April 14, 2024

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The Ultimate Destin Travel Guide & Things To Do There

The Ultimate Destin Travel Guide & Things To Do There

Destin is a charming city located in Okaloosa County, in the northwest part of Florida. Known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village” due to its long history of fishing and abundance of fish in the Gulf of Mexico, this area maintains its small-town feel and vibrant cultural roots. Speaking of which, the city has a rich history dating back to the 1830s when it was settled by Captain Leonard Destin and his family. Now, the area is a highly sought-after travel destination for those seeking warm weather, sunshine, and beachside bliss.

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The city is home to the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, white sandy beaches made up of quartz crystal, which gives them their bright white color, and Henderson Beach State Park, a popular beach park that features over 6,000 feet of shoreline, sand dunes, and nature trails. It’s also home to an array of unique festivals and events, such as the Destin Fishing Rodeo, the Destin Seafood Festival, and the Baytowne Wharf Beer Fest. With over 20 golf courses in the area, water parks, water sports, and boat tours, there is truly something for every age, budget, and desire in this little slice of Florida heaven.


What To Know When Visiting

Destin, Florida coastline aerial view
Via Shutterstock

Aerial view of the marina along the Destin coastline.

While Destin is one of Florida’s lesser-known travel destinations, it has an immense cult following with families and friend groups that return each year for beachside fun, great seafood, and an array of activities to enjoy. Here are a few things to know before booking:

  1. Beaches: Destin is known for its beautiful white sand beaches and emerald green waters. Most of the beaches in Destin are public, and there are many beach access points throughout the city. However, some beach areas are private and require a fee or a reservation.
  2. Water activities: Destin is a hub for water activities such as fishing, dolphin watching, paddleboarding, and kayaking. Renting jet skis, parasailing, booze and dinner cruises, and surfing are also some other options to keep everyone from kids to adults entertained while in the area. There are many tour companies and rental shops available, and it’s worth checking online for deals and discounts before traveling.
  3. Food: Destin is known for its fresh seafood, and there are many great restaurants to try. However, it’s also worth noting that some restaurants can be pricey, so be prepared to spend a little more on food and drinks. Packing your own beachside lunches can help save some cash.
  4. Traffic: During peak tourist season (June to August), traffic in and around Destin can be heavy. If possible, try to avoid driving during rush hour, and be prepared for delays and congestion on the roads.
  5. Sun protection: Don’t forget to pack sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses as the Florida sun can be strong. It’s also a good idea to bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated during beach days and nature exploration.

Overall, Destin is a beautiful and fun destination that offers plenty of opportunities to relax and explore. With a little planning and preparation, these tips can help make the most of any vacation in this charming coastal city.

Best Time To Go

Miramar Beach in Destin, Florida
Via Shutterstock

The emerald coastline of Miramar Beach.

The best time to travel to Destin, Florida depends on weather preferences, activities, and date flexibility. While the weather is relatively warm year-round, there are a few things to know before planning a Destin getaway.

Destin has a subtropical climate, which means it has hot and humid summers and mild winters. The summer months of June through August are the hottest and most humid, with temperatures often reaching the mid to upper 90s and occasional thunderstorms.

The fall and winter months from September through February are mild, with temperatures ranging from the low 50s to mid-70s and occasional rain.

Related: 10 States That Are More Affordable Than Others in the Winter

The peak tourist season in Destin is during the summer months, especially in July and August. The beaches and popular attractions can get very crowded during this time, and prices for accommodations and flights tend to be higher.

Spring break in March and April can also be busy, as many folks have this time of year off for leisure and travel.

The summer months are a great time to visit for outdoor activities like fishing, boating, and beach activities, due to the warm weather and water temperatures.

The fall and winter months bring cooler temperatures, which is great for activities like hiking or golfing. This time of year also brings fewer tourists for a more comfortable stay.

Overall, the best time to visit Destin, Florida is during the spring and fall months (shoulder season) from March to May and September to November when the weather is pleasant, crowds are smaller, and prices are lower.

However, for those seeking hot weather and beach activities, then the summer months from June to August are a great time to visit.

Best Ways To Get Around

Road with condos on Miramar Beach
Via Shutterstock

Colorful condos lining a street next to Miramar Beach.

The best way to get around Destin, Florida depends on specific needs and preferences.

