Now that the cold weather has arrived, you might be thinking about ways to escape it. Consistently rated among the best beaches in Florida and in the USA (and even the world), you can’t go wrong with a visit to Destin, Fla. Known for it’s emerald green yet totally clear water and white “sugar sand” powder soft beaches, Destin will give you the break from reality that you have been craving. If you have yet to make up your mind, let the beautiful scenery, amazing seafood, and endless opportunity for outdoor activities help you arrive to that conclusion.
If you are a fan of seafood, you will be in a foodie paradise. Obviously the fare is as fresh as it gets, being right on the water. Part of Florida’s Panhandle (along the northwest of the state, bordering the Gulf of Mexico, and yes – because it looks like a panhandle), people here take seafood seriously. You will find some of the most interesting and unique ways of cooking seafood along the panhandle region. You might have had oysters, but I can guarantee you have not tried them all the ways you will find them here. It doesn’t’ matter if you prefer “tried and true” dishes or you are more of an adventurous eater, you won’t be disappointed in Destin.
At The Crab Trap, you can eat outdoors or inside. I’d recommend out, as this restaurant has the most beautiful views of the beach and the boardwalk below. There, watch beachgoers play volleyball or the waves roll in while you enjoy your meal. The ocean breeze is peaceful and welcome, and it’s a very relaxing way to spend your time out as a family. Located directly below you is The Boardwalk at Okaloosa Island, with shops, a small spray park, and other ways to while away your time. Let the kids run ahead of you or enjoy the water while you keep an eye on them. Great restaurant with great food, fantastic service, location, atmosphere, and views. (crabtrapdestin.com)
Make sure you take the time to visit Okaloosa Island Pier after you eat; it’s about a block away. Not only the perfect spot to take a family photo, but you can also look for dolphins, fish, seabirds or other marine life. You can also go fishing as well if you’d like. I know, again with the views – but really, they are incredible.
Across the parking lot, in the same center, is the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park (gulfarium.com). It is a top Fort Walton Beach attraction, and perfect for families and animal lovers. This marine park houses animals such as seals, turtles, alligators, fish, snakes and much more. Learn from trainers and staff members about these animals, their care, and what they do in the wild. There are live shows at set times, and you can also sign up for animal encounters to feed penguins, snorkel with stingrays, and other options. Do this ahead of time so that you have your choice available to you at a time you are able to attend.
We were definitely looking to spend as much time as could outdoors. Getting as much vitamin D as you can while you can is always good, true? If you are looking for some outdoor adventure, book some time with Destin Snorkel & SNUBA Tour (destinsnorkel.com). Easily one of the coolest things we have done in a long time, this experience is part scuba, part snorkel, and perfect for almost any age and any level of swimmer.
Head over to the (save time to walk and shop) boardwalk, where you will meet your SNUBA professional and get your snuba-suit on. Yes, it’s just a wetsuit and fins, but you will feel so much cooler thinking of it that way. Once you are ready, head onto the boat where you are driven to safe, calm and clear waters. First, you will receive a 30-minute orientation where you are shown how to use all equipment and explanations are given, as well as questions answered. Then, you can swim and snorkel for a while. After that, you are able to dive up to 20 feet, with the rest of your group and your SNUBA instructor swimming along with you. Your mouthpiece is connected to an oxygen tank, and you are able to breathe fairly easily after you get used to it. You can see quite a variety of ocean life, and it’s a really awesome experience to be completely submerged underwater for such long stretches of time. Literally otherworldly, and very peaceful.
Not a great swimmer? Believe it or not, that’s OK. Got kids? Also fine. Call ahead and talk to them about restrictions, but there are far fewer then you might think. If you have never experienced SNUBA, or are thinking about scuba diving but have not yet, you must try this. An absolute “must try” experience for anyone.
While you are in the area, and you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Harbor Docks for some lunch. This Destin seafood restaurant staple has been locally sourcing food for more than 35 years, and you can really sense the pride and connection to the community. The menu offers only fresh, locally grown or locally caught options and flavors. Harbor Docks prides themselves on their long established relationships with local growers, fisher people and seafood markets. In addition, you will find an unusual for the area cooking style, brought to you by Yoshia Eddings (sushi chef) as well as Dang McCormick, who is from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and runs the kitchen.
For an interesting way to see some of the local landscapes, Destin Airboat Tour offers informative tours, views you won’t see many other ways, and the enjoyment of riding in an airboat (destinairboat.com). The kids will really love this. The six-passenger-capacity airboat’s owner and operator, Captain Frank, has been described as “a crusty Ozark mountain hillbilly with a sense of humor and love of nature.” I don’t disagree – he is definitely a character, and amusing. Again, the kids will get a kick out of him. They will get a turn to drive the boat as well if they want (anyone can, should they like to), and my own kids gladly took the opportunity. Captain Frank is also the proud owner of the only mobile, floating chapel I have ever seen, and should you be looking to get married, he can spirit you off to do so. In a floating church. Really. (That’s enterprising, no?)
Some of the best food we ate while in Florida was at this “off the beaten path” place called Cafe Organic. The food was local when possible, organic, natural and delightful. The menu changes seasonally and based on what is available from the organic local farmers they work with. Best part? They didn’t even overcharge for the goodness and sustainability factor. A little out of the way, but entirely worth it, the food was amazing, and tasted as good as it was for you. The owners, chiropractors, make all the food from scratch and also still practice, and host other events such as yoga and tai chi on the property. No, not in the restaurant, but next door.
There is also a food co-op for locals to participate in. These people are the embodiment of practicing what they preach (or “you are what you eat,” choose a saying you prefer, they both work). Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc? No problem. You won’t have a problem finding something you can eat here, and multiple options, even. Meat eater? Also no problem – everything goes here, as long as it’s healthy and tastes good. (cafeorganicfwb.com)
Get outside and stay outside, if you know what’s good for you! Have you ever tried paddleboarding? Also called SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard), it is a great way to be outside and active. It’s not as easy as it looks – think yoga on water. As long as you have decent balance, you will be OK. Don’t really? That’s also OK – you will just fall in a few times while you get used to it. This has become a favorite activity of ours, and one we have brought numerous friends out to do with us. If you have not tried it, do yourself a favor. If you have, all the more reason to head out with the Paddle Tribe Company (paddletribecompany.com). The waters are lovely to glide through, and you will enjoy several different types of waters and scenery during your time out. No matter if you are a first timer or you’ve been out often, this is a fun time out and a good way to experience some of Destin’s topography. It’s also a killer workout, to keep off some of that vacation weight!
The Paddle Tribe Company is located directly outside LuLu’s Destin, a beachfront restaurant that often has live entertainment in addition to it’s excellent food and scenery (Lulubuffett.com). While you wait for your food to arrive (and of course, the seafood options are innumerous), the kids can play on the beach, which is outfitted with sand toys and games such as cornhole. Parents can play as well, or they can enjoy some “chill” time, whatever works for you.
None of this even begins to take into account the time you can spend relaxing poolside or at a dazzling Destin beach, where you will no doubt want to park yourself for at least part of your trip. There is so much to see and do in Destin and the surrounding area, that you will be hard pressed to find a reason NOT to visit. Some of the best beaches in the world, fantastic seafood, endless outdoor activities, friendly local service, all of which makes your family vacation easy to plan and stress free. Check out a few of the links, you will be searching for flights in no time.
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