Dreams of paradise realized on Emerald Coast in Destin
Screensavers around the world tend to feature variations of the same image: expanses of sugar white sand melding into a sea of pale blue, crystal clear water. It’s this vision that represents the pinnacle of relaxation, of escape, of paradise.
It also happens to be less than a day’s drive away.
The jewel of Florida’s Emerald Coast, Destin, continually ranks as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, drawing over 80 percent of the Emerald Coast’s 4.5 million visitors every year.
When it comes to beaches, the clear winner is Henderson Beach State Park. Boasting nearly 6,000 feet of shoreline, the park includes a playground, nature trail, plenty of wildlife (including dolphins, sea turtles and a wide array of birds) along with 60 campsites. (Editor’s Note: Some of the services and activities in this piece were provided complimentary.)
If camping isn’t your thing, however, The Henderson Beach Resort offers another incredible option. Guests of this four-story, 170-room resort hotel (opened in November of 2016) enjoy complimentary day passes to the adjacent state park. The resort itself sits on a 200-acre nature preserve. Inside The Henderson you’ll find two pools — one that’s adults only and another that includes a lazy river and poolside bar and grille — along with lush gardens and four restaurants and eateries that offer everything from luxurious dock-to-table dining to a 1950s-style ice cream and candy shop.
In addition to a fitness center and kids’ activity zone — which includes a Kid’s Night Out program nightly from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. — there’s also the 10,000-square-foot Salamander Spa, a perfect place to escape for a couple’s massage, a caviar age-defying facial or a custom thermal manicure or pedicure.
If you are looking for something even more intimate for a romantic getaway, right in front of The Henderson is the Henderson Park Inn, Destin’s only beachfront bed and breakfast. This wood-shingled inn featuring just 35 rooms and suites has a real Northeast coastal vibe and boasts a long list of little romantic touches that earned it the title of “The Best Place to Pop the Question” in VIP Destin magazine last year. About.com Reader’s Choice Awards also recently proclaimed this little getaway the “No. 1 most romantic hotel in North America” and “No. 2 most romantic hotel in the world.”
Gourmet breakfasts, picnic lunches, complimentary wine, grapes and chocolates, fireplaces, a gratis daily happy hour — it’s all here for the taking.
EAT AND DRINK
It makes sense that the proclaimed “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” was named for a fisherman — a man named Leonard Destin who left New London, Connecticut for sunny Northwest Florida in 1835, long before the invention of rods and reels. Decades later, Destin’s great, great grandson, Dewey Destin, continues his family’s passion for fish today at two Dewey Destin’s Seafood restaurants, one on Crab Island and one on Destin Harbor, with a third in Navarre, Florida set to open by Memorial Day. The place to be for waterfront dining, Dewey Destin’s continually snags the honor of Best Seafood Restaurant in Destin and Best Outdoor Restaurant on the Emerald Coast.
The original Dewey Destin’s is the Harborside location, opened in 2001. While certainly nothing fancy, what this multi-deck restaurant lacks in class it more than makes up for in both taste and a rich sense of history. The dock on which the restaurant stands was formerly where the Destin family would unload their day’s catch from as far back as the 1800s.
Destin says the restaurant’s most popular item is not the fish; however, it’s the shrimp — fried or grilled. Both restaurants are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.
For those that find it’s not quite a vacation until you have a nice cold brew in hand, you’re going to want to check out Destin Brewery’s tasting room. Opened in June of 2016, this family-friendly establishment — kids can enjoy the house brewed root beer — just took home the title of Best Brewery at the 10th annual Blues Brews and BBQ Festival at HarborWalk Village last November. Destin Brewery features five flagship ales (including a rye ale and double IPA) and a continuously rotating menu of seasonal offerings.
Biking, paddleboarding and fishing — these are the activities that need to be on the “must do” list of anyone heading to Destin. For the first two, YOLO Board offers the perfect one-stop shop. Whether you’re looking to make a purchase or just borrow for a while, YOLO Board does it all. For rentals, you can either pick up a paddle board or bike at YOLO Board and Bike on 30A or YOLO Board Adventures Sandestin, or rent gear by the day online and have it delivered right to you.
For fishing, Destin boasts no shortage of charter options for everything from inshore to deep sea. In July look for red snapper and tarpon. In August, grouper and snapper remain in season.
Every Thursday night in the summer — The Red, White and Blue Hero Celebration starts at 7 p.m. and includes a WWII vintage airshow, live music and fireworks at 9 p.m. at HarborWalk Village
Memorial Day to Labor Day — Rock the Docks Concert Series at HarborWalk Village from 7 to 9 p.m.
July 3 — Smoke on the Coast BBQ Festival at Destin Commons and Fourth of July Celebration at HarborWalk Village
Come Back in the Fall
October is festival season in Destin, so mark your calendar now for:
Destin Seafood Festival, Oct. 5-7
11th Annual Baytowne Wharf Beer Fest, Oct. 12-13
Destin Fishing Rodeo, Oct. 1-31