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Which country has the best beaches?
From what I’ve seen, Australia leads the pack and wins in terms of consistent high quality. The little sliver of the Philippines I saw certainly delivered. And I can’t talk about beaches without talking about Thailand…
So where does America fit into all of this?
My trips in the US have never been centered around beaches. Hawaii? Never been. California? Only saw some urban beaches. Even my few trips to Florida (now more than 20 years ago!) were centered around Disney and seeing family, rather than relaxing on the sand in the sunshine.
Couple that with a few years of beach-centric travels in Asia — and America’s beaches nearly dropped off my radar entirely.
But then I found Pensacola Beach.
Pensacola had nice beaches — that much I had heard.
I drove to the island of Pensacola Beach, heading eastward past high-rise hotels and chain restaurants until coming to a mostly residential neighborhood, ramshackle bungalows sharing space with modern behemoths. I parked in front of a tiny green house, double-checking to see if street parking was legal (believe it or not, it was), then cut through a driveway and climbed a dune-protecting deck onto the sand.
White sand. Bright white sand. Whiter than anything I saw in Boracay.
Deep blue water, ranging from turquoise to cerulean to royal blue.
Painstakingly protected sand dunes.
And hardly anyone at all.
READ MORE: How to Protect Your Belongings on the Beach
It was a chilly day in early March. A cloudy morning was quickly disintegrating, burning off into blue. Temperatures hovered in the mid-fifties (12-15 C). It had rained heavily the day before and the sand was more clumpy that soft — but after a few days of sunshine, I knew it would be back to silky.
Well, enough of my words. This is a beach best explained in pictures.
The Florida panhandle has white beaches all the way from Pensacola to Panama City — but it remains far less developed than the Sunshine State’s more southern Gulf beaches. Except for a few virtual metropolises, like Destin, the panhandle feels like a return to a time before vacationing in Florida became so…corporate.
Pensacola Beach reflects that — at least this little sliver of it in the east. It has a lived-in, well-loved feeling of it — the beach equivalent of the leather jacket you bought in 2006 that now has a few rough patches on it, but still fits you like a glove and gets you compliments whenever you wear it.
That’s what I love in a beach. How loved it feels.
Where I Stayed: Country Inn, Pensacola West
For this leg of the #SouthUSA trip, I stayed at the Country Inn and Suites Pensacola West.
This particular location is right off the highway on the western outskirts of Pensacola, near the Alabama border. This is convenient if you want to explore the Gulf beaches in both Florida and Alabama, and it gave me an advantage, as I was able to head back into Alabama for dinner at Lambert’s in Foley (about an hour’s drive from the property).
If you’re looking to be more central to Pensacola, however, it’s a good 20-minute drive from the center of town and closer to 30 minutes to get to the beach. Pensacola is huge in terms of area.
There was one major drawback — the wifi was poor, and I was directed to call the hotel’s IT company (headquartered in a different state), where I talked to a woman who apologized for not being “familiar with Macs” (seriously?) for nearly an hour; this did not result in an improvement in the quality. Some Country Inns have excellent wifi (like Jacksonville, with its lightning-fast speed); this one did not.
That said, aside from the wifi issue, I had a great stay here. Country Inns really have a feeling of home to them — incredibly comfortable beds, chairs, and sofas, impeccable cleanliness, cheap laundry machines downstairs, and of course, that epic hot breakfast. This was a room to which I always looked forward to returning at the end of a day.
Essential Info: Pensacola Beach isn’t technically adjacent to Pensacola proper — a few bridges will take you across. There is a $1 toll on the way from Gulf Breeze to Pensacola and none on the way back. There is a similarly priced bridge in Navarre, further east.
Rates at the Country Inn at Pensacola West start at $86 per night. You can find other hotels in Pensacola here.
The #SouthUSA campaign is brought to you by Country Inns and Suites by Carlson and Holiday Autos. All opinions, as always, are my own.
46 thoughts on “Pensacola Beach — The Best in America?”
I’ve never been to Asia or Australia, but next to the incredible beaches I visited on Ibiza and Formentera, the U.S. really has some amazing sand — specifically in Hawaii, but I also love certain parts of Florida, Georgia, and even the frigid, craggy beaches of the Pacific Northwest. We really have a diverse and fascinating geography here!
Yup, we “discovered” Florida’s Emerald Coast two years ago on an epic U.S. road trip and wrote a similar post asking “Is this the best beach anywhere?” They have shockingly nice beaches that are amazingly undeveloped. Where we were on Grayton Beach is actually a state park, so no condos, hotels or resorts really anywhere nearby. Magic.
Grayton Beach was one of the places I heard mentioned often as one of the secrets of the panhandle. Would love to return next time.
