The Florida panhandle has so much to offer — it’s the perfect choice for a summertime travel destination, or an anytime-of-the-year travel destination if you ask me! One of my favorite panhandle destinations is Destin Florida.
A trip to Destin offers gorgeous white sand and emerald waters and equally stunning beaches! There are tasty culinary treasures and tons of cool things to do in Destin, FL, as you’ll see in this handy guide of the best things to do in Destin FL for a perfect family vacation.
Over the years, Destin has evolved into a hub of towering condos, luxury resorts and dining delights.
Recreation abounds on the Emerald Coast and if you want to get out on the water, Destin is the place to be. You can go jet skiing, parasailing, body boarding, paddle boarding and go on a fishing excursions.
Golf courses snake their way throughout the area making 18-holes an easy-to-access amenity for golfers. Many of the resorts and hotels offer tennis facilities, too!
Gilligan’s Watersports offers dolphin tours, pontoon rentals, jet skis and more…but we went with them for a parasailing adventure and it was AWESOME!
Destin is a super place to do this because you can easily see marine life in the crystal clear water….dolphin, sea turtles and more! It was our first time, and they were so sweet to our boys — taking care to make them feel comfortable and have a great time.
Our boat ride was about 90 minutes, letting 6 groups of 2-3 people up for 5-10 minutes each. Be sure to add on the photo package…it is well worth the cost! You need to preserve those smiles for the ages.
Enjoy 2 hours on the Emerald Coast watching dolphin! Complimentary beer, wine, water and sodas cool you off…not to mention water gun fights on daytime cruises!! The kids are going to love you for this one!
NEW FAMILY ADVENTURE PACKS
Looking for a fun and relaxing vacation -- but are overwhelmed with all the options? Destin-Ft. Walton Beach has the answer for you -- Adventure Packs!
Family Adventure Packs are basically a one-stop-shop where you can book a fun family adventure, plus enjoy delicious local food!
Choose an Adventure Pack for your family based on your interests and your kids' ages -- their website makes it easy.
They offer all sorts of excursions, such as the Breakfast with Dolphins pack -- which includes a 3-hour private sail to see the dolphins, with a yummy breakfast too. Be sure to book ASAP because these sell out fast!
Or try Sculptures, Snacks, and Gators -- a pack that includes a 2-hour private sand sculpture art lesson in Henderson Beach State Park and a take-home sand sculpture kit. You’ll then head to Fudpucker’s for some snacks and to get up-close and personal with some gators on their VIP Gator Tour. I mean, every kid would love that!
For teens and tweens, try Captain Kevin's Fish and Feast. You'll enjoy a private, 6-hour fishing excursion, and then the chefs at Harbor Docks restaurant will cook it up and deliver right to you!
The Adventure Packs are a great way to experience the area and local cuisine, and it's a sure-fire way to thrill the kids.
Amusement USA in HarborWalk Village is the place to let kids release some energy with Hamster Balls, Bungee Trampolines, a Mechanical Surfboard, and HarborWalk Mining Company. Grab some yummy treats at Spun Fun Cotton Candy! Want a good laugh? Watch your family and friends try their luck walking on the water. One of the most popular shows here is the Maximum Magic Show! MAGIC SHOW DISCOUNT TICKETS!!
BUG KAHUNA'S WATER PARK
Big Kahuna’s Water Park is the perfect venue for a bone-soaking good time. Come prepared for water rides and water slides, or follow my lead and float around the lazy river. There are more than 40 rides and attractions to enjoy – thrill or chill – your choice! DISCOUNT TICKETS!
BIG KAHUNA WATER PARK + ADVENTURE PARK COMBO
You know what's even better than a visit to the Big Kahuna Water Park? A visit to the Big Kahuna Water Park and Adventure Park!
