With gorgeous white, sugary sand beaches and emerald waters, there's little reason to leave the beach - but the Destin area offers plenty to do out of the water. The Emerald Cost Science Center brings sea life and hurricanes to life, while Big Kahuna's Water Park offers water rides and dolphin shows. A number of state parks and preserves are never crowded, with nature trails and scenic boardwalks to explore.
Caution: Most beaches do not have lifeguards on duty.
Hot Tips: Big Kahuna's and other attractions are best first thing in the morning - before the day heats up and the crowds come off the beaches.
Where to Stay
The Destin area is chock-full of lodging options, from condo rentals to full-service resorts and charming beach cottages loaded with modern amenities. Sandestin is the go-to for an all-out, resort-style stay; with a variety of lodging options, championship golf, spa services, beach access and water sports, it's the ultimate resort destination. Families looking for a more laid-back, luxury escape should head to one of the beach communities in South Walton County.
Caution: Teen beach parties during spring break - think high school, not college - can get as rowdy as college bashes.
Hot Tips: Fall is the least expensive, least crowded time to visit the area - and the weather is still warm enough to sunbathe.
Destinis home to some of the world's best sports fishing - so as you might imagine, seafood restaurants are top-notch in the area. Locals love the luxurious Fish Out of Water, located in the lush WaterColor Resort, for its sunset views and white tablecloth ambiance; Seaside's Bud & Alley's is another local favorite that boasts a sunset view - and a serious emphasis on stuffing other fish with oysters - yum. George's is a charming upscale option in Alys Beach.
Hot Tips: Beach casual is the dress code, everywhere.
Be Sure to Sample: A warm donut from Charlie's Donut Truck in Alys Beach - you'll have to be up early to beat the crowd, but these warm little bits of ambrosia are worth it.
Most of the beach communities roll up early, but in Destin proper, there's plenty for a night crowd to do. In Sandestin, Howl at the Moon is a dueling piano bar that walks that fine line between cheesy and cool - and lands in cool. Nightown is a bit off the beaten path, but worth seeking out for late-night clubbing, and the gritty Hog's Breath is where locals head for live music.
Caution: Glass containers are not allowed on the beaches, so plan ahead if you're ending the night with a beach gathering.
Avoid: Clubs and bars on the main drag during spring break; you'll be overrun by teens.
With a vibrant local art scene and a well-heeled year-round clientele, Destin is an excellent shopping destination. Big Mama's Hula Girl Gallery is one of our favorite spots, with loads of funk and folk art, while Sandestin's Village of Baytowne Wharf provides plenty of boutique and gift options. The Silver Sands Factory Stores offer plenty of designer outlet options, and at Seaside's charming open air market, one can spend hours browsing through boutiques and specialty stores.
Avoid: Seaside's downtown area during the season at the peak dining hours - parking is a nightmare and the charm of the stores quickly gives way to irritation.
Best Local Souvenir: Any piece of local art - there's something for every taste and price range.