is a comfort in knowing your neighbors, your business partners and almost all the parents at your kid’s school.

Tara Wesley
Fort Walton Beach

19 I love living here on the EC, because I can enjoy the real people and places that make living here a true pleasure. After a long week of work and/or school we grab a box of fried chicken from Publix, a few sides and drinks and head to beach for dinner and a swim. Something about the salt water helps wash off the stress, and the sunsets draw us closer as a family.

Woofy Ramone

20 Going out on the boat and spending the day at Shell Island with friends.

Ashley Capps
Panama City Beach

21 I love that I live where people want to vacation. I love the sound of the ocean, the smell of the ocean and the beauty of the ocean. 

Liz Horton
Gulf Breeze

22 I love the coastal dune lakes. These lakes are extremely rare and only found in a couple of places in the world, and I’ve been amazed by these geological wonders since we moved here. Now, they are a special place I love to visit with my kids when we want a break from the Gulf.  

Tracy Louthain

23 What do I love about the Emerald Coast? It provides me unending inspiration for my art. I will not live long enough to paint all the ideas I see every day. It is a place filled with all sorts of beauty, and mystery, colors and memorable scenes. How lucky we are!

Susan Lucas
Santa Rosa Beach

24 It’s a beautiful, peaceful, friendly and uplifting place to raise my kids.

Vonn Plunk
Santa Rosa Beach

25 I love Choctawhatchee Bay. Go east into the river mouth and you’ll find yourself all alone in an Amazon-like jungle, populated with ospreys, bald eagles, turtles and alligators. Travel west, and you can enjoy waterfront restaurants, playful dolphins and stunning emerald-green Gulf waters. 

Mike Ragsdale
Santa Rosa Beach

26 I just purchased a new fishing boat, so what I love the most of course is the fishing! So many beautiful places to fish or just go for a sunset boat ride. It’s AWESOME!

Charles Halcomb

27 One of the best events is Rosemary Beach Foundations Girls Getaway Weekend. It’s not only a great way to gather with friends but also raises money for charities. Thanks to the Rosemary Beach Foundation, the community is a strong one but also one that gives back. 

Debbie Wright
Rosemary Beach/Franklin, Tenn.

28 What I love about the area is the diversity of what one can do for entertainment. You can dine at a fine restaurant like Seagar’s or ride your Harley to the Boat House. You can go hear a classical concert at a Sinfonia Gulf Coast event or go rock to an outdoor concert in the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village. You can go to a crowed beach at Norriego Point or go to a desolate island in the sound. So for a guy with multiple tastes (or ADD) you have everything in one little town!

Tim Krueger

29 It’s where Southern hospitality meets a Jimmy Buffet feel and vibe!

Nicole Scott
Miramar Beach, FL

30 I really think what sets the Emerald Coast apart from any place else is the people. I’m not sure if it’s because we are all so happy we live in such a beautiful place, or because we have 364 days of sunshine a year, or because we are still such a young community, but our positive spirit is contagious to all who come here.

Jeanne Dailey
Miramar Beach

31 I love the Emerald Coast for its world-class fishing! I love spending the day with my family out on the water and seeing them get excited when a big fish takes their line, and they struggle to bring the fish in the boat to see what they’ve caught. Being out in the Gulf, under the sun, with a fishing rod in hand soothes the soul and brings our family together to make lasting memories.

Shelley Jacks

32 I love the Emerald Coast of Florida because most anywhere you go, you will not find too much over-development. In this area, you can drive along Scenic Hwy. 98 and still see the raw beauty of untouched coastal land, gorgeous sand dunes, natural wildlife preserves, as well as the pure soft white sands and emerald-green waters that fade into the azure blue of the Gulf of Mexico. 

Jenni Rogers
Niceville & Destin, Florida

33 I love October! The temperature is mild, the sand is cool, the water is still warm, the roads are clear and the fishing is best.

Brian Haugen

34 Sunshine … the smell of salt air … and the absence of snow.

Cory Fosdyck

35 I love that, as a local, every day off has the opportunity to feel like a true vacation.

Karina Orr

36 What is not to love is the question? The beauty not only of the Emerald Coast area but also the beauty of the wonderful people who live here. I think I love the Emerald Coast the most because all the residents that I know are so happy to live in a place we like to call “paradise.”

Gail Moher

37 I love the spirit of being a part of a community that offers a special quality of place for people of all ages and life styles.

Larry Sassano
Santa Rosa Beach

38 What I love about the Emerald Coast … what is not to love? I moved here in 1986, when Emerald Coast Parkway, Mid-Bay Bridge, cell phones and hashtags weren’t even thought of. There was a drawbridge on 331, and it seemed as though driving from Fort Walton Beach to Santa Rosa Beach was a trip across country! Our first stop was at the beach on Okaloosa Island, and I remember the sand dunes being as tall as mountains. There have been many new things added to the list that I love from 1986 until present day, and I do love them all … all along the Emerald Coast! 