This combo ticket includes one 18-hole round of tropical mini-golf, one ride on the sky coaster, one ride on the cyclone, and admission to the 40 attractions in the Big Kahuna Water Park! And you don't have to do the mini golf on the same day as the water park and adventure park -- you may be worn out and need to spread it out a little! Having a blast is guaranteed! DISCOUNT TICKETS!
DESTIN FISHING AND HISTORY MUSEUM
Destin Fishing and History Museum is where you’ll learn the fascinating history of the “world’s luckiest fishing village.” See the evolution of Destin through exhibits about its founders and families. Also, get a look at award-winning fish caught in Destin as well as a collection of antique fishing rods and reels.
DESTIN HELICOPTER TOURS
Destin Helicopter Tours is a lovely way to see sweeping views of the beautiful beaches. Get a bird’s eye view of Destin and the Emerald Coast with a professional Timberview Helicopter pilot.
DESTINATION SEGWAY TOURS
Destination Segway Tours is one of my family’s favorite things to do in Destin! Keep in mind, you must be 14 years old to enjoy this glide through Destin. Stops include a stunning harbor view from HarborWalk Village, the Destin History and Fishing Museum and Clement Taylor Park just to name a few. Bring your camera as the views are fabulous! Pricing and booking is available online.
GULFARIUM MARINE ADVENTURE PARK
Have you ever been to the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park? It is a family-friendly Marine Adventure Park about 15 minutes away in Fort Walton. They have recently upgraded exhibits, animal habitats and interactive programming. Additionally, they have dolphin shows and turtle encounters as well as concessions. They also offer a Sunset Camp for kids! They’ll be exploring and dining with marine life while parents have a night out! DISCOUNT TICKETS!
THE VILLAGE OF BAYTOWNE WHARF
The Village of Baytowne Wharf is a huge shopping, dining and entertainment community featuring festivals and other events. It’s a gorgeous venue where you can spend an afternoon or several days! Guests of Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort are within walking distance of the Village. Bonus! Your other great shopping/dining area is Destin Commons. There is always a fun event going on there, so be sure to check their Facebook page.
FUN AND ADVENTURE
Dolphin cruises are the most popular and sought-after experiences in Destin, and the discount opportunities sell out quickly. Be sure to reserve yours as soon as you know you're heading to Destin! Click here to see them all!
BOOGIES WATER SPORTS
Boogies Water Sports is located at the foot of the bridge by HarborWalk Village. Here you can find all kinds of water recreation like parasailing, wave runners, pontoons and more! Take a glass bottom boat dolphin cruise for a real treat! Thanks to the awesome location, if you are with a group and aren’t into water sports, you can shop and eat at the Village instead!
BUCCANEER PIRATE CRUISE
Buccaneer Pirate Cruise is a fun option for terrific family fun onboard a 100-foot U.S. Coast Guard-approved vessel that can carry just under 150 folks. There are restrooms, a covered deck, and snacks. Oh, and fun…there’s lots and lots of that! There are sword fights, water gun battles, and treasure hunts. Join in the singing, dancing, and storytelling or relax and watch the kids have a blast! You can conveniently book online up to two weeks in advance. Don’t forget to tip!
CAPTAIN JAMBO'S DESTIN HARBOR
Captain Jambo’s Destin Harbor offers parasailing, catamaran sailboat tours, dolphin cruises and more! Check for specials on the web site and you can also book your tour there.
Destin Cruise is all about catering to YOU! They’ll customize the boat tour to your liking – dolphin cruises, Crab Island day trips, sunset trips and wedding services. Also check out Dolphin Cruises for dolphin and sunset cruises leaving from Destin Harbor. They also offer parasailing!
Award-winning Destin Snorkel is the place for folks looking to, well, snorkel! Snorkel tours are exciting and fun, plus you can book online. The three-hour tours offer an incredible opportunity to learn about the ecosystems of the bay waters and the jetties. Education mixed in with fun…now that’s a plan! Snorkel with small schools of fish, kayak and see various forms of underwater habitat for crabs, small fish, seahorses and baby shrimp. And, you just might see dolphins!
