Destination Destin: "Florida's Fishapalooza"

By Michael Murillo

There's Something Fishy About This Panhandle Place.

It might be hard to find a better fishing location than Destin, and getting there is pretty easy. You won't need a GPS, or an iPhone app, or a map because there's usually a caravan of cars, trucks, and trailers to follow on I-10 headed toward Florida's Emerald Coast. You want numbers? Each year, more than 4 million visitors enjoy its beaches, fishing, and seafood.

Most will stop in Destin, and with good reason: You can access the 24 miles of sugar-sand beaches from a dozen different places, drop anchor at Crab Island, and still be about an hour from other significant cities in the panhandle. For a self-described "fishing village," Destin has more than its share of festivals, high-rise condominiums, and celebrity homeowners (Karl Rove and Emeril Lagasse, to name a few). It's no wonder the city's population more than triples during tourist season. But even if it's your first trip to Destin, you don't have to tackle it like a tourist. Shelling, snorkeling, and dolphin-watching are all accessible from several vantage points, and the area where the land and water meet is pretty special, too.

photo of a Destin family fishing on a boat
A young angler thrills at the sight of a red snapper caught by mom just offshore from Destin

"The sand looks like snow here. It's really beautiful," explained Captain Victor Adams of TowBoatUS in Destin, noting that the city has won accolades for its beaches. With a 98-percent-quartz composition, the sand doesn't stick to beach-goers and also helps reflect a sharp emerald-green color across Destin's waters.

After nearly 30 years, Adams knows his way around the city's best-traveled water and land routes. After leaving his previous career as an architect (he even designed a local department store), Adams chose to retire in Destin — except he didn't stay retired. His family operates the TowBoatUS location, and regularly takes to the water for work and leisure.

photo of sunset in Destin, Florida

Adams has seen Destin's reputation grow into a modern tourist destination over the decades, but he also explained that it's close to undeveloped areas that represent the state's past. For those who enjoy natural settings, Destin offers proximity to Florida's history. "You don't have to go more than 40 or 50 miles south of here and you run into the old-fashioned Florida — the woods and the rural areas," he said. "If you're looking for that kind of Florida, it's still here."

For all the sights and activities that appeal to Destin's visitors, it's the fishing enthusiast who will feel like they hit the vacation lottery. That shouldn't be a surprise, since the city is named after a fishing master who moved to the area more than 150 years ago. Descendants of Leonard Destin still populate the area, and their presence is noted in places like Dewey Destin's, a premier seafood restaurant, and the Destin History & Fishing Museum, which is operated by members of the founding family.

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Destin Area Boat Ramps

  • Lion's Park (Niceville) - 2 ramps, free, 30 parking spaces
    N 30 30.39 W 086 28.52
    -Lincoln Park (Niceville) - 2 ramps, free, 10 parking spaces
    N 30 30.27 W 086 29.15
  • Joe's Bayou Boat Launch (Destin) - 5 ramps, $10 fee
    N 30 24.63 W 086 29.45
  • Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park (Destin) 1 ramp, ramp fee, 32 parking spaces
    N 30 39.06 W 086 26.14 4181
  • Fort Walton Landing (Fort Walton) - 2 ramps, free, 20 parking spaces
    N 30 24.07 W 086 36.24
  • Ross Marler Park (Fort Walton) - 1 ramp, free, 20 parking spaces
    N30 24.01 W086 35.33
  • Liza Jackson Boat Ramp (Fort Walton) - 2 lanes, $7 launch fee
    N30 24.20 W086 38.17

A "Local" Tells You Where To Go:

Capt. Adams knows a lot about Destin, so we asked him for some specific "best" places to visit, depending on what you want to do. Here's the inside information from a knowledgeable local:

  • Best place to have a beer with the locals: Adams suggests going down to the docks, where there are plenty of watering holes and friendly faces.
  • Best place for seafood: Dewey Destin Seafood. Two locations: 202 Harbor Blvd. (on the harbor) and 9 Calhoun Ave. (overlooking Crab Island). The city's founding family brings a casual atmosphere and a bounty of seafood without the use of warming lamps in order to preserve the freshest experience.
  • Best place to grab a burger: McGuire's Irish Pub, 33 Harbor Blvd. They serve traditional Irish fare and tasty steaks, but Adams suggests trying one of their burgers for a special experience. "They've got a burger the size of an anchor," Adams said.
  • Best place to watch the sunset: Enjoy it with a burger because on land, Adams said you can't find a much better view than McGuire's. On the water, Destin Harbor, Crab Island, and inside Choctawhatchee Bay are all good choices.
  • Best party spot: Crab Island wins hands down. Next to the Destin Bridge, it can attract hundreds of boats filled with people looking for fun. From a floating tiki hut to various boats selling drinks and snacks, Crab Island is known as the place to relax and visit with fellow partygoers. There are children's activities, too, but only in certain places. It's mostly a place for grown-ups to let their hair down and enjoy the atmosphere. "People go there for the whole day," Adams explained. "If you want to socialize and party on the weekend, that's definitely the place to go."

 

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