Destin, Florida could easily be mistaken for nearly any island paradise in the Caribbean. Crossing over the Destin Bridge, you’re instantly met with a gorgeous view of sparkly multi-hued blue water contrasted by sugar white sand. You’ll see beach-goers soaking up the views and the sun, people hanging out in the ample shallow water as well as various types of boats that come and go just like the tide. The harbor is as accommodating as she is proud while she welcomes you to her home. All of this will have you wondering if you’re driving on Highway 1 in the Florida Keys instead of Highway 98 in the Florida Panhandle.
As soon as you arrive, you’ll be fooled into thinking that you’re on island time; your body adjusts and relaxes and a smile spreads across your face. Let’s see what all the fuss is about. Welcome to Destin.
Destin’s roots date back to American Indian inhabitants as early as the seventh century A.D. It was basically settled somewhere around 1850-1852 by a fisherman named Captain Leonard Destin who hailed all the way from New London, Connecticut. According to local history, he was fishing the Gulf for several years prior and through series of mishaps, Destin decided to stay—can’t blame him. Captain Destin is credited to have pioneered the fishing industry and Destin has maintained this heritage to the present.
Like Captain Destin, anglers continue to flock to Destin for sport. Known as ‘The world’s luckiest fishing village,’ Destin has evolved from a sleepy fishing settlement into one of the top Gulf Coast fishing and vacation destinations. Year after year fishing charters take people out to help them get a catch of a lifetime. Evidently, Destin is so popular because the location is in reach of some of the best fishing grounds in the entire Gulf of Mexico. Bay fishing and deep-sea fishing are easily accessible and popular due to the Choctawhatchee Bay AND Gulf of Mexico being right there.
Destin is home to more charter boats than anywhere else in Florida—they’re EVERYWHERE. Whether you join a larger group and go deep-sea fishing or you decide to charter a boat for yourself and your friends, there are dozens of options waiting for you. You can fish with light tackle for redfish and trout—amongst others; sight fish in the spring for cobia while on top of the boat(!); bottom fish for huge snappers, groupers, and amberjack, or troll offshore for marlin, mahi mahi, and wahoo. Whichever option sounds like the most fun, you will for sure have an unforgettable time!
Destin has plenty of places to rent boats and it’s recommended (and popular) to rent a pontoon. Pontoon boats allow for leisure, and they don’t go too fast which makes it easier to relax. Don’t worry if you’re inexperienced at being a captain, rental places will show you the basics and you’ll be good to go. A few places to check out for rentals include: Funday Watersports, Aloha Pontoon Rentals and Luther’s. Jet skis are usually available if you’re wanting something faster (or more exciting) than a pontoon as are other types of boats. Be sure to call ahead for availability and rates—summertime rentals usually garner a higher price than other seasons. One thing that looks interesting is flyboarding in the harbor. Watching brave people shoot above and crash land in the water is quite entertaining. Mobile Sports in the harbor is your place to go to check it out and get lessons.
Bring your gear and load up your boat and head over to the legendary Destin landmark, Crab Island! Located just to the north of the Destin Bridge, Crab Island was once a tiny island that was shaped like a crab before a hurricane submerged the island and created the sandbar everyone has come to love today. Once your pontoon gets you there, drop anchor and have fun! Tourists and locals both frequent the spot so the chances are high you’ll make some friends while you’re splashing around. It tends to be a little more crowded on the weekends especially during the months of June to September, but don’t let that deter you from a day of fun at Crab Island.
If getting on a boat isn’t your thing, Destin has plenty of beachfront to offer to claim your space and just relax. Those signature sugar white sands of the Florida Panhandle are the end result of quartz eroded from the far away Appalachian Mountains that took about 20,000 years to create, giving us the breath-taking coastline it is today. While searching for your spot on the
ample beach, the Gulf provides a relaxing soundtrack to your day. Most resorts make your stay more stress-free by providing umbrellas and beach chairs to enhance your precious downtime. Your only concern should be reapplying your sunscreen and taking another nap or tackling that next chapter.
Destin is accessible from three surrounding airports. The closest is Fort Walton Beach Airport in Valpraiso, followed by both Pensacola and Panama City Beach Airports which are each approximately an hour’s drive to Destin. Most people opt to drive since it’s easily accessible via I-10 East. An added benefit of driving is you’ll have the comfort of your own vehicle to get around while you’re in town. Not surprisingly, it’s faster to get to Destin from Houston than it is traveling Houston to El Paso! Plus, you’ll get to see other states along the way, making it a fun little road trip.
Staying in Destin is easy…determining where to stay is a challenge. You can take in the view of the emerald surf sweeping a crystal white shoreline from a variety of accommodation choices, but one place stands out amongst all the rest. Tucked away on the peaceful shores of the Emerald Coast and nestled along Henderson Beach State Park’s mile of undisturbed beach is the Henderson Park Inn. Considered the “perfect intersection of modern luxury and coastal charm” and featuring only 37 rooms and suites—most having a private balcony with sweeping gulf views—Henderson Park Inn allows its guests to “indulge in all the premier amenities of a true Destin, Florida beach vacation.”
An all-inclusive resort that also happens to be adults-only (think 25 and up), making it the ultimate romantic getaway with your significant other. The location and seclusion have made Henderson Park Inn a favorite spot for brides and grooms to tie the knot in Destin. It is also a hidden gem for those considering a domestic honeymoon location—no passport required. If you’re in the market to be taken “off the market,” it’s worth noting that In 2017, Destin VIP Magazine voted the resort as “The best place to pop the question,” and was ranked by Condé Nast in 2018 as “The Most Romantic Hotel On The Emerald Coast.” Romance is definitely a calling card here.
For a truly beautiful drive and unbelievable beaches visit the 30A area. Scenic Highway 30A is a 24 mile corridor that hugs the Gulf of Mexico coastline. It begins in Sandestin and makes its way to Rosemary Beach near Panama City. Along this breathtaking drive you will see sugar-white sand beaches and rare coastal dune lakes. Scenic Highway 30A is a tourist attraction of major proportions.
It is an exciting and eclectic mix of hot Caribbean colors and soft pastels, with architecture to match each community’s charm, whether it be Old Florida’s traditional 2-3 story homes, the cottages of Seaside with white picket fences, or New Urbanism. Miles of greenway trails connect state parks, preserves and residential areas along this byway. If you are looking for one of the most beloved beach spots in Florida – look no further!
Whether you’re looking for a week-long vacation or a quick getaway, Destin is gaining in popularity due to its ideal location, southern charm and the absolutely stunning scenery. The recreational activities are abundant and worth your time while down there. However, nothing beats the feeling of your feet sinking into the cool white sand as you’re making your way down to the blue water. The waves begin to flirt and call your name, beckoning you to come play. Let your hair down, exhale and answer the call of Destin.
By Natalie Kalbas