EMERALD COAST WILDLIFE REFUGE
Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park in nearby Crestview is the perfect opportunity to meet and learn about some 70 different animals and 30 different species from around the world. Check out the Encounter Program and meet Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Sloths, and Lions.
PONTOON BOAT RENTALS
With so many places to visit, renting your own pontoon boat is a great way to explore the beautiful emerald green waters around Destin Harbor. Visit Crab Island, see marine life in their natural habitat, and enjoy a day of fun in the sun! DISCOUNT TICKETS!
DEEP SEA FISHING
If you are looking to do some fishing while in the area, make sure you have the appropriate license. If you charter a boat for something like deep-sea fishing, typically the captain’s license for the boat will cover everyone, but always ask to be certain. Book online and get ready to catch the big one! Also, HarborWalk Charters is a good choice to book any type of boat for a fishing expedition.
Gator Beach is located at Fudpucker’s and open to customers from 11 a.m. until the restaurant closes each evening. Feed the gators and have your picture taken holding one! Plan to take a guided tour of Gator Beach or join them for an Interactive Gator Show. Check web site for times. (Note: Don’t miss Pearl the rare Albino Alligator.)
THE GULF BREEZE ZOO
The Gulf Breeze Zoo is 50 acres of wild adventure for the entire family. They have a walking path and a petting zoo! Feed a parakeet from the Australian Free-Flight Budgiery and view the free-range preserve filled with things like Africa’s largest antelope and other animals, too. Also, ride the Safari Line Limited Train for an up close look at chimps, gorillas and hippos!
HARBORWALK ZIPLINE & FREE FALL
HarborWalk Zipline & Free Fall is an adventure-seeking tourist’s dream! The harbor views are breathtaking with emerald waters and white sandy beaches. Be the center of attention free-falling 90 feet and landing on a bulls-eye platform with crowds there to cheer on your adventure! There is no website, but they are easily found at HarborWalk Village.
KITTY HAWK KAYAK
Kitty Hawk Kayak and SUP Rentals is pretty self-explanatory. Rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards and take to the waters for upclose looks at Destin Harbor and Crab Island. Lessons are available as are scheduled night paddles.
OLIN MARLET'S CHARTER TOURS
Olin Marler’s Charter Cruises is a two-hour narrated dolphin-watching tour through the Harbor. Watch dolphins in their natural habitat and enjoy the views. You’ll be onboard Miss Florida or the Hannah Marie for your adventure – both have glass bottoms for easy and fun viewing. DISCOUNT TICKETS!
For those who love sailing, check out these vendors to accommodate your love of the water: The Daniel Webster Clements, Emerald Coast Sailing (located at Destin Harbor), Just Sailing, Sail Away, Sail Destin and Smile-n-Wave Sailing Adventure.
THE SEA BLASTER
The Sea Blaster, a 73’ speedboat, is a good venue for fabulous evening dolphin cruises. You can ensure a good time will be had by all on board the Sea Blaster, searching for dolphins while enjoying a gorgeous Destin sunset. The Sea Blaster serves complimentary beer, wine, and soda onboard and has restroom facilities. DISCOUNT TICKETS!
SOUTHERN STAR DOLPHIN CRUISES
Southern Star Dolphin Cruises is also an option for dolphin cruises onboard an 80-foot U.S. Coast Guard-approved motorized vessel. Set sail from the beautiful Destin Harbor for a two-hour cruise that is fitting for the entire family. Also, SpiderCrab Charters offers dolphin cruises, sunset cruises and Crab Island parties!
SunVenture I is a Guy Harvey-inspired, 45-foot catamaran cruising daily from the harbor with Coast Guard-licensed captains. Enjoy dolphin cruises, Crab Island and private charters for up to 49 people.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Nighttime Educational Beach Walks are available during sea turtle nesting season through the Emerald Coast CVB/Okaloosa Island County Tourist Development Council. This educational activity helps bring awareness to an effort to protect the sea turtle populations as well as increasing ecotourism.
