Recently I had a conversation with my friends family who were traveling in from out of town into the Destin area. They said they come down at least once a year, but weren’t sure where to stay: where to go, or how to get around town once they got there.
We were discussing how they never know where to stay or where to go to find out the information they need. My background is in Vacation Rentals, especially in the Destin, Miramar Beach, 30A area. So I was happy to give them my expertise on things to do in Destin FL. Someone on the beach with them was talking about how they spent all day at Harborwalk Village. They spent half the day in traffic, just to get there and end up paying $10 for parking as soon as they get there. This inspired me to share a little bit of insider info to our Destin visitors to be able to enjoy Destin the way the locals do.
The Destin Fireworks are always on Thursdays. If you are looking for something family-friendly to do, this event in Destin is perfect for you! So if you are coming from the Navarre – Ft. Walton Beach area, head into town early because you WILL be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. You will not only be stuck in the local workweek traffic but the vacationers that want to be in Destin for the fireworks as well. Same goes for the tourists heading in from 30a- Miramar Beach. Prepare to be in Destin early to catch the show. The Emerald Grande puts on the fireworks show so being anywhere on the harbor would be a good place to watch. Boshamps, Marina Café, The Boathouse, etc would all be a great place to watch the fireworks. Again, you are going to want to get there early because of traffic and everyone wanting to get their seat for the show.
TAKE THE WATER TAXI
Everyone complains about Destin traffic, but no one really knows about the Destin Water Taxi. One of the ways I love to get around Destin is on the water taxi. $5 one way – it’s the perfect way to grab a cold beverage of choice and take in all of the breathtaking views of Destin. Being a Sandpiper Cove native, I recommend eating at the Louisiana Lagniappe for dinner and then jumping on the water taxi from there to my next harbor destination. It is a nice ride, and you can call them when you want to be picked up. If that’s not fast enough, you could always uber- either way, your car is in a safe place and the traffic is over with! Even if you don’t want to go anywhere specifically, the water taxi also does harbor cruises. Just contact them ahead of time!
Yes, you heard that right! While beach bonfires in Destin/ Okaloosa County are not allowed. From Miramar Beach to 30A/ Walton County beach bonfires ARE allowed with a permit. You may cringe to think about getting a permit, but they are actually pretty easy. If you don’t want to lug all of your stuff back to the beach in the evening to get set up for your beach bonfire, companies like La Dolce Vita also have a bonfire service where they provide the permits, chairs, fire, tiki torches, table, and your own attendant. It is 2 hours of pure bliss on the beach with your smores. An experience you will definitely want to plan for as you need to make these reservations 48 hours in advance.
You can’t visit Destin and not do brunch. Knock brunch off of your things to do list by visitng these brunch spots in Destin that are near and dear to my heart: Mcguires, Harry T’s, and 790 on the Gulf.
An oldie but goodie, you just can’t beat the brunch at Mcguires. While you don’t get the amazing gulf views that other places have to offer, you get great drink specials and amazing food. Mcguires is one of the best ‘bang for your buck’ places for brunch, lunch, and dinner.
If I didn’t have a gold keychain that let me skip the line and get discounts I probably would have not gotten over the LSU drama that this Florida restaurant has. But Harry T’s Lighthouse really does have breathtaking views and the bottomless mimosas until 2 pm don’t hurt the cause for this local brunch spot.
790 on the Gulf –
It’s not just because I am originally from the Greater New Orleans area that I like this New Orleans themed restaurant so much. 790 on the Gulf has amazing food and the best brunch spot in town. I like it so much I had my baby shower brunch there. All of my favorite girlfriends showed up to shower me and baby Teagan with their love, and in return I let them have bottomless Mimosas and didn’t get mad about it. 😉 There aren’t many places in Destin that I find you can have an amazing brunch experience, on the beach.
Things to do: BREAKFAST IN DESTIN
Where to eat breakfast in Destin? When you don’t want to cook and you want to bring the family out to eat there are 3 places that come to mind: here is a hint (it’s not the donut hole) Crackings, the Pancakery, and Capriccio Café. Each unique in their own way and they are probably about 5-minute walking distance from each other.
Crackings (formerly known as another broken egg) still lives up to the expectations of serving the best breakfast on the emerald coast. Locally owned by Destin natives this is one of my favorite places to have breakfast with a friend, and even the kids. From the Crawfish eggs toufee’ to the lobster gouda grits this is they have it all!
The Pancakery –
The Pancakery will always be Olivia’s favorite restaurant. These owners are transplants from the New Orleans area, but they have been in Destin long enough to become a local favorite. You would think it would be every 8-year old’s dream because they serve whipped cream on top of their chocolate milk, but their smiley face pancakes aren’t bad either. I personally like the Red, White, & Blue Pancake.
