The sun’s rays gently warming your face, the emerald water slowly washing away footprints in the soft sand, a cool breeze carrying the scent of the ocean and fanning green vegetation interspersed in the white sand dunes. No, you are not dreaming, this is what will greet you at Johnson Beach – Pensacola’s hidden gem! Located along the Gulf of Mexico, Johnson Beach is part of the Gulf Island National Seashore area. Slightly more secluded and remote, Johnson Beach will allow you to have a laid-back peaceful holiday away from the busy city life. If you will be visiting Pensacola for your summer vacation, spending a day at this beach should certainly be part of your travel plans.
Below you will find the ultimate guide to visiting Johnson Beach with useful information about the swimming conditions, entrance fee, amenities and much more. Keep reading and learn more about Johnson Beach – Pensacola’s Hidden Gem!
About Gulf Island National Seashore
Stretching along the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Island National Seashore covers a territory of more than 135,000 acres of Florida’s and Mississippi’s barrier islands. The National Seashore is divided into 12 distinct areas protecting the shoreline, the Gulf waters, and historic forts and ruins. Within Pensacola, visitors will find Perdido Key Area, home to one of the most stunning beaches in America – Johnson Beach.
Getting to Johnson Beach
Situated approximately 20 miles west of Pensacola, getting to Johnson Beach can take up to 40 minutes. The fastest route is along the 292 Highway, which you can reach via Barrancas Avenue. As you are following the highway for approximately 15 miles, you will drive on the bridge taking you to the Perdido Key Area. Shortly after as the road starts curving to the right, you will need to take a left down Johnson Beach Road. Driving for another 0.6 miles, leads to the entrance point at Johnson Beach.
Johnson Beach might be located in Florida, however it is extremely close to Alabama. The small town of Orange Beach, Alabama, is only 10 miles away and you can easily reach the beach by following Highway 182, which connects to Perdido Key Drive. Once you have passed the large hotel buildings to your right, the road starts curving to the left. This is where you would need to turn right and then keep straight to reach Johnson Beach’s entrance.
Entrance Fee and Opening Hours
As part of the protected area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, accessing Johnson Beach requires an entrance fee payment. If you are traveling by private vehicle the price is $25, whereas the individual ticket costs $15 (for bikers or pedestrians). This pass will allow you access to the entire park for seven consecutive days. Frequent visitors to the park, might be interested in getting the park annual pass for $45. Those of you who are National Parks (“America the Beautiful”) card holders are not required to pay the entrance fee. Click here and buy your entrance pass online.
Something else to be aware of is that US Military, their dependents, volunteers with over 250 hours, and 4th graders can all get a National Parks card for free. Find more information here.
While the Perdido Key Area is operational year-round, visitors can only access Johnson Beach and the facilities areas during particular hours. During the winter season – from November to February the beach is open from 5:00 AM until 6:00 PM. Working hours throughout the warmer summer months are from 5:00 AM until sunset.
Amenities / Facilities
Even if limited, the facilities at Johnson Beach are enough to have a fantastic day at the beach. You will be able to find a large parking lot on the right side of the road with two large picnic pavilions. Outdoor showers, restrooms and changing rooms are also available in this area. There are no restaurants or bars within the park, however, sometimes during the peak season you might be able to spot a food truck in the parking lot. The pavilions, however, are great if you would like to have a seat in the shade, enjoy some food with lots of friends and be by the beach. It is a good idea to pack some snacks, especially if you are planning on spending an entire day at Johnson Beach.
Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Johnson Beach attracts visitors with its warm, blue, clean waters. The area is often subject to stronger currents and higher waves. During the summer months, you will be able to find lifeguard on duty near the pavilion area. If you head to the East area, though, which is often quieter with less visitors, you will be swimming at your own risk. Always be mindful of the beach warning flags. Rip currents are a threat and can be dangerous. Most of the times I have visited Johnson Beach, the flag has been yellow for medium hazard.
For the perfect swimming conditions, head to the Big Lagoon Side. This spot could be a good idea for families with children on days with bigger waves coming from the Gulf of Mexico. The shallow, calm warm water is excellent for swimming and playing around.
As Pensacola’s hidden gem, Johnson Beach is extremely secluded. On weekends during the summer it can get a bit crowded, however, it is still a very family-friendly area. Nestled in between the white sandy dunes and surrounded by the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Johnson Beach is perfect for a relaxing, laid-back summer escape. You can easily spend an entire day sunbathing and enjoying the peaceful scenery or just a few hours strolling along the beachfront.
If you want to explore further, you can keep driving straight and park somewhere alongside the road (always keep in mind the “No Parking” signs). From there you can head to Johnson Beach to the right or alternatively you can find one of the small paths meandering through the sand dunes to the left that will take you to the Big Lagoon on the Northern Side. While this area does not have much of a beach, you will certainly find yourself in a very peaceful and secluded spot.
What to Bring
Due to the low facilities at Johnson Beach, you better be prepared with everything you need. For a relaxing day at the beach, some of the basics that you would need are:
Beach Towels / Beach Chairs
Lots of Water
You will see people who have brought beach tents, tables, coolers, etc. If you are visiting with your kids, you can also bring sand toys or body boards (to be used only when conditions permit).
Things to Do
Besides swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and sunbathing at Johnson Beach, the area has a lot more to offer.
Perdido Key Discovery Nature Trail
Once you pass through the Johnson Beach’s entrance, you will reach a small intersection. The right has the parking lot and pavilion as previously discussed, while turning left and going down the road will take you to a small parking space. From here you can take the short 0.36-mile Perdido Key Discovery Nature Trail. The boardwalk winds through pine trees with periodic overlooks offering beautiful views of the wetlands and the Big Lagoon waterway. If you are a fan of bird-watching, feel free to bring some binoculars because the nature trail is home to various bird species such as Ospreys and Grey Kingbirds. The trail is extremely pleasant and suitable for the entire family, however, keep in mind that it does not provide much shade. Hence, visiting during the early hours might be a better idea.
The peaceful waters of the Big Lagoon provide for perfect kayaking conditions. Next to the beginning of the Perdido Key Discovery Nature Trail, you can find a small opening that allows visitors to easily launch their kayaks and canoes into the water. From there the options are endless. Admire the calm, clean waters of the Big Lagoon and enjoy the tranquility of the area. If you are ready for an adventure you can follow the 12-mile round trip water trail, taking you to the end of the Big Lagoon, where it meets the waters of the Fort Pickens Aquatic Preserve and then the Gulf of Mexico.
Be Mindful of your surroundings
Play loud music
Leave your trash
Have you been to Johnson Beach? Did you enjoy the area? If you are planning a vacation to Pensacola, would you add Johnson Beach to your travel itinerary? Let me know in the comments section below!