13 Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle

If you’re thinking about moving to Florida, the Panhandle region is worth considering. Known for its beautiful beaches and friendly communities, the area offers a high quality of life that’s hard to beat.

Choosing the best place to live in the Florida Panhandle isn’t just about picturesque views—it’s also about practical factors. That’s why our list of the best places focuses on three key criteria: safety, education, and cost of living.

From bustling cities to peaceful coastal towns, each location on our list has something unique to offer. Without further ado, here are 13 handpicked places to live in the Florida Panhandle!

What Are The Best Places To Live In The Florida Panhandle?

The waterfront haven of Gulf Breeze (a suburb of Pensacola) exudes small-town charm!

Its 6,300 residents enjoy a wide range of outdoorsy activities, from hiking and snorkeling at the stunning Gulf Islands National Seashore to visiting the Gulf Breeze Zoo which is home to over 1,000 animals, including gorillas, zebras, and giraffes. 

Living in Gulf Breeze is a “breeze” (see what I did there?!) as the public schools here are excellently rated, the unemployment rate is low (around 4%), and it’s considered a very safe place to live.

In fact, Gulf Breeze is safer than the majority of the cities in Florida! What’s great, too, is the cost of living in Gulf Breeze is 5% lower than the national average.  

  • Education system: 4.5/5
  • Cost of living: 4/5
  • Safety: 4.5/5
Destin Florida

Possibly the most recognizable name on this list of the best places to live in Florida Panhandle, Destin is a major tourist hotspot thanks to its stunning white sand beaches and excellent restaurants.

It also has a wide array of fun activities, like Big Kahunas Waterpark, hiking the many scenic trails at nearby Henderson Beach State Park, and fishing.

In fact, Destin is nicknamed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” thanks to its proximity to the deepest depths of the gulf.

But Destin is more than just an epic tourist destination – it’s also a fantastic place to live. Yup, this small beach town (population of around 14,000 people) has excellent schools, a low crime rate, and an unemployment rate of just around 2.7%.

It’s definitely one of the most liveable places in the Florida Panhandle. 

And although the cost of living in Destin is higher than most spots on this list (it has a rating of 100.9)- it’s home to some of the best and cleanest neighborhoods in Florida.

  • Education system: 5/5
  • Cost of living: 3/5
  • Safety: 4/5
Rosemary Beach Florida
Rosemary Beach Florida

Picture-perfect Rosemary Beach (population of just 500 people!) is a planned beach-front community with an easy-going vibe.

The best part about living here is that pretty much everything is within walking distance, including the glorious white-sandy beaches for which this stretch of the Emerald Coast is known! 

In light of all of the above, you may be surprised to learn that the cost of living in Rosemary Beach is lower than the national average.

It’s worth noting that there are no schools here, and the closest and best-rated is in Seaside (under a 20-minute drive away). You’ll be happy to learn, too, that the unemployment rate in Rosemary Beach is low – at around 4.2%. 

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 4/5 
  • Safety: 4.5/5
Seaside Florida

With a similar vibe to Rosemary Beach above, Seaside is a walkable, picturesque town with a slow-paced nature. Best known for its candy-colored houses with white picket fences – the neighborhoods here look like a movie set.

Each building in Seaside is unique – yep, no two buildings can look the same – so it’s at the top of the list for places to live in the Florida Panhandle for retirees! 

The only downside to living in Seaside is the high cost of living, a whopping 53% higher than the national average!

However, the schools here are well-rated, it’s very safe, and the town’s beauty and amenities are top-notch! And like many of the other great Florida Panhandle towns on this list, the unemployment rate in Seaside is low at around 4.2%. 

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 1.5/5
  • Safety: 4.5/5
Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary

Nestled between the busier tourist resorts of Pensacola and Destin – Navarre boasts a low-key atmosphere and one of the best places to snorkel or dive in the state – the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary!

It’s a popular place to live for families, who relocate here to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby towns. 

It’s a very safe town, and although the cost of living is high, it’s only 5% higher than the national average! The schools in Navarre are excellent – all are in the top 20% of public schools in Florida. And the unemployment rate in Navarre sits at just around 4.7%

As for things to do in Navarre, having a beach day tops the list with stunning beaches like Pier Beach and Opal Beach located here. Other popular outdoor activities in Navarre include snorkeling at Navarre Beach Marine Park and fishing from the Navarre Beach fishing pier.

