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Gulf Islands National Seashore

Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key both are home to Florida’s Gulf Islands National Seashore, the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. In 2015, the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS) won the USA Today readers’ choice distinction of “Florida’s Best Beach.” In 2016, USA Today named Pensacola Beach the “Best East Coast Beach” and ranked GINS No. 2 in USA Today’s “10 Best Naturally Preserved Shorelines.” In addition, Johnson Beach on Perdido Key, also part of the national seashore, was ranked the “No. 2 National Park in the U.S.” The secluded and protected seashore is a perfect escape for fishing, surfing, snorkeling, collecting seashells or just taking it easy.

Not only is the sand of Gulf Islands National Seashore almost-blindingly white – it also talks.

"Why," you may ask? The answer is quartz. The beaches here are like a bar of Ivory soap, 99.4 percent pure quartz crystal. The bleached mineral is the result of thousands of years of erosion of the Appalachian Mountains and nature carrying its remnants down rivers and streams around the south, eventually powdering the shorelines of Florida’s Panhandle.

Visitors to Florida’s Gulf Islands National Seashore soon discover the sand speaking to them as they walk in the softer areas. To some, the sound may be more like a squeak, but a barefoot walk on our beaches proves the sand talks back.


The Seashore provides endless opportunity for solitude and relaxation and miles of unobstructed views and access to the Gulf. A short hike, bike ride, or kayak trip always ensures a swath of beach, sans humans.

Even without people, you are never truly alone. An abundant ecosystem of marine and terrestrial wildlife surrounds you. Osprey and great blue herons are often overhead, their huge nests visible in the treetops. Dolphins, sea turtles and rays are commonly spotted swimming near the shore in the crystal-clear waters. And at varying seasons throughout the year, the Seashore provides a nesting and hatching ground for shorebirds - like the beautiful black skimmers and tiny least terns – and sea turtles, particularly loggerheads.

For adventure seekers, the Seashore offers a wide range of recreational activities including snorkeling, kayaking, boating, fishing, wildlife viewing, biking, camping, fort tours, ranger-led programs and more. Launch your kayak from one of several oceanside parking lots and make your own itinerary. Watch for the gopher tortoise, Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, and more than 300 bird species. Snorkel to see sand dollars, starfish, crabs and fish. Join a ranger-led nature tour to explore life in the brackish marshes or hidden in the shade of tall pines and gnarled live oaks.

For history buffs, the Seashore offers a unique look into the military significance of Pensacola going back before the American Revolution. Explore three forts designed to fortify Pensacola Harbor – Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee —all are included within the Gulf Islands National Seashore and administered by the National Park Service.

If you have dreamed of a day exploring a deserted island, the Gulf Island National Seashore is your ideal destination. So make a plan today to experience the beauty and fun of Pensacola’s beaches for yourself.

Map Gulf Islands National Seashore