With an 11 – 12 hour drive (or 710 – 790 miles from Plano, TX depending on the route you take) you can load up the station wagon or minivan and drive south towards the Gulf Coast.
It’s a little closer than the 30a beaches and Panama City, which are also great spots for Texan travelers to head to for white sandy beaches and clear water.
You could spend hours researching Destin beaches in Florida, but look no further, as we’ve done all the work for you. We have ideas for Restaurants, places to stay, and things to do that we really love.
Orange Beach, the Gulf Shores, and Pensacola are a little closer, and of the three, Orange Beach and Pensacola are the most family-friendly.
Destin itself is flanked by one of the famous Destin beaches, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, which are also very popular places to stay and allow you to enjoy Destin itself without the hustle and bustle.
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Possible Driving Routes
The South option via the I-45 and East on I-10 is the longest route and most Moms avoid that option.
Going East on the I-20 to Shreveport and south on the I-49 via Alexandria and stopping at Baton Rouge for the night to break up the drive and then East on the I-10 to Mobile and then to Destin.
On our last trip, we stopped in Baton Rouge and stayed at the Residence Inn Baton Rouge Towne Center at Cedar Lodge, which was in walking distance to a number of great restaurants and a Starbucks.
Breakfast was also included and we enjoyed a suite with it’s own kitchen to use.
Load up your Roadtrippers App , to plot some good stopping points and places to eat for the drive.
If you take this option, a great place to stop is the Infinity Space Center, just across the border from Louisiana to Mississippi and also a visit on the USS Alabama Battleship in Mobile.
You can also take a route to include New Orleans and stay there overnight on the way there.
Some Moms also like to go East on the I-20 and past Hicksburg go south on the I-49 via Hattiesburg to Mobile and then east onto the Destin beaches.
When is the best Month to go to Destin, Florida?
During the School vacation periods and especially at weekends, traffic can be very congested. Spring Break is a popular time to go but early in the month of March, the weather may be too cool to enjoy the water.
Many travelers who are staying for a week, arrive and leave at weekends, so try to time your trip around that. Allow a little extra time to get somewhere, even if it’s less than 2 miles away.
Also check college spring break schedules!
The Summer is the most popular time but the best places to stay get booked well ahead of time.
A Destin, Florida vacation doesn’t require a ton of planning. It’s entirely possible to just spend a full week enjoying the sand, sun, and water with tons of great beach access.
But there are tons of opportunities to have fun as a family – particularly for the adults eating great seafood or embarking in a few adventurous activities.
Air and Water Temperatures in Destin, Florida
You can also Fly and Rent a Car
The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) is the closest airport to Destin. It’s located just 16 miles away in Valparaiso. Airlines flying into VPS include Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta, Silver Airways, and United Airlines.
Pensacola airport is a 90 minute drive and both American and Southwest fly directly in less than 2 hours. The Car rental pick-up can get very busy, so try and book a skip-the-counter option or rush there once you deplane.
When flying home, allow extra time due to the airport size being smaller if it’s crowded during the Summer and if flying Southwest, they may not have the self-check-in machines available to tag your own bags and take them to the bag drop. You may have to line up to check in with an agent.
Where to Stay in Destin, Florida
Destin lodging offers all types of options – Condo-based lodging in resorts and a large range of luxury hotels with amenities.
Downtown Destin and Miramar Beach (best for families) are the most popular areas to stay in.
Outside of that, Fort Walton, Navarre Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Seaside and Watercolor are also popular choices but very different – quieter for sure.
Seaside is quiet and quaint and colorful and extraordinarily beautiful but more expensive for lodging.
is our booking site of choice and we start with filtering by those with Premier Hosts. Look at the maps carefully to see if the property is beach side or bay side.
Our Top Picks for Vrbo properties in Destin, Florida
Address: 291 Scenic Gulf Drive, Destin, Fl 32550
It’s a great property and the location is hard to beat. (They’re across from a grocery store and several restaurants, plus the outlet mall is within walking distance as well 👍)
Dolores, Plano TX
Address: 1180 Scenic Hwy 98, Destin, FL 32541
This summer will be our 9th summer there. We love it.❤️ It only has 11 floors.
All condos face the beach, private underground parking, private beach with beach set up and right across the street from the racetrack.
Also walking distance to the Back porch and water toys.
Sarah, Plano TX
Spacious. Not too expensive. Not too fancy, it’s just what you need.
Literally steps to the beach.
