Planning a vacation to the Florida Panhandle and Emerald Coast? Start by exploring all the best things to do in Destin, FL. Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Destin is known for its white-sand beaches, emerald green waters, and laid-back atmosphere.
The top tourist attractions in Destin number among the most popular in Northwest Florida. On your vacation, you’ll stroll along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, sail down giant slides at the Big Kahuna’s Water Park, and explore the wilderness at Henderson Beach State Park. Or you can enjoy world-class fishing on the Gulf of Mexico in the city that’s been dubbed the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.
Not sure what to do in Destin? Start planning your ultimate Emerald Coast vacation with this guide to the best places to visit in Destin, Florida.
Best places to visit in Destin, FL
Just north of the Marler Bridge at the Choctawhatchee Bay’s south entrance lies Crab Island. The sandbar is a trendy hangout, covered with one to four feet of water depending on the tide. The “island” is surrounded by water. You’ll need to have your own boat or take a cruise to enjoy the festivities.
Throughout the summer, you’ll find hundreds of boats, kayaks, jet skis, and paddleboards surrounding the sandbar with a skim of emerald green water over it. Various floating restaurants and food boats frequent Crab Island, with ice cream, drinks, and fresh coconut throughout the day.
Kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis, and the extremely popular pontoon boats are all available for rent in Destin Harbor, only a five-minute boat ride to Crab Island.
HarborWalk Village is the central meeting spot for almost anything you want to do in Destin, Florida. You’ll find an overabundance of restaurants within the village, including favorites like Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville, Harry T’s Lighthouse, and Crab Island Cantina. A wide variety of fast-food and snack places also lie nearby for a quick bite.
If you’re searching for entertainment and water activities, head to the Destin Fishing Fleet, hosting the country’s largest charter fishing fleet. Or rent a kayak, paddleboard, or pontoon boat for a trip to Crab Island. From HarborWalk Village, you can also enjoy glass-bottom boat tours or parasailing over the Gulf of Mexico coastline. The kids will flock to the pirate ship or bottlenose dolphin cruise and the weekly fireworks.
The HarborWalk Village has tons of unique shops to browse through for your shopping enjoyment. Check out Aloha Surf Company for a new coverup or suit for the beach. Or head to Bleu Tropics to find a stylish new piece of jewelry that’ll go with a new outfit from Sunset Lifestyles or Life is Good.
Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park
Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park is the largest water park on Florida’s Emerald Coast. The popular adventure park was voted by Emerald Coast Magazine readers as the “Best Place to Take the Kids.” It’s the perfect spot for the entire family.
Kids will want to spend the day exploring the 40+ water attractions & rides. Options include the meandering lazy river, Honolulu Half Pipe, white water tube rides, water slides, and four children’s water play areas. The water portion of the park is open during the summer from mid-May through August.
The year-round adventure park offers thrill-seekers a chance to soar 100-feet above the ground on the Sky Coaster. Or test your stomach on the Cyclone Twister, spinning at over 50 miles an hour.
To stay on the ground, check out Tropical Mini Golf’s challenging 54 holes. This fun activity will lead you through waterfalls, over wooden bridges, around sculptured trees, and through caves.
Across the street from the Crystal Beach section of Destin, you’ll find a fantastic open-air shopping area known as Destin Commons. Here you’ll find award-winning shopping and dining locations along with colorful murals that’ll make the perfect Instagram selfie background.
Begin your shopping adventure at either Bass Pro Shops or Belk and work your way through stores like Loft, It’s Sugar, H&M, and Lizard Thicket, a women’s boutique shop.
Need a break from the heat? Grab a movie at the AMC theater or take the kids to the gigantic splash pad and playground. The playground includes a climbing area and a play area with a pirate theme. For an unusual treat, head to nearby Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill for some underwater bowling.
When you’re done shopping, head south of Destin Commons to soak up the rays on Crystal Beach. With its pastel-colored beach cottages and sugar-white sands, it’s one of Destin’s finest beaches.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Need some excitement for the kids? The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is a family-friendly destination just 10 minutes from Destin in Fort Walton Beach.
At the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, the family will delight in seeing sea lions show off their tricks and watching the dolphins and trainers complete their demonstrations. You’ll learn plenty about these marvelous creatures here.
Along the Expedition Trail, you’ll spot an array of other marine animals as well as turtles, alligators, and birds. Visit to learn more about the habitats and habits of these animals and more.
Kids will enjoy how close they can get to all the animals and take part in Animal Encounters tours and activities.
Henderson Beach State Park
Located along Florida’s Emerald Coast, the 200-acre Henderson Beach State Park is one of the best places to go in Destin. The park offers plenty of fun activities, whether you visit for an hour or an entire week.
