Destin Travel Guide

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In the Northwest part of Florida is a town called Destin. This town is a part of the beautiful area called the Emerald Coast, where gorgeous white beaches are plentiful and various activities abound. Destin is located in the panhandle between Pensacola and Panama City. It’s a great beach location for those who are driving, especially from the Midwest, because it’s a beautiful beach in Florida, but a much shorter drive than somewhere like Clearwater, Fort Myers, or Miami.

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When should you visit Destin?

In the Summer, while it’s the warmest and typically the best time to travel with kids out of school, that’s also why it’s hot and kind of crowded with mostly families. Everything is open though, all the restaurants and fun activities are there for the taking. There are more frequent chances of rain, almost every day really. However, they’re typically brief showers, so don’t cancel all of your plans in a panic. Also, the sunset falls over the land and not the water.

In the Fall, it can still be hot and humid at the beginning of the season, with the humidity letting up in the later months. Typically there are fewer families and more adults, while the water is still warm enough to go swimming in. Unfortunately, hurricanes and tropical storms are more possible, and there are more stingrays and jellyfish in the water. In late September, the sun begins to rise and set over the water, until about mid-March.

Waves crashing

During the Winter in Destin, the weather can be a bit more unpredictable, but there are smaller crowds. Some tourist activities, tours, beach services, and restaurants will close during this time, while other activities/businesses may operate on a limited schedule.

Finally, in the Spring, while the weather is warming up, it can still be a bit chilly. The crowds mostly consist of families with some college spring breakers visiting. The water is still chilly to swim in until later in the season. Businesses are starting to open back up, but you may still run into some that have limited schedules, or even not a full staff yet at the beginning of the season. Around mid-March, the sun starts heading back over the land for sunrises and sets.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Destin, read about my stay at Four Points Fort Walton Beach.

What to do in Destin?

Water Based Activities

  • Crab Island – Okay, so it’s not an island anymore, but it used to be. Now it’s a sandbar sitting underwater that has created a top place to visit in Destin. On a good summer day, you’ll find hundreds of boats, floating restaurants, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and even inflatable waterslides. Check out the Crab Island Taxi Tours if you don’t have your own boat, but want to join the party!
  • Big Kahuna’s Water Park – The largest water park on the Emerald Coast! There are a couple of different rivers, plenty of thrilling slides, a half-pipe, a wave pool, and even a mini-golf.
  • Buccaneer Pirate Cruise – This is a fun activity for all ages, but especially kids! Not only is it a pirate ship with pirates, but there’s swordplay, treasure hunting, and even water gun fights! There’s also a snack bar on board.
Buccaneer Pirate Cruise out of Destin, Florida
  • Southern Star Dolphin Cruise – Destin’s Original Dolphin Cruise, this 80-foot glass bottom boat offers rides out to check out the beautiful dolphins.
  • Sea Blaster – A 73-foot custom-built boat that offers dolphin, beach, snorkeling, and sunset cruises, along with beer, wine & soda included.
  • Aloha Pontoon Watersports – Here you can rent pontoon boats to go out and explore the beautiful area. If you don’t want to rent your own boat, you can simply go out on a dolphin tour. They also have jet ski rentals, and these aren’t just any jet skis, they can fit up to 3 people on them!
  • Boogie Watersports – Another great option for pontoon boat rentals, but they also have parasailing, jet skis, and dolphin excursions.
  • Go fishing!! – You can either head out on a fishing trip with Olin Marler or just walk out the Destin Pier on Okaloosa Island. By the way, did you know Destin is known as the “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”.?
Fishing off the pier.

Land Based Activities

  • Gulfarium – It’s a smaller aquarium area where you can see animal exhibits like alligators, penguins, otters, dolphins, birds, sea turtles, sharks, and more. The dolphins and sea lions do shows you can watch, while you can do encounters with reptiles, stingrays, gators, turtles, penguins, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.
  • The Island – This is a resort area with various dining and activity options. There’s Captain Jack’s Dueling Piano Bar, Island Time Pizza, an arcade, various watersports like paddleboard, kayaks and pontoons, and even more waterfront dining.
  • Henderson Beach State Park – This is a beautiful white sand beach with a campground and hiking trails.
  • Harbor Boardwalk – Here there is definitely no lack of things to do! Starting with the activities, there is a 1,000-foot roundtrip zipline where you can go side by side and race your buddy and an interactive 40-foot LED rock wall. For those who are really daring, there’s a 100-foot free fall. There are plenty of other entertainment options like an escape room and axe throwing, and there are plenty of dining options! From restaurants to food truck options. Personally, I recommend getting a mug milkshake from Wine Not!
  • Village of Baytowne Wharf – Yet another place full of fun things for everyone! There’s a playground for the kids, a zipline, a ropes course, a rock wall, a carousel, an arcade, an escape room, and even Eurobungy! And then, of course, there are also lots of shopping options and delicious foods!
  • Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone – There are SO many options here! Race tracks, VR, bumper boats, laser tag, miniature golf, go-karts, ptero jump, and a tree top challenge!
  • Indian Temple Mound Museum – This museum has exhibits that showcase 12,000 years of Native American history with various stone, bone, shell, and clay artifacts. There are even artifacts from local pirates and some European Explorers.
  • Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge – This refuge houses native Florida wildlife that comes in for rehabilitation and then (hopefully) is re-released. Some of their ambassador animals include a raccoon, turtles, geckos, squirrels, snakes, opossums, and even a fox.
  • Destin Commons – Okay, okay, I know at first glance you might be wondering why I’m recommending a mall. However, it’s more of an entertainment complex. There’s a movie theatre, a mini train you can take a ride on, a children’s playground, and a splash pad. Great dining options, including another chance for some crazy milkshakes at Gulf Coast Burgers. And finally, they have some awesome murals!
  • Sand Castle Lessons – If you’ve ever had difficulty making the smallest of sand creations, but dream of building something really impressive, here’s your chance! Take a lesson and make a masterpiece!
  • Destin History & Fishing Museum – Explore the history that shaped “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”! There are over 100 fish mounts here of fish caught in Destin waters! Talk about keeping it local! It also talks about the fishing history of the area and also has 2 historic boats and Destin’s original post office.

