Destin is a Gulf Coast city in Florida’s western panhandle that lies between Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach to the west and Panama City to the east.
The area is referred to as Florida’s Emerald Coast and is well-known for its gleaming beaches, abundant sport fish, and long stretches of relatively undeveloped shoreline that are pleasant changes from many of the state’s more commercial beaches.
Those staying in Destin will have a variety of recreation options at their disposal. Though most seekers of sun, surf, and sand won’t need to travel far, day trips to the aforementioned neighboring towns are popular too.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Destin, Florida.
1. Henderson Beach State Park
Featuring more than a mile of sparkling beach set along the Gulf’s shimmering waters, Henderson Beach State Park is located on Emerald Coast Parkway and is a must-visit attraction for those who’ve come to Florida for its beaches.
Though the beach is the park’s centerpiece, there is also a nature trail and a playground, as well as showers and restrooms.
The beach is relatively close to a number of restaurants, but many guests choose to pack their own grub and make a day of it. When the sun gets to be too much, there are shaded seating areas that offer a nice respite.
2. Primrose Restaurant
Located on the Henderson Beach Resort, Primrose Restaurant is a favorite option for those who want to treat themselves to a taste of the good life while on vacation.
The restaurant’s menu changes frequently to account for the seasonal availability of both seafood and produce, and previous guests have stated that everything was prepared professionally and with the freshest ingredients.
The restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner; their menu includes steaks, sushi, and homemade desserts in addition to seafood.
Primrose is a bit pricier and more formal than many area restaurants, but for those looking for something a little special, it’s well worth it.
3. Destin Snorkel
The warm, clear waters along Florida’s Gulf coast are perfect for snorkeling, and they’re full of a huge variety of colorful marine life that are relatively easy to see up close as part of a guided snorkeling excursion.
Destin Snorkel is one of the area’s most well-respected providers of sea tours. In addition to snorkeling, they offer dolphin watching and sunset cruises that are perennial favorites.
Destin Snorkel tours tend to fill up quickly, especially during peak times, so it’s suggested that reservations are made well in advance of your trip.
Tours depart from Harbor Walk Village in town.
4. The Market Shops
Miramar Beach is just east of Destin on the long spit of land that separates the Gulf of Mexico from Choctawhatchee Bay, and the Market Shops on Emerald Coast Parkway are some of the area’s swankiest retail shopping destinations.
The shops include more than individual 15 vendors selling everything from art and jewelry to lingerie and bathing suits.
There are a variety of dining options that include pizza, seafood, and French cuisine. During the cooler fall and winter months, there’s often live entertainment in the afternoons and evenings.
Adults traveling without kids should consider checking out their ever-popular annual Bloody Mary Festival.
5. Kelly Plantation Golf Club
Kelly Plantation Golf Club is set along a particularly scenic stretch of land that fronts Choctawhatchee Bay, and it was once home to a large turpentine plantation.
The course’s 18 holes wind their way through bayous, magnolia, and palmetto stands and stunning waterfronts.
Previous players have noted that the course’s greens and fairways were well-manicured and that there was a pleasant mix of pristine natural areas and water and sand hazards that made things both scenic and challenging.
Kelly Plantation is definitely not an inexpensive golf option, but for those looking for a memorable round regardless of the cost, it’s a perfect destination.
6. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Located just a few minutes west of downtown Destin, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is one of those rare vacation destinations that’s engaging, entertaining, and educational.
The park’s animal inhabitants include gators, snakes, stingrays, and even penguins, and there are a variety of staff-led activities that allow visitors to get up close to many of them.
Keep in mind that general admission doesn’t entitle visitors to all the park’s activities and attractions, so be ready to spend a bit more to see and do some extra things.
The park is open daily, and though it’s not cheap, most visitors find it good value.
7. Destin Harbor Boardwalk
Vacations have an annoying way of going through cash like a buzz-saw through a wet log. The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is one of those free area attractions that’s the perfect place to spend a few hours when funds are in short supply.
The boardwalk stretches along the harbor and is a favorite evening destination for those looking to capture a remarkable Florida sunset.
The area includes a variety of shops and plenty of restaurants as well; many of them offer stunning water views and food and drink deals.
The boardwalk hosts many annual events, including the Destin Seafood Festival and an annual fishing rodeo.