Capriccio Cafe –
Capriccio Café does not only have Destin’s best cup of coffee, but their crepes are top-notch as well. You actually can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. If you want to indulge in sweets, they have that – If you want something healthy, they have that too. You will most likely be greeted by Marco – straight off the boat Italian that puts his heart and soul into this local hot spot, or Danny his right-hand man. Together they make up the dream team to bring you the best food you never thought you knew you needed. Don’t believe me? Even the Snowbirds love this place, and everyone who isn’t even a local knows that they aren’t that easy to please. Tell them Tabatha says hello!
Things to do: LUNCH IN DESTIN
There are so many great lunch spots to eat at in the Destin area – I will do another post that dives into this topic a little deeper. But, my favorite 3 lunch spots in Destin are the Boathouse, Pepitos, and The Back Porch.
The Boathouse –
The Boathouse is Destin’s hidden gym. Located behind the red door most people don’t know that it is there. It has great food (I am a big fan of the grilled cheese, the gumbo, and the boiled peanuts) but they have a fish of the day sandwich, and of course, their oyster selection that is also to die for.
Pepito’s – while it is not your Destin seafood restaurant, it is a great place to have a good bite to eat authentic Mexican style. Their queso is amazing, and their margaritas are even better. I haven’t had anything bad on the menu yet and I’ve been eating here for over a decade!
The Back Porch
The Back Porch – When you want to experience authentic Destin Food: the Backporch restaurant is the place for you. It is located on the beach, with a menu that is sure to please every member of your party. From their Back Porch Mahi to their Crab Stuffed Shrimp each item on the menu is more delicious than the last. This restaurant is an Emerald Coast staple and should definitely be included on your itinerary.
Sushi in Destin
My next category was going to be Dinner in Destin, but I wanted them to all be sushi restaurants because of how great these restaurants are – with that in mind I am going to let you know my 3 favorite sushi restaurants and then break off into Dinner restaurants to let you know where to go to get your freshly caught Destin seafood that you have been dreaming about since you started to plan your vacation.
My absolute favorite Sushi restaurant. Harbor Docks serves sushi for lunch Thursday-Sunday but have sushi on the menu every night starting after 5. I highly recommend sitting at the Sushi Bar, because while Harbor Docks is one of my favorite restaurants, the restaurant tends to get slammed with sushi orders making you have to wait forever when you sit at an actual table. It’s a great place to sit and watch the fireworks (on the patio) but you won’t be disappointed by anything on the menu. My favorite is the back-down roll and the TNT.
In the same group with Harbor Docks, you may even see some of the same Sushi guys behind the bar. Instead of being located on the harbor, Camille’s is located in Crystal Beach. I recommend this place for more of a date night, they aren’t open for lunch. While kids are most definitely allowed in the restaurant, it is more of an intimate location and a walk on the beach after dinner makes for an unforgettable evening. (Backdown roll and TNT are also served here as well)
There isn’t much that Mcguires doesn’t have their name on, but their sushi definitely doesn’t disappoint. They have the best deals going on (check out their happy hour menu) and if you have a non-sushi lover in the group, they can order from the full Mcguires menu – keeping everyone happy! The Destin Roll, Ultimate Spicy Tuna Roll, and the Rainbow Roll are all favorites here.
Things to do: Dinner in Destin
When you think about Destin, the world’s luckiest fishing village – you mainly think about seafood. Fresh, Gulf of Mexico Seafood. All of my dinner selections have just that! My 3 favorite dinner restaurants are Dewey Destins, Harbor Docks, and Brotulas.
Dewey Destins –
The name of this restaurant says it all. Dewey Destins is Destin Fl local through and through and is the place for Destin Seafood. Tourists are learning to put this local favorite on their itinerary more and more. What most of the vacationers coming to the Emerald Coast don’t know is that they actually have 3 locations, 2 of them located in Destin and no more than 10 minutes apart. The 3rd is on the Navarre Sound. The food is great at all locations, and you will have some of the freshest and best seafood you have ever eaten.
Harbor Docks –
Harbor Docks isn’t just known for their good Sushi. They really do have such an incredible menu, from steaks to the freshest gulf seafood I am always a fan of their food (did I mention they have great sushi?!) Enjoy a nice night with a cold cocktail on the patio overlooking the Destin Harbor to experience what the best of Destin has to offer.
If you haven’t been to Destin in a while – Brotula’s restaurant took the place of the Fisherman’s Wharf. Located on the Destin Harbor, they have some of the best food, EVER. For starters take the Sauteed Mussels, and Mamas Garlic Bread – the ultimate combination. Topped off with your favorite Seafood steamed or grilled by the bucket, if you don’t eat here at least once you are seriously missing out!
Where to stay in Destin, FL
You see Destin is full of Vacation Rental Companies. There are a lot more mom & pops companies in the area now than there were before the days of Air B&B and VRBO I will break down a few of my favorite companies to stay with.
Gibson Beach Rentals –
if you are looking to stay anywhere from Miramar Beach to Santa Rosa Beach, Gibson Beach rentals is the place for you! They have exceptional customer service, and they have a good range of properties as well. San Destin and the Baytowne Wharf are some of their top-ranked properties, we highly recommend checking them out! They can show you the emerald coast as you have never seen before.
