The word “Perdido” means “lost” in Spanish. But Perdido Key and its beach areas comprise a nature lover’s paradise vacationers will want to find when they visit the Gulf Coast.

Perdido Key is a laid-back community located on a 16-mile-long barrier island just east of Orange Beach, Ala.

Environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts particularly enjoy Perdido Key because it is one of the few remaining areas of protected wilderness in the Florida panhandle. Miles of preserves offer opportunities for hiking, kayaking and bird watching. Perdido Key is known as a quieter beach where relaxation takes center stage.

There are also plenty of opportunities to see dolphins on dolphin watch excursions or take sailing tours. There are even moonlight cruises on the bay offering a little different view of the area’s peacefulness.

Perfect for families, Perdido Key is home to two state parks and an expanse of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Johnson Beach is a recreational area in Perdido Key on the Gulf Islands National Seashore. A lifeguard-protected beach during the summer months, Johnson Beach is a favorite for those who enjoy hiking through dunes, pine trees and salt marsh outlooks as well as relaxing on the beach. This area is home to the Perdido Key Discovery Trail, an accessible elevated trail. Picnic pavilions can be reserved, and beach wheelchairs are available. An entrance fee is required.

Big Lagoon State Park is perfect for surfing, skim boarding, bird watching and nature study. Crabbing in the shallow waters of the lagoon is also popular. Visitors will see saltwater marshes, pine flatwoods, beaches, shallow bays, nature trails and open woodlands. Pines and oaks shade the West Beach picnic area.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches 160 miles along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida and Mississippi. It is the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. It includes barrier islands, maritime forests, historic forts, historic forts, bayous and marine habitat.

Wildlife in the area range from sea turtles, dolphins and rays that swim near the shore to osprey and great blue herons whose huge nests are visible in the treetops.

The historic forts in the Florida portion of the seashore include Fort Pickets, Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee.

In 2015, the Gulf Islands National Seashore won the USA Today’ readers’ choice distinction of “Florida’s Best Beach.” In addition, Johnson Beach on Perdido Key, part of the national seashore, was ranked the “No. 2 National Park in the United States.”

Although Perdido Key invites nature lovers and those who might enjoy a quieter beach locale to indulge in the quintessential old-world Florida experience, there are numerous fun, high-energy attractions nearby.

For example, National Naval Aviation Museum is a few miles to the east. In addition to the IMAX movie-theater and displays of naval aircraft, this is a great spot to watch the iconic Blue Angels practice.

There are also plenty of boutiques and beach shops to explore at Villagio and other spots, as well as numerous tasty restaurants to try.

A day trip to historic downtown Pensacola, the City of Five Flags (a reference to the five governments whose flags have flown over its soil: Spain, France, the United Kingdom, the Confederate States of America and the United States of America), is a fun activity for the whole family.

For golfers in the bunch, the Lost Key Golf Club awaits and was the first golf course in the state of Florida to be certified as an Audubon International Silver Signature Sanctuary for its protection of natural resources. Condos on site create a rich experience for golfers and nature lovers.

To fully immerse yourself in the Perdido Key experience, stay in one of the area’s upscale condominiums and beach houses. These vacation rentals showcase the white sand and crystal waters of the Gulf of Mexico that create world-class views of the back bays boast breathtaking views.

A one-bedroom condo is perfect for a romantic getaway for two, but these vacation rentals can also accommodate groups of up to six. If a view is important to you, you'll be pleased to know that many of these condos feature some of the most beautiful vistas around.

If you need space for more, try a two-bedroom condo. Comfort is the name of the game, but fun amenities are also in play, with some being boat friendly and equipped with boat slips. Amenities are varied and range from large pools and exercise rooms to tennis facilities.

When you need space to house up to 10 people, a three-bedroom condo in Perdido Key could fill the bill. Select from vacation rentals that feature Gulf front or golf course oriented views. These condos come with plenty of room for groups to gather together and also enjoy time to themselves.

Accommodate up to 12 people in four-bedroom condos in Perdido Key. Vacation rentals in luxury-rich complexes such as Florencia, Mediterranean at Perdido Key and others are available.

For those who prefer a more private experience, there is no need to sacrifice luxury when staying in a Perdido Key private beach house. Consider Ledlow, a Gulf-front house that can actually be divided into three individual rentals able to accommodate 10 people each or one large house suitable for 30. This dog-friendly house comes equipped with lots of balcony space for watching dolphins frolic in the Gulf and loads of beachfront for optimum relaxation. You'll also find spacious dining and kitchen areas with lots of seating, making it easy for families to mix and mingle.