Jeramie Bates

39 I like finding paths to the bay or beach off the beaten path so that I can enjoy my little piece of paradise, and I love the fact I live where people want to visit! My Emerald Coast has so much to offer; I would not be able to do it all in one lifetime! 

Leann Pope

40 Seeing and hearing the military aircraft flying in the area. I’m always overwhelmed at the stunning size and sounds of the planes and helicopters.

Tracy Mulligan

41 It’s like taking a mini vacation every weekend and then enjoying the comfort of your home minus the travel. I love that my extended family and friends want to come to see me and enjoy all the Emerald Coast has to offer.

Jennifer Frost
Santa Rosa Beach

42 Having lived on this coast since 1961, I love being the voice of the Walton County Coastal Dune Lakes as the secretary of the Advisory Board. I am proud to raise awareness of our 15 rare and imperiled Coastal Dune Lakes. Watch me roar!!

Marilue Maris

43 I love the Emerald Coast because there’s so much to do and see. 

Ashlynn Henkel

44 I love being able to get my favorite cup of coffee from Amavida in Seaside and then drive to Grayton Beach for breakfast on the beach. My husband and I will sit with our coffee and breakfast croissant while enjoying the view. I’d imagine it’s like breakfast at Tiffany’s; however, the view of the sparkling water, cool morning breeze and the scent of the Gulf give the day a sense of hope.

Hayley Bryant
Santa Rosa Beach

45 I love the captivating beauty of the Emerald Coast and all the diverse people who call it home. If I were to describe home with words, it’s like Mayberry in Paradise that just happens to have the most beautiful beach for its backyard. 

Ricky Fannin
Santa Rosa Beach

46 My answer (hands down) is the state parks, as well as Freeport’s Biophilia Center. These places offer great educational resources, as well as being some of my favorite places in the area. Although I am thankful for the quiet time I have there, I wish more folks took more time to enjoy them.

Bess Grasswick
Santa Rosa Beach  

47 Water to the north of me and water to the south of me. If I wanted to go boating, there is a launch by the 331 Bridge. If I wanted to take a walk on the beach at night with the full moon and the Gulf breeze blowing on my face, I can. The woods surrounding me surprises me with deer and other wildlife in my backyard.

Deborah Madden
Santa Rosa Beach 

48 I love the Emerald Coast because it has discovered and begun to grow into its artistic and creative potential, which inspires me to do the same. 

Chase Yakaboski
Mary Esther

49 I love Rosemary Beach Foundation’s Walk Her Way event! This event is not only tons of fun, but the proceeds benefit a great local cause — Shelter House, which provides refuge for victims of domestic violence. 

Jessica Standley
Panama City Beach

50 What I love about the Emerald Coast is that you get to live where God spent a little extra time, which has attracted people to come and live here, thus enabling you to share the surroundings with people that you just want to be around. 

Bruce Craul

We couldn’t agree more … and here are 100 more things we love about the Emerald Coast. 