8. Destin History & Fishing Museum
Located on Stahlman Avenue, the Destin History and Fishing Museum is a conveniently located attraction that typically takes no more than an hour of visitor’s valuable time.
Destin has always been a popular spot for saltwater game fisherman and is home to one of the largest commercial fishing fleets in the Sunshine State as well.
The museum focuses on both commercial and recreational fishing, and the exhibits include fishing equipment, photographs, and first-hand accounts of fisherman from eras past.
There’s a huge display of preserved fish caught over the years too, and some antique rods and reels, some of which once belonged to Ernest Hemingway.
9. Buccaneer Pirate Cruise
During many previous decades, the waters around Florida, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico were crawling with pirates, rum-runners, and other unsavory characters.
Thankfully, those days are long gone, but it’s still possible to have a blast and experience a bit of the pirate life while visiting Destin.
Buccaneer Pirate Cruises are interactive activities that are geared toward children, but they usually end up being a big hit with parents too.
The tours are conducted on a 100-foot Coast Guard inspected and approved vessel. While onboard, kids will enjoy mock sword fights, water cannon battles, storytime, and even singing and dancing.
10. Cattywampus Catamaran Cruises
Catamarans are impressive crafts that seem to defy the laws of physics as they glide through the water on just a few narrow hulls.
Cattywampus Catamaran Cruises can accommodate more than 40 guests. Their options include eco and wildlife viewing tours, sunset cruises, and snorkeling and shell collecting adventures.
No matter which option you choose, you’ll likely see dolphins, sea turtles, and a variety of fish and birds, not to mention some of the most amazingly panoramic sea views you’re ever likely to see.
Tours depart from the Miracle Strip Parkway in Fort Walton Beach and typically last a few hours.
11. James Lee Park
James Lee Park is located on Highway 98 just outside of town and offers visitors amazing stretches of beach that are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surf fishing.
From the park’s trails and entrance, there are a number of beach access points leading through the dunes. There are playgrounds, covered picnic areas, and restrooms as well.
For those visiting from out of town who haven’t brought their own beach gear, it’s possible to rent chairs and large umbrellas for the day, and the cost is very reasonable.
There’s ample onsite parking and no charge to use the park and its facilities.
12. The Emerald Coast Science Center
The Emerald Coast Science Center is located on Memorial Parkway in nearby Fort Walton Beach; it’s dedicated to introducing children to the wonders of science and the natural world.
The center’s exhibits touch on animals, aviation, robotics, and even physics. Unlike many look-but-don’t-touch attractions, they encourage visitors to interact, think, and explore.
The exhibits alone have been known to keep little ones engaged and entertained for hours, and the center’s staff offer a variety of regularly scheduled programs that include interactions with animals, storytime, and general tours.
The center offers several courses and workshops for home-schooled children and their parents.
13. The Air Force Armament Museum
Since man took to the sky, he’s made a point of dropping deadly devices on the heads of unsuspecting foes thousands of feet below.
Aerial bombardment a good way to win wars, and there’s no better place to get an overview of this fascinating segment of military aviation history than at the Air Force Armament Museum.
Featuring dozens of restored warbirds and a huge variety of plane-dropped munitions spanning the decades, it’s a fascinating place that’s a big hit with visitors of all stripes. Most guests spend a few hours, and there’s a great onsite gift shop too.
14. Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill
For those looking for a traditional bowling experience like you’d find anywhere else in the country, Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill would not be a good fit.
It’s anything but a typical bowling alley; in fact, in many respects, it’s more like a submerged aquarium than anything else.
Uncle Buck’s features realistic sharks hanging from the ceiling and bowling balls covered in fish and other sea creatures.
For those visiting with young and inexperienced bowlers, the staff can put bumpers in the lanes to prevent premature gutter balls. They’ve got a great food and drink menu with adult and kid-friendly options.
15. Fort Walton Beach Flea Market
Fort Walton Beach Flea Market is located on Eglin Parkway SE and features more than 50 different vendors selling everything from tools, books, and vintage clothing to art, jewelry, and musical instruments.
It’s an air-conditioned indoor facility, so when the weather isn’t conducive to being outside, it’s the perfect place to escape for a few hours.
There are also a variety of food and drink options, and the market is noted as a hotspot for collectors of sports memorabilia, figurines, and antique housewares.
A portion of each sale goes to supporting a local wildlife refuge, so picking up an item or two will help preserve the environment.