I’m pretty sure it’s the closest big condo from deck to sand on that strip.
And the deck to cook right by the pool is 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
Lisa, Frisco TX
Address: 1515 Miracle Strip Pkwy SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548
We stayed at the Destin West Beach and Bay Resort, on Okaloosa Island. They have a beach and a bay side with a walkway across the highway between the two.
It has a lazy river, heated pools and hot tubs and outdoor grill areas with some grass. There’s also a cute play area for really small kids in a shaded spot.
A quiet village in the area of South Walton, just to the West of Destin – very close to the action but giving you a bit of serenity in a very artsy and cultural area.
They are renowned for their amenities. You can enjoy a soothing sauna, a lap around the pool, a game of tennis or shuffleboard, a grill-out, and a picnic overlooking the lake. Shoreline Towers is one of the select few resorts to offer such exceptional amenities.
If you’re wanting a Hotel, we recommend looking at these options, with reviews on Tripadvisor
Address: 4000 Sandestin Blvd S, Miramar Beach, FL 32550
You can stay on the beach or marina side. They have a bus you can catch back and forth. You can also, rent a golf cart. It’s renowned as an amazing location.
We stayed in San Destin Resort last year
It’s across the street from the beach. And we loved it!! I wish we had known about that place since the past 10 years that we’ve gone. That resort has a whole private gated community full of hotels, condos, houses for you to stay in.
It also has a lot of perks. Private beach (its not ridiculously packed like the rest in Destin) super clean, the community has it’s own restaurants so you can just walk if you’d like. Each day you stay you get a free kayak (1hr) or bike ride. There’s ALOT of fun activities to do there with the family as well! No need to go far.
Michele, Plano TX
Book a Hotel in Destin, Florida
Places to Eat in Destin, Florida
We recommend going to eat our early, especially during peak travel seasons.
Ali’s Bistro is a more high-scale Italian eatery, with white tablecloths, excellent food and a nice friendly vibe. Situated in Fort Walton Beach, to the west of Destin.
Address: 171 Brooks St SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548
Brotulas has some of the best Seafood in Destin and a huge patio overlooking the marina. We loved it!
Address: 210D Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541
Another fine dining option is Vue on 30a, right on the beach.
Address: 4801 W County Hwy 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Fatboys – newly opened and great for freshly made burgers and wings. They offer gluten free buns and meatless options too.
Address: 104 Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541
I loved Great Southern cafe for lunch
Address: 83 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
The Donut Hole for breakfast.
Address: 6745 US-98, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
We ate twice on our last trip at Soi Bistro – their Sushi and Sashimi options were delicious.
Address: 234 Miracle Strip Pkwy SW, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548
Things to do around Destin, Florida
Gulfarium is a huge favorite and can get very crowded, so aim to get there as it opens and expect to spend a few hours there to take in as many demonstrations and shows as possible. It’s right by the shore too.
Address: 1010 Miracle Strip Pkwy SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548
Opening Hours: 9am – 5.30pm open daily.
Pricing varies with infants age 2 and under free, Kids (age 3-12) are $15.95/$17.95 and Adults are $23.95 – $25.95.
Their Dolphin and Sea Lion show is really good. The Sea Otters and Stingrays are a huge favorite for our family. You can book experiences ahead of time also.
The Gulf Breeze Zoo has over 800 animals and offers unique animal encounters and a safari train ride for the littles.
Address: 5701 Gulf Breeze Pkwy, Hwy 98, Gulf Breeze, FL
If you’re on the Fort Walton Florida Beaches side, you really should check out Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and the John Beasley Park.
Go Shopping in Alvins Island Store or head to the Silver Sands Outlet Mall (great to head to if it rains or in the evening when it’s a little cooler)
We love to spot an eagle ray. You can rent a Pontoon and look out for them along the shores of the bay.
Book one of these Bestselling Tours and Activities
We love Tripshock because you can book online and they usually discount ahead of time. Having tickets before you go means avoiding disappointment when you get there if it’s sold out!
For tons of ideas of Things to Do and see which ones other travellers love, try Tripadvisor
Booking ahead and also finding old-fashioned paper coupons for discounts is a good move.
Some of the excursions and things to do can get a bit pricy otherwise. Jet skiing and other water sports can also be booked ahead of time.
We also love the variety and good prices you can find if you book through Tripshock for things to do in Destin, Florida.
