The Florida Panhandle, otherwise known as the Emerald Coast, has the best beaches in the continental United States of America. Or does it? An increasing number of people say that the Coast of Alabama is every bit as nice. And not only that, but the towns are better and the crowds are smaller. Could it be that Alabama is king on the Redneck Riviera?
While far from scientific, this is our direct comparison between the Emerald Coast of Florida and the Alabama Coast, the entirety of which is known as the Redneck Riviera.
The term redneck has derogatory connotations, including small-town, working-class, and beholden to offensive opinions. So while we’re using the term Redneck Riviera for generalities sake, we say it with all due respect and appreciation for rednecks everywhere. God bless the rednecks.
Also worth mentioning, houses on Ono Island and Miramar Beach average over $3M. It’s fun to say “Redneck Riviera,” but it’s ridiculous to attach any wealth-lacking stereotype to the region.
We will define the Emerald Coast as the 80-mile stretch of highway from Pensacola to Panama City, FL. And we will define the Alabama Coast as the 50-mile stretch from Dauphin Island to Perdido Key.
We will give Perdido Key to the Alabama Coast. While it is shared by both states, it is most easily accessed from the Alabama city of Orange Beach.
Here’s a MAP of the primary locations.
The following categories are how we will decide which coast is the better vacation destination.
1. Sand and Surf — How perfect is the sand? How beautiful is the water?
2. Towns and Things to Do — Who has cleaner towns and better attractions?
3. Crowds — Fewer people make for better opportunities.
4. Vibe — The general feeling of the place.
I think we’re ready to dive in. We hope you enjoy our Redneck Riviera Review.
We’re all headed to the beach, so who has the better beaches?
The Emerald Coast is notorious for sugar white sand and pristine turquoise waters. Sometimes the waves are rolling in and sometimes the surf is as placid as a mountain lake.
There are no shells or rocks to be found in the sand. The ocean shelf is too steep for mollusks to work their way up to the beach. This is a special feature of the Destin area and the reason why the sand is soft and fluffy.
It was Destin-esque… but it wasn’t Destin. We found ourselves asking if we had found our new Destin. And then we drove to Destin and the difference was dramatic.
There is no fair fight comparing the Florida Panhandle to any other beach in the USA. From Destin to Rosemary Beach, the sand and water are heavenly.
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Our primary draw to the Redneck Riviera might be the beach, but the beach isn’t everything. Who has better things to do? How are the shopping and restaurants?
While the Emerald Coast has relaxed stretches like Miramar and the 30A Highway, the towns of Destin, Pensacola Beach, and Panama City Beach have given themselves over to rapacious tourism.
We love to troll the 30-A Highway every time we visit. Seaside and Watercolor are a must-stop point of interest. Grayton Beach State Park is one of the best beaches on the Florida Panhandle.
The Alabama Coast has the look of an ocean tourist town, yet refrains from being obnoxious. And while these towns typically acquiesce to a plague of human blight — drugs, homelessness — at least in part, the Alabama coast somehow avoids this.
Our favorite things to do were: The live music scene at Flora-Bama, riding bikes in Gulf State Park, sniffing the shops at the Wharf, Fort Myers, catching a ferry to Daphin Island, and eating fried shrimp everywhere we go.
There is plenty of entertainment on the Redneck Riviera and either location will keep you busy. We find the Emerald Coast more interesting, but Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are cleaner and less touristy. To us, a clean, well-behaved town goes a long, long ways.
Restaurants like Doc’s Seafood and The Gulf also endear us to the Alabama coast. As many times as we’ve visited Destin, we have yet to fall in love with a restaurant.
Which Redneck Riviera location is less crowded?
Tourists and commuters clog the highways of the Emerald Coast. The public beaches and parking lots are packed early in the AM. Read any Yelp review and you’ll find folks grumbling about the crowds.
Pensacola Beach and Panama City Beach are less crowded than Destin, Miramar, and the 30-A, but that’s because they are less desirable, larger cities.
As far as the people are concerned, there is a sketchy element on the Emerald Coast. That said, the 30-A is posh beyond belief.
The Alabama Coast had surprisingly few people considering how pleasant it is. We had little trouble finding parking at the myriad public beaches, even during Memorial Day weekend.
The Flora-Bama sees a steady crowd, but that’s because it’s The Place To Be. As incredible as Orange Beach, Alabama is, we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
In regards to the people, we really appreciated the general appearance and behavior of the locals and visitors. We were told it would be redneck — Hence Redneck Riviera — but it was clean and monied.
We prefer the laid back vibe and general presence of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Fewer people, fewer cars, more parking, clean friendly folk. Easy win.
Vibe, Def: A person’s emotional state or the atmosphere of a place as communicated and felt by others.
So, which place’s “emotional state or atmosphere” feels better?
The Hoffmann’s are “feelers” by nature — strange as that sounds — and generally have success picking up on vibes. It’s cockamamie, unscientific assessment, but we buying what we’re selling. Hopefully you’ll give us the benefit of the doubt.
The Florida Panhandle vibe is driven by the exotic beauty of the beach. How can you not feel excellent in a place like this?
We stay in Miramar Beach because the vibe is upscale. The 30-A has a magnificent vibe as well. Destin, Pensacola Beach, and Panama City Beach are tourism beaches with the mini-golf, waterslides, and ostentatious restaurants you expect from the like.
The edginess of the throng is palpable at times. Crowds bring friction, parking issues, and noise. Nonetheless, that all fades away on the beach. And the beach is why we’re here.
The Alabama Coast has a super chill vibe. It’s unbeatable, really.
However! This is where we will mention the C-word: Chiggers!
Have you ever experienced the Chiggers? They are mites that feast on the flesh of humans. You won’t see anything happening on the surface, but eventually you’ll find yourself scratching your feet, and it escalates from there. Eventually you’ll wake in the night feverishly itching your ankles.
The situation is real. Sharpen your nails. You are going to war.
We were told that bug spray solves the problem. We’ll try that next time.
The vibe category should be another victory for the Alabama Coast. Except for the chiggers.
Wait. What? Florida wins?
For anyone keeping score, the final line was Alabama 2, Florida 1, with a draw that really should have gone to Alabama. How the heck does Florida win in the end?
We’ll tell you: It’s because of the beaches. It is all about the beaches.
The Alabama coast does so many things well, but the sand and water simply cannot compare to the shores of the Emerald Coast, aka, the Panhandle of Florida, aka, you’re new favorite place on earth. These are the finest beaches in the USA. The shades of blue are inconceivable.
If Alabama had the same water tones I don’t think there would be a contest. But this is not the case.
Keep in mind that the best beaches on the Florida Panhandle are those in Destin, Miramar, and the 30A Highway. Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach / Okaloosa Island, and Panama City Beach do not have the same shelf in the ocean to keep the sand pure.
The area surrounding Destin has a topographical advantage to the entire gulf coast — this is why they call it the “Luckiest Fishing Village in the World.” It is also why clams, muscles, crabs, and other oceanic beasties cannot make it up to the shore. The shelf is too steep.
You cannot go wrong here. Throughout our eleven-day stay in Orange Beach, Alabama, we loved it so much that we literally asked ourselves, “Is Alabama our new place?” a half-dozen times.
However, once we plunked ourselves on the beach in Miramar it took about two seconds to rekindle our passion for the Emerald Coast. There is simply nothing like it.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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