Destin, Florida Guide

By
Cortney Tarell
Destin guide

Destin is famous around the world as one of Florida’s best cities for a beach vacation. It attracts all kinds of visitors eager to experience the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the powder-white sands of its beaches. Its reputation as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” also makes it an ideal destination for anglers and seafood lovers alike. Families are drawn to Destin for the many kid-friendly activities found here both on and off the beaches. Great communities, amazing shopping, and an abundance of golf courses also makes Destin popular among retirees. 

Destin Florida Guide

What this Guide covers

This guide features everything you need to know about this city broken down into easy segments for HistoryCultureFood & DrinkShoppingEntertainmentArtsSportsNatureEducation & SchoolsTransportationTourismHealth & Medical. It is an overview of the city from experts who have experienced the local culture. 

See our Ultimate Guide to Destin Beaches for details about the beachfronts, and find businesses in the area in our Destin area business directory (coming soon). 

History

Destin sign

The city of Destin is a relatively young city. It had very humble beginnings, drawing in small amounts of settlers who were mostly fishermen beginning in the 1800s. One of those settlers was Leonard Destin, a whaler who arrived in 1951. It was for him that the area was named in 1896. Still, the area was only home to a small number of local fishermen and their families. In the 1930s, the first post office was established and the East Pass Bridge was built, making Destin more accessible, so the locals decided to try bringing in more visitors. They established the Destin Fishing Rodeo in 1948, cementing their reputation as a fishing village and eventually earning their slogan: “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”. It wouldn’t be for several more decades that the city would really begin to grow, however. The first condominiums were built in Destin in 1973, but the city was not officially incorporated until 1984. After that, the population began to grow quickly and Destin soon became known as one of Florida’s best tourist destinations. To learn more about the history of this area, visit the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

Culture

Destin Harbor walk
Boating and fishing are huge parts of Destin's culture
 

The culture in Destin revolves around tourism. A lot of effort has been put into making this a city that is known as one of the best places to visit in the world. This means that most of the people you’ll run into in Destin are not permanent residents. The number of tourists, though, varies from season to season. Most people visit during the spring and summer, leaving fall and winter mostly to the locals.

Destin is split into several communities. The westernmost area by the Destin Harbor is the most touristy part of town, with lots of high rise hotels and activities. East of Henderson Beach State Park you’ll find the communities of Crystal Beach and Destiny, both of which are more quaint and quiet. Crystal beach is home to many small and locally owned inns and homes. Destiny is mostly made up of luxury homes and is perfect for people looking to settle down in this area.

86.7% of residents in Destin are white, with the next largest group being hispanics at 9.5%. Black residents make up only 2.6% of the population. This makes Destin significantly less diverse than most of Florida, where only 77.3% of the population is white. It is worth noting that Destin is quickly becoming more diverse. According to the 2000 census, over 96% of the population was white at that time. As a tourist town, Destin does its best to be welcoming to everyone hoping to visit. This includes lgbtq+ people. The New York Times lists the area as an up and coming gay-friendly location, especially as a travel destination for lgbtq+ couples with kids.

Destin is especially friendly to families and older people. They try to discourage rowdy college spring break crowds, so if you’re looking for a party, this may not be the destination for you. But if you want entertainment for the whole family, you’ll find exactly that in Destin. It’s also a popular place to retire, with tons of retirement and 55+ communities and year-round golfing, fishing, and boating.

Food and Drink

Destin food
The Crab Trap Seafood and Oyster Bar
 

Since Destin is known as the world’s luckiest fishing village, you already know the seafood is bound to be amazing. Some of the fish that are caught regularly and served at the local restaurants include snapper, grouper, amberjack, cobia, mahi mahi, mackerel, redfish, triggerfish, tuna, and more. Enjoy them at many of the areas local restaurants or take a charter and catch fish yourself. You can enjoy your own catch even if you aren’t a great cook because several local places will cook your catch for you. Those restaurants include AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, Harbor Docks, Dewey Destin’s Harborside, Harry T’s Lighthouse, and Jackacuda’s.