HENDERSON BEACH STATE PARK
Henderson Beach State Park is 200 acres on the Emerald Coast of Florida. Home to a nature trail where you can see some of the last remaining endangered coastal scrub communities in the panhandle, it’s a lovely stroll. The park serves as a haven for shore birds and is also home to endangered or protected plant species. The park is perfect for fishing and you can ride bikes on the mile-long paved road.
MATTIE KEEY PARK
Mattie Kelly Park and Nature Walk offers a pier and a beach as well as picnic facilities in a 10+ acre bayou access park. The park is a natural area with mainly wetlands. It is a great place for a family picnic and leisurely walk.
THE SHORES AT CRYSTAL BEACH PARK
The Shores at Crystal Beach Park is on the Gulf of Mexico and features a pavilion, restrooms/showers, and picnic facilities. This is a great place to pack a lunch and enjoy the day on the white sandy beaches of Crystal Beach Park. (Note: Parking is limited.)
FESTIVALS WORTH THE DRIVE
Baytowne Wharf Beer Fest is an October event held at Baytowne Wharf Village in Sandestin. Come taste American specialty beers from around the country. (Note: The main event is on Saturday when there will be more than 200 international and craft beers.)
The Destin Fishing Rodeo is another fall event (October) dubbed as the ultimate saltwater fishing tournament open to all ages.
The annual Destin Seafood Festival is a crowd-pleaser with people driving in for this event from all over the south. With free admission, there is art, live music and family fun…and seafood of course! The event is held in October at the Destin Harbor Boardwalk.
A prestigious Northwest Florida tournament, the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic is in June and offers cash prizes!
The Sandestin Wine Festival is held in April each year at the Village of Baytowne Wharf and features more than 800 domestic and international wines.
WHERE TO EAT
Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida is a foodie paradise and it’s easy to eat like a local. Here are some of our favorites!
DEWEY DESTIN'S CRAB ISLAND
Seafood lovers can get their fix at Dewey Destin’s and sample Gulf shrimp, crab, and fresh fish, all prepared by Destin’s founding family. They've got a harbor-side restaurant, but the bayside location is the original, so make sure to make a stop here for the prettiest views of Crab Island and the best seafood!
THE BOARDROOM PUB & GRUB
In Fort Walton Beach, The Boardroom Pub & Grub invites diners to enjoy unique pub fare (including healthy options) in a laidback welcoming atmosphere. Here you'll find over 80 craft beers, hand-selected wines, and lots of yummy food too!
Another cool thing about The Boardroom? As the playful name hints, the restaurant opens up to BOTE – the innovative stand-up paddleboard company founded in Destin!
EAST PASS SEAFOOD & OYSTER HOUSE
Looking for some family fun? Head to East Pass Seafood & Oyster House located within the World Renowned Harborwalk Village. Along with good times, this open-air, Harbor-front family-style restaurant specializes in locally sourced seafood as well as fresh shucked oysters.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTELS AND INNS
Hampton Inn & Suites in Destin is always a good choice for a good, clean room with a fresh Hampton bed® plus popular amenities like a fitness center, pool, free wifi and easy beach access. Don’t forget about the free hot breakfast – that’s such an added value for my family!
Henderson Park Inn Beachside Bed & Breakfast is hands down my favorite place to stay in Destin for an adults-only trip. It’s the perfect place for a proposal, an anniversary or time away with your significant other. Beachfront and award-winning (including Most Romantic Hotel in the United States 2016 & 15th Most Romantic Hotel in the World 2016), all the little extras they provide are pampering touches that keep guests coming back.
It’s a luxury accommodation and all-inclusive with a gourmet breakfast, a picnic-style boxed lunch, cocktails at the Tiki Hut and (one of my favorite perks) wine, grapes and chocolates upon check-in. It truly is a world-class experience right on Florida’s panhandle.
