A couple of weeks ago I took the kids on a quick beach vacation and a mini 3-day trip to Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida was just what we needed! Destin is one of the small beach towns located along the panhandle area of Florida along the beautiful stretch of County Road 30A. We had done a road trip over Spring Break of this year to Panama City Beach, another small city located at the very tail end of 30A, and it gave me my first taste of the beautiful emerald beaches this area is known for. That trip educated me on the different cities that make up the region including Rosemary Beach, Seaside, and Santa Rosa to name a few. While Panama City Beach was amazing, I soon learned that Destin had a totally different vibe and was definitely worth checking out on its own.
And so, when I saw that Southwest Airlines debuted an affordable direct flight from Dallas to Destin / Fort Walton Beach that was only 1.75 hours long, it was the perfect reason to take a quick vacay! I’m excited to share our experience and all my recommendations on what to do, where to stay, and what to eat while in Destin, Florida with your family.
What To Do
Play At The Beach
No trip to Destin is complete without at least one visit to see the beaches that have made this town famous. Destin beaches are known for their sugar-white sand and emerald-green waters, a quality that’s actually a result of the geographic characteristic of the mountainous sea floor along the coast. Our vacation rental that we stayed at was a short 10-minute walk to Destin’s Miramar Beach and even though we had some overcast skies, the sand was stunningly beautiful and the water was actually warm. It was the perfect way to spend a couple hours one afternoon just relaxing and watching the kids play.
Book An Adventure
Destin has so much more to offer than just the beach but oftentimes I just don’t know where to start when it comes to figuring out other water activities that are fun and safe for my kids. I was so glad to see the destination offers Little Adventures, a curated selection of adventures that do all the hard work for you! Little Adventures include fun options for all ages and activity preferences — choices include scuba diving and eFoil lessons for the more adventurous (ages 13+) or dolphin excursions and sand sculpture lessons for those who want something more low-key (all ages welcome).
I signed us up for beginner paddle boarding with Destin Paddle and we managed to fit in a quick 30-minute session out on Choctawhatchee Bay right before it started raining. Mei and I paired up on a paddleboard while Dylan joined up with the instructor to sit on his paddleboard. The water in the bay is calm and relaxing, so it made for the perfect spot to try paddle boarding even as a beginner. Dylan had the time of his life and was even asking the instructor to go faster, while Mei was a bit more timid sitting with me on my paddleboard. We all had such a wonderful time and it was such a unique way to experience more of Destin!
Meet the Animals at the Gulfarium
We decided to check out the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park on a complete whim (based on the recommendation of our Uber driver actually!) and honestly, it was one of our favorite activities! The park itself isn’t big, but the different exhibits really pack a punch. There are opportunities to see animals such as dolphins, sea lions, and even sharks in an environment that closely resembles their natural habitat and there are even animal shows throughout the day that are entertaining and engaging.
There are also animal encounter experiences available as an add-on where you can really get up close and personal with particular animals such as dolphins, turtles, and sea lions. Dylan and Mei wanted to do the turtle encounter so we actually had the opportunity to feed 3 different turtles (did you know tortoises eat butternut squash??) as well as get close enough to even pet them!
Add Variety and Try Something Indoors
We had some rainy weather throughout our trip, but Destin had so many fun indoor activities that it was a great opportunity for us to switch it up and try something indoors! Some rainy day options include:
- Rock Out Climbing Gym
- Destin History & Fishing Museum (w/ Scavenger Hunt!)
- Destin Commons
- Fat Daddy’s Arcade
- Rainforest Black Light Mini-Golf & Arcade
- Urban Air Trampoline & Adventure Park
We actually hit up Rock Out Climbing Gym, Destin History & Fishing Museum, and Fat Daddy’s Arcade during the 3 days that we were in Destin and they were all so much fun! Rock Out was definitely a highlight as it was my kids’ first time bouldering (rock climbing without a harness) and they both were able to make it to the top of several beginner routes. There were moments when Dylan and Mei each started getting scared, but it was such a proud parent moment to see them push past these fears to reach the top! We spent a good 2 hours at the climbing gym and it was a great way to get some exercise as well as try something new on vacation!
Hit Up The Pool
If you’re lucky enough to have a pool where you’re staying, take advantage! The pool at our vacation rental was like a tropical escape with even a beach-like no-entry sloping entrance that makes it friendly for babies and little ones to have a splash as well. I particularly enjoyed the hot tub in the back and had a good soak while the kids splashed in the main pool.
