We independently research and recommend any products or places but we may earn a commission if you click on links we provide. Learn More.
Situated along Florida’s Panhandle, Destin is widely considered the gem of the Emerald Coast – and with good reason! The tropical temps make this historic fishing village a hit year-round for beach bums, families, and basically anyone else seeking warm weather and beautiful scenery.
Destin is, at its core, a beach town. You’ll find plenty of soft sandy beaches to park your bum for relaxing beach days, plus other activities like sunset cruises, fishing excursions, and some great state parks in the vicinity.
Families with kids can visit fun adventure parks and set off on pirate-themed cruises, while the adults can look forward to discovering great food and beaches. No matter what brings you to town, Destin’s charm is sure to delight. Here are some of the best things to do in Destin, Florida.
Destin Harbor Boardwalk
Start your vacation at the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, also referred to as Harborwalk Village. This lovely waterfront area is a great way to get a feel for the town, and it’s also one of the best things to do in Destin because there is so much to see and do in this scenic area.
You can shop for souvenirs, pop into art galleries, or simply stroll around and take in the views. For the more adventurous travelers, there’s also a rock climbing wall, a zip line, and water toys for rent. Once you work up an appetite, you can visit one of the many bars, restaurants, and cafes situated along the boardwalk.
Henderson Beach State Park
Soft, sugary sand, warm, clear waters, and a relaxed setting in a protected nature area. What more could you want out of beach day? Henderson Beach State Park offers all this and more, and it sits less than a 10-minute drive from downtown Destin.
In addition to the glorious beach, the park also boasts a nature trail, a children’s play area, and a picnic and grilling pavilion. If one day here simply isn’t enough (warning, it may not be), you can book a campsite for your RV or tent and fall asleep listening to the sound of waves crashing against the shore.
Just above the state park, you’ll find a Florida institution inside of the Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar & Grill – Gator Beach. The restaurant is perched on cane poles above an alligator hole, where live gators swim and await feeding time. If you’re lucky, you may even get the chance to feed one of the hundreds of alligators yourself (with plenty of supervision, of course).
While this may feel like somewhat of a scary or off putting activity, you can rest assured that the environment is completely safe, and you’ll be quite far away from the gators at all times. The venue also offers education programs, a museum, and the chance to take a pic with a live alligator!
Gator Beach has dubbed itself as “the world’s greatest alligator park.” You can decide for yourself if it has earned this accolade, but there’s no denying that this unique attraction is one of the best things to do in Destin.
Hop on your boat and make your way to Crab Island. It’s really more of a glorified sand bar, but the warm, shallow water and stunning scenery make it worth the trip over from Destin.
The surface of Crab Island mainly sits under the water, but there are floating attractions all around the area, from restaurants and bars to obstacle courses and shops. Once you’re in the water, you can go snorkeling, rent a paddleboard or kayak, or simply enjoy a scenic swim.
This is one of the more popular things to do in Destin, and the crowds definitely add a lively atmosphere to the serene surroundings. Even if you don’t have your own boat, you can make your way to Crab Island via water taxi.
Buccaneer Pirate Cruise
One of the best things to do in Destin if you’re traveling with youngsters is setting sail on the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise. The whole family is sure to have a blast aboard this old-timey ship, but the kids will especially love the water gun fights, treasure hunts, and pirate training.
The adventure begins at Destin Harbor and continues along the coast, offering spectacular views in addition to pirate-themed entertainment like real cannons firing and lively musical performances. Even if you’re not traveling with children, you’re sure to have a swashbuckling good time living out your Pirates of the Caribbean dream.
Destin Commons is an upscale outdoor entertainment center mostly known for its shopping opportunities and beautiful beach. There are nearly 100 stores to peruse, from large name brand shops to smaller locally-owned boutiques.
There is also a movie theater, several dining options, and a kid’s splash pad and playground. Lovely palm trees sway around the entire area, creating a high end experience for big spenders and window shoppers alike.
Once you’ve had enough shopping, you can head down to Crystal Beach, located at the south end of Destin Commons. This is widely regarded as one of the best beaches in Destin, so don’t miss it – even if you don’t plan on taking a dip.
Sexton’s Seafood Market
Destin got its start as a fishing village, and that history and culture live on to this day. If you like fish, then you’ll be in heaven throughout your trip, but one of the best places to get some fresh seafood is at Sexton’s Seafood Market.
This family owned seafood market has been in business for over 35 years, and it’s a favorite with locals and visitors alike. They sling everything from juicy shrimp and big oysters to freshly grilled seafood plates for those who want to leave the cooking to the professionals.
Big Kahuna’s Water Park
If you want to cool off in the water but you’re sick of cleaning out the sand in between your toes, spend a day at Big Kahuna’s Water Park. Part water park and part theme park, Big Kahuna’s is the perfect place to take the whole family on a warm day in Destin.