  1. Car rental: Renting a car is a popular option for getting around Destin, as it provides flexibility and convenience. There are several car rental companies located at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and throughout the city.
  2. Taxis: Taxis are available in Destin, but they can be expensive for long distances. They are a good option for short trips around the city, such as dinner outings and nightlife fun.
  3. Shuttle services: Shuttle services are available in Destin and are a convenient and affordable way to get around. They operate on fixed routes and schedules and travel to popular attractions and hotels.
  4. Public transportation: The Okaloosa County Transit system (The Wave) operates public transportation in the area, including Destin. It’s an affordable option for getting around the city, but it has limited routes and schedules.
  5. Biking: Biking is a fun and eco-friendly way to explore Destin. There are several bike rental shops located throughout the city, and many hotels offer bikes for guests to use. The city boasts an array of bike lanes and trails to help explore the area. Pack a lunch, and ride until the sun goes down.
  6. Walking: Walking is a great way to explore the beach areas and some of the attractions in Destin. It’s also a good option for short trips around the city. Sidewalks and boardwalks are common, making walking a safe and easy choice.

Where To Stay In Destin

Miramar Beach shoreline
Via Shutterstock

Hotels and beach cottages line the sands of Miramar Beach.

Destin, Florida has a variety of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. Here are some popular options when considering a Destin getaway:

Beachfront hotels

Destin is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, so staying in a beachfront hotel can be a great option. Hotels are hassle-free, close to food and entertainment, and provide easy access to the sunshine and sand.

The Henderson

  • Price Range: $$$$
  • Why You Should Book: Enjoy that southern charm right on the emerald coastline with high-end rooms, elevated dining, wellness classes, and water activities, along with Wi-Fi, parking AC, and all the necessary amenities while away from home to make any trip hassle-free.

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa

  • Price Range: $$$$
  • Why You Should Book: Located right on the sugar-white sands, this posh resort has everything on site, from outdoor pools to an array of spa amenities. Golfers will have an array of courses to choose from, and beach-goers will be in a literal heaven. From a delicious breakfast and parking to modern rooms with AC, Wi-Fi, and spa-like baths, there is no shortage of comfort at the Hilton.

The Palms of Destin Resort & Conference Center

  • Price Range: $$
  • Why You Should Book: Situated near Henderson State Park, this beachfront property offers its guest a variety of lodging options. On-site, choose from an array of apartments that offer multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, balconies, and the use of the property’s pool and private beach. Guests also have access to a restaurant/bar, coffee shop, fitness center, and more.

Condos and vacation rentals

For more space and privacy, renting a condo or vacation rental can be a good choice. This is an excellent option for families and large groups who want to stay for long periods of time and have all the comforts of home.

Find a wide range of options on sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway.

Be sure to book early, as many yearly travelers book their rentals a year in advance.

RV parks and campgrounds

For a more outdoorsy experience, stay at an RV park or campground in the Destin area.

Camp Gulf

  • Price Range: $ – $$
  • Why You Should Book: From RV hook-ups right on the beach to glamping tents, cabins, and an on-site pool, this camping facility has more than most. Guests also have access to an on-site laundry facility, bathrooms with showers, a play area, and weekly events.

Henderson Beach State Park

  • Price Range: $ – $$
  • Why You Should Book: This gorgeous state park offers a variety of camping options, including tent camping, cabins, and spots for campers/RVs. On site, guests have access to water, electricity, a grill, and a picnic table, along with bathrooms with showers and a dump station — everything needed for a comfortable outdoorsy stay.

Destin West RV Resort

  • Price Range: $$
  • Why You Should Book: For those who own an RV and want a more luxe experience, Destin West has it covered. The property is located on the bay, right across the street from the Gulf of Mexico. Guests also have full access to the Island Hotel, which includes the grotto waterfall and pool, beach access and bar, dining option, activities, and much more.

Boutique hotels

For a more unique and intimate lodging experience, Destin has some charming boutique hotels. These options are away from the crowds and provide a more intimate experience on the beach.

The Island by Hotel RL

  • Price Range: $$$
  • Why You Should Book: Located right on the shoreline at Fort Walton Beach, enjoy sunny days and quiet nights. On site, hang at one of the multiple pools, indulge in the various dining options, and enjoy the nightly entertainment, bars, and play areas for the kids. From comfortable guest rooms to complimentary beach chairs and discounted parking, the property is a beachside dream.

The Terrace at Pelican Beach

  • Price Range: $$ – $$$
  • Why You Should Book: The Terrace features two- and three-bedroom condos that are equipped with full kitchens, bathrooms, and living spaces. Feel right at home and enjoy the private beach access and on-site pool.

