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By Brittnay Hammac, Sales Associate

The Gulf Coast has long been one of the United States’ hidden treasures. First settled by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, its fine-sugar white sand beaches, turquoise waters and warm temperatures year-round make it an ideal location for tourists looking for a magical beach getaway. And the Gulf Coast’s breathtaking coastline is dotted with accompanying towns and communities offering so much more than surf and sand. Southern charm abounds in exemplary restaurants, trendy boutiques and picturesque boulevards.

With so much to offer, it was hard to dial in on a select few areas to highlight along America’s “Third Coast.” However, the following five spots have proven to stand out above the rest. So whether you’re looking for a fun day trip or week-long family vacation, consider the following for a getaway you won’t soon forget.

1. Pier Park at Panama City Beach

One of the largest outdoor lifestyle centers in the Gulf Coast area is a 900,000 SF Florida shopping center and entertainment hub in the heart of Panama City Beach. Pier Park serves 12,000 year-round residents and thousands of visitors from all over the world. There are more than 20,000 rooms available throughout Panama City Beach, providing abundant choices to accommodate your vacation or weekend getaway.

With more than 124 stores, you can dress your pup at Boutique Déjà Vu, jump on the spinning coaster at Pier Park Amusements or chow down at Pompano Joe’s Seafood House. Pier Park offers the perfect place to entertain the entire family.

2. 30A

Described as one of the “hippest” and fastest growing zip codes, 30A is a 19-mile stretch of Panhandle road between Destin and Panama City. 30A includes 12 beach communities, including three of the most popular towns on the Gulf Coast: Alys Beach, WaterColor and of course, Seaside.

Alys Beach, known for its architecture and modern luxury, has only been around since 1980. Private courtyards, authentic charm and natural beauty make this gorgeous town worth visiting.

WaterColor, Florida is home to the WaterColor Inn & Resort and lots of stately old Florida-style homes. With nearly 500 beachfront acres, WaterColor Inn is the perfect getaway for water adventures like paddleboarding, kayaking, boating or fishing.

Seaside offers a thriving town center with shopping and dining, all within walking distance to over 300 homes and offices. The Seaside community boasts more than 10 restaurants and eateries, in addition to over 40 specialty shops. Local staples include Bud & Alley’s, Pickle’s Snack Station, Sundog Books and of course, Modica Market.

Seaside is so picturesque, it was chosen as the main filming location for the 1990s movie “The Truman Show,” starring Jim Carrey. Fans of the film can walk around the town with a map to find famous locations from the movie.

If you’re looking for one of the best kept secret spots on the Gulf Coast, this is your place!

3.The Wharf in Orange Beach

With a more than 15% increase in expected population growth in Orange Beach in the next five years, the area is primed for a cultural explosion. There’s already much to see and do at The Wharf: Ride the monster tall Ferris wheel, check out the impressive vessels at the 210-slip marina or play a round or two at The Golf Club (just to name a few).

The coastal Alabama hot spot regularly features live concerts at its 10,000-seat amphitheater, hosting some of the biggest names in music. Last year’s lineup included Miranda Lambert, Twenty One Pilots, Jimmy Buffet and Florida Georgia Line. 2017 kicked off off with Luke Bryan’s “Kill the Lights Tour” on March 17, the first of this year’s Wharf Concert Series.

Main Street is another popular area of The Wharf. It includes a bevy of locally-owned boutiques, a variety of retail shops and restaurants like Breathe at the Beach and Villaggio Grill, a casual fine dining spot specializing in Mediterranean Italian-infused cuisine. Yummy!

4. Old Town Bay St. Louis

Southern. Beach. Charm. It doesn’t get any better than Old Town Bay St. Louis! This sweet little Mississippi six-mile town offers a relaxed lifestyle and has its own real local flare, featuring a smattering of amazing antique shops and clothing stores. It’s also home to some of the most incredible restaurants in the country. Trapani’s Eatery, for example, boasts a phenomenal homemade menu that incorporates a lot of fresh, local seafood.

Ever since Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city in 2005, the town has been full speed ahead in repair and revitalization.

With increasing popularity, Second Saturday Artwork has become an attraction for visitors near, far and in between. Each second Saturday of the month, from 4-8pm, galleries and shops open their doors while live music fills the streets for an exciting evening out on the town. Every month, two local businesses are featured on the Old Town Bay St. Louis website, where you can grab a free brochure to get going on your 24 location walking tour of this quaint destination.

The Second Saturday Artwork and self-guided Historic Walking/Biking Tour and are just a couple of terrific activities that make this charming town worth exploring. You’ll find there are plenty of reasons why Southern Living Magazine named Bay St. Louis one of their “Best Places in the South” in 2016.

5. Downtown Pensacola

As best described by the late former mayor Vince Whibbs Sr., “Pensacola is the western gate to the Sunshine State, where thousands live the way millions wish they could.”

If you haven’t been out and about in Downtown Pensacola in a while, you may not recognize it. Over the past few years, downtown has seen a retail explosion, with the addition of businesses such as The Ruby Slipper, Bubba’s Sweet Shop, Escape Room and Dog House Deli on Palafox St. 2017 will bring Southtowne, Bodacious Coffee Brew-Thru and more.

Home to the Double-A minor league Blue Wahoos, three-time SPHL Champions Pensacola Ice Flyers and brand new D-II University of West Florida Argonauts football program, Downtown Pensacola is loaded with fun for sports fanatics.

Pensacola’s warmth is ideal for year-round time outside to stroll through downtown on foot or your bicycle. Schedule a Pedal Trolley or a Segway Tour to check out the history and make sure you stop by the Pensacola Bay Brewery to grab a local brew. Every Saturday, the organic Palafox Market is in full swing from 9am-2pm, and more often than not, you’ll stumble across a 5K fun run or festival while meandering down Palafox!

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