Destin and Navarre Beach share one thing in common. They both have a shimmering sugar-white shoreline and overlook the glowing emerald toned waters of the Gulf of Mexico. However, they are different in many other ways related to history, size, makeup, and the amount of fun activities available. Literally, generations of our esteemed Ocean Reef Resorts guests have been coming down to their favorite beach destination in dazzling Destin for magical vacations at the beach. However, for those of you who have not yet discovered Northwest Florida's Emerald Coast and are considering a visit, here is a look at both locales!
It's hard to believe by just looking at it, but Destin is quite old. It was settled way back in the 1840s by a captain from New England named Leonard Destin – even before the Civil War began. He discovered the vast abundance of fish on the peninsula that straddled land between the Gulf of Mexico and the wide expanse of Choctawhatchee Bay. It seemed like an offshore island since the peninsula is three to five miles across the water from the mainland. This location and the proximity to a deep underwater canyon that connects to the open Gulf gave him quick, easy access to deep water fishing along with numerous other fish and seafood in the bay. He created a flourishing fishing enterprise, and fellow anglers started long journeys down to cottages for fishing vacations in the late 1800s well before electricity, or paved roads were even invented. By the 1920s, Destin was billed as the Sailfish Capital of the Gulf of Mexico as affluent adventurers came to catch trophy fish. Due to this famous reputation Destin became known as "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village," and today it boasts the largest private charter fishing fleet in all of North America!
Although fishing is still a big thing in Destin, by 1970, the sensational sugar-white shore started to be discovered by families to enjoy exceptional beach vacations. Luxury high rise condominiums and beach homes began to become established here, starting with Holiday Isle. In 1987 the two lanes Highway 98 was replaced by a four-lane highway known as Emerald Coast Parkway, connecting Destin to Panama City Beach. Beachside luxury residential towers, award-winning championship golf courses, exclusively gated resort communities, upscale shopping centers, restaurants, and bars popped up almost overnight. Amazingly enough, everything you see along this route from Silver Shells near Airport Road in Destin to Sandestin in Miramar Beach was not even in existence before this time! Old Scenic 98, where Crystal Beach and many beachside resorts like Majestic Sun, Ariel Dunes, Amalfi Coast, and Edgewater in Miramar Beach are now located along the old original route.
Today Destin has almost become a household name, especially after being featured just a few years ago on the Good Morning America news program when a national survey named it the "Third Most Beautiful Place in America." Besides great fishing and the beautiful beaches, it has a huge cornucopia of wonderful restaurants, friendly casual bars, world-class shopping venues, championship golf courses, dolphin sightseeing excursions, sunset dinner cruises, and even pirate boat adventures.
HarborWalk Village near the Destin Bridge serves as its main focal point for fun gatherings with spectacular views of the bustling marina, beautiful bay, and glittering Gulf. This captivating Americana styled village features a wide array of restaurants, specialty shops, harbor-front restaurants, and lively bars. You may take a charter fishing trip out from the docks or watch people arrive on boats with their huge catches to be offloaded at the end of the day. Our special Reef Rewards program provides guests with complimentary reduced rates there for lots of exciting activities, including assorted cruises, fishing boats, pontoons, jet skis, paddleboards, and other available rentals. Many guests grab their picnic basket and cooler to take a pontoon boat over to Crab Island. Nowadays, it is actually a submerged sandbar featuring shallow crystal clear water before the tide goes out, and many people gather there to anchor for fun boat party celebrations. HarborWalk Village hosts big festivals and free outdoor concerts year-round, some of which feature colorful firework displays set to rollicking music. The biggest events include Mardi Gras, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, the Destin Fishing Rodeo, the Destin Seafood Festival, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.
Another popular destination is at the giant retail complex called Destin Commons, which looks like a Disneyesque version of a European style village with turrets, fountains and towering palm trees. It is located at the northeast corner of Emerald Coast Parkway and Mid Bay Bridge Road. This pedestrian and pet-friendly place is anchored by a giant Bass Pro shop, a Belk's Department Store, and Uncle Buck's Fishbowl & Grill. It features an abundance of fine clothiers, fashion boutiques, specialty shops, restaurants, bars, and a state of the art AMC Multi-Plex movie theater. Destin Commons also features on-going festivals and special events.
See more: Destin Commons Murals
Navarre Beach is a remote far smaller beach destination located about forty-five minutes west of Destin on Highway 98, which is almost halfway over to Pensacola. The unincorporated town is fairly new, being mostly built along Highway 98 in recent years with a grocery store, some gas stations, and a Walmart. There are also a couple of Italian and Mexican restaurants, a sushi place, several seafood spots along with some fast-food restaurants. Most of Navarre Beach itself is comprised of many single-family homes in neighborhoods on the mainland, where mostly military personnel, federal civil servants, and some retired people live.
The Navarre Bridge connects it to an offshore barrier island across Santa Rosa Sound, where the beach is located. This is its main claim to fame, of course, and offers a simple, serene place for a quiet beach vacation. The small developed part of the beach, which has some condos borders miles of the pristine National Seashore Park sandwiched in between Santa Rosa Sound and the open Gulf. A two-lane road travels eighteen miles over to Pensacola Beach toward the west across rolling isolated white dunes with some public gulf access points along the way, a few of which have bathroom facilities. The views are breathtakingly beautiful, and many visitors pre-pack a picnic for a day at the beach since it is fairly remote.
Navarre Beach is famous for having the longest fishing pier on the entire Gulf of Mexico, which borders the National Seashore extending out 1,545 feet in length and thirty feet above the water. It is open from 6 am till 7 pm during the winter months and from 5 am till 11 pm during the summer season. Besides fishing, you may go there to experience the romance of a spectacular sun or moon rise and heavenly moon or sunset over the Gulf or just see the sparkling stars above. All tickets are only $1 for a day pass. Adult tickets to fish are $7, $6 for Senior Citizens and active Military Personnel, $4 for kids 6 thru 15 and free for those 5 years old or younger. A seafood place with pub food called Windjammers is available next to the pier serving drinks and simple fare. There are only two other restaurants located on or very near the Gulf, which include Broussard's offering seafood, a Happy Hour, and late-night food along with the elegant Beach House Bar & Grille that features gourmet seafood entrees.
Interestingly enough, the most popular destination for those visiting Navarre Beach is Destin since it's a fairly close drive away! This is because although both have gorgeous beaches, Destin has a much wider array of delightful diversions, including scores of fantastic restaurants, excellent bars, fun festivals, free seasonal concerts, fishing excursions, water recreation, shopping venues, and championship golf courses.
Ocean Reef Resorts provides outstanding vacation rentals in Destin for a wonderful beach reunion among family and friends. Stay in Destin for our beautiful beaches that include lots of fun times, and if you want lovely remote seclusion for a picnic, you can always take a Day Trip over to the National Seashore at Navarre Beach