5 Museums in and Around Destin

Fishing, History, Indians, Pirates, Science, Military, & More!

You are here

Destin gets 226 days of sunshine throughout the year, and most visitors come down to enjoy the bright white beach. Although Florida is known as “The Sunshine State,” sometimes we do get an occasional rainy day, (most of the time, it’s just a temporary late afternoon thundershower), so what do you do when the weather is not cooperating with your beach vacation? Well, here are five wonderful museums in and around Destin that are lots of fun on a rainy afternoon and even on days that have sunshine!

Destin History and Fishing Museum

Long before the nationally renowned and highly acclaimed beautiful beaches here became a popular vacation destination, Destin was known as “the luckiest fishing village in the world.” Destin’s locale is blessed with the closest proximity to deep water fishing on the entire Gulf of Mexico in addition to easy access to the bay, which provides an abundant cornucopia of fish. In fact, Destin currently harbors the largest private charter fishing fleet in all of North America!

The 5,500 square foot Destin History & Fishing Museum starts with fishing in ancient times when local Native Americans caught fish with nets, spears, or arrows in the Choctawhatchee Bay and whose relics are on display. In 1845 Captain Leonard Destin arrived and began an eighteenth-century version of commercial fishing. Seine fishing boats used large weighted nets in the back of the ship that herded fish by encircling large schools. One of them, called “The Primrose” is on display along with an old Mullet fishing boat named “Little Jimmy” in an outdoor Historic Park Complex. The seine fishing boat was constructed in 1925 and is the oldest of its kind in existence here. There was no electricity ice or refrigeration, so fish were kept alive in pens and loaded onto schooners to sell in Pensacola. 

The museum includes a replica of an early 1900s Destin fisherman’s kitchen with oil lamps, washboards, and brooms made out of the natural palmetto palms. Interestingly enough, electricity was not introduced to Destin until the 1940s. There are also quite a few black and white photos of Destin fishermen, the founding families, and local scenery from 100 years ago, which is quite interesting since Destin has changed dramatically since that time.

There is also a dazzling display of almost 100 mounted fish caught in the Gulf and bay here. Giant fishing lures are also exhibited along with a collection of antique rods and reels, including one that was customized for use by famed author Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s when Destin was declared “The Billfish Capital of the Gulf.”  The museum also has some small hands-on displays for kids, a fun scavenger hunt, and a theater room that features interesting films Destin’s heritage.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am till 4 pm. Visitors may go on a self-guided tour, use wireless headphones for a narrative, or have a group guide.

The Destin Fishing Museum and the complimentary Reef Rewards program gives our guests one free ticket here with the purchase of another. This makes a visit here a no brainer since tickets are only $5 for adults, $4 for Military Personnel and First Responders, $3 for children seven years of age through college and Free for kid’s six years of age or under. It is conveniently located across from HarborWalk Village at 108 Stahlman Avenue, next to the Destin Community Center. 

Indian Temple Mound Museum

Indian Temple Mound Museum

The Indian Temple Mound Museum is nearby in Fort Walton Beach. You may have seen this unique burial mound on the north side of Highway 98 if you have ventured over to the far west side of Destin. It is one of only three Native American mounds on the Florida Panhandle and was first established in 850 AD by the Pensacola cultural tribe. Their influence was concentrated along the Gulf between present-day Fort Walton Beach and Biloxi, Mississippi, up until about 1500 AD. The site was used as a base for the chieftains’ to perform ceremonial and religious rites with generations of leaders buried there 100s of years. Confederate forces established Camp Walton at the base of the mound in 1861 during the Civil War to guard Santa Rosa Sound and the western entrance to the Choctawhatchee Bay. They were the first to do a preliminary excavation of the mound.

The museum was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and contains artifacts from Native Americans, early European settlers, and even pirates. There is also a little one-room schoolhouse to see on-site that was built in 1919. Visitors gave it a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor with comments like: “Great little museum”; “kids most enjoyed the pirate room” and “Native American exhibits are awesome.” Tickets are $5 each Monday through Saturday from 10 am till 4 pm. 

