Dazzling Destin, Florida, is like a fantasy island! It's a vacationer's dream and seems like an island, as it's surrounded on three sides by water. If not arriving by boat or plane, you have to take a bridge to get here! The peninsula has a wide expanse of the beautiful Choctawhatchee Bay towards the north, and the glorious Gulf of Mexico to the south. Further enhancing the island vibe, it's three to five miles across to the mainland. Here is a look at exciting adventures and delightful diversions found on each shore.
The Gulf Side
The stunning sugar-white beach is located right on the Gulf. The sands are composed of pure white quartz crystal that was shaved off of the tops of the Appalachian Mountains eons ago during the last Ice Age. It was pulverized through constant wave action into a powdery crystalline form — building our brilliantly bright beach, where sunglasses are a necessity on a sunny day. The sand reflects the light of the sun for delightful coolness underfoot. It also creates a magical glittering glow on the Gulf. Natural tiny microscopic green plankton is lighted up by the sun's rays as it reflects up through the clear waters from the white sandy bottom. This creates gorgeous jewel-toned luminescent green colors, which is why this part of the world is famously known as the Emerald Coast. Public beach access points are provided all along Scenic Highway 98 in Destin and adjoining Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach. Ocean Reef Resorts offers a wide variety of beachfront or Gulf view vacation homes, luxurious condo towers, and resorts here.
Read more: What Makes Destin's Water Green?
Resorts along the Beach
The most popular Destin resorts are found on or near the Gulf with easy access to the sugary shore. Vacation rental residences at resorts all come with breezy beach balconies where you may enjoy the sensational seascape and glowing gulf waters. Beautifully landscaped resorts have amenities that include swimming pools, simmering hot tubs, sun patios, and direct beach access. Some also include tennis courts, basketball, shuffleboard, arcades, and restaurants on-site. Ocean Reef Resorts has a vast array of vacation rentals at beachside resorts. Some of the most popular include Majestic Sun, Ariel Dunes I, Ariel Dunes II, Amalfi Coast, and Edgewater.
The Destin marina is on the gulf side and is home to the largest private charter fishing fleet in all of North America. Destin was founded on fishing way back in the mid-1800s before the beach was a thing, due to having the closest proximity to deep-sea fishing on the entire Gulf. The marina also has access to the bay on the other side of the Destin Bridge, so the cornucopia of fresh fish, shrimp, crab, and other seafood is enormous. Many anglers provide fishing excursions to vacationing guests looking for an adventure.
HarborWalk Village was created on the marina in recent years, although it was exquisitely designed to look like it's been there forever. The spectacular views from this unique locale include the marina, Holiday Isle, and the wide expanse of the jeweled Gulf in the distance. A wide array of restaurants, lively dockside bars, and specialty shops are located here, which is now a bustling focal place for Destin.
There is lots of fun provided for vacationers that includes fishing, dolphin or sunset excursions, dinner cruises, and recreational watercraft rentals. Ocean Reef Resorts guests receive special complimentary reduced rates for many of these. Free outdoor musical concerts on various stages and fun festivals are hosted at HarborWalk throughout the year. Fireworks are fired off over the water every week during the summer. Exceptional pyrotechnic extravaganzas light up the skies perfectly choreographed to music for July 4th, at Christmas time during a dazzling lighted holiday boat parade, and on New Year's Eve.
Gulf Front Restaurants and Bars
Many people love dining on fresh-caught seafood or sipping special tropical drinks, and a great place to do so is right along the beautiful beach. Popular restaurants with friendly beach bars along Scenic Highway 98 and Scenic Gulf Drive going from west to east include BeachWalk, 790 on the Gulf, Crab Trap, Captain Dave's, Pompano Joe's, Whale's Tail, and The Surf Hut. Award-winning Seagars Steakhouse and the iconic Beach House are also on the Gulf in Sandestin.
Sunsets over the Gulf
During part of the year starting in mid-October and continuing until mid-February, the golden orb moves toward the south and provides heavenly views as it descends directly into the Gulf. This time of year, the sunset's display often spreads across the entire sky for a spectacular panoramic experience. Beachfront bars and restaurants are often packed as folk enjoy this spectacle, which usually happily coincides with Happy Hour. Couples are often seen walking hand in hand along the beach, enjoying a romantic walk together to enjoy the magical view at the beginning of an enchanting evening.
