& Party Boats
|Destin earns its name as the "World’s Luckiest
Fishing Village" by virtue of its famed emerald Gulf shore
– deep and inshore waters that hold enough sailfish, grouper,
mackerel, cobia, tarpon and wahoo to inspire an extensive fleet
of fishing charters, a bevy of tournaments (including the October-long
Fishing Rodeo), and a glorious selection of seafood restaurants.
With the speediest deep-water access to the Gulf, Destin claims
more billfish catches annually than any other Gulf port and up to
four times more fish species than most other destinations.
addition to fishing, tour and glass-bottom boats take you sightseeing,
snorkeling, diving, sailing, spotting dolphins and more. You will
find them lined up along the harbor in front of seafood restaurants
heavy on character, light on the budget.
Turn the kids lose on the beach at
Henderson Beach State Park or James W. Lee Park at the eastern
end of town, off main drag Highway 98. The luxurious softness
and incredible whiteness of the sand make these beaches stand
out. They are created from pulverized quartz washed, buffeted
and delivered by river sweep all the way from the Appalachian
Mountains. The sand’s quartz origins contribute to the sparkling
brightness and to the way it squeaks when you walk on it. And
there’s no better sand to walk on; it has a way of caressing
your feet and getting between your toes. And into your blood.
When the kids have turned the right shade of pink, head to one
of the amusement parks that further the region’s reputation
among families. Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure will
grab their attention, and it’s perfect for day and night
play with its shipwreck-themed water park, miniature golf, go-karts,
food concessions, and other kiddie rides and adrenaline attractions.
For grown-up fun, there are highly acclaimed golf courses for
all levels of expertise.
The Destin Bridge crosses East Pass to Fort Walton Beach, an
older beach community with lots of affordable resorts and family
pastimes. To get between the two towns, you pass through one section
of Gulf Islands National Seashore, a dramatic landscape of drifted
blinding white sand that often puts northern visitors in mind
of snow. On the Seashore’s bay side, a public access makes
a popular recreational spot for boaters, water-skiiers, waverunners
Beach shops, lively bars, go-kart tracks, amusement parks, watersports
concessions and beach accesses line the beach’s main drag
on Fort Walton Beach’s Okaloosa Island. The Boardwalk is
an energetic center of activity with restaurants, clubs, the town’s
fishing pier, beach volleyball and the classic Florida’s
Gulfarium, entertaining families with flipping dolphins and comical
seals since 1955. The island road ends at the entrance to Eglin
Air Force Base, inaccessible to civilians.
On the mainland, separated from the island by the wide and beautiful
Choctawhatchee Bay, Fort Walton Beach’s livelihood as a
military town becomes more evident, especially at U.S. Air Force
Armament – all about weapons and aerial fighting machines.
Downtown comprises a few square blocks along the bayfront with
perky little shops, a hometown park, a 17-foot-tall Indian mound
and accompanying museum, and the Emerald Coast Science Center,
a hands-on haven for kids.
In addition to Destin’s annual fishing contests, the area
hosts more than 100 festivals each year, many focused on relishing
seafood. The annual Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival celebrates Fort
Walton Beach’s swashbuckling past during June. The spring
and summer months are liveliest along the Emerald Coast, one of
the South’s favorite family playgrounds, where the days
are as carefree as a childhood memory.