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Thanks so much to Destin-Fort Walton Beach for sponsoring our vacation to Destin Florida + this post!
We got back from our vacation to Destin, Florida two weeks ago and had a BLAST as a family! So many family-friendly things to do and see, tons of yummy food to eat, and lots of fun to be had!
How did you get to Destin?
We flew to Destin via Allegiant Airlines out of Belleville, IL (for my Midwest people!). The flight was inexpensive, direct, and uneventful! Masks were required on the plane and they DID have food and beverages available for purchase. Major bonus that it’s a direct flight, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Driving is also super reasonable from St. Louis! It’s less than a 12 hour drive.
Why Vacation to Destin Florida?
Destin is famous for its clear Emerald Green water and white, sugar sand beaches. It’s a truly beautiful place and it’s easy to travel to with great, family-friendly activities – spoiler: the Adventure Packs are the BEST!
Where did you stay in Destin? Do you recommend?
We stayed at Jetty East, which is a condominium complex at the edge of Destin Beach. It’s a beachfront property with ocean views in some of the rooms and it has a pool.
Since it is a condo complex, every unit is different but the two units we stayed in were clean, comfortable, and we had plenty of space. There are elevators and it’s a gated property.
It’s over a mile to the ‘main street’ in Destin (where many of the restaurants are), so if you want to dine out a lot, or go on any excursions, you will want a car. Jetty East does have a BBQ pit pavilion so you can cook out, too.
Overall, Jetty East is a good family-friendly spot to do your own thing, walk steps to the beach, and enjoy the pool.
What did you do while you were in Destin?
SO MANY THINGS! We really packed in the fun – we were there Thursday-Monday and made a ton of memories.
Here’s our Destin itinerary:
We arrived at the airport (Destin-Fort Walton Beach aka VPS) around 3pm and made it to Jetty East via Uber by 5pm. Warning: if you’re using a Ridesharing service (like Uber or Lyft), be prepared for a bit of a wait, especially if you need an XL (a larger vehicle).
My plan was to place a grocery delivery order via Instacart or Shipt to be delivered soon after we arrived but I spaced on it in the midst of the traveling with kids chaos. At this point, we hadn’t rented a car (rental car prices are high right now because many rental companies sold part of their fleets during the Pandemic) so I was thinking we could do without…
Because we didn’t have a car, we ordered delivery via Grubhub but the options were definitely limited. So after we ordered food, Chris took the kids to the pool while I Uber’d to (and from) Target for some essentials. It was after this that I knew we needed a car, so we booked one to be picked up at the airport the next morning.
Day One on Instagram
We woke up *early* and the kids wanted to hit the pool first thing. We spent a few hours swimming at the Jetty East pool – lots of families and kids in the pool.
We got dressed and went to one of the places most recommended by my Instagram people – McGuires. We got there right at 11 and there was a line to get in, so definitely be prepared for a wait unless you’re there first thing. We were seated inside and distanced from any other tables – the restaurant is HUGE (over 500 seats) and there were dollar bills *everywhere* – very much a fun touristy spot. The Strawberry Martini was delish (and not too strong) and they also have tasty beers brewed on site.
We’d originally planned on our Pontoon Picnic on this day, but it was so windy that we rescheduled, so we had a nice open afternoon of more pool time; the surf was too rough at the beach to get in the water.
For dinner, we headed to another famous Destin restaurant: Boshamps. The wait is LONG but I instantly fell in love with the ‘waiting area’ – a little beach behind the building with chairs, bags games, hammocks, and the water for the kids to wade/play in. You can grab a drink and watch the kids play while you wait for your table.
Recommend The Devil’s Crab (yum) + the Oysters Boshamp. Definitely worth a visit – tasty food & super cool atmosphere.
Day Two on Instagram
More pool time first thing in the morning! Then we went to breakfast at Crackings – we fell in love with their food when we were in 30A earlier this year, so we had to go in Destin. The menu + atmosphere are a little different but the food was delish – get the Croisseignets (a cross between a croissant and a beignet) + the Crackdown BLT – a regular BLT with an added fried green tomato + remoulade. Their mimosas are also delish ;).
We moved units within Jetty East, simply because of availability (nothing was wrong with our first unit). Then we headed over to Okaloosa Island, where we went to the Crab Trap at Fort Walton Beach.
After lunch, we went to the Gulfarium, which is their aquarium – more about that below 🙂 – and then we took a Sunset Dolphin Cruise from the Harborwalk. The cruise was super enjoyable, despite the fact that we didn’t see any dolphins. You can BYOB and snacks :).
