I have been visiting Destin, Florida for the past four years. Now, becoming a family of four, I love Destin even more since it is the most kid friendly vacationing spot I have encountered yet. Picture soft sugar-white sand, emerald-hued waters, paired with fresh seafood and incredible views...that's Destin! It has a little something for every type of beach vacationer.
Where To Stay
I have family residing in Crestview, FL that I stay with anytime I visit but we have rented out some immaculate beach homes a few times for family gatherings and celebrations in the past. Our most recent rental was for my baby shower in 2020, we stayed in a waterfront rental called Navigators Nest.It's an ideal place for large family gatherings and reunions because it sleeps up to 30 people, boasting 9 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms and is even pet-friendly so we brought our pups! My other favorite rental we stayed at in 2017 for a family celebration is called Admirals Palace. This rental has private beach access which is a huge bonus in my book, you walk across the street to get to the beach! It's pet friendly as well and in my opinion, even more luxurious and awe-worthy than the last. Both rental properties are gorgeous, in prime locations and have a private swimming pool so no need to share a community pool with other vacationers.
Where To Eat
Both of our past rentals had full sized kitchens equipped with everything we needed so we bought groceries at Publix and cooked many meals at the rentals but there are tons of great places to eat in the Destin area. Here are some of my top favorites that we have tried and loved:
Crackings : This is my favorite breakfast place in Destin. Formerly known as Another Broken Egg Cafe. They have a wide variety menu that includes pancakes, french toast, crab cake benedict (my fave!), omelettes, cinnamon rolls, muffins, and more. Just be sure to call ahead (especially on the weekend) because the wait time can be quite long.
The Slippery Mermaid(NAVARRE): Okay, so this place is technically in Navarre, Florida (40 minute drive) but I always make it a point to eat here at least once every time I come to visit because its my all time FAVORITE sushi place. My favorite roll on the menu (though everything is good) is called "Whale of a roll." 🤤 If I still don't have you convinced its worth the drive alone, let me preface this with, its about a 15 minute drive from the Gulf Breeze Zoo which is also my favorite thing to do while visiting, especially with kids! We make a day trip out of stopping here for lunch to get sushi and go to the zoo. Scroll all the way to the bottom of this post for more details about the zoo listed below in Things To Do.
Boshamps Oyster House: The waterfront dining is a bonus to the delicious fresh seafood. The last time I dined here was for dinner right before the annual Christmas boat parade, I ordered the Rockefeller oysters and the original snapper. Both were mouthwatering good.
Surf Hut: This is my go-to place for a mango crush colada and fish tacos! What could make this place any better than the food, the location - beachfront! Ask to be seated outside under their covered deck.
McGuire's Irish Pub: Wanting to change it from seafood? This is the place. When you walk in, you can't help but notice the layers and layers of dollar bills covering the ceiling and walls! It boasts a super casual atmosphere and is a favorite among locals. The prime rib is a must-try! TIP: Be sure to read the restroom signs carefully or you might find yourself in the wrong restroom. Haha!
Merlin's Pizza: This is a family favorite spot for us. It's our favorite pizza joint in town. They offer the classics, build your own as well as a tasty seafood pizza (if your in to that).
What To Do
Harbor Walk Village: This is the main hub where you can find waterfront dining, boat/jet ski rentals, parasailing, dolphin cruises, fishing charters, tours, entertainment, shopping and much more. One of my favorite spots to pick up a pineapple daiquiri is from Fishheads, it literally comes in a carved out pineapple. Not only is it so incredibly delicious but it makes an Instagram worthy photo opportunity!
Deep Sea Fishing: Technically part of the Harbor Walk as well but this had to make it separate on the list of activities, after all, Destin is literally known as "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village." There are so many fishing charters to choose from but next time I visit, I want to try Charter Boat Special K because I wasn't all that impressed by Swoop Charter, the fishing charter I had taken. Even though the charter boat I had taken was cheaper in price, you end up with an overcrowded charter boat which makes for less of an enjoyable time.
