13 Amazing Things to SEE & Do in the Destin Area
Destin has some of the most spectacular beaches in the U.S.—and the emerald-green Gulf waters and shimmering white sands don’t just make for great ‘grams, they also make for super fun experiences and great memories. For sure, you’ll want to soak up rays, swim, snorkel, fish and boat. But if you really want to ward off FOMO in Destin (c’mon, you know you have it), you’ll need to go beyond the shore. Start with this list to make the most of both water and land.
- 1. Henderson Beach State Park
Scale 30-foot-tall shimmering white sand dunes at Henderson Beach State Park—the only remaining coastal scrub area in Destin—and set your eyes (and then your body) on the crystalline, Gulf of Mexico waters (they’re 75-80 degrees most of the year). This state park is part of Florida’s Emerald Coast and all you need to do is look at the color of the water to see why the coastline deserves its name. Wade, swim, dive or paddle; keep an eye out for marine life, like dolphins and tropical fish; cast a line for pompano, red fish, flounder and others (you WILL get lucky—Destin isn’t called the Luckiest Fishing Village for nothing); geocache; and hike the three-quarter-mile Nature Trail that winds around the ancient coastal shrubs and dunes. (You’ll even see remnants of a military bunker). And with 60 campsites connected to the beach by boardwalk, the park is also an amazing place to overnight (make reservations early…. #goals).
And while you’re at it:
For a more intimate beach setting, head out to the Shores at Crystal Beach Park—its only 65 feet long, but no less beautiful that the bigger beaches. There’s a covered area that’s ideal for picnicking and you won’t believe the sunrises and sunsets here! Consider renting a bike and pedaling down Scenic Gulf Drive (aka Scenic Highway 98) on the west end of Crystal Beach—let’s just say there’s a reason the roadway is called “scenic.”
And, if you want to experience a beach that’s not on the Gulf of Mexico and think of yourself as a water adventurer, boat or paddle over to Norriego Point Access, which is bordered by Destin Harbor on one side and East Pass (leading out to the Gulf) on the other. Explore and snap the dunes and sea oats. Feels guaranteed.
- Destin Boardwalk and the Country’s Largest For-Hire Fishing Fleet
The Destin Boardwalk stretches about a quarter of a mile along the waters of Destin Harbor. Wander along it to access the biggest collection of fishing charters you may ever lay eyes on—it’s said to be the country’s largest fishing fleet and options range from inshore and offshore trolling and bottom fishing to overnight trips and both group and private charters. There’s literally a charter option for every kind of saltwater fishing interest and skill level, and the experiences offered couldn’t be more worry-free. You’ll def reel in a big one—no fishing license or equipment needed. Want some inspiration before you go? Watch the fleet leave the harbor in the morning—the boats head out together before settling into their fishing locations. The fleet is fleek!
And while you’re at it:
The boardwalk extends into bustling HarborWalk Village—if you’re an adrenaline junkie, this stop is a total no-brainer. Why? Because, in addition to the huge number of waterside restaurants (love you a fresh catch?) and fun shops (nautical souvenirs–yes!), there’s also a zip line, free-fall ride and 40-foot rock climbing wall. But, if calm and scenic cruising is how you do you, hop aboard a glass-bottom boat, sunset cruise or pirate ship from here.
Boogie Watersports offers a two-hour narrated glass-bottom boat cruise that takes you out on the bay, harbor and Gulf to see the awesome world of sea life beneath the vessel and dolphins frolicking both above and below the water’s surface. You’ll also hear all about crab trapping and shrimp net operations, ‘cause, well, learning is fun too’. Head out during the day or in the evening when a gorgeous sunset is a given.
Or, spoil yourself in the lap of luxury on a sunset cruise—board the SunQuest cruise SOLARIS yacht where you’ll not only be indulged with a delicious dinner, but also with cocktails beneath the setting sun, live music and dancing.
- Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Okaloosa Island is teeming with coastal wildlife and there’s no better place to see it on land than Gulfarium, which also actively rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles. Here, you can see exhibits (33-thousand-gallon Living Sea is just one), attend animal shows and educational talks and participate in animal encounters to learn all about marine animals, from sting rays and sea turtles to dolphins, Harbor seals, sea lions and otters—not to mention a host of reptiles.
And while you’re at it:
Visit the Gulf Breeze Zoo, home to over 800 animals. Among the really cool things you can do here: hand-feed a giraffe, sloth or alligator; boost a budgie in the free-flight aviary; take a guided Safari Train ride through a 30-acre African preserve (say hi to the lowland gorillas!) and pet a pygmy (goat, that is) in the Farmyard. At 50 acres, this zoo is plenty big. But even better—it’s huge on wildlife conservation.
- Cruise to Crab Island
Crab Island, only accessible by boat, is a 1 to 4-foot-deep sandbar in the Choctawhatchee Bay (gotta love the name!) located off of Destin and formed in the 1960s when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Destin Pass to create some jetties. The very shallow water around the sandbar is an unbelievable shade of blue-green, about as see-through as it gets and completely void of surf and waves. In other words, it’s the perfect setting for floating next to a boat and soaking up a tropical vibe. You can tap into any number of boat rental companies in Destin, rent a vessel and head over. Or, you can cruise there on SunVenture Cruises’ Crab Island Eco-Tour aboard an open-air catamaran. Swim, drink (you have to bring your own, but so what?), relax…..repeat. (They take care of everything!)
And while you’re at it:
Take a thrilling parasail ride and size up the clear blue Gulf and its marine life from 400 feet up. Or take a dolphin excursion on a Waverunner with Discount Water Sports. Whether you’re looking for a wet and wild experience or just a really different (not to mention, cool) way to see dolphins, a speeding Waverunner more than delivers. Not at all basic!
- Diving and Snorkeling in the Gulf Waters
Destin’s location on the 100-Fathom Curve (a 600-foot drop along the Gulf of Mexico coastline creating depths for all kinds of sea life) makes the city an ideal spot for shelling, snorkeling and diving—and there are plenty of artificial reefs to make the underwater experiences even more jaw-dropping.
If you want to go beyond snorkeling but aren’t yet a diver, consider signing up for ScubaTech’s ‘Discover SCUBA’ program—their pros will provide you with great equipment, great step-by-step instruction and a shallow water diving experience (at a maximum depth of 40 feet) perfectly geared to newbies. Ride the Mongoose pontoon boat, get trained, then view the amazing marine life around the Destin Jetties (bear in mind that you can’t access these sightings by snorkeling.) And—get this—you can apply the dive toward full SCUBA diving certification if choose to pursue that.
And while you’re at it: What you can see when snorkeling is also mind-blowing, and there are a number of snorkeling tour companies that’ll get you up close and personal with the best underwater scenery and sea life off the Destin shores.
For a twofer type of experience, take a combo snorkeling/dolphin-watching cruise with Flipper’s Adventures—a 2 ½-hour, two-stop snorkel trip to the Destin Jetties and Coast Guard Flats.