Scouted Destinations: The Best Beach Towns in the South

Does your quintessential escape involve a white sandy beach, sparkling blue water, and a charming seaside town perfect for whiling away the day? If so, it’s time to plan a trip to one of these picturesque destinations in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. These beach towns are an excellent escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and offer something for every type of vacationer. Whether you’re planning a summer getaway, a long weekend to break up the monotony of work and school, or an escape from the winter blues, these small southern towns can’t be beat. Now, let’s channel The Beach Boys and get there fast and so we can take it slow.


Alys Beach. Photography courtesy of Alys Beach.

Known as “The Emerald Coast,” in honor of the sparkling blue and emerald green Gulf of Mexico waters that lap its shores, the 30A and Destin areas are a beach lover’s dream come true. While summer is certainly the high season for this unique piece of utopia, thanks to its comfortable winter temperatures, 30A has become a year-round destination for those seeking a place to relax and unwind along the picturesque coastline. “There’s a certain feel you get when you arrive in the 30A-Destin area that must be experienced to fully appreciate,” explains Peyton LoCicero Trist, co-editor of The Scout Guide 30A and Destin. “From celebrity sightings to dolphin watching, shopping to tennis, sipping at a wine festival or taking in an art show, these towns have so much to offer. Once guests visit, they rarely want to go back home.”

There are many wonderful destinations to visit in the 30A-Destin area. Each of the towns that make up this inviting piece of coastline offer their own distinct look and feel, and LoCicero Trist  encourages visitors to explore them all when visiting. One of her favorites, Alys Beach, seems to hold a certain admiration for all that have the pleasure of visiting. Gulf front homes, featuring white masonry architecture, charming pocket parks, common green spaces, pedestrian pathways, and a vibrant town center are all hallmarks of this scenic enclave. 

While you could easily spend your entire visit with your toes in the sand or splashing in the surf, there’s plenty to keep you busy if you’re able to tear yourself away from the beach for a few hours. Award-winning restaurants, awesome art galleries, quaint boutiques, challenging golf courses, and epic nightlife options abound in this collection of seaside communities. Social calendars fill up quickly with a variety of can’t-miss events such as Alys Beach’s Digital Graffiti Festival projection art event which occurs annually in May. Lovers of live music should check out Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation concerts and Sinfonia Gulf Coast performances, and for those that prefer to pair their charitable endeavors with a side of vino, the Destin Charity Wine Auction and the Harvest Wine and Food Festival, are both wonderful options for fun and philanthropy. 

To plan your 30A & Destin getaway, check out the 30A & Destin Dining Guide, 30A & Destin Shopping Guide, 30A & Destin Beach Guide and 30A & Destin Lodging Guide. And for additional recommendations for what to do, see, and experience in 30A & Destin, follow The Scout Guide 30A & Destin on Instagram and visit The Scout Guide 30A & Destin website. Keep an eye out for the inaugural issue of The Scout Guide Guide 30A & Destin in summer 2023.


The Roost Boutique Hotel. Photography courtesy of The Roost Boutique Hotel.

Nestled between New Orleans and Mobile, commonly referred to as the “Secret Coast,” the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a destination not to be missed. Home to the longest man-made beach in the world, breathtaking sunsets, and gorgeous views of barrier islands and bayous, Kristen Lee, editor of The Scout Guide Mississippi Gulf Coast, counts the numerous ways this slice of paradise makes for the perfect waterfront retreat. “With miles of dazzling coastline and ample white sandy beaches, our coastal region is a charming place to spend a vacation—or make a more permanent move!” She says. “Just steps from the beach you’ll find a collection of delightful small towns with oak-lined streets, lovely shops, galleries, restaurants, historical homes, and landmarks, all waiting to be explored.”

Lee suggests booking a room at The Roost, a boutique hotel housed in a gracefully restored building in downtown Ocean Springs. Just steps from the hotel you will find delicious dining opportunities, small businesses to shop and cultural attractions to discover. Make sure to stop by Lee Tracy for everything from cute beach accessories to sunny dresses, as well as The Walter Anderson Museum of Art, a favorite of both locals and visitors alike, that highlights the work of artist Walter Anderson and his two brothers.

If you’re into catching your own dinner, there are plenty of fishing charters in harbors all along the coast to choose from. If fresh seafood caught by someone else is more your speed, White Pillars, in Biloxi, serves some of the most delicious fish dishes around. After dinner try your luck at one of the area’s many casinos or enjoy some live tunes at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club.

Ready to depart from the mainland? Ship Island Excursions is a wonderful way to take in the collection of barrier islands just off the coast and perhaps spot a few dolphin friends. For those that prefer to stay on dry land, Lee recommends adding a trip to the popular and family-friendly Mississippi Aquarium and Paradise Pier Fun Park.