Book a Crab Island Water Shuttle
Crab Island is a popular spot – in the middle of the bay. It’s a sand-island only accessible via boat or jetski. It’s a popular party spot!
Choose from some of the best Destin Beaches in Florida
Destin, Florida is renowned for its stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters, attracting millions of visitors each year around the Emerald Coast.
Here are some of the best Destin beaches:
- Henderson Beach State Park: Located centrally in Destin, Henderson Beach State Park offers pristine white sandy beaches and natural dunes. It features over 6,000 feet of shoreline, nature trails, picnic areas, and camping facilities.
- Crystal Beach: Crystal Beach is a popular beach destination known for its beautiful emerald green waters and really grainy white sand beach. It’s a family-friendly beach with convenient access points, beachfront rentals, and a laid-back atmosphere.
- Miramar Beach: Just east of Destin, Miramar Beach offers a more secluded and tranquil experience. The beach boasts picturesque views and a wide stretch of sand ideal for walking or sunbathing. Water sports enthusiasts can also enjoy activities like paddleboarding and kayaking.
- James Lee Park: Situated on the eastern end of Destin, James Lee Park is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. It features a the wide James Lee beach with gentle waves, making it perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The park has picnic areas, showers, and ample parking.
- Grayton Beach State Park: Although a short drive from Destin, Grayton Beach State Park is worth a visit. This pristine beach offers a peaceful and unspoiled environment, surrounded by sand dunes and coastal forests. Activities like fishing, hiking, and birdwatching can be enjoyed here.
- Norriego Point: Located at the western end of Destin Harbor, Norriego Point is a beautiful beach area known for its calm waters and panoramic views. It’s an excellent spot for sunbathing, picnicking, and swimming. Boaters often anchor near the point and enjoy the shallow waters.
- Okaloosa Island: Just west of Destin, Okaloosa Island boasts a stunning stretch of beach along the Gulf of Mexico. The beach is well-maintained and offers various amenities like beach volleyball courts, picnic areas, and beachside bars. It’s also home to the popular Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
Remember to check local guidelines and conditions before visiting any of the Destin beaches. Additionally, be mindful of sea turtle nesting season restrictions and practice responsible beach etiquette, such as cleaning up after yourself and respecting the natural environment.
The Destin beaches are pretty with beautiful white sand and there are tons of space where you can set down your beach chairs (many condos offer these for use when you get there) or you can pay to rent chairs with umbrellas on public beaches.
Some condos have their own stretch of beach and the owner can provide you with beach passes to use.
Take some quiet time in a green space or park when you’re not visiting one of the many Destin beaches. Legion Park, (behind Ace Hardware at the end of Geronimo St. in Miramar Beach) has bench swings under trees, a playground, bathrooms and it’s right on the water.
If you’re on the west side of Destin, the Fort Walton Beach Landing is on Brooks St, just south of Hwy.98. The park has a playground, gazebo, picnic tables, benches and oak trees.
The Track has 5 go-kart tracks, blaster boats, bumper cars, arcade machines, 2 mini-golf courses and the skyflyer.
Address: 1125 Highway 98, East Destin, FL
Other things to do in the area
Drive 90 minutes to Pensacola NAS. You can watch the Blue Angels practice for free and they fly up the beach a lot.
Also at the NAS visit the lighthouse (tallest on the gulf), Ft Barrancas (first shots of the civil war), and the Naval Air Museum.
Drive down towards the 30a from the Destin beaches and stop in Seaside, where the Truman Show was filmed. This white and blue cutesy town is a great place to walk around, shop in the Seaside store and enjoy a nice lunch on the shore. Avoid the cyclists – there are a ton of them!
We used and love Tripshock to book and charter a private fishing boat, a Pontoon or shared fishing experience – we recommend booking ahead of time, offering Bay fishing, Inshore or Offshore fishing experiences.
You could catch marlin, shark, amberjack, grouper, snapper, king mackerel, trout, flounder, pompano, cobia, tuna or mahi mahi.
Dolphin tours and excursions are possible too!
Boat rentals are available to get out into the bay and to visit Crab Island for part of a day. We rented a pontoon, took out a cooler with us and loved slowly navigating our way around the bay and escaping the Destin crowds.
We saw a lot people taking out Jetski’s and Waverunners too!
One thing that little kids would definitely enjoy is the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise – a pre-booked adventure with pirate stories, treasure hunts, sword fights, gun battles and more!
Have we missed anything??? Let us know your favorite places to stay, eat and things to do in the comments!