13 Can’t Miss Things to Do in Destin

08/29/2023 | by Mandy Dennis | Local Activity Guide

Located along the Gulf of Mexico, Destin’s emerald coast is the perfect destination for your next beach vacation. You can spend your days soaking up the sun at one of Destin’s many white-sand beaches and partake in a variety of other fun activities in between your lounge sessions. That’s the beauty of Destin!

Everyone can enjoy something here, so bring the whole family along for the ride! Get up close and personal with marine life, feed a gator, hop on a jet ski, or shop all day at Harborwalk Village! This is your guide to getting the most out of your stay in Destin, Florida.

Visit the Crab Island Sandbar

Photo Credit: chapstickaddict via Flickr CC 2.0

The turquoise waters that make up the Gulf Coast are spectacular at any vantage, but there is nothing quite like the view at Crab Island. This popular location can get pretty packed during the summer months, but you’ll forget about the crowds when you get a glimpse of this one-of-a-kind sandbar.

Rent a boat to spend a day on the “island” or opt for a ride on the shuttle boat for a 2.5 to 3-hour excursion. Once you arrive, you can spend your time swimming in the crystal clear waters, grabbing a bite to eat at the floating burger joint, people-watching as you walk along the sandbar, looking for marine life, and so much more!

Other notable island daytrips include:

  • Spectre Island: A hidden gem! Spend the day here looking for wildlife, kayaking, and enjoying a beach all to yourself.
  • Shell Island: An hour’s drive and an impressive bottlenose dolphin population make this a great day trip option from Destin.

Go Snorkeling or Diving at Norriego Point

With crystal clear water and marine life galore, it only makes sense that the Destin area is one of the best places to bust out the snorkel or scuba diving gear. The aptly named Snorkel Beach at the tip of Norriego Point is a popular spot to get your fish to watch on.

For a truly unique diving experience, head 30 minutes east to Grayton Beach State Park and explore the Underwater Museum of Art. Here experienced divers can visit the first underwater sculpture garden in North America. A new art gallery is updated and displayed yearly.

Don’t have underwater gear stored in your vacation closet? These local companies provide rented equipment and guided tours.

Spend the Day at Harborwalk Village

Photo Credit: Andriy Blokhin

Shopaholics, foodies, and adventure seekers unite! The Harborwalk Village is the Destin location for all things entertainment. Rent a kayak to get out on the water, hop between more than a dozen unique shops, take your picture with a local seabird, and play a round of mini golf.

Plenty of adventure also leaves this area, including the adrenaline pumping Sea Blaster boat ride and Buccaneer Pirate Cruise. As a one-stop spot, this locale also offers plenty of fine and casual dining options. Local favorites include Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and the Crab Island Cantina.

Other notable shopping venues in Destin include:

  • Destin Harbor Boardwalk: The same great views without the commotion. An excellent option for people who care less about the amenities and more about the peaceful scenery.
  • Destin Commons: Same great amenities without the views. The Destin Commons are the place for you if your perfect day consists of an all-day shopping spree.

Go on a Dolphin Sunset Cruise

Photo Credit: jessie.whittle via Flickr CC 2.0

A dolphin cruise is already at the top of everyone’s Florida to-do list but a sunset dolphin cruise? Combining two of Destin’s most sought-after sights, dolphins and sunsets… Well, it just doesn’t get much better than that! Spend an evening on the emerald water with a complimentary drink in hand as you search for dolphins and marvel as the sky transforms into a collection of bright colors.

Be sure to book ahead, especially if you have a large group. There are plenty of sunset dolphin cruise tours to choose from with these companies providing top-notch services:

Explore the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

Photo Credit: Larry Syverson via Flickr CC 2.0

Head 10 minutes west to Santa Rosa Island to discover your inner Jacque Cousteau. You don’t have to be a kid to have fun at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, but you’ll probably feel like one! It’s hard not to jump for joy as you feed an African black-footed penguin or snorkel with the southern stingray.

There are more than a dozen marine life encounters to choose from, but you don’t have to get hands-on to have a good time at Gulfarium. A variety of exhibits, shows, and training demonstrations let you get up close to other cute critters like sea lions, sea turtles, dolphins, and more! Don’t miss the daily Otter, Penguin, and Reptile chats and regular events like Painting Under the Sea.

Take a Self Guided Beach Tour

Photo Credit: Norm Lane

Made up of white sand and crystal clear waters; there is no denying that Destin is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. These are some of the most beloved stretches of coastline around Destin.

Miramar Beach

This is a popular choice amongst locals and tourists alike. The white sand beach draws you in for a morning of sunbathing, and the charming beach town of South Walton keeps you hooked for the remainder of the day.

Crystal Beach

With the bustling Destin Commons right across the street, it’s incredible how laidback Crystal Beach remains. This surprisingly hidden gem is excellent for the whole family and hosts fun activities like beach yoga and sandcastle trials.

James Lee Park

Just a stone’s throw away from Crystal Beach, James Lee Park is known for being one of the longest stretches of sand in Destin. It also goes by Crab Trap Beach because of the delicious, top-rated restaurant located on its shores.

