Santa Rosa Sound provides miles of saltwater fun and leisure along the Florida Panhandle’s Emerald Coast. This roughly 33-mile-long giant lagoon stretches between Pensacola Bay on the west and Choctawatchee Bay on the east, and its shores and waters offer an often-quieter alternative to the more thronged Gulf of Mexico beachfront of the region.
The northern shores of Santa Rosa Sound—nearly two miles across at its widest and only a couple of hundred yards at its narrowest—lap up against the Gulf Breeze Peninsula and the Panhandle mainland, while the south side comes bounded by the long, skinny barrier island of Santa Rosa Island, which separates the Sound from the Gulf of Mexico. The Sound hosts a goodly portion of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, between Gulf Breeze and Fort Walton Beach. Other major communities fronting Santa Rosa Sound include Navarre and Pensacola Beach.
Much of the eastern Sound edges Eglin Air Force Base’s holdings on Santa Rosa Island, while the waterway also party falls within Gulf Islands National Seashore. The National Seashore’s Naval Live Oaks Area includes lovely waterfront along Santa Rosa Sound, with a picnic area and pavilion, park headquarters, and a trail system through awesome live-oak groves. (The nearby Fort Pickens unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore, meanwhile, extends to the tip of Santa Rosa Island from the western entrance to Santa Rosa Sound and offers beaches, picnicking, historic military sites, and the Seashore’s largest campground.)
The sheltered and relatively shallow waters of Santa Rosa Sound make for great family-friendly swimming at spots such as Navarre Beach Marine Park, Quietwater Beach, and Liza Jackson Park. Two of the artificial-reef complexes of the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary, a great snorkeling and diving destination, lie within Santa Rosa Sound. Kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders will also appreciate the gentle and crystal-clear brine of the Sound.
Whether from piers or kayaks, the sound is also a good place for saltwater angling: Casting for red drum (redfish), spotted seatrout (speckled trout), sheepshead, and other Emerald Coast gamefish is a popular pastime here.
From fishing and paddleboarding to hiking a Naval Live Oaks nature trail, you’ve got much to explore on and along this glinting waterway, which—despite forming part of one of the most celebrated stretches of the U.S. Gulf Coast—can sometimes feel like your very own magical discovery.
– Popular among locals but somewhat off-the-radar for many out-of-towners, Spectre Island—one of a number of small “spoil islands” in Santa Rosa Sound created by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging—makes an intriguing destination for boaters.