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa is perfect for couples, families and gal pal trips! In 2015, the hotel saw a massive $30 million renovation and it’s better than ever! They offer charming Gulf view rooms, six on-site dining options and an award-winning spa. It’s a full-service resort designed with families in mind.
Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village is another awesome choice for families right above HarborWalk Village, so you know the views will be amazing! You’re in close proximity to restaurants, shopping, water recreation and boats. The buildings architecture is Mediterranean-style blending beautifully with the harbor area. Rooms have balconies that offer panoramic views that you’ll miss when you leave. Other amenities include a beach shuttle to a secluded beach area, a spa and fitness center, indoor and outdoor heated pool and more.
The Inn at Crystal Beach is a luxury, beachside property with a full-size pool and hot tub that are Gulf side. The grounds are well-kept and it offers an upscale lodging option with two to five bedroom condos. Units are beautifully decorated, fully-appointed and spacious with gorgeous views. Other amenities include a fully-equipped fitness room, a conference room, business center and 790 on the Gulf (a full-service restaurant).
Mediterranea Resort is a gated resort with privacy and safety codes for gates (including pool access and rooms). Mediterranea is situated in the heart of Miramar Beach (between Destin and Sandestin) in a horseshoe-shaped pattern. You’ll find two and three bedroom condos in a low-rise five-story property with lots of room to spread out.
Units are fully-equipped including modern kitchens, a full bath with each bedroom, washer/dryers, extra-large balconies overlooking the pool and the Gulf of Mexico, hot tub and, yes that fabulous pool! The unique shape creates a great space for the deck where you’ll find plenty of lounge chairs. Only steps away from the pool, you cross the street to a charming gazebo and the beautiful beaches, Destin is known for are just beyond that.
No bridges with a hundred steps to climb or long walkways, just a two-minute walk. Booking from Newman-Dailey gives lots of bonuses like gift cards for area attractions (discounts and freebies to places such as Big Kahuna’s, The Track and the Sea Blaster), movie rentals, and complimentary beach service (seasonally) including two beach chairs and an umbrella!
This is a great value that most resorts charge extra for. Newman-Dailey represents lots of properties offering a myriad of lodging options throughout the Destin and South Fort Walton Beach area.
Sandpiper Cove is located right in the heart of Destin and close to the harbor. You’ll find an array of condominiums from studios to three-bedroom units with full amenities and some units are even beachfront. Enjoy private beach property spanning about 1,100 feet with soft, white sand. Relax on the beach and listen to the waves roll in or play a friendly game of beach volleyball.
Sandpiper condos are fully-equipped with modern kitchens you can actually cook in, washer/dryer in each unit and Internet. Other amenities include: five swimming pools, six tennis courts and a 9-hole par 3 golf course. Go for evening strolls on the pathways of the resort and enjoy lovely green spaces that meander through the property.
Seascape Golf Beach & Tennis Resort is a favorite for us when the whole family tags along. Choose from a villa on the golf course or one close to tennis courts, or our favorite high rises Ariel Dunes I and II and Majestic Sun. High rises have spacious accommodations, modern amenities including washer/dryer and full kitchens and fun, clean pools and hot tubs. This beachside community always has the most competitive rates in the area being slightly off-the-beaten-path in Miramar Beach.
Beach houses really remind me of old Florida charm. I love the bright, tropical colors and it’s a bonus if there’s a private pool. One of my favorites (and soon to be yours) is Blue Starfish in the Crystal Beach community of Destin. Another property of Newman-Dailey, Blue Starfish is three levels of well-decorated, beautifully-appointed rooms and amenities begging for you to never leave.
The turquoise façade is adorable and the backyard is a dream with a patio, putting green and pool. A four-bedroom house that sleeps 12 comfortably, you are a short walk to the Destin beaches (they even have beach chairs you can take over with you) and you can rent a bike right around the corner (literally) at Rent Gear Here.
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