To plan your Mississippi Gulf Coast getaway, check out the Mississippi Gulf Coast Dining Guide, Mississippi Gulf Coast Shopping Guide, and Mississippi Gulf Coast Lodging Guide. And for additional recommendations for what to do, see, and experience in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, follow The Scout Guide Mississippi Gulf Coast on Instagram and visit The Scout Guide Mississippi Gulf Coast website, where you can browse or buy the latest volume of The Scout Guide Mississippi Gulf Coast.


Jack Dusty at the Ritz Carlton. Photography courtesy of Jack Dusty at the Ritz Carlton.

Looking for a superb beach destination that offers a range of activities and experiences? Sarasota and the Florida Suncoast should be on your list. “We love this region as it boasts some of the most beautiful and award-winning beaches in the country, making it an ideal spot for sunbathing, swimming, and searching for seashells,” says Nikki Logan Curran, editor of The Scout Guide Sarasota. Whether you prefer the lively atmosphere of Siesta Key, the classic luxury of Beach Suites AMI on Anna Maria Island, or the family-friendly environment of Venice Beach, there is a choice locale for every type of traveler. 

Beyond the beaches lay world-class museums and attractions like The Ringling Museum of Art, the Sarasota Art Museum, and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. For a taste of the teeming local talent in the area, Curran encourages  visitors to take in a performance at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall or the Sarasota Ballet.

No visit would be complete without exploring the incredible culinary scene, featuring everything from fresh seafood to innovative cuisine from around the world. Local favorites include brunch at Jack Dusty at the Ritz Carlton, lunch at 1592 Woodfired Kitchen & Cocktails and Tsunami Sushi, and romantic dinners at Sage and The Chateau. But perhaps one of the most unique and exciting aspects of the Florida Gulf Coast is the opportunity to rent a boat at CB’s Outfitters, charter an adventure with AMI Dolphin Tours, book a sunset cruise with Stella Blue Charters, or enjoy dinner at sea on the Marina Jack II. Couple this all with some serious shopping at Bon Bon Vintage, Marmalade at Waterside Place, The Met on St. Armands Circle, Lotus, L. Boutique and T. Georgiano’s in Downtown Sarasota, and you’ll see why this region really has it all. 

To plan your Sarasota getaway, check out the Suncoast Beach Guide, Suncoast Dining Guide, Suncoast Shopping Guide, and Suncoast Lodging Guide. And for additional recommendations for what to do, see, and experience in Sarasota, Florida, follow The Scout Guide Sarasota on Instagram and visit The Scout Guide Sarasota website, where you can browse or buy the latest volume of The Scout Guide Sarasota.


The Wharf. Photography courtesy of The Wharf.

The Gulf Coast is truly a beach-lovers, boaters, and fisherman’s Shangri-la. “With 32 miles of sugar sand beaches nestled along the turquoise shores of the Gulf of Mexico, this beach oasis offers endless opportunities to have fun in the sun,” Caroline Edmondson, editor of The Scout Guide Gulf Coast says. From Foley and Ft. Morgan, to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Perdido Key, Edmondson touts the laid back vibes and welcoming hospitality of these small, sunny beach towns. 

Grab a flattering swimsuit and other beach bag essentials from Lucca or Seaside Shoes & SWIM, and gear up for a day of surf and sand. Whether you choose to spend your time relaxing on the beach, renting a pontoon boat from Happy Harbor Marina, taking a picnic cruise with Anonyme Cruises, or trying out your fishing skills on a deep sea charter, you’re never lacking for fun on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, indulge in fresh off-the-boat seafood at local favorites Fisher’s, Big Fish Restaurant, or Voyagers. Edmonson encourages all visitors to experience the fresh, raw oysters from Murder Point Oysters, a local delicacy grown right off Bayou La Batre.

Boasting a lively music scene, every spring crowds flock to The Gulf Coast for the Hangout Music Festival, a seaside party that lasts all weekend. And of course you can’t ignore the incredible headliners who travel from near and far to The Wharf Amphitheater to put on concerts throughout the year. Upcoming acts include superstars like Kenny Chesney, James Taylor, and Dave Matthews Band, just to name a few.

Looking for a place to stay during your trip? Perdido Beach Resort, located right on the beach in Orange Beach is a tropical resort that has everything you need to make the most out of your vacation. Whether you choose to pamper yourself at the onsite spa, hit the links, or get zen during seaside yoga, it’s hard not to relax when staying at this seaside oasis.

To plan your Alabama Gulf Coast getaway, check out the Gulf Coast Dining Guide, Gulf Coast Shopping Guide, and Gulf Coast Lodging Guide. And for additional recommendations for what to do, see, and experience on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, follow The Scout Guide Gulf Coast on Instagram and visit The Scout Guide Gulf Coast website, where you can browse or buy the latest volume of The Scout Guide Gulf Coast.

Feature photo: Alys Beach; photography courtesy of Alys Beach.