Day Three on Instagram
Our last full day! And our most fun, by far! We went to The Donut Hole for breakfast, which is suuuuper famous in Destin! Expect a line out the door – but it does move quickly! Or you can get your donuts to-go. We opted to dine-in and eat from their cafe menu. After breakfast, we stopped by East Pass Coffee Co to grab a cold brew and it was a super cute spot with outdoor seating and good coffee!
We spent the morning at the pool (shocking, I know!) and then headed to Okaloosa Island for our Pontoon Picnic! More about that below as well – but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND! Legit one of the top 10 days of parenting we’ve had with our kids thus far :). After the Pontoon Picnic, we opted to dine at Rick’s on the Island and LOVED the experience, from the drinks to the food to the outdoor deck and patio.
Day Five on Instagram
Time to go! Woke up and went to the pool for a few hours. We stopped by The Local Market to grab a bite before heading to the airport. The rental car returns are on-site which makes it easy :). The flight home was also super uneventful.
Best day outing with a 3 & 5 year old?
We had the most fun on the Pontoon Boat we rented from Island Watersports via the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Adventure Packs. They’re family-friendly outings curated by local Destin moms – you can sort by your kids’ ages, pricing, and amount of time you want to spend. Definitely check out Adventure Packs to find something perfect for your fam!
The Adventure Pack we chose was the Pontoon Picnic and it really did surpass all my expectations- which were LOW since neither myself nor Chris had ever driven a boat 🤪. We arrived to the Island Watersports and I ran next door to Rick’s on the Island to pick up our seafood picnic. You can choose to get your ‘picnic’ before your outing to bring on the boat or to have it prepped after your outing for dinner. I was expecting a dinky seafood platter but this was a legit FEAST. Great segue to this question:
Where did you stop the boat? Looked like a great spot for kids!
Good question, ha! It was spontaneous and worked out SO well! It was a little 1-2 feet deep area called Okaloosa Island Grass Flats. Highly recommend for anchoring the boat and letting the kids play – very calm, clear, shallow water.
What are the kid-friendly excursions by moms?
Adventure Packs are unique to the Destin/Fort Walton Beach area and are designed for families to get out and adventure like a local. All the activities are private + include an outdoor dining experience as well.
How early in advance to book a pontoon?
I’d book ASAP! We had originally booked for Friday and because the winds were so intense that day, they recommended we re-book for Sunday. Super flexible, but I’d book early and also book for early in your trip, just in case weather is an issue (gives you more time to reschedule).
What are the best restaurants in Destin?
Destin restaurants we LOVED:
- The Local Market – great for sandwiches or breakfast. You can also build your own 6 pack from a TON of local brews. Has some outdoor seating.
- Boshamps – the BEST atmosphere – be prepared for a L.O.N.G. wait but they have 2 bars in the back overlooking a little private beach area where kids can wade in the water and play in the sand. There are chairs, hammocks, and bags games for the adults. We loved the Devil’s Crab!
- Rick’s on the Island – don’t judge a book by it’s cover… the food here was amazing (so many tasty oysters + get the Kickin’ Margarita) and very open-air with live music and a patio spot for the kids to play
- Crackings – my family really likes their breakfast food! Get the croisseneigts and the BLT.
- Dewey’s Destin (the *original* on Calhoun Ave) – the sno-balls here are famous! The view & ambiance are also awesome. We didn’t eat a meal here but I’ve heard good things.
- East Pass Coffee Co – loved the cold brew, lots more on the menu that I didn’t order
Destin restaurants my community recommended but we didn’t try:
Other famous Destin restaurants :
- The Donut Hole – expect a line out the door. You can get donuts to go or dine in and get donuts + order from their full diner menu
- McGuires – worth visiting for the novelty + the giant pretzel & strawberry martini were delish (quite the combo, right!?)
- The Crab Trap – there are several Crab Trap locations; we visited the Fort Walton Beach location and the outdoor dining was nice, they give the kids sand buckets + shovels with their menus, and they have a playground right outside on the beach
Carry out at restaurants?
Honestly, we ate out on patios and in restaurants versus doing carry out. I will say that when we were in the area in March, several places we called for take-out let us know they were at capacity and not taking orders that evening, so if carry-out is in your plans, call early (like maybe the day before!).
When’s the best time to visit Destin?
