Destin, Florida, is rich in history and Native American heritage dating as early as the seventh century. This vacationer's haven on the Florida panhandle got its name from Leonard Destin, a New London, Connecticut, fisherman who settled in the area in the mid-1850s. Finding the bounty from the sea plentiful, Captain Destin called Destin the world’s luckiest fishing village.
That claim later became the city’s slogan. Destin is indeed home to some of the largest and most elaborate fishing vessels in the state of Florida.
Here are the best things to do in Destin, plus tips for making the most of your visit.
Destin Beach Activities
Located in the heart of the Emerald Coast along Florida’s panhandle, Destin’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the nation. Created from pristine ultra-fine quartz that originated in the Appalachian Mountains and washed down along the Apalachicola River for thousands of years,the super soft, snow-white sand has made Destin famous. When you walk across the beach, your feet gently ease into the sand. The deep emerald-green water in stark contrast against the snow white sand is why this area is known as the Emerald Coast.
Destin is a hotspot for beach and water-centric activities. If you want to check out what is happening at the beach before you get there, you can visit one of Destin’s many beach cams.
Test Your Balance On A Sup
Stand up paddleboards, or SUPs, are very popular along Destin’s coast and can be rented by the hour or day. SUPs allow for low-impact activity that requires a certain level of balance as you stand on the wide surfboard-like float, which really works your core muscles. Once you get the hang of it, paddleboarding is quite fun and relaxing. There are several SUP rental locations in Destin that also offer beginner classes and even SUP yoga classes.
South of Marler Bridge is Crab Island, a shallow sandbar that has been popular with local boaters for years and has recently gained popularity with visitors. The sandbar lays a few feet below the water and is home to a multitude of sea life. Because the water is so shallow, it is also an easy location for boats to moor together, creating floating islands. Swimmers can hop in to wade and look for sea life. Crab Island is only accessible by boat, which you can rent or charter. The channel between land and the island looks short, but the current is quite swift, so swimming to Crab Island is very dangerous and not recommended. Most boaters pack lunches or snacks even though floating food boat vendors have increased and offer a variety of options.
One special note: There are no public restrooms out here. Although awkward to talk about, many will relieve themselves of “number 1” in the water, but you’ll need a boat with an onboard restroom, or the courage to ask another boater with an onboard restroom, when it comes to “number 2.”
Snuba Or Scuba
One of the most rewarding activities in Destin is to get in the water and interact with life under the sea. There are many exciting places to scuba dive or snorkel. If you want to go beyond the edge of the beach but don’t want to go through the certification process to dive, then try a snuba tour. You breathe via an air tube and regulator that is connected to air tanks that are floating on the surface of the water. There are no certifications, heavy air tanks strapped to your back, or sinus pressure complications, and you can explore to depths of up to 20 feet. It is the perfect way to get the feel of diving without the commitment.
HarborWalk Village is a favored spot to visit, with its abundance of boutique shops, restaurants, and locations to rent paddle boards, kayaks, and jet skis. HarborWalk also has live music accentuated with fireworks every week.
I had a delicious meal at Harry T’s Lighthouse in the Village. The menu was fun to read, with little tidbits about Harry and his life in the circus along with a varied selection of food choices. The inside of the restaurant is a sight to behold and most definitely worth a stop, even if it is only for a cocktail or dessert.
There are a number of diverse food trucks in Destin, too. One to keep your eye open for while strolling the brick walkway in the Village is Wine Not; they offer wine-infused ice cream and slushies. The perfect way to cool down on a hot day.
Sunset Dinner Cruise
Experience luxury on the high seas with a romantic sunset dinner cruise. SunQuest Cruises offers year-round majestic dinner cruises aboard spacious 125-foot Solaris yachts with chef-prepared meals in elegant indoor dining rooms. Live music, dancing, and coastal breezes are added perks that will make this dinner cruise a night to remember.
Spas And Wellness Experiences In Destin
Not only is Destin a place that abounds in activity; it is also a place to relax, destress, and boost your well-being with positive energy. Unplug for some much-needed rest and pampering at one of Destin’s luxury spas, yoga studios, or holistic health clinics.
Salamander Spa at The Henderson offers a holistic approach that will help you find your zen. Services include facials, massages, and mani-pedis in addition to yoga and meditation classes. For a day of pampering, The Spa at Emerald Grande offers body treatments, massages, and facials with tranquil views of the Destin Harbor and Gulf of Mexico.
