Johnson Beach
travel,  USA

Johnson Beach – Pensacola’s Hidden Gem

Last Updated on November 20, 2020 by Polly Dimitrova

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.

Watch the Video from Johnson Beach:

Johnson Beach

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.

Swimming Conditions

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.

Beach Vibe

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 Umbrella
  • Beach Towels / Beach Chairs
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses/ Hats
  • Lots of Water
  • Snack

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.

Kayaking

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.

Do’s:

  • Have Fun
  • Be Mindful of your surroundings

Don’ts:

  • 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!

28 Comments

  • Vanessa Shields

    I’ve never heard of Johnson Beach but wow it’s stunning! The white sandy beaches and the colors of the water are mesmerizing… I’ve only been to Miami and Key West but now I’m adding Johnson Beach the next time I’m in the area!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, Miami and Key West are certainly much more popular, however, Pensacola is a nice small town that is not bad for a few days. Johnson Beach is also close to Alabama, but it is mostly a much more secluded area.

  • Alex

    Johnson Beach has to be my favorite beach in Pensacola! Being run by the national park service, everyone is usually pretty respectful and friendly! I only wish the blue angels flew closer so you can see them for more than a second in the distance as they practice

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Pensacola Beach is much more popular than Johnson Beach. I certainly believe that they are both worth the visit, though! 🙂

    • Lana

      Woooww this looks and sounds like an absolute dream! The Perdido Key Discovery Nature Trail sounds amazing, and I’d love to go kayaking here too!! I absolutely love finding hidden gems and this one is such a beauty! Thanks for sharing

  • Lissa

    I can’t believe we’ve never heard of this. We’ve been hitting some of the national lakeshores up near the Great Lakes- we’ll have to add this to our list next time it’s safe for us to get down to Florida so our boys can add another national shore to their list!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      I am glad that you found a place that you have not heard of and are now looking forward to visiting it, Lissa 🙂

  • Anuradha

    This place looks like a heaven! Powdered sandy beaches and blue waters does look super inviting to me, and makes me want to pack my backs and go to beach right away! And its really nice the beach is not that crowded given the current season!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, it really is not as crowded, compared to other beaches in the area. Certainly very inviting and worth the visit 🙂

  • Pam

    My mom was born in Pesacola, and that’s about all I know about it haha! I’m so glad you’re highlighting the panhandle of Florida and not just the south part of the state. Your pictures make it look like a great beach getaway without the crowds.

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, I think the Southern part of Florida is a lot more popular and some other areas of the state are left neglected and underestimated. Hopefully, people will get to travel to Pensacola as well. The beaches are certainly worth the visit!

  • Roving Jay

    The Perdido Key Discovery Nature Trail sounds like a great alternative to just lazing on the beach. They’ve really made it accessible by building that boardwalk so that you can enjoy the wetlands, and what a great vantage point for doing some wildlife spotting.

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, the nature trail is certainly a nice spot to go for a walk. Even if quite short it was quite enjoyable to just stroll down the boardwalk.

  • Kanupriyaa

    I actually ended up at this beach by mistake when I was visiting near here, its such a cool spot and hardly anyone was there!

  • Bolupe

    Johnson Beach Pensacola looks like the ideal beac to go to during this period. Thanks for the tips on not playing loud music. I don’t always feel comfortable with people playing loud music at the beach after all we all have different music taste.

  • Stefanie

    Johnson Beach is so beautiful with the tall grass & white sand – very different than the beaches of Southern CA. I’ve never been to Florida but love the charm of this area!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      It really is an absolutely beautiful beach. I have not been to Southern CA, but maybe I have to visit so I can experience the beaches there too 🙂

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