Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida) | OPAL BEACH

Opal Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida

Opal Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida


See the Beaches web page for an interactive location map.


Opal Beach is located in the Santa Rosa Area of Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida. Highway 399 is a public highway that runs down the middle of the island, so even though it passes through National Park Service property, it cannot be gated like the entrance into the Fort Pickens Area. However, the National Park Service still gets its fees out of you because you must purchase a Gulf Islands National Seashore entrance pass to park at Opal Beach, both on the Gulf side and the Santa Rosa Sound side of the island. If you have already purchased an entrance pass at another section of the park, it is good here as well (within seven days of purchase).

There are pay stations at each Opal Beach parking lot, and during the summer and on weekends there should be an attendant on duty. At other times you must pay at the self-registration kiosk. Get an envelope, put your money in (cash or check only), tear off the receipt, and place it on the dashboard of your vehicle. Don’t expect to get change, so be sure you have the correct bills. If you have a National Park annual pass or a Gulf Island National Seashore entrance pass already, just leave it on the dashboard as well. For the latest fees, see the park’s Entrance Fees web page.

There are three other beach parking lots within the Santa Rosa Area that are free to use, but they do not have any facilities such as a restroom, picnic tables, or rinse-off showers. These amenities are found only at Opal Beach. See the Santa Rosa Area web page here on National Park Planner for information on these free beach access areas.

Opal Beach is open daily from 8 AM to sunset. There are no trash cans, so you must take your trash with you. No glass containers and no pets are allowed on the beaches.

Opal Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida

Opal Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida

Satellite view of Opal Beach

Satellite view of Opal Beach

GULF SIDE BEACH AREA

Upon first seeing the Gulf-side facilities at Opal Beach, you will think that the place is enormous. Wherever you look you see parking lots and buildings. Overall there are five groups of buildings, labeled A through E, with each group having one restroom and four picnic pavilions with a couple of tables in each. None of the tables are bolted down, so you can always shuffle things around if needed. There are one or two grills per group of pavilions, not one at each pavilion. The restrooms have modern plumbing but do not have changing rooms—you must change clothes in the standard toilet stalls. There are rinse-off showers outside.

Picnic pavilions at Opal Beach in Gulf Islands National Seashore

Picnic pavilions at Opal Beach in Gulf Islands National Seashore

Not all of the pavilion groups are open to the general public. The groups on the far left and right of the beach (A and E) are only open to those with reservations, otherwise the roads to them are gated. If interested, call (850) 934-2605 or visit the National Park Service’s official Permits and Reservations web page for Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The other three groups of pavilions are open to beachgoers on a first come, first served basis. This leaves three restrooms, twelve picnic pavilions, and two large parking lots, each holding roughly 100 vehicles, for the general public. I suppose nothing keeps you from walking to Groups A and E and picnicking there if nobody is using the facilities, but you cannot drive your car to them.

Picnic pavilions at Gulf Island National Seashore's Opal Beach

Picnic pavilions at Gulf Island National Seashore’s Opal Beach

Opal Beach is also the only beach in the Santa Rosa Area that has lifeguards. Everywhere else, including at the bay across the street, you must swim at your own risk. Lifeguards are typically on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM.

SANTA ROSE SOUND BEACH AREA

As you might imagine, the Santa Rosa Sound side of the park is not as big, nor as popular as the Gulf side. Here you will find a 75-car parking lot and another grouping of one restroom and four picnic pavilions, the same layout as across the street. None of these can be rented, so everything is taken on a first come, first served basis. Each pavilion has four to six tables, though only one pavilion has grills (two). There is an outdoor rinse-off shower, and the bathroom has modern plumbing.

Bayside pavilions at Gulf Island National Seashore's Opal Beach

Bayside pavilions at Gulf Island National Seashore’s Opal Beach

Bayside picnic pavilion at Gulf Island National Seashore's Opal Beach

Bayside picnic pavilion at Gulf Island National Seashore’s Opal Beach

For those with toddlers and small children who want to avoid the larger waves on the Gulf side of Santa Rosa Island, an afternoon at the beaches along Santa Rosa Sound is an excellent alternative. There are also a lot more sea critters such as small crabs here, and kids with buckets can catch and play with them—or as my wife calls it, crab torture. Even if you are a childless adult, if you want to avoid the crowds but still sit in the sun and go for a swim, you can’t beat the bay side of the island.

Santa Rosa Sound at Opal Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Santa Rosa Sound at Opal Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

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Last updated on April 28, 2022
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