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Destin Florida: Beaches, Restaurants, Places to stay & Things to do that we love

Destin Florida

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 travellers to head to for white sandy beaches and clear water. 

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 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.

(Plano Moms uses affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase through links in this post. Full disclosure)

Load up your Roadtrippers App , to plot some good stopping points and places to eat for the drive.


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.


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 Destin.


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 travellers 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! 

Marina Destin Florida
the Marina in Destin, Florida

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. 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

MonthAvg. HighAvg. LowRainfallWater Temp
January61425.064
February63454.064
March70526.066
April77604.572
May83663.478
June87715.281
July89747.283
August90747.085
September87706.884
October80603.281
November69503.472
December63444.064

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. 

Things to Consider

  • Proximity to the Beach by Foot or by Car
  • Water amenities at the resort if you’re renting a Condo
  • Does the hotel have a heated pool, especially before late March or April when the temperatures can still be a little cooler?
  • Look for something beach side to stay as the roads are busy. Some condo complexes have walkway bridges so you can avoid crossing the main highway.
  • Be sure to check if beach towels are provided or if you need to pack your own and bring them with you.
Beach Destin Florida
Beach in Destin, Florida

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.


Vrbo

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

Edgewater Beach Condominiums

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


Destin Gulfgate

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

Destin West Beach and Bay Resort

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. 


Grayton Beach

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.

Shoreline Towers on Holiday Isle in Destin

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

Sandestin Golf

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


Planning for your Arrival in Destin, Florida

As you arrive, take note of the nearest grocery stores. Our favorite is Publix, but it gets very busy on Saturday afternoons as new guests arrive. Be sure to check what condiments and food items are available in your condo so you don’t overbuy. You may want to bring some items with you from home, like foil, cooking oil etc. We love using our Yeti to bring some refrigerated items with us. 

Instacart for Publix or curbside pick up at Walmart are also good options if you have a grocery list ready and pre-order.

Places to Eat in Destin, Florida

We recommend going to eat our early, especially during peak travel seasons. 

Places to eat in Destin
Ali’s Bistro, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

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.

We have a hook up for discounted rates on your tickets!


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 

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)

Be sure to get your sunset pictures. Many families like to do photoshoots on the beach and find a local Photographer to book ahead of time. 


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.


We recommend using TripShock

Book your Excursions ahead

You’ll save money by booking your Boat Trip, Jet Skis, Parasailing or any other fun trip ahead of time. If you wait till you get there, availability could be limited and you may miss out


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!

We love to spot an eagle ray. You can rent a Pontoon and look out for them along the shores of the bay. 

The 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. 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. 

Park in Destin Florida
Fort Walton Beach Landing

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 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.

Rent a Pontoon in Destin, Florida

Parasailing is very popular as is scuba diving and snorkeling. If you book with Tripshock, it’s a discount of $20 per person!

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!


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