Head to the Florida Panhandle for your next romantic getaway and you’re already off to a good start. The white sand beaches, candy-colored sunsets and water so clear it rivals any exotic paradise do wonders in setting the mood. But if you really want to impress, here are our picks—from a one-of-a-kind beach picnic to a hassle-free bonfire—to go above and beyond to dish up unforgettable romance.
Tuck into an upscale beach picnic
A beach picnic is heavenly—but figuring out the details can be more of a pain than one wants when vacationing.
For this reason, we like the Serenity Picnic Company based in Destin. They remove the guesswork, creating Instagram-worthy set-ups with overstuffed pillows, low tables, twinkle lights, blankets, hurricane lamps with tall candles and everything else necessary for a beachside feast for the senses. They also tote in all the practical gear, from silverware and real plates, to cloth napkins and glasses.
It’s no wonder that they’re continually tapped for proposals.
“My husband and I started this business because we were finding that when we were going out to dinner, the experience was not that memorable,” says owner Melissa Gross. “We want to create meals that people won’t ever forget.”
The service has become so popular that it’s being booked by bigger groups, including parties of up to 12 people.
This husband-and-wife team can suggest which beach on the Gulf or bayside is best depending on where you’re staying, the weather and what you want as scenery. Their go-to spot, for its scenery and facilities, is James Lee Beach Park in Destin.
As for what you’ll eat, Gross can offer a meat-and-cheese platter or a Greek food picnic box. Or she can pick-up takeout or arrange delivery from a local restaurant—whatever is going to make the night most memorable for her guests.
Go pro in capturing the beachside moments
Half of the fun of booking a professional photographer is the setting. The Panhandle’s Gulf of Mexico coast packs minty turquoise hues that pop in the sunshine. Add in the watercolor softness of the sunsets—a wash of candy pinks, butter yellows and gem-colored blues—and it is pure magic. Inspiration enough certainly for professional shooter Nichole Burnett, based in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
We love Burnett not only for her skill in capturing natural light, but also for the ease she brings behind the lens. Working often with small kids, Burnett knows the tricks for keeping the sessions packed with laughter. This is no static shoot. She encourages clients to splash in the shallows, dance in the waves and do whatever it takes to get loose so that each subject feels completely themselves—and that is 100 percent what she captures.
Share a tandem bike ride on the beach
Consider a tandem bike a lesson in communication—with fabulous scenery.
“I always give couples the option to ride around the parking lot first to see if they can find their rhythm,” says Rose Kyle, owner of Coastal Cruisers outfitter, offering bikes rentals, sales and service in Miramar Beach.
“Cooperation is the biggest thing,” she adds. “I had two honeymooners that weren’t gone more than 5 minutes. They came back and said, ‘When we get back home, we are telling our pastor this should be part of marriage counseling!’ It is tough to let the other person be in charge and let go if you’re the rider it the back. Both people can’t be in charge.”
For couples who do get into a pedal groove, a tandem is a unique way to tour the area.
Kyle recommends starting on old 98, the beach road. It’s a six-mile stretch that takes riders east to west along the Gulf beachfront. That area isn’t built up, so sea views dominate. Plus, if you head out in the early evening, you can make it a sunset ride.
Sail off into the sunset
Jolly Sailing, a day cruise operator based in Pensacola, aims to use the motor as little as possible during their two- to four-hour sails on the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s a special experience to be close to the waterline,” says Cindy Justice, owner of the fleet, which also includes power boats.
To book, couples need only choose between a group-sail or a private-boat experience.
Choose private, and you and yours dictate all the terms, such as starting time. Guests can also opt for a sit-down dinner or brunch on board.
“Nobody else has a dinner boat around here,” Justice boasts.
Aside from serving a meal, the crew also offers lessons to guests who wish to try their hand steering or sheeting in the sails.
“Our crew is really good at sharing what they know—or letting you can lay back and relax,” she adds.
Water, soda, beer and wine are served on every sailing, making it more than easy to just settle in and soak up the view.
Snuggle up to a beach bonfire
There’s a lot to know before you can have a beach bonfire in the Florida Panhandle. For starters, they’re forbidden in Okaloosa County, where Destin and Fort Walton Beach are located. However, head east to Walton County, which includes Miramar Beach, Rosemary Beach, Seaside and the rest of the 30A towns and bonfires are allowed—on public beaches, with a permit. Oh, and the fire must be contained in a metal pit, which even the most diehard road-trippers aren’t packing on their beach vacays.
Because there are more a few hoops to jump through, we like outsourcing to a handful of local providers handle everything, from permit to s’mores.
Light Me Up Bonfires offers a “One Love” package for couples; this team sets up the fire, along with tiki torches, a side table, a Bluetooth speaker for your jams and, yes, s’mores.
They also handle breakdown, so when you and yours are nice and toasty, and in the mood, you don’t need to wait around while anything cools off. Hardly. You can steal away to your accommodations—and keep your own flames alive.