If you adore beaches but dread the crowds that tend to hit up the Emerald Coast’s hottest spots, you’ll definitely want to check out Opal Beach. Nestled within the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Santa Rosa Area, this little-known destination can best be described as paradise. Sunny, sandy, and quiet, it’s ideal for a laid-back getaway.
The journey to Opal Beach is nearly as pleasant as the beach experience itself. Highway 399 provides a gorgeous drive, although access can often prove complicated in the aftermath of storms such as Hurricane Michael. Parking should be straightforward, however, as several lots are available within walking distance of the beach. Keep in mind that the lots along Highway 399 are closed between sunset and sunrise.
When you arrive, take a moment to simply enjoy the natural beauty of this gorgeous beach. White sand and clear water stretch as far as the eye can see. Grab your phone or camera and start snapping pictures; one day, these images alone will be enough to calm your nerves.
Once you’ve added dozens of photos to your camera roll, it’s time to relax. Because the beach is rarely busy, you’ll find plenty of space to set up your chair, umbrella, or blanket. It’s best to arrive equipped with these essentials, as rentals are not available on-site — and the more comfortable you feel, the more time you can spend making the most of this gorgeous beach environment.
Don’t limit your beach excursion to sunbathing alone. Swimming is both allowed and encouraged at Opal Beach, so feel free to get wet. During the summer season, the beach is staffed by lifeguards — so you and your loved ones can enjoy a safe swim.
One of the greatest and most underrated perks of Opal Beach? The restrooms, which are not always provided at beaches this secluded — and even when they are, not all offer the convenience of flush toilets. You’ll also find showers outside, where you can clean off after your visit to avoid a sandy ride home.
Opal Beach may not be situated within walking distance of the region’s hottest bars, but that’s not a problem — you’re welcome to pack your own lunch to enjoy at one of the beach’s several picnic shelters. When you’re done, you don’t have to pack out your trash. Instead, take advantage of onsite garbage receptacles — again, a rare sight at beaches this secluded.
Few Pensacola Beach outings are as blissful as a leisurely visit to Opal Beach. If you arrive prepared with food, water, and plenty of beach accessories, you’ll be ready for several hours of relaxation away from the crowds. This is your opportunity to recharge in a truly stunning and serene beach setting.
From Interstate 10, take exit 12 to I-110 South. Exit at 1B Gregory Street East and then merge onto 30 E Chase Street. Make a left turn onto Bayfront Parkway/Hwy 98 East and merge onto Hwy 399 heading toward the beach. You will then cross a toll bridge ($1.00 fee) to continue along Hwy 399 for an additional 6 miles. This area stretches for another 7 miles after entering.
– Be prepared to pay an entrance fee when you enter the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Santa Rosa Area. These fees may seem like a hassle, but you can take solace in knowing that they are exclusively used for park maintenance and upkeep. Per-person fees are available for pedestrians and cyclists, while a single fee covers all occupants in motor vehicles. Each entrance pass is good for up to a week, so don’t hesitate to return to Opal Beach. If you’re ready to tackle new adventures, you can also use your pass to explore the national seashore’s other fee-based attractions.
– Pets are unfortunately not allowed at Opal Beach. Thankfully, the nearby Pensacola Dog Beach provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy the region’s natural beauty alongside your four-legged friend.