Destin is a top place to visit in Florida’s Panhandle region. It has beautiful white beaches, a fun boardwalk and many resort and hotel options. This small resort city is just down the road from Pensacola. It has something for everybody.
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The soft sand and warm water will appeal to beachgoers. Fishermen will wake up early to explore the Gulf of Mexico. Those who are more into shopping and dining will find plenty of places willing to exchange their cash for souvenirs or great food.
Our Destin Top Things to Do List will help you plan your vacation.
Henderson Beach State Park
Destin is synonymous with beaches for many. It is surrounded with amazing beaches stretching miles and miles to the east and west.
Henderson Beach State Park is one of the most beautiful, and it’s right in the center of the city. This park is home one of the most stunning beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast . As you walk along the shore, blindingly white sand will tickle your toes. You’ll find clear, emerald-green water that is so transparent you can see tiny fish swimming by.
You can stock up at the Walmart Supercenter just across the highway and then set up a big barbecue or picnic at one the six large pavilions. You need a break from the heat and sand? The three-quarter-mile hike to the top of one the 30-foot-high sand dunes is a shaded option.
Park entry is free of charge.
Official site: https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/henderson-beach-state-park
Destin Harbor Boardwalk
Your crew might look at you after a long day on the beach and ask “What now?” The answer is simple: head down to Destin’s Harborwalk Village. The quarter mile-long Destin Boardwalk is a highlight of the village. It’s chock-full with great restaurants, shopping and other things to do.
The Harborwalk Village area has no entry. There is a large parking lot just up the hill from all attractions. To find the most developed area, the charter boats can be found by heading west along the boardwalk to the Destin bridge. This is where you will likely find your boat if you have booked dolphin watching or another type of tour.
You can technically go the opposite direction and leave Harborwalk Village to enter another area. This area, which is somewhat lower-end, has a circus-like feel. There are games of chance, small vendors selling items you didn’t know you needed, as well as a few open-air businesses.
Another attraction that can be enjoyed along the boardwalk is the giant water ball attraction. You can roll around in a pool and climb inside it. The zipline is a great option for high-speed adventure. You can also catch the nightly fireworks show or fish feeding from the docks.
Deep Sea Fishing
Destin is a great place to catch a trophy fish, thanks to its easy access to the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll find a variety of fishing charters that depart from the main docks right off the waterfront.
Although a day spent with a captain or crew is not cheap, the experience of hooking into big fish and reeling them back in is something that everyone should have. Captains will often pair you with other people if you don’t have six members in your group. This helps to offset the $240 per hour cost.
There are three types of fishing: Bottom Fishing, Inshore Trolling and Offshore Trolling. Different types of fishing produce different catches. Red snapper, amberjack and grouper can be caught bottom fishing. Inshore fishing usually yields mackerel or mahi-mahi. The real adventure starts offshore, where you will find larger fish like blue marlins and spectacular sailfish. The boat sizes vary from 25 to 65 feet, while offshore boats are larger.
Village of Baytowne Wharf
You can find a place to spend your vacation money at the shops or restaurants in Baytowne Wharf if you have some vacation spending money. This recreated Florida town is located in the gated community with the same name. It’s set back from Choctawhatchee Bay.
You might find yourself wandering the streets that wind around several small ponds and be drawn to a vibrant patio, clothing shop, or other unique retail shop. Florida’s winter version (November, December and January) has an outdoor skating track. If you forget to pack your skates, there are rentals available.
Baytowne Wharf hosts an active schedule of special events, including a Gumbo Festival and Mardi Gras Parade.
Baytowne Wharf has a gated community. However, people are welcome to visit the retail areas. You can simply tell the guard at the gate you’re going to the shops and they will issue you a free pass that you can display on your dash.
You might be able to find the item you are looking for at Baytowne Wharf’s shops, but not at one of the major shopping centers in Destin. Destin Commons Mall and Silver Sands Premier Outlets are popular destinations for shoppers with a home-decor, clothing, or shoe shopping agenda.
The three malls are home to many name brand retailers, including Clark’s and Coach, Bass Pro Shops as well as H&M, Lowes and The Disney Store. You can find almost anything you need at these temples of consumerism.