Compass Resorts –
This company, Compass Resorts, gave me one of my first jobs when I came to the Emerald Coast many years ago, and I watched this company blossom into the powerhouse that it is today. They have the Destin monopoly on all things Silver Beach Towers, Silver Shells Resort, and The Palms in Destin. Their hard work has not gone un-noticed. As a former “front desk girl” myself, this company is all business, and making sure the guests have a top-notch stay is at the top of their books.
RealJoy Vacation Rentals –
RealJoy Vacation Rentals is Tiffany’s old wheelhouse, while they are growing all along the Florida panhandle, but it’s their houses in Crystal Beach that really have wowed us over the years. Crystal Beach is one of my favorite areas, and if you like luxury rentals or simple beach homes, they have everything you would want in a beach home in the middle of Destin between Destin and Miramar Beach.
Things to do with your kids on the Emerald Coast
The Track – Destin
One of our favorite Destin hot spots, is of course, The track! they not only have the best Arcade in town (I am saying this as someone who constantly has to win tickets for her niece while Olivia wastes her tokens on nonsense) but the rides that they have attract the entire family. Gokarts, bumper boats, bumper cars, and even some thrill rides are sure to leave the whole family smiling.
Thrills Arcade & Laser Tag – Miramar Beach
Thrills Arcade is located in Miramar Beach in front of the Seascape resort, it is a nice place to go to because not only does it have an arcade, but it has Laser Tag as well. The arcade is pretty big and newer to the Destin/Miramar Beach area. Something to surely have the whole family laughing as they battle each other in a laser tag battle.
Goofy Golf – Ft. Walton Beach
Located in Ft. Walton Beach, Goofy Golf has been around since 1958 and is my favorite putt-putt course on the emerald coast. With 2 separate courses at the same location this fun, yet challenging course Is the perfect way to add a little friendly competition to your family vacation.
Big Kahunas – Destin
You can’t go around Destin without noticing the Emerald Coast’s Largest Waterpark. Big Kahunas is is fun and cost-effective. Little ones under the age of 2 get in free. They just added a new addition called buccaneers cove, which is perfect for kids the age of 3-7. There is a lot of shade, and seating in the newly renovated part of the park. You can find me and my little at the Tadpole Pond next to the wave pool surrounded by the lazy river on a hot summers day! I highly recommend if you plan on going more than twice throughout the summer to upgrade to a season pass.
The Buccaneer Pirate Ship –
The Buccaneer Pirate Ship is a perfect ride for kids of all ages. They do a wonderful job of putting on a show. Your kids (and you) get to sail the Gulf looking for Blackbeard’s treasure. While searching the kids get to undergo lots of activities such as face painting, water gun, and sword fights. Once they find Blackbeard’s treasure which actually is in the middle of the gulf, the whole gang gets to pull it out of the water and take home one piece of the treasure as a souvenir. Don’t forget to check out the gift shop on board to get the rest of your pirate ensemble. I recommend booking these ahead of time as it is really popular with the littles!
The Southern Star Dolphin Cruise –
The Southern Star is one of Destin’s best Dolphin Cruises. Hop on board and they give you a little history lesson while you tour the Destin Harbor. You then either head out to the east pass (if it’s not too rough) or the Choctawhatchee Bay to get up-close encounters with dolphins and other marine life. Usually, the place you are staying with has some sort of promotion going on with them, making it even more affordable. Definitely book your cruise ahead of time, they do their cruises at specific times so you don’t want to be stuck at the harbor forever!
Things to do: DESTIN NIGHT LIFE
It’s not just one of my favorite lunch spots, The boathouse is also one of my favorite places to listen to live music. Don’t let the dollar bills and questionable undergarments hanging from the roof let you think this isn’t the place to be. In this chill environment on the Destin Harbor, with the live music and good drink prices, you are sure to have a good time. Since it is also a restaurant, it is even kid-friendly. Don’t keep them out too late. 😉
Tailfins is another great location for the night out on the Destin Harbor. They have live music, acoustic usually outside on the harbor, and a band usually plays on the roof bar, which is the third floor. You can check out who is playing by going here!
Aj’s is a Destin, FL staple. They are a big crowd-pleaser because they usually have live music going on outside, the upstairs bar with a DJ (or live music), and its great for gamedays too because of the jumbotron. Usually, everyone starts out at the smaller bars and then all join together at the end of the night at Ajs. The party goes on all night long at Aj’s on the harbor with this bar closing at 4 a.m.
The Village Door
The Village Door is a great place for nightlife in its new location in front of the Seascape resort located in Miramar Beach. Friends and family of all ages can join in for dinner, enjoy You can check out their event schedule here.
VPS the Destin/FWB airport is the closest airport – it’s a smaller airport and located just around the Shalimar, Valparaiso area. 25 minutes away from Destin.
PNS Pensacola Regional Airport is about an hour away from Destin and since it is larger than VPS you can usually get some pretty good deals coming from larger cities.
Panama City Beach Airport is also about an hour away from Destin and another destination that may receive cheaper fares.