I’ve never been to Pensacola beach, but as for beaches in the US, I really liked the Outer Banks in North Carolina. There were miles of uninterrupted beaches. However, I should say that I haven’t been to many beaches as I live in the midwest, so beaches are not really my forte.
I’ve heard the Outer Banks are really nice. North Carolina is the only state that I haven’t visited on the east coast!
Having grown up in the Caribbean, I’m a bit of a beach snob. I really value white sand and clear water. My family and I also lived in Pensacola for a little more than a year, and I have to say that Pensacola Beach is the closest I’ve ever come to the quality of beach you’ll find in the Caribbean in the states. It really is beautiful, even in the summertime when it’s more crowded.
I’m glad to know it meets standards that high, Jennae! Still haven’t been to the Caribbean…
Absolutely gorgeous! This beach reminds me a lot of Pawleys Island in South Carolina. Thanks for sharing!
Happy travels 🙂
Really white sand, I experience something similar in South Carolina, near Myrtle beach, but this is fantastic! Never heard about this place before.
Pensacola beach looks scintillating with its white sand and blue water! The best part is that it isn’t crowded, which adds to the joy of lazing around. I think there are innumerable beautiful beaches around the world!
I’ve never been to Pensacola, but I went to Gulf Shores for the first time last year (they are somewhat close to each other), and it was a great time. The beaches are beautiful and they were empty when we went!
Wow, beautiful! I’ve only been to the beaches near Daytona and St. Augustine in Florida. Otherwise we stick to the Outer Banks (driving the truck out onto the beach is an American experience not to be missed!) or the “river beaches” along Virginia’s northern neck. It’s not white sand or blue water, but it’s deserted and untouched natural beauty.
There are so many good beaches, especially in Florida and along the east coast. Top Florida beaches for me are Clearwater and Daytona. I really like the beaches near Garden City, NC, which is just a little south of Myrtle beach. I hear Hilton Head beaches are nice as well. I hope you are able to experience more.
I grew up in Rockaway Beach, NY and my mom always told us it was one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I’m actually not a beach bum – more of a city girl – but I have to say it is a pretty darn nice beach compared to lots of others I’ve been to. Sadly the whole area was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy but it will come back. I have to say Pensacola looks beautiful though!
The beaches in the northern Panhandle are just amazing! And the fact that not a ton of people visit them make them that much better.
These beaches are just beautiful. I went to a cousin’s wedding in Tampa years ago, and I was also struck by how white the sand was… (and Kate, get yourself to the Caribbean! Talk about exquisite beaches…)
There’s are so many places that i won’t point what’s the best or not – loved the article and alwats prefer the places that are less common, less talked – specially when it comes to beache – well, if no one heards it’s probably a good place for me.
So along the amazing beaches in Europe( where I live ): Greece, Croatia or South Italy there’s that place that no one ever get to her and it’s the ALENTEJO (it’s a region) in litoral of south Portugal. There’s no highways near them, buildings are far away…and there’s about 30kms of a sand beach.
Leave some of them below:
I used to spend Thanksgivings in St. Joe’s beach(far east past Panama City in the Panhandle) and have been to Pensacola and you are right, it is splendid. Clean, gorgeous, and you feel like you have it all to yourself. I remember one day I went out running and saw a big group of dolphins swimming, made my day! I also love Destin, did you get there? I remember reading some years’ back that a guy named “Dr. Beach” rated these beaches the most pristine in the U.S.
Never would have expected to have seen a beach of such quality in the USA! The more you know… 😉
I’ve only been to small pockets in Florida but never Pensacola. It doesn’t look like it belongs in North America!
Wow that’s some very white sand. I have visit Whitehaven Beach in Queensland and Hyams Beach on the New South Wales south coast. both of which claim to have some of the whitest sand in the world but after seeing these pictures of Pensacola Beach, I suspect it has just won the battle. Would love to check it out for myself some day.
Feels sooo barren, but serene, but must be quiet (besides the waves)… ideal for contemplating… light-coloured sand.
Never heard of this place, precisely why its so very beautiful! Lovely white sand with clear water, well preserved. Thanks for this tour Kate
I was there as a kid, its definitely a very nice area- tropical beaches have a certain appeal, but florida is definitely not shabby
This beach reminds me so much of the beach in Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! So pretty.
When we decided to have a family and slow down our international travels, we were floored by how many awesome destinations are right in our big backyard. It’s ironic how leaving home has given us a new appreciation for how great home really is. This post is yet another reminder how much there is to see and do in the US. What a beautiful beach!
I recently rediscovered your blog. I’ve actually been reading on and off probably since soon after you started it — you’re one of the people who inspired me to finally start my own. In any case, I’m glad to see you’re still traveling! Maybe we’ll run into each other down the road somewhere…
Thanks, Riona! I hope we run into each other somewhere, too!
The less of tourists clean the beach will be.. nice one..