Shopping malls can be more than just shopping centers. They also have restaurants like Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Which Wich which is home to some of the best sub sandwiches in America.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
One of Destin’s most popular tourist attractions is the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. The park is home to many marine mammals, fish, critters and is a great family attraction. There are shows throughout the day, including a dolphin show and an act by a sea lion.
On the half hour, there are smaller chats with trainers and animals. These intimate gatherings include animals such as penguins and seals, sharks and reptiles.
You can have supervised encounters with penguins and turtles as well as dolphins, seals and penguins.
Official site: https://www.gulfarium.com/
Crab Island is a popular destination for boaters who visit Destin. Although technically not an island, Crab Island is a submerged Sandbar that attracts hundreds of paddleboarders, kayakers and boaters to its shallow, warm waters.
Crab Island can be found just inland of the bridge connecting Destin and Okaloosa Island. It is a friendly, fun place to visit. People will be found swimming, wading and playing water games as well as lounging on their inflatable floaties or boats.
You can bring a lunch or purchase from one of the mobile floating food service providers. The food options include authentic BBQ, hot dogs, burgers and even ice cream.
Crystal Sands Beach
Crystal Sands Beach is a lesser-known beach near Destin. This is not because it has any issues; in fact, it’s incredible. But people don’t know that it exists. Crystal Sands Beach can be found just east of James Lee Beach. It is usually used by people who are staying in either one of the charming cottages or one of the beachfront condominiums.
Crystal Beach is a great alternative to Henderson Beach State Park if you are unable to pay the small fee. It’s located just past the park and is free to use.
Destin History and Fishing Museum
The Destin History & Fishing Museum makes a great choice for a rainy afternoon. You’ll become an expert about the area after visiting this museum. It has many interesting exhibits both inside and outside. Highlights include a display featuring 75 local fish mounted and a detailed history of Destin, from its earliest inhabitants to the present.
The Science of Why Destin’s Sand is White is one of the most important exhibits. This amazing overview shows how quartz from the Appalachian Mountains to the north ended up on Destin’s shores.
Even if your plan is not to go inside, you can still take a look at the outdoor exhibits that feature several historical local boats such as the Primrose or the Lil Jimmy. The historic Post Office is also located in front.
Official site: https://www.destinfwb.com/listing/destin-history-%26-fishing-museum/74/
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Destin is not just about the boardwalk or the beach. Some people find it about reconnecting with nature. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is a great place to do this in the vicinity of town.
This park covers 1,640 acres and is home to long-leaf pine forests, old growth long-leaf pine forests, a freshwater lake and wetlands. An extensive network of walking and hiking trails runs for 15 miles through the beautiful greenery. One of the most interesting trails takes you to the site of an old turpentine plant that was located in the park at the beginning of the 19th century.
Camping in the park is a great option for cheap Destin vacations. There are 156 campsites for RVs and tents. 32 cabins/bungalows, 2 glamping sites and a pool. Laundry facilities and a shuffleboard court are also available.
The natural beach is another highlight of the park. This stunning beach stretch 3.2 miles and is entirely undeveloped, with no trees or sand dunes. You can access the beach by either walking, cycling, or taking the beach tram that runs approximately one mile.
Take a Dolphin Cruise
A dolphin cruise is a great way to view these amazing creatures living under the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These outings are fun for families or groups and involve a cruise on the Gulf of Mexico to places where dolphins are frequent.
There are many options for dolphin cruises. There are many options for dolphin cruises. Some cruises take place on large boats with glass bottoms, which makes it easy to view the underwater world. Others depart in the evening and include a photo opportunity at sunset. The Large Jet Ski Boat Cruise and Dolphin Watch in Destin Tour zips around the area and includes a thrill component. The docks in the Destin Boardwalk are where most cruises depart.
Register for a Snorkeling Cruise
A snorkeling cruise is a great way to see colorful fish and get into the water. These two-hour tours are suitable for all ages and families. They take place in shallow waters, so they’re great for beginners.
All snorkeling gear is supplied. You only need to bring your sense of adventure, a towel, sunscreen, and a bathing suit. All boats are equipped with restrooms and sun shades.
Most cruises include snorkeling and excursions to Destin’s best shelling spots. As long as you don’t live inside, you can keep what your find.