Destin also has a culture that is very welcoming to local restaurants as opposed to chains. Some of the most well-renowned restaurants include Anglers Beachside Bar and Grill, Beach Walk Café, Brotula's Seafood House & Steamer, The Crab Trap Seafood and Oyster Bar, Floyd's Shrimp House, Gilligan's Outdoor Eatery, Hog's Breath Café, Marina Café, Rum Runners, Louisiana Lagniappe, and McGuire’s Irish Pub.

Shopping

Destin Commons
Destin Commons
 

Shopping is a popular activity in the Destin area. As you drive around the city you will find tons of small shopping centers and gift shops on just about every corner. Destin Commons is one of the best places for shops of all kinds. It is similar to a traditional mall, but it is outdoors so you can enjoy the beautiful weather. For a unique shopping experience, head to HarborWalk Village where you’ll find tons of stores as well as dining and activities along the Destin Harbor. 

Baytowne Wharf
Village of Baytowne Wharf
 

Next-door in Miramar Beach, you will find even more great shopping including the Grand Boulevard at Sandestin Town Center and Village of Baytowne Wharf. If you’re on the hunt for a deal, you must visit the Silver Sands Premium Outlets, ranked by The Travel Channel as one of the best outlet malls in the country. Also close by is The Boardwalk, Okaloosa Island.

Entertainment

Destin beach

There are countless ways to enjoy fun in the sun during your visit to Destin. Hitting the beach and boating are the most common form of entertainment in the area. If you want to experience Destin for what it’s most famous for, you should definitely do some fishing. There are plenty of fishing supply stores where you can buy or rent everything that you’ll need. You can take one of the many fishing cruises offered or you can fish from lots of spots along the shore. But there’s a lot more than that to enjoy while you’re visiting this famous shoreline. Take a surfing lesson; rent a paddle board, kayak, boat, or jet ski; go parasailing or windsurfing; you can even take a paddle board yoga class or a sandcastle building class. There are countless numbers of cruises and tours you can take to get the most out of the waterways here, so no matter what kind of activities your family enjoys, you’ll find the perfect thing here.

One of the most unique coastal activities you can do in Destin is taking a trip to Crab Island. Crab Island is not actually an island, it’s a sandbar in the Destin Harbor that has water about 1-4 feet deep in most places. All kinds of vendors come to Crab Island to sell food, drinks, souvenirs, and all kinds of activities for the whole family. In the summer, it attracts huge crowds of hundreds to enjoy the party at the sandbar. You need a boat to get to Crab Island, but it’s close enough to shore that you can reach it by paddle board or kayak if you don’t have a boat. There are also water taxis that can take you there.

Destin
Sunset cruises are one of the popular excursions Destin offers
 

Destin is also home to tons more entertainment off the beach. One of the most popular places for a fun day is Big Kahuna’s Water Park. Other popular entertainment venues include Rainforest Black Light Mini Golf Adventure, The Track Family Recreation Center, and Gator Beach, where you can see alligators up close. To experience other marine life, head to the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach. Uncle Bucks FishBowl and Grill is bowling in the most local way possible, making you feel like you’re literally under water. Most of the shopping plazas in the area also have tons of great activities for the whole family. You can spend a whole day hanging out at The HarborWalk Village or the Village of Baytowne Wharf.

Arts

Destin
Robert Wyland's Whaling Wall
 

There are no art museums in Destin, but you can still have a great artistic experience while you’re here. The Legendary Marina is home to the area’s most impressive mural, a whaling wall by Robert Wyland, who is known for painting marine life murals all over the world. If you want to create art yourself, Destin offers a couple unique ways to do that. The Redbird Art Experience gives you an opportunity to create art using recycled materials. The Shard Shop offers classes in making art using glass. Visit during the Festival of the Arts for even more.

