Nicknamed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin has grown into one of the most popular vacation spots on the Florida Panhandle. Founded in the 1850s, Destin used to be a sleepy fishing town until a bridge connected the skinny peninsula with Florida’s mainland. With a baseline population of 13,000 residents (which inflates to 25,000-plus during the summer), this town retains an intimate, friendly atmosphere. Midwestern and Southern families flock to Destin’s beaches each summer for the city’s trademark bright white shores, made up of pure Appalachian quartz. This unique sand not only stays cool in the summer heat, but with the sunlight’s reflection, it also gives the waters an emerald tint. Golfers traverse seaside bunkers, while kids splash in the water parks. More adventurous visitors snorkel and scuba dive off the coast or charter a boat to try their luck at deep sea fishing. After all, casting a line is an integral part of this peninsular paradise.
Best Hotels in Destin
- The Henderson Park Inn
- Hotel Effie Sandestin
- Henderson Beach Resort
Best Hotels in Destin
- The Henderson Park Inn
- Hotel Effie Sandestin
- Henderson Beach Resort
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Destin is in April and May when the water is warm, the sun is shining and the temperatures are comfortable (expect highs in the mid-70s and 80s). If you visit any earlier, you risk cooler weather and chilly water. A summer trip will put you among the crowds and the peak prices. Although you might consider late summer and early fall, the temperatures can be sweltering and accompanied by rain. Average highs reach the high 80s in summer, while winter temps fluctuate between the low 40s and 60s. Some travelers do visit in the winter offseason when rates drop, but they miss out on the area’s top activities.
This short shoulder season is the best time to capitalize on the low hotel rates left over from winter and to enjoy great weather. The water temperature will be in the 70s by April and continue to rise through May. You can expect the daytime temperature to hover around the mid-70s to 80s.
Peak season puts Destin on full display. The beaches will be lined with people, the restaurants will be serving up fresh seafood and the sun will be smiling down nearly the entire time. Unfortunately, hotels recognize the phenomenal environment and hike up the hotel rates.
Early fall offers some ideal temperatures (highs in the 70s to 80s, lows in the 40s to 60s); however, rain also reaches the coast during September and October thanks to the North Atlantic hurricane season. November sees the end of the wet season but also a steep temperature drop (60s become the high). If you find a reasonable hotel deal, it might be worth taking a chance on this time of year. And if you’re coming to town for the annual Fishing Rodeo, sign up for your fishing charter early.
Temperatures in the low winter season (average highs in the low 60s and lows in the 40s) squash vacationers’ hopes of enjoying the beach. For this reason, hotels and resorts offer enticing bargains. If you don’t mind golfing in a sweater, this might be the perfect time for you.
How to Save Money in Destin
- Fly here, fly there Three medium-size airports (Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, Pensacola International Airport and the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport) are within a reasonable driving distance of Destin. Explore your flight and rental car options at all three airports to secure the best prices for your trip.
- May Day May is the best time to visit Destin, when room rates drop and daytime temperatures linger in the 80s.
- Use two wheels instead of four Avoid the region’s trademark traffic by hopping on a bike instead of in your car. You’ll save on gas and parking fees.
What You Need to Know
- Keep the top down Summer beach traffic in this small community can consume hours. Renting a convertible will let you enjoy the sun even when you’re stuck in gridlock.
- Park it To avoid the parking lot that is U.S. Route 98, leave your wheels at the hotel. Without the car, the only line you’ll encounter is at the bar.
- Avoid hurricane season Destin is not immune to the threat of hurricane season, which runs from early June to late November. Keep an eye on the weather if you’re planning to visit during these months.
- Try a fishing charter If you’re looking to try your luck with a rod and reel, book a fishing charter. Experienced captains will take you to prime spots and teach you the basics if you’re new to fishing.
What to Eat in Destin
You’ve likely heard restaurants described or categorized as “farm-to-table,” but what about “Gulf-to-table”? In a city nicknamed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” it should come as no surprise that Florida’s marine creatures are the backbone of the city’s dining scene. In fact, at any given time, there are 20 different kinds of fish to sample. But if you prefer land mammals and vegetables to sea creatures, Destin has you covered there, too.