Head to its 6,000-feet of Gulf of Mexico shoreline to sunbathe, play in the surf, fish, or soak in a beautiful sunset. If you want to extend your adventure, book yourself into one of its 60 campsites to park your RV or pitch a tent.
Take a walk along the Henderson Beach State Park’s nature trail to explore the coastal dunes and spot wildlife and various endangered plants. The trail is even pet-friendly. Or jump on your bike and take a mile-long ride down the park’s paved road to marvel at its wild nature.
Between Destin and Fort Walton Beach lies a three-mile strip of land known as Okaloosa Island or Santa Rosa Island. Home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Destin, Okaloosa Island is one of the city’s top points of interest.
On Okaloosa Island, you’ll dazzle at beautiful white sand beaches and emerald green water. Be sure to bring along your beach chair, cooler, and beach toys.
Spend the day trudging up the massive sand dunes, paddleboarding, jet skiing, or relaxing in the shallow waters and on the sandy beach. If you’ve got the time, extend your stay into the evening to watch the sunset over the water.
When not enjoying the shoreline, head to the Okaloosa Island Boardwalk. Here, you’ll find various restaurants and favorite local shops like Coastal Currents, Kitty Hawk Kites, and Surfside Outfitters.
Throughout the year, Okaloosa Island hosts several special events. During the summer, catch the fireworks over the boardwalk. In February, you can enjoy the Mardi Gras on the Island Parade and Ball. Each April, Fort Walton Beach also hosts Kitty Hawk Kites Beach Kite Festival.
At Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar and Grill in Destin, FL, you can get more than dinner and a drink. Fudpucker’s Gator Beach Alligator Park offers visitors a chance to have the unique opportunity to see hundreds of alligators up close for free.
During your visit to Gator Beach, you can feed the alligators by using a cane pole or snap an Instagram-worthy picture holding an alligator. You’ll also be able to learn more about the American Alligator through its daily entertaining and educational shows.
Be sure to visit the exhibits in its Crocodile Discover Zone. Here you can see the alligator babies and even a rare albino alligator!
James Lee Park
Searching for a beautiful beach to spend the day on? Look no further than James Lee Park. Also known as Crab Trap Beach, James Lee Park marvels visitors with its emerald water and white sand. The beach is accessible to everyone. A handful of its nine dune walkovers are ADA accessible. Once in the water, you’ll have no problems swimming and exploring; the water stays shallow for a long way out.
James Lee Park includes 41 picnic tables and three pavilions to enjoy a picnic lunch. Alternatively, you can grab lunch or dinner at Crab Trap Destin, a popular local seafood restaurant.
When the kids get tired of the water, head to the playground where they can swing, slide, and climb or take a walk along the beach.
The beach has lifeguards, along with chair and umbrella rentals from mid-March through October.
Destin Harbor Boardwalk
Located along Destin Harbor, the unique ¼-mile Destin Harbor Boardwalk is one of the most popular Destin tourist attractions. The boardwalk stretches from the Destin Yacht Club to Harborwalk Village. It provides visitors plenty of places to access the beautiful waterfront. From here, you can also catch fishing charters, dolphin encounter tours, banana boat rides, or snorkeling trips. For an extra exhilarating water activity, you can even try your hand at parasailing!
There are plenty of quality restaurants to enjoy delicious foods along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk. Some of the top choices include Margaritaville Destin, AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, and Harry T’s Lighthouse.
At the western side of the boardwalk near Harborwalk Village, you’ll find a wide range of shopping boutiques. The stores here offer everything from jewelry, designer shoes, resort wear to specialty foods. If you time your visit right, you may even be able to catch a comedy show or performance at the HarborWalk Theater.
Kids will have a blast at the HarborWalk Mining Company. Visit the attraction to mine for sharks’ teeth and to challenge friends in inflatable water balls.
The family fun continues throughout the year during firework displays, parades, and the annual Destin Seafood Festival.
Destin History & Fishing Museum
Turn back the hands of time and visit the Destin History & Fishing Museum. At this popular maritime museum, you’ll discover why Destin is known as the “Luckiest Fishing Village in the World” and get a glimpse of life in Destin in the 1930s. You’ll learn about the town’s 175 years of history, lore, and how the fishing industry began in Destin through its historical exhibits.
The Destin History & Fishing Museum focuses on sharing stores and preserving the area’s history. You’ll find fishing equipment displays that include antique tackle, seine nets, and the oldest surviving seine fishing boat. Keep on the lookout for the old split-bamboo Penn Reel once owned by Ernest Hemingway. You’ll also be able to gawk at over 75 mounted fish, including cobia, shark, and snapper.
Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill
Looking for something to do on a rainy or hot afternoon in Destin? Head to the family-friendly Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl. Located in Destin Commons, this popular attraction is one of the top places to see in Destin on a family vacation.
At Uncle Buck’s you can enjoy a dinner of Cajun fried catfish, brisket mac and cheese, or Uncle Buck’s fish and chips. After dinner, sweat off the Southern comfort food at the 16-lane bowling alley. The bowling alley has an underwater theme that features stingrays, turtles, mermaids, and hand-painted murals. Watch your fingers as you grip the alligator and shark bowling balls.
A billiards room is also available for those looking for a game of pool.
Grayton Beach State Park
Prepare for a tranquil, unspoiled beach vacation when you come to Grayton Beach State Park. Grayton Beach is often named one of the United States’ most beautiful beaches. Spend the day on the pristine beach, enjoying everything from magnificent sunrises to elegant sunset sunbathing, surf fishing, canoeing, or swimming.
Launch your kayak at the boat ramp and paddle around Western Lake through the salt marsh ecosystem getting close to nature.
For land lovers, stroll through the beautiful magnolia and scrub oaks trees along the nature trail. Or you can pedal your bike four miles through the pines on the trails.
Want to spend more than a few hours in this idyllic environment? Rent one of the 30 two-bedroom, one-bath cabins or 61 campsites with full hookups and spend the week.
Kelly Plantation Golf Club
Tucked between the Gulf of Mexico and the Choctawhatchee Bay on a former turpentine plantation, the Kelly Plantation Golf Club offers a Fred Couples designed 18-hole championship golf course. Golf Advisor name the golf club #21 for U.S. Golf Course amenities in 2020. Golf Magazine and Digest have also given the course similar praise.
The Kelly Plantation Golf Club showcases a waterfront landscape along Choctawhatchee Bay that’s both challenging and enjoyable for all golfers. Prepare yourself to play on one of Florida’s most environmentally sensitive courses. Enjoy the swampy bayous, expansive contoured greens, and tricky manicured fairways.
On those hot Northwest Florida days, be sure to grab a cold towel or chilled apple to keep you refreshed. After your round, head to the Kelly Plantation’s Clubhouse. Enjoy a drink and complimentary popcorn and chips with salsa.
Air Force Armament Museum
Located at Fort Walton Beach, FL, Air Force Armament Museum is the world’s only dedicated exhibit of Air Force Armament and one of the must-visit Destin attractions for any aviation lover.
Air Force Armament Museum is free to visit. Here, you’ll see various armaments from World War I pieces up to today’s bombs and planes.
Within the museum building, explore the astounding and interesting weaponry, simulators, photographs, and films. Outside, you can explore vintage aircraft like the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built. You’ll also spot 28 other restored planes, missiles, and rockets.
On your visit, be sure to watch the 32-minute film explaining Eglin Air Force Base’s role in U.S. armament development.
The Market Shops
Located on Emerald Coast Pkwy in Miramar Beach, The Market Shops is one of the top points of interest in Destin. It’s the perfect place to spend the day browsing local boutiques or to enjoy a delicious meal and local entertainment.
The Market Shops offer a wide variety of unique and specialty boutiques featuring women’s clothing, jewelry, and artwork.
When hunger strikes, choose between casual or fine dining at the various restaurants. Choices include award-winning seafood, breakfast at Maple Biscuit Company, pizza at Pizza by the Sea, or ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s.
Entertainment options at The Market Shops include a beautiful gazebo courtyard, fountains, and a children’s play area.
Best places to stay in Destin for sightseeing
For travelers, many of the best places to stay in Destin fall within the city center, Fort Walton Beach, Crystal Beach, and Miramar Beach. All these areas lie within easy reach of the top Destin points of interest, including its famed sandy white beaches.
Located on Highway 98, this family-friendly hotel offers some of the best value in the Destin area. The whole family will love the amenities here, including a large outdoor pool area and fitness center. Public beach access is within steps of the property.
Sitting across the street from Miramar Beach, these suites are the perfect mid-range accommodation option for beach bums and families alike. Rooms are spacious and well-equipped for a full self-catering vacation. Upgrade to a water view room to enjoy fantastic Gulf vistas.
Steps from Henderson Beach State Park, this fantastic resort is one of Destin’s top luxury hotels. Guests will enjoy luxurious amenities, including private beach access, two outdoor pools, and a full-service spa. For its succulent seafood, the on-site Primrose Restaurant is touted among the best places to eat around Destin.