Henderson Beach State Park

The perfect mix of nature trails and white sand, Henderson Beach State Park is a great option for people who need more than just a lounger to enjoy a day at the beach. Spread out over 200 acres; there is always something new to see or experience!

Eglin Beach Park

If you are an active or retired military veteran or federal employee, you can have premium access to one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. Escape to Elgin Beach Park for sun, sand, and surf! With an expansive stretch of bright white shoreline, this hidden gem offers breathtaking views of Okaloosa Island and plenty of space for outdoor activities. Take note this beach is open only for military and federal employee badge holders from 10 am to 5 pm and is closed on Tuesdays.

Grab a Jetski Rental

Photo Credit: Angela Harrod

When you visit a place known for its crystal clear waters, you will likely want to get out on it. Sunset cruises are nice, and shuttle boats take you from point A to point B, but you are at the driver’s whim at the end of the day. So why not try something that lets you choose your own adventure?!

Wet-n-Wild Watersports offers jet ski rentals, daily parasailing excursions, pontoon boat rentals, and dolphin tours around Destin.

Take a Paddleboard Yoga Class

Change up your regular yoga routine and get your zen on while you practice with a certified stand-up paddle board (SUP) Yoga Instructor through Wet Paddleboards. Haven’t paddled or done yoga before? Not a problem! The yoga portion of the experience begins with calming stretches in a seated position. From there, you’ll move on to more challenging standing poses, testing your balance and strength while improving your overall alignment.

After all the hard work, it’s time to float back and enjoy reclined postures and a well-deserved savasana, surrounded by the beauty of nature and the warm sun. SUP Yoga is the quintessential Destin experience!

Visit Gator Beach

  • Address: 20001 Emerald Coast Pkwy, Destin, FL
  • Website: gatorbeach.com
  • Admission: Free

Is it really a successful family vacation to Florida without a visit to an alligator park? Especially when that alligator park is considered the world’s greatest?

Gator Beach is no ordinary beach! This alligator park houses hundreds of alligators, and admission is entirely free. Spend the afternoon getting up close and personal with the alligators and watching a Gator Show. Just make sure you have enough money to buy a $5 bag of “gator food” because you don’t want to miss an opportunity to feed the local legends!

Afterward, head over to Fudpuckers Beachside Bar and Grill for their famous fried dill pickles and Shrimp and Gator Pasta. This location regularly hosts live music and themed entertainment nights.

Take a Day Trip to The Village of Baytowne Wharf

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons via Google Images CCL
  • Address: 9300 Emerald Coast Parkway, West Miramar Beach, FL
  • Website: baytownewharf.com

Nestled along the picturesque shores of Choctawhatchee Bay, the Village of Baytown Wharf is a beach dweller’s dream. This Sandestin attraction has everything from unique shops to waterfront restaurants, all while sporting a charming beach vibe.

Get here early in the morning to beat the crowds, grab breakfast, and enjoy the views of the Wharf’s calm waters before the village wakes up. Enjoy watching as Baytowne comes to life, and more than 20 shops open their doors for your shopping pleasure. Just don’t be surprised if you end up spending your entire day here!

The Village of Baytowne Wharf also has various entertainment options to keep you busy from morning until night. Take a break from shopping with a visit to one of the Wharf’s exciting activities, like ziplining at the Baytowne Adventure Zone, going for a ride on the Baytowne Carousel, and listening to music at Baytowne LIVE.

Splash Around at Big Kahuna’s Waterpark

Photo Credit: Andriy Blokhin

In a state filled with waterparks and adventure zones galore, one of the best things you can do is accept that you are a child at heart. Big Kahuna’s Water Park is a family-friendly destination at any time of year, regardless of the weather. They have a retractable roof, so this is the perfect rainy-day escape.

Enjoy a variety of speedy waterslides, relaxing wave pools, and the iconic lazy river at the Emerald Coast’s largest waterpark.

Go on a Buccaneer Pirate Cruise

Hop aboard a pirate ship and take to the waters for an epic afternoon of sword fights, sing-alongs, cannon fire, and drinks. You may even be lucky to leave as an honorary member of the ship’s Buccaneer Crew! This pirate cruise departs from Harborwalk Village and lasts 1.5 to 2 hours. A second excursion is available after sunset for ages 21 and up.

Learn at the Destin History & Fishing Museum

If a rainy day has delayed your fishing charter or beach day, the Destin History and Fishing Museum is here to save the day! Not only can you learn about Destin’s fishing rodeo and diving history, but you can also check out the hundreds of fish mounts caught in Destin’s waters. Besides, the museum is a great backup plan for rainy days and can be used as an cool air break during the hotter months.

Your Destin Vacation Awaits

Nicknamed the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village because of its wide variety of fish, Destin is definitely an impressive catch. The emerald green waters and white sand beaches set the stage for a breathtaking vacation with endless things to do. So what are you waiting for? Book your Coastal Vibe Vacation today!

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