Spread your wings like a bird in the sky and soar over Choctawhatchee Bay in a seaplane with private personalized lessons offered by Rose and Ryan at LuLu’s. Flight lessons start at $99 and are available daily from 11 a.m. to sundown, weather permitting. Don’t be left floundering; you must call in advance for an appointment.
Destin And Fort Walton’s Craft Brew Trail
Destin is seeing a boom in the craft brewing scene, with several connoisseur-approved locations popping up in the Destin and Fort Walton Beach areas. You can book a pub crawl tour or check out the brews on your own. Some of my favorites are Destin Brewery, which creates small batch brews, and Props Brewery and Grill, which is veteran owned and operated, located in nearby Fort Walton Beach, and made unique by its propeller aircraft flair. There are many others opening their doors, and I encourage you to check them out!
Destin’s Dueling Pianos
If you enjoy battles between ivory keys, then you will want to check out Captain Jack’s dueling piano bar. This fun-filled interactive show for those 21 and over is sure to please with singing and laughing into the wee hours. Musical performers start the show at 8:30 on Friday and Saturday nights. There is a $5 cover charge; casual food and cocktails are available.
Surf The Waves With Destin Experts
There is no better place to learn to surf than in Destin’s emerald green waters and no better team to teach you than the expert staff at All-A-Board Surf. With experience ranging from lifeguarding to international surfing, the crew at All-A-Board Surf must be merpeople because they claim to have been in the ocean since birth. Call ahead to schedule your classes with these incredible instructors.
Savor Your Way Along A Seafood Foodie Trail
It would be a shame to enjoy the glorious beaches of Destin but not partake in the area’s phenomenal fresh seafood. When they say Fresh catch of the day, they mean it. Like, Caught this morning from the very waters you were admiring. I did not encounter a dining establishment I was disappointed with, but the following were some of my favorites.
The Crab Trap Destin is a casual eatery that the locals frequent, so you know it is good. For a chic and casual ambiance in Fort Walton, consider The Gulf, which is designed from shipping containers and recycled building materials. Claiming their name from the cusk-eel, which is also known as the bearded brotula, Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer is located on the Destin Harbor and specializes in steamed and broiled shellfish platters.
Okaloosa Island Fishing
Located just 15 minutes from Destin is Okaloosa Island. A narrow three-mile barrier between Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Okaloosa Island “connects” Fort Walton Beach and Destin by way of a series of bridges. The Okaloosa Island fishing pier is a must-visit for fishing enthusiasts.
After Hurricane Erin in 1995, the original pier, built in 1972, was rebuilt with concrete and increased from 962 feet to 1,262 feet in length. From the pier, you can fish for tarpon, black fin tuna, king mackerel, and cobia. Daily rates are under $10 per person. Fishing tackle, bait, and other supplies are also readily available.
There are several restaurants on Okaloosa Island as well as in Destin and Fort Walton Beach that will cook your catch for you. Called the “Gulf to table” option, you can drop off your freshly caught fish at a participating restaurant (be sure to call ahead) and they will prepare and cook your catch for dinner that night. Some of the Destin area restaurants use Fish Trax technology to track both your fish and other fish ordered off the menu. What this means is that each fish dish served will have an accompanying QR code that you can scan with your phone to see the story of the fish, including when and where it was caught.
Destin Condos And Hotels
With so much to do in and around Destin, it is sure to be a place where you will want to stay and explore for a bit. There are quite a few places to stay while in Destin and Fort Walton Beach, ranging from renting a private room through Airbnb to renting whole houses or condos for a week or more. To get in a bit of dolphin gazing while enjoying your morning coffee, I recommend the Henderson Park Inn, the Jetty East Condos, and the Newman-Dailey Resort, which have some of the best balconies in the area for taking in the show.
Destin Pro Tips
One of the wonderful characteristics of Destin is that you can visit any time of the year. Destin has over 250 sunny days a year with summer temperatures ranging from 90-degree highs in July to winter temperatures that dip to lows of around 45 degrees in January.
If you plan on partaking in beach activities, consider planning your visit between May and September. If you want to escape some of the crowds and cooler weather is not an issue, then consider going between mid-August and mid-February.
If deep-water fishing is on your list, then Destin is definitely the place. There is something biting year-round, but the most active months are July, August, and September.
The Destin Dare
Destin beckons you to come and explore its emerald green water, snow-white sandy beaches, and a plethora of activities. We dare you to not fall in love with its savory seafood, romantic sunsets, rich history, and welcoming hospitality. Come, see for yourself what Destin offers.
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