Air Activities

  • Destin Helicopters – Check out one of their many sightseeing tours. From coastal, beach run, Jaws, dolphin, and seaside tours, there are different options for everyone and plenty of opportunities to check out the beautiful area!

Where to Eat in Destin?

Before we talk about where to eat, just a couple of tips. If you don’t want to have a long wait, I recommend heading out early. Also, especially at the restaurants down by the boardwalk, parking can be tricky. Some have valet, but otherwise, you might have to walk just a bit.

  • Crab Trap – There’s a location in both Destin and Fort Walton Beach. Personally, I recommend, the friend scallops and mudslide! The grouper sandwich, mango margarita, and really any crab are also good choices!
  • Primrose – This restaurant is located at the Henderson Resort (which is beautiful!) with amazing seafood, a sushi bar, and even delicious non-seafood items.
  • Beach House Restaurant – Located in Miramar Beach, this restaurant doesn’t just have great food, but great views! Try the fish tacos.
  • Ocean Club Restaurant – Also located in Miramar Beach, this is more of a white linen restaurant, so maybe a night out for the grown-ups? Try the soft-shell crabs.
  • Mimmo’s Restaurant – Delicious Italian food, need I say more? Just make sure to save room for dessert, or do that first, because they have Nutella Pizza! They also have a new location also in Santa Rosa Beach.
  • Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer – Down the Destin Boardwalk with views of the harbor area, if you want to try Shrimp & Grits, try it here!
  • Surf Hut – Indoor and outdoor seating with great views. Try the grouper, but occasionally food can take a lil bit to get out, so just enjoy a drink and the beautiful view while you wait for deliciousness.
  • Destination Little Donuts – Created right in front of you, they have lots of different flavors you can choose from. They do run a little smaller (hence the name) than some other places, but they are packed full of flavor!
  • Pompano Joe’s – You can enjoy some sea scallops and margaritas inside or outside at this beachfront restaurant.
  • LuLu’s – Located bayside, this restaurant has a fun environment for everyone to enjoy. Another place where you should try the tacos; shrimp or fish.
  • Bijoux – Back over in Miramar Beach, here’s another fine dining option for you, but with a New Orleans twist. Try the crab beignets or scallops!
  • Fudpuckers Bar & Grill – Now, I’m not really sure how I actually feel about this place, but it’s a big hit so I have to at least mention it. Not only is it a restaurant, but there are gators! You’re able to feed the gators (not an annoying sibling, but the food they provide) and even get your picture with on
Gators at Fundpuckers
  • Cafe Destin – Come here for a delicious all-day breakfast (well, at least through lunchtime). If you’re keeping track, you know I’m going to recommend the Strawberry Nutella Waffle, but you should also try the Smoked Salmon Benedict.
  • McGuire’s Irish Pub Destin – Your typical Irish Pub. The walls are covered in dollar bills left by customers, so it’s kind of fun checking that out. Then try the Reuben or some Irish Potato Skins.
  • The Pancakery – The space is a bit on the smaller side, so if you’re a large group this might not be the best option. However, items like grilled shrimp omelets and crabcake benedict make up for it!
  • Tailfins Waterfront Grill – Located along the harbor, Tailfins offers up a great variety. If you’ve been looking for some great sushi, here’s your place! And they’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (no I’m not saying sushi for dinner).
  • Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House – As the name states, here’s your place for oysters. Really, you can get them all over the area, but these are the ones you should try! The snapper over pasta is also a great choice!
  • Crackings – Another great breakfast place to try, that also serves brunch and lunch. Try the fried green tomatoes, croisseignets, the crabcake benny, or banana foster. They have a location in Destin and in Santa Rosa.
  • Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer – Platters and Buckets of seafood are what you should be getting here. Or, bring in your own fish that you catch and they’ll cook it up for you!
  • AJ’s Seafood – Talk about a fun atmosphere! Located at the Destin boardwalk with an outdoor patio that overlooks the harbor, here you’re going to want to try the Crab Cake Balls or Seafood Gumbo.

So there you go! Plenty of things to fill your days in this beautiful area on a relaxing vacation. Have you ever been to Destin? I’d love to hear your tips for what to do there!

Destin Travel Guide

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