Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
Destin Florida is known as the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. It’s also one of the best Florida beaches, has great shopping, seafood restaurants, and a rich maritime history.
When we first moved to Destin in the early 1980s, I thought my husband had brought me to the ends of the earth. I was from Tampa, and I’d heard of the “Panhandle” but, other than Tallahassee, I had no idea what was there. It appeared there was nothing, or so it seemed to me at first glance.
Once I discovered there was a pre-school, a state park with a beach, and a shopping mall just over the bridge in Fort Walton Beach, I grew to like the place. We got a little sailboat we named the “Fantastic” and spent Sunday afternoons anchored in Joe’s Bayou eating boiled shrimp and watching the kids swim.
Many years later we returned to Destin – and what a shock! My quiet little fishing village had turned into a full-blown beach town, with visitors coming from all over the world to enjoy its beautiful Florida beaches. Some of the old places were still there, but now there were also lots of restaurants, hotels, condos, and a super new shopping mall.
Historically, the name Destin has been synonymous with fishing and the town goes by the name of the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Settled by Captain Leonard Destin, a New Englander who came to the area around 1845, fishing was the town’s main livelihood until the mid-20th Century when bridges to the mainland were built, bringing in tourists and beach lovers.
Today a visit to the docks is a great way to learn more about fish and fishing, and it’s fun to watch the boats unload their catch at the end of the day. You can also see examples of the types of fish that are caught in these waters and learn about the fishing families at the Destin Fishing Museum just across the street.
If golf is your game, you won’t be left out of the action. Destin has several championship golf courses that are open to the public.
For watery fun, Big Kahuna’s is the only waterpark between here and Panama City Beach. It opened in the mid-1980s and has grown to include a speedway track, thrill rides, and mini-golf along with huge water slides and over 40 other water attractions. The park is seasonal and open during the summer months.
I remember how excited we all were when Destin got its first grocery store. Today shopping in Destin includes small boutiques and big box stores, along with Destin Commons, a fantastic city street-type mall that includes brand names like Abercrombie & Fitch, Loft, Steve Madden, Chico’s, and Fresh Produce. The mall is anchored by Belk and Bass Pro Shop. You’ll find more shopping at Silver Sands factory outlet and Grand Boulevard at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort just across the county line in Miramar Beach.
There are several things you can do for free in Destin Florida but one activity you can’t miss seeing even if you don't participate, especially if you’re crossing the Destin bridge, is all the boats at Crab Island. The “island” is really a sandbar created from dredging the channel at East Pass and the water is only inches deep. It has become a gathering place for boaters to anchor their boats and walk around and eat, drink, talk, and visit. However, you don’t have to have a boat. You can wade out to the party from the Okaloosa Island side of the Pass.
Destin’s main attraction, of course, is one of the best Florida beaches you’ll find between here and the Caribbean. Henderson Beach State Park is a great place for beachcombing, as are the public beaches and walkovers on Holiday Isle and Scenic Highway 98. In summer, be prepared for slow moving traffic along this stretch of road, but the view is great.
Along with condos and other beach vacation rentals, hotels in town range from budget friendly to full service luxury. I’ve been to Pelican Beach Resort and Conference Center for meetings and I can tell you, it has a great view. It’s right on the beach and offers units with full kitchens. Another great place is the Palms of Destin Resort and Conference Center across Highway 98 from the beach. It features free transportation to Henderson Beach State Park.
Controversial among locals because of its size and location is the Emerald Grande located at the foot of the Destin bridge. It offers a full service hotel in a condominium setting. The Inn on Destin Harbor is a boutique hotel located right on the harbor, and is pet friendly. Some others you might want to check out are SunDestin Beach Resort, Sandpiper Cove, and Capri by the Gulf.
When booking your hotel, you might want to check our events calendar for the month of your stay to decide whether or not you want to be near any festivals or events that may be happening. There’s always something going on at the beach.
Now we’re at my favorite section. Yes, I do love to eat, and Destin has some yummy places for both food and views. I like to be near the water, so places on the Destin Harbor are fun. A long-time favorite of mine is Harbor Docks, 538 Harbor Boulevard (U. S. Highway 98), 850-837-2506. They are very casual and have great seafood and a great view of the harbor.
More upscale but still relaxed is Marina Café, 404 Harbor Boulevard, 850-837-7960. They also overlook the harbor and feature steaks, seafood, and sushi. Harry T’s Lighthouse at Harborwalk Village, 46 Harbor Boulevard, 850-654-4800 is fun and funky for burgers and fish with a view, and McGuire's Irish Pub, 33 Highway 98, 850-650-0000 is a locals hot spot serving burgers, beer, and Irish fare.
Destin is traditionally a drive-to destination, reached via Interstate 10, Highway 85 and the Mid-Bay Bridge, and the "Beach Road," Highway 331 through South Walton. Airports serving Destin are Northwest Florida Regional Airport north of Fort Walton Beach and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City Beach. Both offer reasonably priced flights to and from the area.
There’s still so much more to Destin Florida than I can write here. You’ll just have come and see for yourself. If you are a Destinite and would like to review something in Destin, whether it’s a hotel, restaurant, or attraction, please enter your title and click on the link below to get started. Otherwise, please leave a comment. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.
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