Shopping: I like to shop the small boutiques on the Harbor Walk for clothing and souvenirs but when I'm in the mood for more mainstream shopping, I head over to Destin Commons where you will find H&M, American Eagle Outfitters, Victoria's Secret, Bass Pro Shops, Beef Jerky Outlet, and more.
Crab Island: Don't let the name fool you. It's actually not an island but a submerged sandbar. Crab Island is accessible only by boat so I recommend grabbing some friends and renting a pontoon and heading out at high tide, when the water is prettiest. Bring cash for the floating vendors. There are floating restaurants, mobile ice cream boats and more! Crab Island no longer sells alcoholic beverages but alcohol is allowed. So if you want to pack a cooler with food and beer, you can. There are no open container laws on the water in Florida but make sure you have a designated boat driver! There are plenty of places in the Harbor Walk Marina to rent a pontoon (which is what we did) as well as take a water taxi or rent a jet ski to get there. This area can get quite crowded on the weekends with good weather.
If you have children, I would recommend staying clear of the center of excitement as the central part attracts more of a day drinking and dancing crowd. You can anchor more on the outskirts so it's slightly calmer and quieter. Crab Island also has inflatable obstacle courses on the water for the kiddos too.
Visit The Beach: If your rental comes with private access or beach chair and umbrella rentals, by all means take advantage of that! If it doesn't, my favorite go to place is Henderson Beach State Park because its never overly crowded so I am always able to find a spot on the beach to set up my beach blanket, umbrella, and chair. Henderson Beach also has showers and restrooms along with a covered pavilion where you can picnic and have lunch.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park: This is one of the top family friendly activities to do in Destin with younger children. It's not the most impressive aquarium but its perfect for the kiddos offering a day of fun, adventure and education. They offer exhibits, shows, and even training demonstrations. The two most mentionable are the dolphin and sea lion shows. They are only offered a few times throughout the day so plan your visit accordingly. Layla loved watching the dolphins swim by the windows in the lower level tank.
TIP: They offer military discount!
Uncle Buck's Fishbowl & Grill: This is my go-to activity when the weather isn't cooperating and you are looking for some indoor fun. They have underwater themed bowling lanes with a full serviced bar and restaurant. Groupon typically offers pretty good deals on a bowling package which includes a pitcher of beer or soda.
Gulf Breeze Zoo:As mentioned prior, this is a 45 minute drive from Destin but it would be an injustice to not mention and include it in this post because its completely worth the drive and my favorite activity to do with the family, especially younger children. I have made it a point to visit the Gulf Breeze Zoo with Layla every time we have visited the area. It's my all time favorite zoo because you do not need to pay extra fees for animal encounters. The various feeding zones offer all the close up animal encounters and interactions one could wish for. Although the feeding zones are included in general admission, you will need to purchase animal feed (see below). Animal feed can be purchased at the entrance, gift shop, or huts throughout the zoo. We skipped to purchase budgie feeding sticks for the birds because we noticed they come right up and will even land on you without any type of feed. Lastly, outside food and beverages are not permitted inside the zoo but there is a large covered picnic pavilion outside, in front of the zoo entrance that you can use if you decide to pack a picnic lunch. Otherwise, my favorite sushi place, slippery mermaid is about 15 minutes down the road. Zoo ticket admission is good for the entire day so we spend the whole day at the zoo and break out for lunch to go get sushi then return till closing. Keep your receipt for re-entry.
Listed below are the prices for the animal feed:
* Animal Feed $4/cup (This is for goats, Scottish cows, and camels)
* Giraffe Romaine $5/cup
* Budgie Feeding Stick $2/each or 4 for $7
* Alligator Biscuits $5/cup (This is seasonal and not offered all year)
TIP: They offer military discount (15% off) on admission prices.