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A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO DESTIN, FLORIDA

The Ultimate Vacation Guide to Destin, Florida

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With the sparkling, clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico lapping at 24 miles of white-quartz sands, the Florida Panhandle city of Destin is a longstanding vacation spot for beach lovers of all ages. But there’s more to love here along this barrier island set between Pensacola to the west and Panama City to the east: world-class golf, beach resorts, and fishing (Destin is affectionately known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village), plus lots of beachy bars, seafood spots, and attractions.

It’s hard to argue with an average of 343 sunny days per year, not to mention an average annual high temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit and low of 61. This incredibly benign climate makes Destin a spot to play outdoors, both on and off the water, all year round.

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Let’s start here: All the beaches in Destin are sugar-white, soft, and surprisingly cool underfoot even in the heat of the summer. Why? The sands here contain finely ground, rounded quartz crystals that originally washed down from the Appalachian Mountains at the end of the last Ice Age. Those white sands also reflect the sun brilliantly back through the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico, creating a stunning emerald cast to the water (and no doubt contributing to this stretch of Florida shoreline being dubbed “The Emerald Coast”).

With a mile of stunningly white, protected sands along the Gulf, Henderson Beach State Park has six picnic pavilions, a playground that overlooks the water, and a sweet ¾-mile pet-friendly trail that winds among the park’s protected dunes and vegetation. To the east of this treasure, the beauty continues with the Shores at Crystal Beach Public Access and Park with a small parking lot, a pavilion, and picnic tables. And a bit farther east, James Lee Park leads to another gorgeous strand of white sand, which is accessible via nine dune walkovers (and has 150 parking spots and a trio of picnic pavilions).
A pair of beaches sit on either side of East Pass (and the jetties that mark it), a deep-water channel between Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The strand to the east of the jetty is ideal for watching the boats come and go (and there’s great snorkeling on the interior of the jetty as well).
While not directly on the Gulf of Mexico, Noriego Point is a wonderful little white sand peninsula at the end of Holiday Isle, with one side facing Destin Harbor and the other East Pass. With gentle dunes, weathered wooden fences, and sea oats, it’s a picturesque spot to hang out, not to mention watch the boats on East Pass. Bonus: The Destin Water Taxi stops here, so you can leave your vehicle behind.

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Best Things To Do in Destin
When spending time in a place known as the world’s luckiest fishing village, it would be a crime not to join the angling scene. Start at Destin Harbor, home to the nation’s largest and most elaborately equipped charter fishing fleet. Book a charter for a half- or full-day, drop a line off the nearby 1,200-foot Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, or surf cast from the city’s beaches. And if watching the fleet return and unload is more your speed, plan a walk along the harbor’s docks between 4 and 6pm, when most of the boats come in (particularly on Fridays and Saturdays). Want to watch marine life instead? Book a dolphin or sunset cruise on the 80-foot Southern Star or an educational tour on Boogies Watersports’ Glass Bottom Boat.
Under the water, the fun is just as expansive. Emerald Coasts Scuba offers snorkeling excursions off the Destin Jetties as well as scuba options for every level diver—including first-timers. Note also that Destin is home to some serious wreck diving, including sunken barges, tugs, liberty ships, landing craft, airplanes, army tanks, and bridge rubble—all hangouts for grouper, flounder, and cobia.

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