  • Education system: 4.5/5
  • Cost of living: 3/5
  • Safety: 4/5
Panama City Beach

As one of the larger towns on the Florida Panhandle, Panama City offers an urban feel, yet it still retains a small town, friendly charm.

It boasts a good standard of living and highly-rated schools, and the best part is that it’s one of the most affordable cities in the Florida Panhandle. Yep, the cost of living in Panama Beach is around 8% less than the national average

The low cost of living attracts more employable individuals to the area, and as such, the unemployment rate is very low at around 3.1%.

Close to the CBD, there are several gorgeous beaches – the most popular being Panama City Beach, but for a more peaceful experience, you should head to Grayton Beach! If you tire of the beach, head over to Coconut Creek Family Park to enjoy mini golf and their giant maze!

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 4.5/5
  • Safety: 4/5

Pensacola is the second-largest city in the Florida Panhandle, with a population of around 54,000. It has everything you would want from a place to live –  a low cost of living, a good safety rating, and plenty of employment opportunities. The unemployment rate in Pensacola is low at around 2.9%

The median home price in Pensacola stands at around $255,000 – making it one of the cheapest places to buy on the Panhandle. And when you add into the mix the fact that the schools here are great, Pensacola suddenly looks like a very desirable place to live! 

Not forgetting that the beaches in Pensacola are world-class (we fell in love with Pensacola Beach!) plus, the shopping and dining opportunities in the city are endless!

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 4.5/5
  • Safety: 4/5

📚 Read More: Warmest Places And Beaches In Florida In December & January

Florida State University in Tallahassee

As the capital of Florida and the biggest city on the Florida Panhandle, with a population of around 200,000, it should come as no surprise that the historic city of Tallahassee makes our list of the best places to live in the Florida Panhandle! 

It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and is consistently rated as one of the best places to reside in Florida. That’s due to its top-class education system.

Tallahassee is considered one of the the most educated cities in the state, its low unemployment rate (it’s 3.3%), and the fact it has low cost of living (sitting at 5% below the national average!)

Residents here enjoy a beach life with some of the prettiest beaches in the U.S., like Wakulla Beach and Shell Point Beach, just a short drive away. And the 25-acre Tom Brown Park is popular with local families thanks to its lovely trails and well-equipped playgrounds. 

  • Education system: 5/5
  • Cost of living: 4/5
  • Safety: 3.5/5
Panhandle Florida - Fort Walton Beach
Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach is another great place to live in the Florida Panhandle – one of the biggest pros of living here is the fact that it’s home to the breathtaking Fort Walton Beach with its bright, white sand and turquoise water.

It’s also regarded as one of the best sunset-watching spots in the world. Another worthy attraction in Fort Walton is the Indian Temple Mound Museum, one of the most important archaeological sites in the state!

With a population of around 21,000, it’s one of the biggest cities on Florida’s Gulf Coast and, as such, has a more urban feel. So, if you like the convenience of city living, i.e., lots of stores, restaurants, and Cafes on your doorstep, then Fort Walton Beach is for you!

Another big benefit to living here is the low unemployment rate (just around 2.8%) and low cost of living – housing, utilities, and groceries are cheaper here than in most other cities on the Panhandle. It’s also a very safe city, and the schools here are well-rated. 

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 4.5/5
  • Safety: 4/5
Panhandle Florida - Port St Joe
Port St Joe is great to live in the Florida Panhandle

As sleepy beach towns in Florida go, Port St Joe is one of the best! So, if you want a slower pace of life, then this is the place for you!

Often called the ‘Forgotten Coast‘, life in this quaint town with a population of just 3,500 is peaceful to say the least. It’s a hidden gem in Florida, and it’s well-known for its friendly locals, pristine, tucked-away beaches, great fishing opportunities, and vibrant downtown area. 

The benefits of living in Port St Joe are endless – firstly, it has good schools, an unemployment rate of just around 4.2%, low crime, and little traffic. However, the downside to living in Port St. Joe is the moderate to high cost of living; the average house price here is $482,000

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 3/5
  • Safety: 4.5/5
Miramar Beach

Miramar means “view of the sea” in Spanish, and this beachside small town in Walton County couldn’t be more aptly named.

