With sand like powdered sugar and brilliant turquoise water, Destin is an Emerald Coast gem. Located in the panhandle of northwest Florida, this stretch of sunshiny coastline, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, is a perfect family destination packed with kid-friendly entertainment. In addition to boardwalk exploring and sand castle building—the usual beach vacation activities—you can also catch a magic show, go go-kart racing, or try your hand at "hydroflying," a lesser-known water sport guaranteed to get anyone's blood pumping.
Embark on the Crab Island Adventure Tour
The name of this popular hangout is deceiving seeing as it isn't an actual island (although it used to be one, when it was created by the Army Corps of Engineers in the '60s). Rather, it's an underwater sandbar and it's been known to attract quite the crowd. Crab Island is home to floating restaurants and mobile food vendors, making for a rollicking good time in the water, but it's only accessible by boat. A two- to four-hour Crab Island Adventure Tour by Destin Vacation Boat Rentals includes ample time in this aquatic hot spot, plus paddleboarding, snorkeling, shelling, and access to a private inflatable water park, available to tour guests only.
Play at Fat Daddy's Arcade
After a full day of outdoor adventure, Fat Daddy's Arcade provides a refreshing, florescent-lit respite from the sun. The place contains more than 120 arcade games: some classic, some centered around modern franchises like "The Walking Dead" and "Jurassic Park." Fat Daddy's is a fun post-dinner entertainment option, but you can also have pizza and other arcade-centric fare on-site.
Take in a Magic Show
HarborWalk Theater hosts one of the most adored acts in Destin: Noah and Heather Wells' Maximum Magic show. The pair blow the minds of kids and adults alike with their comedic illusions, mind reading, and special effects. They are repeated recipients of the Merlin Award—the Oscar of magic—and have been named “Entertainers of the Year” by the International Magicians Society. Their 90-minute performance is cozy and intimate. Think: couches and a small stage versus auditorium seating.
Lounge on the Beach
Any of the 12 beach access points in Destin will lead you to a beautiful stretch of sand, but Henderson Beach State Park is a singularly impeccable mile and a half of pristine coastline. You're likely to spot dolphins, sea turtles, and migratory birds at this waterfront paradise. Its 30-foot white sand dunes, natural vegetation (containing Destin's last remaining coastal scrub), and large campground connected to the beach via boardwalk set Henderson Beach apart.
Stroll Along the Boardwalk
No trip to Destin would be complete without a stroll along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, where visitors like to watch the charter boats bring in their catches while devouring ice cream cones. The boardwalk provides public access to more than half a mile of Destin Harbor and it includes everything from oyster bars to pirate ships and saloons. This is also ground zero for a multitude of water activities, from day cruises and parasailing to jet ski and kayak rentals.
Get a Power Course in Sandcastle Building
Building a sandcastle is the quintessential beach activity, but not many can create the kind of masterpieces that Beach Sand Sculptures makes. During its two-hour lesson, families learn professional sand-sculpting tips and techniques (including, for instance, exactly how much water to add to the sand to make it optimal for building). In the end, you'll have an impressive, self-built sandcastle that'll make for a perfect vacation photo op.
Slip and Slide
Where there are copious amounts of water, there must also be an epic waterslide. At Big Kahuna's, there are a few. The adventure park features more than 40 water "attractions," from raft rides to body slides, surf simulators to a lazy river, pipeline slides to a kiddie section complete with a pool and tiny slides just for tots. You can even indulge in a game of miniature golf.
Catch a Fish
Living up to its title of "the world's luckiest fishing village," Destin offers many different ways to catch a fish, be it from a charter boat, pier, kayak, or beach. One of the easiest and least expensive options in the area is the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, where you can rent poles, bait, and tackle for a pittance. Kids 5 and under can even fish for free.
Go on a Dolphin Cruise
It certainly isn't abnormal to witness dolphins frolicking in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico, but to see them properly you must position yourself above the water, ideally on the deck of a charter boat. The 73-foot Sea Blaster is one that not only offers two-hour dolphin cruises but also three-hour combination cruises that include 90 minutes of snorkeling. Free beverages are served and kids can take a turn "driving" the boat.
Drive a Go-Kart
If you need a break from the beach, head to The Track Family Recreation Center, an outpost of Fat Daddy's Arcade, located conveniently off Highway 98. Here, you can partake in a number of heart-pumping adventures, from bungee jumping to go-kart racing, or engage in a little friendly, family competition with bumper boats or mini golf. The Track also has an arcade and kiddie section with a mini train, carousel, and other tame rides for little ones.
For adults and teens 16 and older looking for an adrenaline rush, Power Up Watersports offers the latest craze, hydroflying. Simply strap into a pair of jet-pack-equipped boots and be propelled by the flyboard into the air. You won't go too far, as you'll be connected via hose to a jet ski. Or if you prefer something tamer, you can also rent aqua trikes, kayaks, and paddleboards.
Destin Snorkel offers tours of the underworld with instruction and snorkeling gear provided. Its very popular three-hour offering packs in a variety of activities. You'll venture out by boat and stop at two places where, first, you'll get to scan a bay for shellfish and crabs, and second, you'll strap into goggles and snorkel. Also included are single and double kayaks, plus a quick ride around the Gulf to see dolphins.
Learn About Destin at the History & Fishing Museum
Exhibits at the Destin History & Fishing Museum teach about the town's history, hugely rooted in fishing. They are designed for kids and families, featuring scavenger hunts and personalized tours. Here, you can see 75 mounted species of fish, fishing equipment, and photos of the early fishing village on the Gulf coast. An additional outdoor museum and historic park complex showcase the historic seine boat "Primrose," mullet boat "Lil Jimmy," and the town's original post office.
Eat Seafood at LuLu's
Lucy Anne Buffett, sister of musician Jimmy Buffett, is also known by her childhood nickname LuLu. She brings a fun and funky atmosphere to her namesake restaurants where traditional southern-style seafood is served alongside live music and a casual waterfront atmosphere. It's no "Cheeseburger in Paradise," but there is a Brownie in Paradise dessert option on the menu.