The Pearl

  • Price Range: $$$$
  • Why You Should Book: Located on Rosemary Beach, The Pearl is an award-winning hotel and one of the best Florida resorts to visit in the winter. Here, you’ll be away from the crowds and enjoy a more intimate experience on the beach. From an array of outdoor terraces, a private pool, and sumptuous fare, it will be hard to say goodbye to this Florida gem.

Ultimately, where to stay in Destin will depend on preferences and budget. Consider activity and food options, as well as the amenities and features that are most important when choosing accommodation.

Related: 10 Of Florida’s Most Quaint Towns For A Laid-Back Vacation

Where To EatHarborwalk Village boardwalk

Destin is known for its food scene by the locals and repeat travelers. Here are a few top options for every meal of the day that can’t be missed!

Breakfast & Brunch

Another Broken Egg Cafe: Breakfast classics done right

  • Hours: Monday – Sunday, 7 AM – 2 PM
  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 4289 Legendary Dr j118, Destin, FL 32541

The Donut Hole Bakery & Cafe: Local favorite for homemade donuts and comfort classics

  • Hours: Monday – Sunday, 6 AM – 10 PM
  • Cost: $
  • Address: 635 Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541

The Pancakery: Featuring, you guessed it, gourmet pancakes and American breakfast fare

  • Hours: Monday – Sunday, 7 AM – 2 PM
  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 960 Highway 98 East, Suite 104, Destin, FL 32541

Lunch

The Crab Trap: Waterfront hangout for sunsets and seafood

  • Hours: Monday – Sunday, 11 AM – 9 PM
  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 3500 Scenic Hwy 98 E, Destin, FL 32541

The Whale’s Tail: On-the-beach seafood spot with open-air and indoor dining options

  • Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 7 AM – 9 PM | Friday & Saturday, 7 AM – 10 PM
  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 1373 Scenic Gulf Dr, Miramar Beach, FL 32550

The Local Market: Rustic cafe for dine-in or takeout with sammies, smoothies, and more

  • Hours: Monday – Sunday, 7 AM – 3 PM
  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 950 Gulf Shore Dr, Destin, FL 32541

Dinner

Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood: Upscale steakhouse with a high-end vibe and killer wine list

  • Hours: Tuesday – Thursday, 5:30 PM – 9 PM | Friday & Saturday, 5:30 PM – 10 PM | Sunday & Monday, Closed
  • Cost: $$$ – $$$$
  • Address: 4000 S Sandestin Blvd, Miramar Beach, FL 32550

Marina Cafe: Outdoor seating with ocean views, sushi, and local surf & turf favorites

  • Hours: Monday – Sunday, 5 PM – 10 PM
  • Cost: $$$
  • Address: 404 Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541

Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House: Local seafood with a southern twist & 2 bars on site

  • Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 11 AM – 9:30 PM | Friday & Saturday, 11 AM – 10 PM
  • Cost: $$ – $$$
  • Address: 414 Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541

Drinks & Nightlife

Destin, Florida offers a vibrant nightlife scene with a variety of bars and entertainment options. Live music, great views, and an energetic atmosphere are easily found throughout the city.

The Red Door Saloon is a popular bar with a laid-back atmosphere and live music, while AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar offers waterfront views and a raw bar.

Harry T’s Lighthouse is another great choice for its location in the heart of HarborWalk Village and its fun atmosphere with live music.

Related: Flourishing In Florida: 10 Best Ways To Celebrate Spring In The Sunshine State

For those looking for a wild and rowdy night out, Coyote Ugly Saloon is a perfect choice, with bartenders dancing on the bar and patrons enjoying shots and beers. The Village Door Music Hall is another great option for live music lovers, with a variety of genres from rock to reggae and country.

Finally, Bric a Brac offers an eclectic atmosphere with a variety of craft beers, cocktails, and small bites. No matter what kind of nightlife experience is on the schedule, Destin has plenty of options to choose from.

Top Things To Do In Destin

Destin has a wealth of activities to keep people of all ages entertained. Here are a few top things to do that no traveler should miss!

Immerse yourself in the heart of Destin at HarborWalk Village

Harborwalk Village in Destin, Florida
Via Shutterstock

Colorful stalls under a sign that says Harborwalk Village in Destin, Florida.

HarborWalk Village is a popular entertainment complex in Destin, Florida, located on the waterfront of the Destin Harbor. It features a variety of restaurants, shops, and attractions, including live music, fireworks shows, fishing charters, and water activities such as jet skiing and paddleboarding.