Marina Café, which features fresh seafood, steaks, pastas, sushi and wood-fired pizzas, is lauded not only for its menu but also for its spectacular views of Destin Harbor. If you’re looking for a more casual atmosphere that doesn’t sacrifice taste, the Dewey Destin restaurants serve up a full menu of seafood favorites alongside a bit of history: Dewey’s great, great grandfather, Leonard Destin, founded the town in 1835. If you don’t mind the drive, FOOW in Santa Rosa Beach (about 25 miles east of Destin) is another favorite among travelers and critics, in part for its beachside location overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar is yet another mainstay with several locations in the area.
Prefer to catch your own dinner? Several Destin restaurants participate in the “you catch it, we’ll cook it” philosophy, meaning they’ll cook your cleaned fish any way you like it with the sides of your choice. You can find a complete list of Gulf-to-table eateries willing to cook your catch on the visitors bureau’s website. Be sure to book one of Destin’s best fishing charters to take you on the water and help you catch your favorite fish.
When you need a break from Destin’s seafood menus, visitors say you should head to McGuire’s Irish Pub. It has its fair share of Irish dishes, but it also offers steak and hamburgers, not to mention tours of its brewery and live music.
Destin is very safe, but it’s still always best to use common sense. Lock your car doors and make sure valuables are secured. Also, in order to avoid health complications, such as sunburn and heatstroke, drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen throughout the day.
If you’re hitting the beach, make sure that you learn about the flag system, which is used on all of Destin’s beaches. A green flag means that swimming conditions are safe, a yellow flag represents a medium hazard (like strong undercurrents) and a red flag means that conditions are dangerous. Two red flags show that swimming is prohibited while a purple flag warns swimmers that there are marine pests (such as jellyfish) in the water. Before jumping in, always make sure that a lifeguard is present.
Getting Around Destin
The best way to get around Destin is by car. Driving enables you to visit any of the 13 beach access points and, despite the traffic, is the preferred mode of transportation. Recent travelers agree, moving slowly in your own vehicle is better than being stranded at a bus stop. In fact, most vacationers drive to Destin instead of flying into Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS). The Pensacola International Airport (PNS) – located about 60 miles west of Destin – and the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) – around 50 miles east of the city – also serve the area, but are located more than an hour away. You can rent a car from any of these airports.
Driving throughout the small city isn’t difficult. The only chance of confusion comes when dealing with U.S. Highway 98, since it has so many names depending on where you are on the peninsula. The locals are very accustomed to tourists, so don’t hesitate to ask for directions. Summer traffic going in and out of town can be atrocious, particularly on Saturdays. If you’d rather let someone else do the driving, there are several taxi companies, including Uber and Lyft, that serve the Destin area.
One way to avoid the gridlock? By using two wheels instead of four. U.S. Highway 98 has a dedicated bike and pedestrian path on the north side of the roadway that stretches for 5 miles, but if you really want to exercise your legs, venture north to Walton County where there are more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails. If you didn’t bring your own bike, you’ll find there are several rental shops in Destin, including Coastal Cruisers and La Dolce Vita. Many bike shops also rent scooters and mopeds.
EC Rider bus routes 30, 32 and 33 serve the Destin area along U.S. 98, more commonly referred to as the Emerald Coast Parkway. Popular stops include Henderson Beach State Park and Crystal Beach. Adults pay $2 to ride, and children with heights equal to or shorter than the top of the fare box ride free with an accompanying adult. The bus runs every 30 minutes in the summer and every hour in the winter. Travelers have deemed the bus system “unreliable,” so a car is still your best option.
Encompassing an area of about 8 square miles, Destin isn’t a difficult city to maneuver. There are 13 public access points for visitors wanting to spend a day on Destin’s clean white sand or in the Gulf’s emerald green waters. The main road in this city is U.S. Highway 98 – also commonly known as the Emerald Coast Parkway – which runs the length of the Gulf of Mexico coast and is lined with attractions, restaurants and lodging options. Most attractions are on this south side of the peninsula. Destin’s city center is on the westernmost tip of the peninsula.
Sitting just south of Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, Destin Bridge is a great place to troll for the catch of the day. There are plenty of bait-and-tackle shops along the harbor to provide all the equipment you need.
Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier
Along the southern coast of Fort Walton Beach Park (just off of the Miracle Strip Parkway), the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier offers direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. From mid-October through mid-March, the pier is open daily from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., and during the summer it’s open 24 hours a day.