Wow, those beaches are just so pristine and white! They almost look untouched! After being in New Zealand, Haiti, and Thailand to my share of beaches, I would have guessed this being a location in some exotic country. I guess that proves the United States does hold some hidden contenders against the perpetually voted “best beaches around the world”.
Wow, looks beautiful! I’ve never been to that part of the world. I’m probably a little bit biased but I think my home New Zealand is right up there with some of the best beaches – just sayin! hehe 🙂
Pensacola Beach looks like a place I would like to visit! I am currently visiting my parents in Sarasota and the beach we go to is Siesta Beach on Siesta Key. Beautiful white sand and the Gulf of Mexico is just amazing.
Siesta Key is high on my list for Florida travel. That beach seems to win all the awards!
Gorgeous sandy beach Kate but my personal favorites are the beaches in Hawaii pick any island but my ultimate favorites are Kua bay and Hapuna beach on the Big Island of Hawaii – although I’m partial since I live there.
Wow! I can hardly believe that this is the United States. Pensacola beach is so white and pristine. I’ve got to see it for myself. Amazingly de ja vu as I have just returned from the Baltic Sea in Poland and goodness me were the Polish beaches beautiful, white, clean and isolated!
On another note, it was lovely meeting you and Mario. You were very nice and so sweet and even though you couldn’t see it much (I hope), I was a little anxious meeting you all as I had never met “real” bloggers before. Now, I’m ready to meet the world LOL! Thank you so much and thanks for coming to my city – Berlin. Next time, I hope I can show you “my Berlin”. Have a fabulous time in Malta. 🙂
It was so nice meeting you too, Victoria! 🙂 Thanks for coming out!
I’ve heard those beaches are nice, especially in Sopot, near Gdansk.
I love the thought of less touristy spots in Florida as it seems to always be swarming. Those white sandy beaches are to die for!
I just found this blog and think it is awesome. This was a great post. I am from Australia and have just gotten back home from studying and travelling around Europe for the last 6 months and I have had the beach conversation/argument in many a hostel! I really do think Australian, particularly WA, beaches are the most amazing in the world, but the pictures of this beach look beautiful and is definitely going on my list of places to visit when I travel the US.
Kate, i never visited on any beach, after all i am from india, and none of the beach in india i have seen personally…. But all you guys i am here offering you a great tour to india i.e. A Golden Triangle Tour With Ranthambore Jeep Safari. I promise you will get amazed with this incredible tour…..
this is good beaches….and evening time are more good and also morning walk is good place better other place…so that is i love beaches
Pensacola beach looks great! The photos posted are just amazing especially that white sand and I can tell that I agree with you that the sand is whiter than Boracay, Philippines. I just love to run around the beach side of that Island and get to anjoy swimming with my kids. I hope to visit Pensacola Beach soon and have a great time. Thanks for sharing!
I just came across this article and it makes me so happy that you visited Pensacola Beach. I was born and raised there and my Spanish ancestors founded Pensacola in the 1500s! My whole family still resides there. I live in New York City now and no one here has heard of it. I tell my friends time and again that Pensacola Beach is Florida’s best kept secret. It’s the type of town with one real strip of bars (all pretty much owned by the same people!) Our favorite form of transport comes from paddle boarding from our beach homes or bringing the boat around. The locals are super friendly and open to new visitors as we all know everyone so we like having new faces! It truly is a gem and the best community to grow up in.
That’s so cool that your family has stayed in Pensacola after founding the city!
I was lucky enough to buy a condo on the beautiful white sands just west of Panama City Beach (about 90 miles east of Pensacola). I think one would be hard pressed to find prettier beaches in the U.S., and these really are some of the prettiest in the world. I have some amazing pics from the balcony of our condo here: http://southernfriedsands.com/beach-galleries/
This one is my favorite: http://southernfriedsands.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/gorgeousbeach2.jpg
But I also like this one:http://southernfriedsands.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/fabbeach.jpg
I was born and raised in Pensacola. I have been to several beaches and by far Pensacola is one of the best beaches. Very family oriented also. Part of the beach is protected so it cannot be developed, with homes or condos.
I moved to Pensacola, between two bayous that feed into Pensacola Bay. I was at Pensacola Beach this morning at the crack of dawn for the sunrise. Having lived in Hawaii for three years, the only thing Hawaii has on the Emerald Coast is coconut palm trees. This place is abdolutely amazing!! The beaches on the Emerald Coast are the best on the mainland US. I’ve lived in California and grew up on a beach on the east coast. They do not compare. There are so many beaches in this area, not just Pensacola Beach. There is Perdido Key that Rand McNally gave the distinction of having the 2nd best sunset in America. If you have never explored P’cola- do yourself a favor and grace our white sand beaches (the sand is so white ’cause it is pulverized quartz) and visit us. We would love to have y’all.