Yep, if you’re a beach person, Miramar is the spot for you. Of course, Miramar Beach is the busiest stretch of sand in the area, but we also love Crystal Sands Beach, which is a short drive from the CBD. 

It’s a safe place to live, has an excellent education system, a low unemployment rate (only around 2.9%), and it’s very welcoming. However, the downside to living in Miramar Beach is its high cost of living; at 26% higher than the national average, it turns off many prospective buyers!

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 2.5/5
  • Safety: 4/5
Panhandle Florida - Carrabelle

Situated to the Southwest of Tallahassee, Carabelle is the perfect place to live for those who are keen to escape the hustle and bustle of other cities on the Panhandle. Here, residents enjoy a laid-back, beachy atmosphere with no high-rise condominiums and very little traffic. 

Carabelle is blessed with stunning beaches – our favorites are Carrabelle Beach and St George Island. The cost of living here is lower than the national average, it’s safe, and the unemployment rate is around 4.2%.

The downsides to residing in Carabelle are that the schools here are rated quite low, and there’s no public transport. 

  • Education system: 2.5/5
  • Cost of living: 4/5
  • Safety: 4/5
Panhandle Florida - Santa Rosa Beach Florida
Santa Rosa Beach

Last on our list of the best places to live in Florida Panhandle is Santa Rosa Beach. Renowned for its powdery white South Walton beaches backed by azure ocean – beachside living in this part of Florida comes at a cost, though! Yep, house prices here are about double the national average!

However, putting that aside, it’s an excellent and safe place to live with an excellent healthcare system, fantastic schools, and a low unemployment rate. 

In terms of things to do here, we can’t NOT mention the super-unique Underwater Museum of Art, a sculpture park that sits at the bottom of the ocean!

  • Education system: 4/5
  • Cost of living: 1.5/5
  • Safety: 4.5/5

Map of the Best Places to Stay in Florida Panhandle

What Is The Florida Panhandle?

Panhandle Florida - Pahandle Florida
Florida Panhandle is a special area known as one of the best places to retire!

The Florida Panhandle is located in the northwestern region of the Florida. Its boundaries extend from Perdido Key on the west to Apalachee Bay on the east. The northern boundary is primarily defined by the states of Alabama and Georgia, while the southern boundary is the Gulf of Mexico.

The Panhandle region includes thirteen counties that border the area known as the Forgotten Coast. This region is renowned for its beautiful natural beaches, quiet fishing spots, and barrier islands.

It’s also known for its Southern hospitality, clear natural beauty and one of the best places to retire in United States!

📝 Note: The term “Panhandle” is not a formally defined geographic area, so interpretations of its exact boundaries could vary slightly.

Is Florida Panhandle the Same as Florida’s Gulf Coast?

Panhandle Florida - Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle and Florida’s Gulf Coast are not exactly the same, but they do overlap. The Florida Panhandle is a specific region in the northwestern part of the state. It stretches roughly 200 miles from the border of Alabama on the west to Apalachee Bay on the east.

Florida’s Gulf Coast, on the other hand, refers to all the coastal regions of Florida that border the Gulf of Mexico, which includes the entire western coastline of Florida from the panhandle down to the southern tip of the state.

Florida Panhandle FAQs

Is the Cost of Living High in the Florida Panhandle?

The cost of living in the Florida Panhandle varies from city to city. Some places, like Santa Rosa Beach, have a cost of living that’s a lot higher than the national average. On the other hand, you have places like Gulf Breeze where it is slightly below the national average.

Is the Florida Panhandle A Good Place To Retire?

Yes, the Florida Panhandle is considered a good place to retire. It offers white sandy beaches, emerald waters, and a vibrant culture. The cost of living in the Panhandle is also generally affordable, which is critical for many retirees. Florida is known for its retiree-friendly tax structure, making it financially appealing as well.

Final Thoughts: Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle

Whether you’re considering the lively city life of Tallahassee, the serene beachside tranquility of Destin, or the historic charm of Pensacola, there’s a place to live in the Florida Panhandle perfect for you.

We hope our list of cities and our discussions on unemployment rates, cost of living, education system, safety, and attraction make it a lot easier for you to decide where to live!

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