Some of our new Ocean Reef Resorts guests may be unfamiliar with the difference between Destin and Miramar Beach, so here’s the scoop. Not too long ago everything from Destin in Okaloosa County all the way down Scenic 30A in southern Walton County was considered to be “Destin.” After all, there really wasn’t much more along the Emerald Coast at that time except for Destin. The sensational crystal white beaches nestled beside the thick pine forests that expanded towards the east of Destin were isolated and for the most part undeveloped. Due to the pristine beauty of the area along with the precious coastal dune lakes that paralleled the shore, large tracts of land were designated as state parks and protected forests. The state parks include Topsail, Grayton Beach and Deer Lake, which are considered to be some of the most beautiful in all of Florida. To this day almost half the beautiful unspoiled land in South Walton remains preserved and protected. The preserved forest alone comprises over 15,000 acres of land and has ten miles of trails for ecotourism recreation.
Destin was established in the mid 1800s before the Civil War by Captain Leonard Destin who started fishing these burgeoning waters. The geographic location has a unique close proximity to deep sea fishing in the gulf which provides plenty of fish available for profitable commercial fishing. By 1880 he was joined by Captain Billy Marler and had a fleet of over 100 boats. Marler introduced fishing vacation camps, which were created for tourists and they began to flourish on the bay near Moreno Pointe. By the “roaring 20s” it was named as “The Bill Fish Capital of the Gulf of Mexico.” The first Destin Fishing Rodeo began in 1948 and Destin now harbors the largest charter fishing fleet in the entire gulf, attracting tens of thousands of adventurous visitors nationwide. Fishing fame was the corner stone for Destin but by the 1970s the spectacular sugar sand shore and shimmering jewel toned water of the glowing gulf led to rapid development. Luxurious high-rise condominiums towers, hotels, restaurants, bars, exclusive residential neighborhoods, family amusement parks and golf courses like Emerald Bay were constructed. In 1987 condominiums, championship golf courses and housing developments also started to expand exponentially with the completion of a four lane highway known as Emerald Coast Parkway. This was completed in 1987 connecting Destin to what became present day Miramar Beach. Previously this was not even in existence since the old highway had only two lanes and ran along the coast.
Today when you think “Destin” many fun attractions, venues and delightful destinations come to mind. Besides the awesome private charter fishing fleet that offers gulf angling adventures there is so much more. In 2006 Harborwalk Village was constructed near the Destin Bridge that overlooks East Pass and Crab Island which has prominent boat parties on the water almost every day during the summer season. There are many recreational water sport rentals available here and at La Dolce Vita Ocean Reef Resorts guests receive special discounts. This charming village is right on the docks and features a wide array of restaurants, specialty boutiques and fun bars along the sparkling water. Big annual festivals are celebrated here that include free live musical concerts and colorful firework displays. The biggest of these events include The Destin Fishing Rodeo, Destin Seafood Festival, Mardi Gras and New Years Eve. However during the spring and summer season almost every weekend offers one kind of celebration or another. Family amusement parks like Big Kahuna’s another exciting location where Ocean Reef Resorts guests receive special discounts are also located in Destin. An additioanl popular destination is at the recently expanded Destin Commons which looks like a European styled village but includes an abundance of fine stores, restaurants and a large AMC movie theater.
Towards the east in the late 1970s things began to change in Walton County with the initial development of an ambitious preplanned community to be named the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. It was located on a spectacular 2,400 acre forested parcel of property with natural inland lagoons that extended from the glistening gulf all the way to the serene waters of the expansive Choctawhatchee Bay. Sandestin became a private exclusively gated resort community of thirty plus distinctively different “neighborhoods” that border the gulf or bay as well as four championship golf courses that meander throughout. These include luxurious high rise condominium towers along the beach including Beachside Towers I & II, Westwinds and Luau. Beautiful single family residences were also completed within these different neighborhoods. Sandestin ushered in much more development and literally placed unincorporated “Miramar Beach” on the map with its own zip code 32550. The old two lane Highway 98 that ran along the coast became Scenic Gulf Drive where beachside mansions and gulf front condominiums blossomed over the next two decades. These developments included the golf course community known as the Seascape Resort which includes the towers of Majestic Sun, Ariel Dunes I and Ariel Dunes II. The Empress, Surfside, Edgewater Beach Resort, Hidden Dunes, Tops’l Tennis Resort and Frangista Beach were also completed during this time. A number of restaurants and the nation’s largest discount designer outlet known as Silver Sands were also established here.
In the meanwhile Sandestin itself continued to grow and in the early 2000s near the private Sandestin Marina and professional Tennis Center, a new rendition of the New Orleans French Quarter was created on Choctawhatchee Bay. This delightful Disneyesque version of the original was named the Village of Baytowne Wharf and includes specialty shops, bay front restaurants, lively bars, residences and vacation rental properties. Special seasonal festivals, free musical concerts, family amusements and firework displays abound here. A town center known as Grand Boulevard was completed a short time later which features upscale retail stores, fine restaurants and a new state of the art movie theater named Boulevard 10. Sandestin is sometimes referred to an “artificial kingdom” because it is picture perfect in so many ways. It is consistently named “Best Resort on the Emerald Coast” by readers of Emerald Coast Magazine for this reason.