There are two orchestras in this area: Sinfonia Gulf Coast and the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra. The area also has two community choirs that rehearse nearby, Fort Walton Beach Community Chorus and The Emerald Coast Chorus, which meets in Shalimar, and a theatre company, The Emerald Coast Theatre Company in Miramar Beach.

Sports

Kelly
Kelly Plantation Golf Club
 

There are no professional sports teams in Destin, but there are plenty of opportunities to play sports yourselves. The top location for sports is the Morgan Sports Center, which has softball, flag football, and soccer teams for both children and adults. The Destin Sports Complex also offers leagues for adults and children.

The most popular sport in Destin is golf. Many people come to visit Destin specifically to enjoy it’s many beautiful golf courses.  These include the Emerald Bay Golf Club Destin, the Kelly Plantation Golf Club, the Indian Bayou Golf  & Country Club, and the Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club.

Nature

Henderson Beach
Henderson Beach State Park
 

Destin is home to one state park, Henderson Beach State Park, which is the best way to experience the shore in a natural way without leaving the city. With more than a mile of preserved shoreline and a pet-friendly campground, this is the prefect spot for birdwatching, swimming, and more. It’s just a short drive to half a dozen more state parks, the closest of which are Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park in Niceville and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Miramar Beach.

Snorkeling and diving are other popular nature activities in this area. There are shipwrecks and artificial reefs that lots of charters and cruises are available to bring you to. “Miss Louise” is probably the most popular place for diving. It is a sunken push tug that has been made into an artificial reef. East Jetty is another great spot that attracts all kinds of marine life.

Destin Park
Captain Leonard Destin Park
 

Norriego Point is a sandy peninsula located on the Destin Harbor. Other local parks include James Lee Park, Captain Leonard Destin Park, Mattie Kelly Park and Nature Walk, and Crystal Beach Park.

Education and Schools

Destin is part of the Okaloosa County School District. Local kids are zoned for Destin Elementary School, Destin Middle School, and Fort Walton Beach High School.

Tourism

Henderson Inn
Henderson Park Inn
 

Tourism is the leading industry in Destin. Most of the city’s businesses rely on tourists for the majority of their profits. Spring and Summer are the most crowded times of year, and there are lots of fun activities to entertain tourists at this time of year. Some businesses are closed seasonally during the winter and fall due to smaller crowds, so if you visit during that time, there will be some activities you might miss.

Destin offers accommodation options for every kind of traveler. There are tons of high rise hotels available for every budget. If a cozy inn is your preference, you’ll find plenty of those as well, especially in the Crystal Beach area. This is where Henderson Park Inn, which is often listed as one of the best hotels in the country, is located. There are plenty of homes available for short term rental if you want more space. Camping is another great option. Camp Gulf is a beachfront site in Miramar Beach that has space for RVs and offers cabins. There’s also camping sites at Henderson Beach State Park.

Transportation

If you are flying to Destin, you will fly through the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport in Fort Walton Beach. The Destin Executive Airport is located in Destin and is available for smaller aircraft. For public transportation, the Emerald Coast (EC) Rider offers a few routes through Destin, but you will probably need to take a shuttle or rent a car to get to Destin from the main airport.

Health and Medical

Hospital

The closest hospitals to Destin are the Fort Walton Beach Medical Center and the Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital located in Miramar Beach.

 

For Local Businesses including Food & Drinks, Services, Health & Medical, Education, Sports & Recreation, Arts & Entertainment and more, see our Destin Business Directory (coming soon). 

 

Who we are

We are locals and writers who love to research, explore, and share information about Florida. Our goal is simple: to share the positive (and sometimes not so positive) things that make the area unique. To be real without an agenda. And to support a strong local community. 

All images on this page copyright © FloridaSmart.com, FL Smart, LLC, Cortney Tarell, Photographer