If you have visited during the vacation season, you have probably spotted "Crab Island" from the Destin Bridge on Highway 98. There always seems to be a giant flotilla of boats anchored there during the day! It's not an island anymore but used to be a favorite sandbar where locals enjoyed catching crabs during low tide years ago. Rising tides eliminated the island but the crystal clear waters with depths ranging from below your knees and up to your chest created a perfect destination for a big boat party! People show up on yachts, pontoons, wave runners, paddleboards, and kayaks to enjoy a friendly visit with everyone else who happens to be there. Most folks bring their own ice chests filled with cold beer, sodas, and adult beverages. Favorite picnic items include fried chicken, Po'boy sandwiches, dips, chips, and other tasty treats. This party has become enormous over the years, and now there are floating venues providing drinks, ice cream, sandwiches, and water games. Music is often provided on big boats and is simulcast on local radio stations. Pontoon boats that can hold up to 12 people are a popular place to be. Rentals are provided with special reduced rates for Ocean Reef Resorts guests at the nearby Destin Marina.
There are two great shopping destinations on the bayside of the Emerald Coast Parkway, one of which is in Destin and the other a short distance away in Miramar Beach.
Destin Commons is located at the northeast corner of Emerald Coast Parkway and the Mid Bay Bridge Road. This fanciful pedestrian and family-friendly retail complex is consistently rated as the best place to shop in Destin. Enchanting Medieval styled turrets are topped with festive flags and flanked by pedestrian-friendly streets lined with towering Royal Palm trees. A classic fountain sits in its center while mini geysers nearby playfully shoot out of a plaza so kids can have fun cooling off on a hot summer day. Outdoor music is piped onto sidewalks and adjoining courtyards, which creates a delightful place for privileged shopping. There are almost 100 specialty shops, restaurants, bars, world-class clothiers, and fashion boutiques to choose from. Special events frequently occur here with seasonal festivities celebrated for Mardi Gras, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, the Christmas holidays and New Year's. A state of the arts AMC-14 Movie Theater complex provides new movie releases, 3D screenings, and IMAX shows for entertainment.
The Silver Sands Premium Outlets in Miramar Beach happens to be home to one of the largest designer discount centers in the entire nation. It is a "Who's Who" of fashion designers that include world-class clothing, accessories, jewelry, and home goods. This thriving shopping mecca attracts literally millions of visitors every year. Massive savings of up to 75% off regular retail prices are available for internationally known high-end goods that are usually found off Peachtree in Atlanta, Fifth Avenue in New York, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The main attraction here is that everything is "on sale" with substantial savings that can not be found at any of these other locations. Ocean Reef Resorts guests usually take full advantage of this opportunity by completing annual shopping lists for Christmas gifts, birthdays, upcoming weddings, anniversaries, back to school kid's clothing, and new outfits for themselves.
Read more: Top 3 Restaurants on the Bay
Gulf side & Bayside
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
There is one special place that is the "best of both worlds." Sandestin is a prestigious exclusively gated resort and the only one in Northwest Florida that spans across from the open Gulf to the beautiful bay! The lush tropically landscaped forested grounds span across 2,400 acres with luxury residential towers on the magnificent beach. Popular Ocean Reef beachfront vacation rental properties are located at Beachside Towers I, Beachside Towers II, and Westwinds.
A complimentary tram will take you over to the picture-perfect enchanting Village of Baytowne Wharf. This charming place was inspired by the architecture in the New Orleans French Quarter and offers a clean, safe, family-friendly version. It straddles a natural lagoon beside the bay where the Sandestin Yacht Marina is located and has a long wharf that juts out into the bay. A radiant sunset peaks during the summer months as the sun sinks into the western bay at that time of year, which is often magically mirrored in the serene waters. Many gather down on Baytowne's Wharf or at nearby restaurants to enjoy the fantastic views while dining, drinking, and listening to live music. There are lots of restaurants with bars of all kinds along with specialty shops and amusements for kids. Free outdoor concerts and seasonal festivals are held year-round. Some fun fireworks are shot off over the bay during the summer on their Booming Tuesdays with giant spectacular shows choreographed to music for Independence Day and New Year's Eve.
The swank upscale town center of Sandestin is known as Grand Boulevard and located parallel to the Emerald Coast Parkway east of the main gate. A number of first-class clothing stores, fashion boutiques, galleries, fine restaurants, lively bars, the New Vision Theater Boulevard 10, a Publix grocery store, and a wine outlet are found here. Special seasonal events include the 30A Songwriter's Festival, ArtsQuest, and a Wine Tasting Gala.
Whether you go to the beachside or along the bay, Ocean Reef Resorts has the perfect place for you, your family, and friends. Enjoy taking some time to peruse our state of the art website, which includes detailed property descriptions, vivid imagery, aerial satellite location views, seasonal rates and calendar dates that are still available for your reservations.