Stunning white beaches, superb golf courses and world-famous fishing are just some of the things that define the Emerald Coast city of Destin. Located in northeast Florida around 400 miles from Orlando, Destin is far removed from the theme park capital but it offers a whole host of fun things to do.
Read on for tips on where to stay, where to play and how to make the most of your vacation.
The best beaches
The beach is Destin’s biggest playground, and there are many options along the 24-mile stretch of sand along the Emerald Coast. The beaches in Destin are renowned for the contrast between their bright white sand and the rich emerald-hued water which makes them some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire state.
The best beaches for families are the protected state park beaches which offer restrooms, picnic pavilions and other facilities. Henderson Beach State Park is probably the best known, boasting white-sand beaches, miles of dunes and nature trails, plus campsites and spots for grilling and picnicking. This area is located away from the resorts and it offers a welcome change of pace from the busier beaches. Admission fees are just a few dollars and the minimal entrance fee is well worth a day here, especially on weekends and bank holidays when Destin’s other beaches can get crowded.
Other great beaches in Destin include Wayside Park, which is home to a popular fishing pier, a playground and beach volleyball facilities. There’s also the John C. Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island, where you’ll find plenty of things to do including sunbathing, swimming, water sports and wildlife spotting.
The Crystal Beach area is another top spot to check out, but some of the main tourist resorts are here so the beaches can get busy, especially when school is out. Nearby Miramar Beach is a must-visit, too, with its bustling boulevard, colorful shops and eclectic eateries; this beach is consistently voted as one of the longest and prettiest in Destin.
Where to shop
With so many fantastic shopping options, it’s no wonder retail therapy tops the list of things to do in Destin Florida. Whether you’re looking for unique boutiques, outlet malls or sprawling open-air complexes, the Emerald Coast delivers.
The Destin Commons mall is one of the largest and most popular shopping malls with around 100 retail stores and dozens of entertainment options. It’s home to a variety of well-known names like H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret, as well as restaurants, a movie complex and a bowling alley. Kids will love the the interative water fountain in the central courtyard, as well as other kiddie amenities including a mini train and a pirate-themed playground.
For big discounts on designer brands including Calvin Klein, Coach, Nike and Polo Ralph Lauren you should head to the Silver Sands Premium outlets. The beautiful outdoor mall is one of the most popular spots for shopping in Destin Florida and features covered sidewalks, lush landscaping and a children’s play area. There are also a variety of dining options including restaurants, coffee shops and grab-and-go options such as Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
The Destin Harbor Boardwalk
If you’re after a wider variety of things to do then the Destin Harbor Boardwalk is a hub of activity both day and night. There’s a shopping area with dozens of retail shops and specialty boutiques, and there are an array of seafood restaurants and buzzing bars that line the waterfront. There are plenty of watersports rentals from the marina, as well as deep-sea fishing charters, ‘pirate ship’ excursions and dolphin-spotting cruises.
The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is home to a host of exciting annual events including the Destin Fishing Rodeo and the Destin Seafood Festival. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Destin at night, you can check out Destin Harbor’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ street parade, the Wednesday night concert series and regular live entertainment events.
Where to play golf in Destin
No list of things to do in Destin Florida would be complete without mentioning the golf courses. Since Destin is located on the Gulf Coast, much of the year is warm and sunny making it great for playing golf.
The Regatta Bay Golf Club is one of the top-ranked courses in northwest Florida and is suitable for players of all skill levels. The course is located in an exquisite setting among beautiful nature preserves along the Choctawhatchee Bay, and is open to the public all year round. Amenities include state-of-the-art golf carts, a clubhouse with a golf shop, a full-service restaurant and on-course beverage carts.
Also located along the Choctawhatchee Bay is the renowned Kelly Plantation Golf Club, an 18-hole course built around a former turpentine plantation. The course offers a rich scenic appeal with large contoured greens, wide manicured fairways and picturesque views of the bay. It also has a grand clubhouse which doubles as a venue for special events and weddings.
The Indian Bayou Golf Club is another highly popular golf course in Destin, offering 3 different 9-hole courses. Recently renovated and updated, the club’s 27 holes feature wide open fairways ideal for every skill level, as well as lush undulating greens, soaring pine forests and picturesque lakes.
