Discover Florida’s 12 Best Islands: Explore Perdido Key
Perdido Key is a picture-perfect piece of paradise.
Sparkling diamonds dance on translucent aquamarine waters. Tall blades of grass bend in the sea breeze atop rolling dunes. Grains of white quartz sand effortlessly flow through your fingers. Perdido Key is a picture-perfect piece of paradise.
Located at Florida’s westernmost point, the island hugs a corner of Alabama near Pensacola. The unblemished stretch, with the Gulf of Mexico to the south and the Old River, Big Lagoon and Intracoastal Waterway to the north, runs 16 miles. Mother Nature did her job well here, and you might find yourself wanting to do nothing more than lounge on snow-like sand, watch piping plovers rummage in the scrub, and take a refreshing dip in the Gulf.
Perdido Key and neighboring Pensacola Beach are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. At Johnson Beach, the eastern entry point into the undeveloped strand, fine sand is carried onto the roadway, creating a windblown zigzag mosaic. Explore the island’s interior on the park’s half-mile Discovery Nature Trail. From its elevated boardwalk, amber salt marshes spread out as far as the eye can see. The path meanders through a forest of pine trees where birders delight in the sound of a woodpecker drumming on a tree trunk or the scarlet flash of a red tanager fluttering by.
The island is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and another excellent bird-watching spot is the Big Lagoon State Park, just across the island’s bridge in Pensacola. It’s a stopover for more than 23 species of wood warblers and a variety of ducks, sandpipers and black-bellied plovers. Climb the three-story observation tower to get a wide-lens perspective of Big Lagoon, Perdido Key and the Gulf.
On the west end of the slim barrier island, Perdido Key State Park is a favorite spot for surf-fishing enthusiasts, who reel in everything from redfish and pompano to whiting and flounder. The winter months attract shellers searching for calico clams, cockles and other sea treasures deposited on the park’s two-mile beach.
On the Gulf side of the key, a string of beachfront vacation condos with gazebo beach walkovers, designed to protect the dunes, stand sentinel along sugary sands. Thanks to conservation efforts, 60 percent of the island is off limits to developers. And that’s a good thing. visitpensacola.com
Considered a landmark, this ramshackle honky-tonk beach bar sits strategically right on the Florida-
Alabama line, hence the clever name. From its sun-bleached wooden deck, you can walk to the shore. Live music blares from five stages and the “Bushwacker,” described as an adult milkshake, is the drink of the day—every day. Camaraderie and good times since 1964 make this bar a must-experience.
The green-blue waters of the Big Lagoon on the back side of Perdido Key is where serious paddlers can start or finish the 1,515-mile sea-kayaking journey around the entire state of Florida. Marked as number one on The Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail map, the waterway snakes past barrier island dunes and thick salt marshes before entering