Anytime between Spring Break (March) – October is going to be great! End of May was perfect because it wasn’t too hot yet.
Was it crowded in Destin?
The beaches weren’t too crowded when we were there (May 20th) but the surf was also VERY rough, so that might have factored in. Also, many schools weren’t yet out for summer. Destin is a hot spot because of it’s gorgeous soft sandy beaches and (usually) clear and calm water, so be prepared for a vacation that isn’t super private or secluded.
Would Destin be good for a girls weekend?
I would personally have a BLAST with my girlfriends – lots of great restaurants, pretty beaches, the perfect pool weather, spas (I didn’t get any spa time but it’s an option) and some fun “can’t do this at home” activities (think renting a pontoon boat, going on a dolphin cruise, renting jet skis, etc).
Was the aquarium worth it?
The aquarium is called Gulfarium and we definitely saw sea life we can’t see in Missouri! There are shows and animal encounters (we got there too late for either of these) but the kids got to see sea lions and dolphins, pet starfish, and overall it was a good activity for the kids. I did see you can get 15% off for signing up for their email list :).
You can make a trip to Destin super budget friendly or super luxe – totally depends on what you’re looking for and what your budget is, your taste for accommodations, your travel preferences (air versus car), whether or not you want to dine out or eat in, and whether you want to do lots of ‘extras’ or chill at the pool or beach!
Our trip was under $4,500 for the 5 of us for 5 days, 4 nights, with all travel, lodging, food, drinks and entertainment included.
Rental car details – how to get a reasonable price?
Like I said, it would’ve been smarter for us to rent a car from the airport in the beginning. Live & learn 🙃. We considered renting a car through Turo (which allows you to rent people’s private vehicles) and even renting a golf cart but we opted for a regular ol’ rental so we could accommodate the kids’ car seats.
As far as a reasonable price… I’d try Priceline and Kayak and if the prices are sky-high, keep checking!
What ages would this trip be best for?
I’d say 4 & up, only because traveling with a toddler isn’t always easy! But Destin is very family-friendly. All of my kids (8, 6 and 4) loved it.
How many days would you recommend?
A week (or more!) is ideal, but we had a blast with the 3 full days we were there. I’d say 5-7 are probably optimal.
How does it compare to 30a? Which is better/why?
30A is named for the stretch of highway between Destin and Panama City Beach. It’s a series of 12 beach communities, all with distinct ‘personalities’. I’d say it’s more ‘small town’ without chain hotels or high-rise condo complexes, and slightly more walkable depending on which beach town you’re in.
Both Destin and 30A have the same gorgeous sand, clear water, and lots of restaurants. If you prefer staying in private homes/vacation rentals, 30A has more options. If you want a hotel or condo experience, I think Destin is a better choice.
They are fairly close, location-wise, about a 30-60 minute drive depending on where you’re coming from/going.
Would it be warm enough to swim in January?
In the ocean, no. In a heated pool, I’m honestly not sure! My kids were in the heated pool in March and it was fine, but a pool without a heater would’ve been too chilly.
How do you travel with a carseat?! Need all the tips!
We bought these inflatable booster seats for the oldest 2 (they’re 8 and 6) and they store really small. We brought the ‘easiest to install’ convertible carseat of Emmy’s that we own so that we could easily install in an Uber. We checked the carseat with our bags but I’ve also gate checked carseats (you bring it to the gate with you). You can also install some carseats on planes – definitely reach out to the airline with specific questions.
Where to stay with and without kids…
I can only speak to the one place we stayed (Jetty East), which was great for families! If it would’ve just been Chris and I, The Henderson looks super nice :).
Best place to stay walking distance of downtown?
I think the largest/most popular spot to stay near downtown is the Emerald Grande at Harborwalk Village but it’s not on the beach. They do have a free shuttle to the beach and a pool, however. Just depends on what’s most important!
How did you find somewhere to stay not through AirBNB?
Excursions with a baby… would it have worked?
Auggie is at that VERY tough age where someone has to watch every move he makes 24/7 – no survival skills, few communication skills, and into EVERYTHING and very very busy. He also still takes 1-2 naps/daily, which makes outings difficult. Totally depends on your baby’s age, temperament, and how much you want to divide & conquer. Doing the trip with a younger baby would’ve been great! He’s just in that in-between age where we would’ve had to have one person stay back with him and I wanted us to be able to get out as a group.
Overall, we had an awesome time in Destin! Leave any questions in the comments below + there are more family travel posts here :).