It’s also the starting point for many fishing tournaments and offers stunning views of the harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. From families to friend groups, anyone can make a full day here memorable and fun.

Enjoy an array of activities at the Village of Baytowne Wharf

Village of Baytowne Wharf in Destin, Florida
Via Shutterstock

Panoramic view of the Village of Baytowne Wharf.

The Village of Baytowne Wharf is a charming pedestrian village located in the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. It features a variety of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options, including a zip-line, arcade, and live music events.

Visitors can also enjoy water activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding on the adjacent Choctawhatchee Bay. The village hosts several festivals and events throughout the year, including a Mardi Gras celebration, art shows, and holiday events.

Shop until you drop at the outlet malls

Destin has a variety of shopping options, from luxury boutiques to outlet malls. Some popular shopping destinations include Destin Commons, Silver Sands Premium Outlets, and HarborWalk Village. From high-end options to brand-name deals, bring an extra suitcase for a successful shopping trip.

These complexes also offer great food options and entertainment venues, such as bars, movie theaters, bowling, and escape rooms.

Spend the day golfing in sunny Florida

Condos on Sandestin golf course
Via Shutterstock

Condos along the fairway in Sandestin golf course.

Destin, Florida is a popular destination for golfers, offering a variety of courses to suit all skill levels.

  • Regatta Bay Golf and Yacht Club is an 18-hole championship course with scenic views of Choctawhatchee Bay.
  • Kelly Plantation Golf Club is another 18-hole championship course, designed by Fred Couples and Gene Bates, and known for its challenging layout and beautiful scenery.
  • The Links Golf Club, located within the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, offers a challenging game for golfers of all levels.
  • Indian Bayou Golf Club features 27 holes, with three distinct nines and well-manicured greens.
  • Emerald Bay Golf Club is an 18-hole course designed by Bob Cupp, offering stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay.

Hike through one of the many nature reserves

Dunes at Henderson Beach State Park
Via Shutterstock

Sand dunes at Henderson Beach State Park.

Destin is a nature lover’s paradise, offering several nature reserves for visitors to explore and appreciate the area’s natural beauty. Henderson Beach State Park is one such reserve, with over 6,000 feet of white sand beach, nature trails, and campsites.

Grayton Beach State Park boasts over 2,000 acres of natural beauty, including sand dunes, coastal forests, and rare coastal dune lakes. Visitors can enjoy hiking, swimming, and fishing. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park features over 1,600 acres of natural habitats, including pine forests and wetlands, along with 3 miles of stunning white sand beaches.

Related: 10 Natural Attractions in Florida That Will Change How You See The State

Gulf Islands National Seashore, located in nearby Pensacola, includes over 13 miles of stunning white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, along with nature trails and picnic areas. This area also features epic scuba diving with underwater wrecks to explore.

Enjoy an array of boating and water sports activities

Parasailing off Miramar Beach
Via Shutterstock

Boat pulling two people parasailing off the coast of Miramar Beach.

This coastal city is a haven for water sports enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of activities to choose from. Jet skiing is a popular option, allowing visitors to rent jet skis and explore the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Choctawhatchee Bay, or Destin Harbor.

Parasailing offers visitors a chance to soar above the Gulf of Mexico and enjoy panoramic views of the coastline. Fishing is a big draw in Destin, with opportunities for deep-sea or bay fishing with experienced guides.

Paddleboarding is a relaxing way to explore the calm waters of the bay, while kayaking offers the chance to explore the Gulf of Mexico, the Choctawhatchee Bay, and the area’s coastal dune lakes. Visitors can also enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving to discover the vibrant marine life and underwater landscapes of the Gulf of Mexico.

Finally, dolphin-watching tours offer a chance to see these intelligent creatures in their natural habitat and learn about their behavior and habitat.

Best Beaches

Destin, Florida is home to several beautiful beaches with crystal-clear waters and sugar-white sand. It’s even known to have some of the top beaches in the US.

Henderson Beach State Park

Henderson Beach State Park in Destin
Via Shutterstock

Stairs leading down to pristine white sands on Henderson Beach.

Henderson Beach State Park features over 6,000 feet of natural scenic shoreline and offers activities such as fishing, sunbathing, and hiking.

The beach has white sand and emerald-green waters, and there are facilities such as showers, restrooms, and picnic tables.

Crystal Beach

Crystal Beach in Destin, Florida
Via Shutterstock

Condos nestled along the sands of Crystal Beach in Destin.

