In Destin, located on Florida’s panhandle, the menu for fun includes fishing, paddleboarding, shopping and dining on fresh seafood. Once a sleepy fishing village, Destin has grown to become one of the premier vacation destinations in the Sunshine State. Between the soft, white-sand beaches, the world-class fishing excursions and the thrill-a-minute attractions on shore, there’s a little something for everyone in this warm-weather paradise. Drop a line in Destin for snowbird adventure.
For a great place to stay, Camping on the Gulf is a top-rated destination situated right on the coast.
Hook, Line and Dinner
Billed as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin is home to one of the country’s largest charter fishing fleets, making it easy to arrange the excursion of your dreams. For an accessible, family-friendly outing, try the inshore waterways of Choctawhatchee Bay, where king mackerel, red snapper or grouper are a quick cast away. However, more serious anglers will want to book a deep-sea outing 25-miles offshore, where the shallow waters of the harbor give way to the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Tuna, billfish, and sharks, as well as plenty of seasonal sportfish, call these bountiful waters home, so you can expect plenty of fight and plenty of fish as you cast a line alongside some of the Gulf’s most experienced guides.
Surf and Sand
Renowned for its sugar-white beaches, the region is a haven for sunbathers of all stripes. If you’re looking to lounge the day away, it’s hard to beat the powder-like sand at family-friendly James Lee Park. The sand’s white color even keeps it cool under your feet. For a more secluded outing, head to Henderson Beach State Park, where you can observe stunning sea birds in their natural habitats. The nearby nature trail offers an even closer look at the iconic animals. At Jetty East beach, you’ll find plenty of surfers testing their mettle against pulse-pounding waves. At the same time, the harborside Norriego Point is the perfect place for boating, kayaking or paddleboarding in calmer water alongside picturesque dunes. Of course, once you’ve worked up an appetite, nothings beat a visit to the popular Crab Trap, a thirty-year-old eatery that serves up super-fresh seafood and unforgettable sunset views amid fun nautical-themed decor.
The Squeaking Sands of Okaloosa
Just across the bridge on Okaloosa Island, visitors are greeted with miles of shoreline with sand so fine it literally squeaks under your feet. Bring a picnic and some sunscreen and be sure to enjoy some of the most strikingly beautiful coastlines America has to offer. You can even take a sandcastle-making lesson right on the beach. Anglers can bring their poles to the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, which spans 1,262 feet into the Gulf’s waters. On an average day, pier anglers can catch Spanish mackerel, whiting or bluefish. Foodies should set their hooks for pompano, a fish prized by chefs for its taste, flaked texture and versatility. Didn’t bring fishing gear? No worries. The pier rents out rods, cut bait and tackle at an additional charge.
Spice up your stay with a visit to HarborWalk Village, home to some of the best shopping on the Panhandle. Whether you’re in the market for a kitschy accessory or true nautical treasure, you’re sure to find it in one of the funky waterfront shops. The area is also home to an array of restaurants and rides catering to all types of visitors. From upscale eateries, dockside seafood, dolphin cruises, fireworks, pirate parades, and more, HarborWalk is at the heart of Destin’s fun-filled philosophy. It’s also a great jumping-off point for visits to a family-friendly outing to Big Kahuna’s Waterpark, where kids and adults alike will revel in the more than 40 slides, rides and play areas.
Last but not least, no trip to Destin would be truly complete without experiencing the exciting world of wildlife that calls this unique region home. Dolphin cruises are a popular pastime, while SNUBA, a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving, brings the underwater world closer than ever before. With the ability to stay underwater for 20-30 minutes at a time, you can explore artificial reefs and shipwrecks, as well as collect sand dollars from the seafloor. Back on dry land, budding biologists should join a Nighttime Educational Beach Walk with a local sea turtle expert. The endangered species are a vital part of the Gulf ecosystem and the Emerald Coast is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of this majestic creature during its seasonal migration. Book your place online or via the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Welcome Center.
Sea Life Adventures
At the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, you can spend the morning snorkeling with stingrays, the afternoon feeding the penguins and then take in a fun-filled dolphin show before dinner. It’s an immersive, one-of-a-kind experience that visitors return to year after year. Just make sure to save enough time to make it to Okaloosa Island Pier for the brilliant sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico and Wednesday night fireworks shows that happen weekly during the summer. For a deep dive into the legacy behind the “luckiest fishing village in the world,” stop into the Destin History and Fishing Museum, which displays artifacts and exhibits about the city’s pioneer days and how the earliest fishermen thrived off the bounty of the sea.