Where to dine
With its coastal location, Destin is perfectly primed to serve up an almost endless seafood selection. Whether you’re after casual fishy fare or fine seafood dining, Destin’s seafood restaurants are by far the best places to dine.
The tastiest seafood meals can be found at Dewey Destin’s, a casual dining restaurant that serves seafood standards from a converted bait shop overlooking Destin Harbor. Run by Dewey Destin, the great, great grandson of Leonard Destin who founded the city in 1835, this place is one of the city’s most iconic seafood mainstays and is popular with tourists. Don’t let that put you off going though, as it wears the hubbub well with plenty of dining space inside and out, as well as excellent service.
Other top restaurants in Destin include the the award-winning Beach Walk Cafe, a fine-dining restaurant located directly on the beach near Henderson State Park. Serving a fusion of American, French and Asian cuisine the food here will have your taste buds tingly and the stunning views will blow you away. You can dine on the veranda overlooking the sea, or even on the beach with the VIP dining option.
For something a little different, the Shrimp Shack is one of the most picturesque places to eat in Destin. Set atop the rolling sand dunes at Santa Rosa Beach, any doubts you may have about dining in a ‘shack’ will be allayed when you arrive. You can enjoy the restaurant’s sumptuous seafood offerings inside the charming shack, or opt for a table out on the porch and enjoy stunning views over the dreamy beach. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a takeaway, you can order a pound of your favorite dish to go.
Keeping the kids entertained in Destin
The options for things to do in Destin Florida for kids are many and varied, so you’ll have no trouble keeping the little ones entertained. Aside from the beaches (which offer no end of entertainment) there are water parks, fishing trips, playgrounds, bowling alleys, movie theaters and even sandcastle-building lessons.
To get started, you may want to head straight to Big Kahuna’s Water Park. This fun-filled splash park is one of Destin’s most popular places for family fun, and features more than 40 attractions including speed slides, tube rides, wave pools and toddler splash zones. There’s an on-site adventure park too with mini golf, theme park rides and a surf simulator.
The best time to go
Destin boasts good weather pretty much all year round, however there is some distinction between the hotter and cooler months.
The best time to visit Destin is during the months of April and May when there is abundant sunshine and the water is warm. If you visit during the winter months the weather will be cooler and the water will be a little chilly, but you’ll reap the rewards of lower prices for flights and accommodation.
A summer vacation will put you among the crowds and the peak season prices, however the hours of sunshine and beach time far outweigh the costs.
Note that Florida’s hurricane season runs from June to November each year, peaking between August and October. However, even if you visit during those months, there’s a very low risk that a hurricane will affect your vacation.
You can find out more about the best time to visit Florida in our simple month-by-month guide.
Where to stay
If there’s one thing Destin is not short of it’s luxury beachfront vacation homes. Whether you’re looking for a cosy condo for a romantic trip or a sprawling villa for a family vacation, you’ll find an abundance of amazing places to stay along the sunny Emerald Coast.
Crystal Beach, Destiny by the Sea, Silver Shells and Watercolor – the names of the neighbourhoods alone are enough to entice you in. The homes are equally alluring, occupying stunning beachfront spots along the length of Destin’s glorious powder-white coastline.
Most Destin villas are directly on the beach, set amidst sand dunes and just steps from the sea. Most Destin vacation homes are designed to blend seamlessly with their surroundings, offering airy open-plan living spaces, private ocean-facing swimming pools and panoramic sea views from most rooms.
They’re not as expensive as you might think either.
You can rent a huge 7-bedroom mansion with space to sleep up to 26 guests for around $473 per night which is great value if you’re traveling with friends and sharing the cost. Alternatively, you can rent a spacious 3-bedroom apartment directly opposite Miramar Beach from around $140 per night. It offers bright and spacious living areas, a private sun terrace, and access to community amenities such as a large swimming pool, a hot tub, a kids’ splash zone and a BBQ area.
See our Destin villas
If you’re thinking of booking a Destin vacation and you need advice on the best places to stay then contact us today. Additionally, our dedicated concierge team can arrange any added extras you need such as great-value car hire.