Where To Stay
Top: Abercrombie Half-Zip Sweatshirt (XS / TTS) – (v-neck option, hoodie option)
Bottom: Abercrombie Cloud Joggers (XXS / size down if in-between) – (sweats option, shorts option)
Hat: Abercrombie Vegan Leather Baseball Hat
Shoes: Vince Brenden Sneakers (5.5 / TTS) – on sale! (similar, similar)
We’ve done hotels the last few times that we’ve travelled with the kids, but this time we decided to find a vacation rental and I am so glad we did!! I found a place at the Villages of Crystal Beach and omg, it was incredible. Most of the homes are set up pretty similar and they are perfect if you’re planning a trip with other families or a group of friends! These homes are enormous with 3 stories, beautiful wrap-around balconies, and walking distances to both shops and the beach! Our rental was called Coastal Compass and had 6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and could sleep up to 10 people — there was even a bunk bed that made the kids so excited!
I loved that we were able to cook a couple meals for ourselves when we were all too tired to go out, and the rental was stocked up on games and puzzles that made the evenings perfect for family time!
Where To Eat in Destin, FL
Now on to the good stuff: FOOD!! Destin has so many good eats and my only regret is that we didn’t have enough time to eat at more. I’m sharing a few of my faves as well as local recommendations that I heard again and again!
kids’ hot dog | sampler w/ shrimp, scallops, and hushpuppies | salad with Triple Tail fish
Dewey Destin’s Seafood Restaurant needs to be at the top of your list when you visit Destin! Destin’s history literally begins with the Destin family and while there are now 3 different restaurant locations, I recommend going to the original location for the best views.
Dewey’s Snoballs – “Scarlett O’Hara”
(red velvet and wedding cake, cheesecake stuffed and cream topped)
Conveniently right next door to Dewey Destin’s Seafood Restaurant is Dewey’s Snoballs, and let me tell you now, you need to leave room for this dessert!! Dewey’s Snoballs are not your average snowcones as the ice of a snoball is fine and fluffy instead of the coarse and crunchy ice you might be familiar with. These are over 30 flavors of homemade Louisiana came sugar syrup and you can even choose to have your snoball “stuffed” with ice cream or cheesecake!
Parlor Donuts came at the recommendation of a local friend and even though the location is slightly outside of Destin in Fort Walton Beach, the trip is 100% worth it!! These donuts are unique in that they’re layered with thin buttery dough that’s then fried to a crisp on the outside while staying light and fluffy on the inside. There are over 30 flavors and the toppings are all so unique — a peek at the different options and you’ll see flavors such as Campfire, French Toast, and Carnival!
We didn’t get a chance to check out Fudpucker’s as we just didn’t have enough stamina most nights to go out, but I got so many recommendations for this place! Fudpucker’s (not to be confused with Fuddruckers!) is unique in that in addition to offering the typical bar and grill fare, the restaurant also features live alligators! You don’t have to eat at the restaurant to visit Gator Beach and if you’re daring enough, you can even feed the gators and get a photo. Best part is that it’s all kid friendly and was even voted “Best Family Friendly Restaurant” by locals in 2014.
McGuire’s Irish Pub is another spot that so many of the locals recommended over and over! The Destin location offers a view of the harbor but the real surprise is the over $1m of dollar bills hanging from the roof and ceiling. Reviews are mixed as far as whether McGuire’s is family friendly, but a place with over 13,200 reviews and 4.7 stars, McGuire’s certainly does sound like a favorite!
Boshamps is another casual dining favorite among locals and visitors alike. The restaurant boasts a gulf-to-table seafood experience where fresh seafood is their specialty and the harbor-side location makes for a beautiful view as well!
CONCLUSION ON THE BEST AFFORDABLE THINGS TO DO IN DESTIN, FL:
Our quick escape to Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida was just the getaway that we all needed! Not only are Destin’s beaches some of the most beautiful and unique that I’ve ever experienced with it’s pristine white sand and vibrant emerald green waters, but the city has such a welcoming atmosphere that invites individuals and families alike to unwind and enjoy themselves. There is something for everyone and I’m so grateful we were able to make wonderful memories that will last a lifetime!
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Thank you to Destin Fort-Walton Beach for sponsoring this trip!