Located on Scenic Highway 98, Crystal Beach is a popular beach in Destin. The beach has white sand, emerald green water, and is lined with several beachfront homes and condos.

There are several restaurants and shops nearby, making it a great spot to spend the day.

James Lee Park

James Lee Park Beach
Via Shutterstock

Sign for James Lee Park in Okaloosa County.

James Lee Park is located in Okaloosa Island, just a short drive from Destin. It’s a popular spot for families and offers activities such as swimming, sunbathing, and beach volleyball.

The beach has facilities such as restrooms, showers, and picnic areas.

Miramar Beach

Miramar Beach, Florida
Via Shutterstock

Sugar-white sands of Miramar Beach.

Located just east of Destin, Miramar Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand shoreline. The beach is less crowded than some of the other beaches in Destin and is a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. There are several beachfront restaurants and shops nearby.

The Crab Trap Beach

Crab Trap Island, Florida
Via Unsplash

Boat floating in the turquoise waters on Crab Trap Beach.

Located on Scenic Highway 98, The Crab Trap Beach is a popular spot for families. The beach has white sand, calm waters, and is a great spot for swimming and sunbathing. There are several beachfront restaurants and bars nearby.

Best Local Spots

Local favorites are the staples in any travel destination, and Destin is full of them. Get away from the tourists at these must-see locations, from hole-in-the-wall bars to popular foodie haunts.

  • The Donut Hole: A local favorite for breakfast and brunch, The Donut Hole serves up delicious donuts, pancakes, and other breakfast items. They also have a bakery that sells cakes and pies for special occasions.
  • Harbor Docks: This restaurant is a Destin institution, known for its fresh seafood and sushi. It has a great view of the harbor and a laid-back atmosphere.
  • McGuire’s Irish Pub: A popular spot for food and drinks, McGuire’s is known for its extensive beer selection and hearty pub fare. They also have unique decor, with dollar bills covering the walls and ceilings.
  • The Red Bar: This iconic restaurant in nearby Grayton Beach is known for its live music, funky decor, and delicious food. It’s a popular spot for both locals and tourists.
  • The Back Porch: A casual beachside restaurant, The Back Porch is known for its seafood, burgers, and Gulf views. It has a fun, laid-back atmosphere and is a great spot for a casual meal that won’t break the bank.

How To Spend A Perfect Day In Destin

Condos on Miramar Beach
Via Shutterstock

Colorful condos along the shoreline of Miramar Beach.

Start the day early with a sunrise walk on the beach with a trip to Henderson Beach State Park for a quiet and peaceful experience. Enjoy the breathtaking views of the colors changing in the sky and take a stroll on the sugar-white sands. Head over to The Donut Hole for breakfast, then visit HarborWalk Village—the heart of the city.

Take a dolphin-watching tour or rent a boat to explore the Gulf of Mexico. Lunchtime is the perfect opportunity to try some of the fresh seafood that Destin is famous for. Head to the Crab Trap or the Back Porch for some of the best seafood in the area.

After lunch, take a stroll on the Destin Harbor Boardwalk. There are plenty of shops, boutiques, and galleries to explore. As the day draws to a close, head to Henderson Beach State Park for a sunset picnic. Enjoy the beautiful sunset views over the Gulf of Mexico and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore.

Finally, end the day with a seafood dinner at one of the many great restaurants in Destin. Try AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar or Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House for some of the best seafood in town.

There are plenty of activities and attractions to keep everyone busy in Destin, but this itinerary will help cultivate some of the best experiences the city has to offer in just one day.

FAQ

Q: When is the best time to visit Destin, Florida?

The best time to visit Destin, Florida is during the spring and fall months (the shoulder season) when the weather is pleasant and the crowds are smaller.

During this time, enjoy lower accommodation prices, warm, sunny weather, and fewer crowds.

Q: Is Destin, Florida expensive?

Destin can be relatively expensive compared to some other destinations in Florida. The cost of living is higher than the national average, and during peak tourist seasons, prices for accommodations, dining, and activities can be significantly higher.

However, there are still find affordable options, especially in the winter months, such as budget-friendly hotels, vacation rentals, and local eateries, and many attractions, such as its beautiful beaches and state parks, are free to enjoy.

Q: Why do people love Destin, Florida?

Destin, Florida is a popular tourist destination for a variety of reasons. One of the main draws is the beautiful beaches that the area is known for.

Additionally, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities, such as fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, and golfing, and the area offers a range of shopping and dining options.