Destin is situated midway along Florida's panhandle – the long stretch of coast in northwest Florida that runs west from Tallahassee below the state of Alabama. The beach is overlooked by condos, resorts and skyscrapers along the area known as Holiday Isle, but there is plenty of public beach access too. Destin Harbor is lined with fishing boats of all sizes and nearby there is a great choice of fresh fish and seafood restaurants to suit all budgets.
Getting to Destin is very easy by air into Okaloosa Regional Airport at Fort Walton Beach, just minutes away. Alternatively Florida's panhandle coastline is easy to drive to along I-10. If you are driving from Central or South Florida, don't forget to turn your watch back by one hour, as destinations west of Tallahassee are on Central Daylight Time (CDT). The area has over 4 million visitors each year, but it rarely feels crowded, although it is wise to make restaurant reservations at weekends.
The resort of Destin is ideal for family vacations with its endless white sandy beaches, warm sea, year-round sunshine and plenty of attractions. The gulf waters are a beautiful sea-green color which has led to the area being known as the "Emerald Coast". Destin is particularly famous as a sport fishing destination and has been nicknamed "The World's Luckiest Fishing village" due to the record-breaking fish that have been caught here.
The area has excellent public golf courses at Fort Walton Beach Golf Club, Golf Garden of Destin, Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club, Seascape Resort and Conference Center and the Emerald Bay Golf Club.
While the boys are out fishing or playing golf, the girls can enjoy some retail therapy at one the excellent shopping malls in the area, including the Destin Commons shopping mall and the largest designer outlet center at Silver Sands Outlet Mall. There are also plenty of watersports opportunities for windsurfing, sailing and parasailing. Destin is a great place to take an unforgettable dolphin cruise to see these friendly creatures racing ahead of the boat bow or frolicking and playing together.
Still on a water theme, the Destin area has a number of water parks for family fun such as the Pleasure Island Water Park on Fort Walton Beach and the Big Kahuna theme park in Destin. The Gulfarium is home to over 200 marine mammals, fish and reptiles and puts on some excellent dolphin shows.
For days out around Destin consider a trip to Fort Pickens Nature Preserve, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island. There is a small admission fee but the area has excellent amenities for fishing, picnicking, shell collecting and walking. It is accessed across the Navarre Bridge off Hwy 98. If you are really lucky, you may see an endangered Perdido Key beach mouse or one of the sea turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs in the dunes.
History lovers can take a self-guided tour of the hexagonal-shaped Fort Pickens which dates back to the 1830s, or take a guided tour of Fort Barrancas, constructed a few years later. For those with an interest in military history, the nearby US Air Force Armament Museum offers an interesting day out. Hikers can enjoy walks along the Florida Trail which starts at Santa Rosa Island and cyclists can hire bikes and enjoy the five mile cycle trail on Perdido Key.
With year-round sunshine and average temperatures rarely below 70F even in the winter, Destin is a great place to visit or live in at any time of year.
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20 Best Florida Beaches and Coastal Cities