51  Biting into a bit of history with a grouper sandwich at Dewey Destin’s. 

52  The local excitement during college football season.

53  The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village tagline. 

54  The quaint, historic library in DeFuniak Springs. 

55  The wonderful Wyland Whaling Wall at Legendary Marina.

56  The annual Snowbird migration every winter.

57  Exploring Fort Walton Beach during a haunted history tour.

58  Any of the dozens of Italian ice flavors at GS Gelato. 

59  Shopping for quirky keepsakes at Banana Barts. 

60  Ice skating at The Village of Baytowne Wharf.

61  Homemade ice cream from Southern Craft Creamery. 

62  Turtle Bob and the gopher turtles at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. 

63  Strolling folk art galleries and studios all along the coast.

64  Mountain Film Festival at WaterColor and how it takes us away into the magic of the silver screen. 

65  The Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation’s mission to help local children’s charities. 

66  Our world-class tennis centers and the talented pros who teach us their tips.

67  All the outdoor amphitheaters along the coast.

68  The “running of the bulls” event in Pensacola! 

69  The Hands Across the Sands movement that is now a global effort.

70  The charming Camp Walton one-room schoolhouse. 

71  The romantic wooden bridges on 30A. 

72  Knowing the highest elevation in Florida is in Walton County on Britton Hill. 

73  The fact that 30A is a nationally designated scenic highway.

74  We love that Dog Daze is the Lollapalooza on the pup circuit.

75  The things we learn during the speaker series at the Crestview library. 

76  A dirty martini at the Marlin Grill. 

77  The proximity of the Gulf Stream that brings us the bounty of the Gulf. 

78  Saying “I Do” on the beach is a dream that never gets old.

79  Channeling our inner Jack Sparrow on the Buccaneer pirate ship.

80  Original gifts at The Zoo Gallery. 

81  Custom pet portraits hand painted by Donna Burgess. 

82  The visual feast of Digital Graffiti at Alys Beach.

83  The underwater diving adventure of the USS Oriskany.

84  An afternoon at Eden State Garden. 

85  The sparkle that Celebration of Lights in DeFuniak Springs adds to the holiday season.

86  Preservationists like Dennis Ray in DeFuniak Springs.

87  Getting our organic on at the many new Farmer’s Markets.

88  Performing arts organizations that cater to families, such Emerald Coast Theatre Company.

89  Getting a free pass to the beach at Henderson Beach Park.

90  Cooling off at Big Kahuna’s in the summertime.

91  The dedicated and compassionate staff at Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge.

92  The big Coca-Cola bottle at The Buccaneer Gift Shop. 

93  The old fashioned toys in the gift shop in Historic Pensacola Village. 

94  Cupcakes by the Sea, KaraBoo, Stacey Bakes, Henrietta’s — we love all the cute cupcake and bake shops on the coast! 

95  Fireworks frenzy! From The Village of Baytowne Wharf to HarborWalk Village, there is often a weekly celebration in the sky above. 

96  You pick fresh berry farms in Baker! 

97  Promenading at the Mardi Gras parade, the holiday parade and the Destin Boat parade.

98  David Seering, Michael J Thomas, Cheryl Jones and the many other longtime class acts. 

99  Being able to order a fattening grilled cheese and healthy organic juice from side-by-side Airstreams! 

100  That we can have dinner date night at Carmike Cinema’s Boulevard 10.

101  The intimate gala evenings at Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood. 

102  Catching a Broadway show at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center.

103  The classic beauty of the cottages in Seaside. 

104  Festivals and fetes from wine and beer to seafood and barbecue.

105  The Flight Academy in Pensacola.

106  The handy beach flag safety system. 

107  Shopping outdoors at Perspicacity on 30A. 

108  Watching the fish weigh-ins during the many exciting fishing tournaments. 

109  The choo choo in Destin Commons for wee ones.

110  Walking the boardwalk at Turkey Creek.

111  The giant eagles nest at the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida.

112  Guessing the time of the sunset at Bud & Alley’s.

113  Watching the fish weigh-ins during the many exciting fishing tournaments. 

114  Driving over the William T. Marler bridge in Destin and putting everything in perspective.

115  Having more than 1,000 holes of golf to choose from. 

116  The newsstands painted by local artists. 

117  The interactive exhibits at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. 

118  The fact that the Emerald Coast Cattle Barons’ Ball is helping to give cancer the boot.

119  Deep-sea fishing, bay fishing, shore fishing, pier fishing and, well, fishing.

120  Zooming on go-karts at The Track.

121  The pageantry of Billy Bowlegs.

122  An afternoon at The Landing in Fort Walton Beach.

123  The relaxing artsy vibe of Ruskin Place. 

124  Snorkeling the jetties.

125  Walking along the Destin harbor.

126  Playing a hand of poker while boating during the Emerald Coast Poker Run.

127  The Thanksgiving tradition at Harbor Docks.

128  Gulf Islands National Seashore pure and simple.

129  Local bands like Heritage who never forget their roots, or fans.

130  The fact that we have fashion designers like Nicole Paloma who stand up to any fashion house in NY, Paris or Milan. 

131  Local reports from community newspapers like The Seaside Times and local stations such as 30A Radio. 

132  The dedicated health care providers who give us much more than most small town communities have.

133  Backyard throw downs like Forrest Williams Backyard Boogie and Chi Chi Miguel. 

134  Cheese pillows at Sailor’s Grill in Navarre are always a bite of heaven.

135  Inspiring young inventors like Andy Hermann continue to impress us.  

136  Standing in line at Joe Patti’s Seafood is somehow fun.

137  Shopping old-style stores like Modica Market, Red Bay Grocery and the Little Big Store. 

138  Being able to bike nearly anywhere on 30A. 

139  Ecotours in Walton County. 

140  Homemade saltwater taffy from The Candymaker.

141  Yoga on the beach and Pilates on paddle boards.

142  All the new babies at the Gulf Breeze Zoo!

143  The local songwriters who help tell stories through music.

144  The photographers along the EC who stay here though they could work anywhere they choose. 

145  The blessing of the fleet. 

146  The Greek Festival, the Italian Festival, the Salsa Festival … 

147  The Best of the Emerald Coast winners and the awards celebration in October!

148  All of the locally owned “mom and pop” shops and restaurants. 

149  Delicious local craft beer lovingly brewed right here.

150  The stories behind the models that make the Emerald Coast Top Salon competition such a special event. 

Categories: Forgotten Coast