The park has waterslides, pools, a lazy river, and a surf simulator, making it a great spot for visitors of all ages. If you prefer to stay dry, you can hang out in a cabana with a good book, play a round or two of mini golf, or try one of the exhilarating rides that don’t revolve around water.
Hit The Beach
It should come as no surprise that Destin is famous for its beaches. Soft white sand, year-round sunny weather, and gorgeous blue waters (it’s not named the Emerald Coast for nothing!) all make this area perfect for memorable beach days, and you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.
Crystal Beach is perhaps the most popular beach in Destin, and it’s conveniently located just across the street from Destin Commons. This stretch of sand has tons of amenities, including shops and cafes, water sports rentals, beach volleyball nets, and more.
Other popular beaches in the area include Santa Rosa Beach, Fort Walton Beach, Henderson Beach State Park, and June White Decker Park. You really can’t go wrong at any of the Destin beaches – they are all fabulous!
Emerald Coast Wildlife Rescue
One of the most unique things to do in Destin is to visit the Emerald Coast Wildlife Rescue, located in the nearby city of Crestview.
Here you’ll be able to get an inside look at some of the local wildlife that you probably wouldn’t be able to see on your own, including foxes, tortoises, snakes, raccoons, and more. There are even a few international residents rescued from abused settings, like wallabies, lemurs, sloths, and tigers.
The rescue provides rehabilitation care for nearly three dozen species of local critters, so you know the money you pay for your ticket is going to a great cause.
Sunset Dolphin Cruise
Florida is all about the Dolphins – and not just the football team! Florida’s west coast is considered one of the best places to see dolphins in the US, and the waters off of Destin are full of incredible marine life, including bottlenose dolphins.
You can get a front row seat to watch these beauties on a cruise, and there are plenty of companies to choose from. Most companies depart right from Destin’s harbor, and cruises are available all year long. Perhaps the best time for a dolphin cruise is in the evening – this is when dolphins go hunting for their dinner, so you’ll see tons of them. Catching a magnificent sunset is also an added bonus!
Deep Sea Fishing
Anglers from near and far flock to Destin’s shores to reel in rare catches of the day – this city is called the ‘world’s luckiest fishing village’, after all! The deep water in the northern Gulf of Mexico is part of what makes fishing here so great, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to reel in massive billfish, Mahi Mahi, tuna, grouper and more.
Chartering a fishing boat and captain is the surest way to guarantee a great catch. You’ll have an expert guide to lead you to all the best honey holes, including Okaloosa Island, the Jetties and East Pass, and John Beasley Park. There are also inland fishing and night fishing charters available for the more adventurous anglers.
Destin’s beautiful blue waters beckon beachgoers all year round, and one of the most fun ways to experience the ocean is by taking a ride on a banana boat. These long yellow inflatable rafts are easily visible from the shore, and after watching round after round of people going for rides, you’ll likely be enticed to hop on one yourself.
There are banana boats all across town, and you’ll likely see them floating on the water no matter which beach you’re visiting. The boats can hold up to six people, and both adults and kids (aged 5 and up) are welcome to board. Don’t be worried if you fall off – it’s all part of the fun!
If the banana boat isn’t your style, there are plenty of other watersports you can book in Destin, including jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards, parasailing, and more.
Destin History and Fishing Museum
The history of Destin and fishing are intertwined, and the best way to learn about this town is by visiting the Destin History and Fishing Museum.
It doesn’t matter if you love history or if you love fishing – this museum does a wonderful job of connecting the dots between the two with interactive exhibits, displays with vintage fishing equipment, mounts of locally caught fish, and old (but well-preserved) fishing boats from the 1920s.
The Village of Baytowne Wharf
If you have time for a day trip, visiting the nearby village of Baytowne Wharf is one of the best things to do in Destin. This upscale area is situated along the scenic Choctawhatchee Bay and features shops, restaurants, and a lively nightlife scene for both locals and out-of-towners.
Even if you’re not here for wining and dining, Baytowne Wharf is a great place to hang out for a day or evening and simply stroll around with your loved ones. There are several festivals, concerts, and other community events held here throughout the year, so be sure to check the events calendar to see if any fun activities line up with your trip to Destin.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is one of the best family-friendly attractions near Destin. They create memorable experiences for visitors of all ages with a wide variety of marine life.
General admission includes access to exhibits, shows, training demonstrations but the more unique experiences are picking from any one of their encounters. Discover dolphins, stingrays, gators, turtles, penguins, sea lions and more on these encounters. These encounters allow visitors to interact with the marine animals and the opportunity to learn more about the animals.
Golfers love Destin thanks to the variety of courses located in the area. Whether you’re looking to perfect your swing or impress colleagues, you can choose between three different golf courses.
The most prestigious course in the area is the Emerald Bay Golf Club, located between Destin and Fort Walton. The Raven Golf Club in Miramar Beach is renowned for its marshy and pine forest landscapes, and its award-winning course, of course. Last but not least, the Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club in Destin proper offers several 9-hole courses, plus a golf academy for any young golfers in your group.