Emerald Coast Science Center

Emerald Coast Science Center

The Emerald Coast Science Center is a fun, unique hands-on museum located at 31 Memorial Parkway SW in Fort Walton Beach just two blocks north of Highway 98. Fascinating exhibits include: Interactive robotics of different kinds; Airflow engineering and physics demonstrations that feature airplane model vortex lifts, hurricane wind simulators, and an air cannon; A color and light display with rainbow glasses, whirling kaleidoscopes, light spectrums that create music and a giant life-size bubble machine; An Emerald Coast Ecosystem with a state of the arts augmented reality sandbox where guests can play with watershed models, virtual rainfall and a watershed ball drop; a Mini Maker Experimenters Lab where kids can play with a big vibrantly lighted board along with a bubble table and a Room Sized I Pad where participants solve puzzles, create stories and paint masterpieces with digital electronics.

The center also has whimsically named animals, birds, and reptiles to interact with including a Cockatiel, an African Gray Parrot, Parakeets, a Blue and Gold Macaw, Guinea Pigs, African Pigmy Hedgehogs, Chinchilla-like Degus, “Theodore the Dumbo Rat,” Sugar Glider Marsupials, a Tarantula, a non-venomous Red Rat Snake, and non-venomous Ball Python. Tickets for Adults are $10, Military Personnel are $9, Children and Seniors 60+ are $8. Kids two or under are free. On Fridays from September through May, all tickets are $5. It is open Wednesday through Saturdays from 10 am till 4 pm.

Air Force Armament Museum

Eglin Armament Museum

The Air Force Armament Museum is adjacent to the Eglin Base in Valparaiso, Florida, just seven miles north of Fort Walton Beach off Highway 85 South. It was founded in 1975 and is the only museum of its kind in the nation that is dedicated to the display of air force armaments. The museum is a popular destination among military veterans who flew some of this aircraft and many others who want to see such a unique exhibition. There are almost thirty aircraft, including those used in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. There are also hundreds of armaments on display, including a massive gun collection, various bombs such as the “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB) Bunker Buster missile. The original MOAB can penetrate twenty-two feet of reinforced concrete or 100 feet of earth. Today they can penetrate up to 200 feet of reinforced concrete. 

Aircraft on display include the AC-130, B-17, B-52, P-51, A-10, F-15, F-16, F-100 and F-101. A thirty-minute film about Eglin Airforce Base is shown throughout the day. Its interesting history started back in 1940 when 340,000 acres were deeded over from the National Forest Service to the Department of Defense in preparation for World War II, and the nation’s first rocket missiles were developed here. Today Eglin Air Force Base is a focal point of all armaments with development, acquisition, testing, evaluation, and deployment of all non-nuclear air defense systems with Fighter Wings as well as Special Operations. 

Admission is free, tours are self-guided, and all are welcome! The interior museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am till 4:30 pm, however, an adjacent outdoor park with most of the aircraft is open throughout the day until sunset. 

Read more: The Emerald Coast Military Connection

Man in the Sea Museum

Man in the Sea Museum

Man in the Sea Museum is a fascinating exhibit that focuses on undersea exploration, submarines, diver suits, and deep water lab facilities. It is located in Panama City Beach minutes away from our eastern Ocean Reef vacation rentals at 17314 Panama City Beach Parkway. The 5,000 square foot museum includes treasured artifacts recovered from sunken ships dating back to 1500 AD as well as numerous exhibits on display that include the following: A US Navy SEALAB I which was the first underwater living facility developed in 1964; A US Navy Deep Dive System Mark I which was an experimental dive system in 1968; A model of SEALAB III which was launched in 1969; A Mark V Diving Suit from 1837 that’s reminiscent of a Jules Verne movie; An armored suit developed in 1913 for underwater dives down 400 feet; Various Commercial Diving Gear used over time with various Masks and Helmets used underwater for the past 100 years and Assorted Submersibles, Submarines as well as Pods. Guests are able to tour the interiors of some of these exhibits. There is also a film available showcasing the Navy SEALAB Program.

It is open from 10 am till 4 pm Wednesdays through Sunday. Tickets for Adults are $7, Senior Citizens (65+) and Military Personnel are $5.50, Children 6 to 17 years of age are $5, and Children under 6 are free.

Read more: Nerd-Out in Panama City Beach

So now, next time you visit the beach as our Ocean Reef Resorts guest, you know what to do on a rare rainy or even a sunny day. These museums provide informative, delightful diversions that include a wide array of interests, and we have Destin vacation rentals nearby. Education can be lots of fun even when the sun shines!