Best Things To Do in Destin
Most Destin visitors come here for the beach. The gorgeous white sand competes with those at other Florida destinations farther south. However, if you stay on the beach, you'll miss out on the other attractions. Swim in the warm emerald waters of the Gulf, take a swing on the world-class golf courses or cast a line off a pier or a boat. The activity will only help you gain a greater appreciation for Destin's natural splendor.
Updated June 18, 2019
- #1View all Photos#1 in Destin3.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Perhaps the biggest draw to Henderson Beach State Park – aside from its relaxed atmosphere – is the sugar-white sand, mile-long beach, made up of pure Appalachian quartz. The sand not only remains cool in the summer sun, but it gives the pristine waters an emerald cast. Offering a welcome change of pace from the crowded and hotel-backed beaches closer to the resorts, this easily accessible, safe and clean oasis offers nature trails, spots for grilling, and picnicking and campsites.
Recent visitors loved the area's peaceful atmosphere and highly recommended travelers make a stop here. The park rangers and staff also received accolades for their helpful tips and vast knowledge of the area.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Destin1.1 miles to city centerSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.1 miles to city centerSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Whether you're looking for a pirate-themed cruise, a romantic sunset sail or a dolphin-spotting excursion, Destin has a boat tour for you. In fact, according to the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, Destin boasts the largest for-hire fishing fleet in the U.S.
If you're hoping to catch a glimpse of the area's resident bottlenose dolphins, consider booking a tour with Southern Star Dolphin Cruises or Olin Marler's Charter Cruises – both of which come highly recommended by recent travelers. And though many of Destin's boating excursions are considered family-friendly (there's a reason it's one of America's Best Family Beach Vacations), the area's pirate cruises are the real hit with youngsters. Along with treasure hunting, storytelling and water gun battles, young seafarers will also get to sail on a pirate ship replica. Buccaneer Pirate Cruise comes recommended by both the visitors bureau and past travelers. Many companies that offer daytrips and snorkeling excursions also offer sunset sails. Sail Away in particular is favorably rated by recent visitors.
- #3View all PhotosfreeCrystal Beach#3 in Destin4.1 miles to city centerBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.1 miles to city centerBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
You'll have your pick of stunning shorelines in Destin and neighboring Okaloosa Island, but visitors suggest you make time for Crystal Beach. Situated on the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal Beach is frequently praised by visitors for its ivory sands and crystal-clear waters. Travelers also appreciate the cleanliness of the beach.
Crystal Beach is home to a bevy of vacation rentals and cottages as well; if you're traveling with a large group and don't want to spend a small fortune on several hotel rooms, consider renting a house or cottage here.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Destin4.2 miles to city centerShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.2 miles to city centerShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
When the weather won't cooperate or when you've had your fill of sun and sand, indulge in a little retail therapy at one of Destin's shopping complexes. Whether you're looking for charming boutiques, outlet malls or open-air complexes, the Emerald Coast delivers.
The visitors bureau suggests Destin Commons, HarborWalk Village and Downtown Fort Walton Beach in particular, but visitors are also quick to recommend Silver Sands Premium Outlets. Visit each location's website for more information on hours and stores.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Destin9.8 miles to city centerGolfTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND9.8 miles to city centerGolfTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Much like its Floridian neighbors, Destin and Fort Walton Beach are home to a variety of scenic golf courses. You'll find four championship golf courses and country clubs in Destin alone, and eight total in the Emerald Coast region, meaning you won't have to venture far to perfect your swing.
Kelly Plantation Golf Club, which is set along the Choctawhatchee Bay, is praised by both visitors and locals. Constructed on the former site of a turpentine plantation, the 18-hole course features miles of waterfront, bayous and magnolia and palmetto trees. Recent visitors loved the manicured grounds and friendly staff, though some note it is a bit pricey, but still worth it. Emerald Bay, which is set within the gated community of the same name, is another favorite for its Choctawhatchee Bay views.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Destin5.9 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND5.9 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you don't happen to spot any dolphins in the wild, or just want to learn more about some of Florida's marine creatures, you may want to pay a visit to the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Though it does feature daily dolphin and sea lion shows, the Gulfarium is no SeaWorld (it doesn't boast large animals or rides). But even with its small size, the park is still a hit with travelers, especially those visiting with children.
When you're not watching dolphins jump through the air, you can learn more about the gators, reptiles, penguins, sea lions and stingrays that call the park home. You can even interact with the dolphins (touch, feed, play and give behavior signals to the animals) and snorkel with the stingrays, if you're willing to hand over a bit more coin for one of the park's Animal Encounters.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Destin5.9 miles to city centerRecreation, SportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND5.9 miles to city centerRecreation, SportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Staying true to its reputation as the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village," Destin hosts a wide variety of sea creatures, meaning anglers have plenty of hot spots from which to cast off. Test your luck at any one of the city's jetties, beaches, seven piers or the Destin Bridge, where local fishermen often catch pompano, channel bass, bluefish, king mackerel and flounder, among other varieties. Diehard anglers should plan an October trip to see or participate in the Destin Fishing Rodeo, where contestants compete for the most impressive catch of the day. And if simply eating Destin's tasty sea dwellers is more your style, you can nosh on local seafood at the annual Destin Seafood Festival, also in October. If you'd like to eat your own catch but don't have access to a kitchen, several local restaurants will cook your cleaned fish for you, prepare it any way you like it and serve it with your favorite sides. Check with the visitors bureau for a list of participating restaurants.
Okaloosa Island Pier welcomes visitors every day from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., mid-November through mid-March; during the summer, it's open 24 hours a day. Angling rates are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for youths 6 to 12, while children ages 5 and younger can fish for free. You can also rent rods and reels for $7 to $8 depending on the size. Observers will be charged $2 to watch the action. You do not need to obtain a permit if you're fishing from a pier with a saltwater fishing license or a for-hire vessel (such as a guide, charter or party boat) that has a valid charter boat license or charter captain license. For more information on fishing permits, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Destin1.3 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.3 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
According to past visitors, Big Kahuna's is pricey for a park of its size, but it's also one of Destin's best spots to take the family when you need a break from the beach. The water park is open from mid-May through August and features more than 40 attractions, including slides, water rides and the Honolulu Half Pipe with a wave simulator. You can also float through the park along its lazy river. And between September and early May – when the water rides are closed – you can still enjoy Big Kahuna's Adventure Park, which is home to a mini-golf course and other thrill rides.
Adults and children who are more than 48 inches tall pay $45.99 for a single admission, while tickets for kids shorter than 48 inches cost $35.99. If you purchase tickets online in advance you can save up to $8 per ticket. Plan to pay $5 to park and between $11 and $15 to rent a locker. Adventure Park tickets are sold separately.
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