Destin vs. Panama City Beach

Explore the Bookends of the Emerald Coast

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Destin vs. Panama City Beach

Destin towards the west and Panama City Beach towards the east are essentially the bookends of the Emerald Coast. Both locales offer a sugary white shoreline that overlooks the jewel toned luminescent waters of the glistening gulf, however their history is different and in turn so was their development. Panama City Beach is geographically more confined whereas Destin is considered to include the city itself, adjoining areas like Miramar Beach and coastal villages along Scenic 30A in South Walton.


Fabulous fishing is what first brought tourists to Destin back in the late 1800s. By the roaring 1920s it was named The Bill Fish Capital of the Gulf of Mexico due to the huge trophy specimens found in abundance off shore. A deep rift fissure close by allows relatively easy access to deep water fishing here for an abundance of fish including Amberjack, Grouper, Tuna, Cobia as well as trophies like Blue Marlin and Sailfish. Destin received fame for being acclaimed as the “Luckiest Fishing Village in the World” and the harbor is home to the largest private charter boat fleet on the gulf. Families and friends often share a charter boat with experienced captains as well as their friendly crew who take visitors on these delightful adventures.  (Ocean Reef Resorts provides special discounts for reduced rates on many of these adventures through our complimentary Reef Rewards program.)

Destin Florida

Although its initial roots are anchored to fishing, Destin became a dazzling destination for vacationers who started to discover the beautiful beaches here in the 1970s. Southern Living Magazine has consistently named Destin as “Best Family Beach Destination”. Water sports abound here with rentals for jet skis, paddle boards, kayaks, surf boards, sailboats, canoes and pontoon boats which may be found at La Dolce Vita where Ocean Reef Resort guests receive reduced rates. Rentals are available for these fun pursuits at Harborwalk Village as well as in front of the Majestic Sun and the Ariel Dunes towers in Miramar Beach (among other locales).

Besides our beautiful beaches and fabulous fishing, Destin is known for delightful diversions that include delectable dining, friendly beach bars, free outdoor concerts, family amusements and fun seasonal festivals. These occur all along the gulf and are also centered in charming picturesque Disney-like places like Harborwalk Village, Destin Commons, Baytowne Wharf and Grand Boulevard in Sandestin.

Destin Golf

Destin is also a destination for great golf. Ocean Reef Resorts guests receive complimentary discounts at Regatta Bay, Emerald Bay and the Seascape golf clubs off Emerald Coast Parkway.  Free rounds of golf are provided to our guests at nearby Bluewater Bay. The Regatta Bay course has been listed as one of Golf Digest’s “Top places to Play in North America” and is located on a 120 acre preserve nestled beside the forested shores of Choctawhatchee Bay. The Emerald Bay Golf Club created by Bob Cupp of Jack Nicklaus Designs is a 72 par championship course. It is located within a serene, gated community also on the southern shore of the bay. The lushly landscaped fairways meander past a multitude of lakes and lagoons. Two thirds of these holes also have water obstacles with the back nine stretching all along the shoreline with breathtaking bay views. Seascape is a 71 par championship course with 18 holes designed by golf architect Joe Lee with gorgeous gulf views in the distance from a forested terrain. Three quarters of the fairways include a lagoon, pond or lovely lake water hazard.

Destin has also become famous for its exclusively gated resort destinations and prestigious residential communities. The largest and most established is the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, which spans across over 2,400 lushly landscaped acres with vacation residences on the gorgeous gulf and overlooking the beautiful bay. There are four 18 hole championship golf courses with top ratings from Golf Digest. Burnt Pine by Rees Jones includes forested lakes for three quarters of its course. The fabulous Raven by Robert Trent Jones is adjacent to it. Tom Jackson designed the Baytowne and Links courses. Sandestin is home to the charming Village of Baytowne Wharf and its upscale Town Center called Grand Boulevard.

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach FL

Panama City Beach was incorporated in 1969 and prior to that time was known as a destination with simple beach cottages and a smorgasbord of diverse businesses, restaurants and bars. Development really took off in the mid 2000’s with the introduction of high-rise luxury towers, shopping venues and assorted amusements. Spring Breaks became huge since if you are looking for pleasurable activities, Panama City Beach seems to have everything. There are a number of amusement parks for the kids with the largest being Shipwreck Island Water Park featuring over 20 acres of pirate adventure. Coconut Creek is another diversion with trickling waterfalls and an expansive tropically landscaped miniature golf course. Gulf World provides fun Dolphin and Sea Lion shows. Many exotic animals may be seen at Zoo World. There are over 260 creatures in exhibits that provide each animal with a lush natural habitat. Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Panama City Beach is an “Odditorium” that includes 500 exhibits of amazing real oddities and mind boggling visual illusions. There is also a 7D Moving Picture Ride where you seem to soar across an amazing visual landscape, a Laser Obstacle course race and a Mirror Maze Challenge with vibrant LED lights, dead ends, unexpected corners and infinite reflections. Wonderworks is in a building turned upside down when you first enter but a spiraling magical inversion tunnel turns you right side up so you may begin an awesome adventure that includes 100 exhibits. You may participate in the hands on lab experiments that include “Wonder Zone” experiments of Natural Disasters, Physical Challenges, Light and Sound, Space Discovery, an Imagination Lab and the Far Out Gallery.

Beachfront Drinks

Panama City Beach also has a wide assortment of restaurants, piano bars, trendy dance clubs and music lounges that often feature reggae, calypso, dance as well as southern tunes. A giant tourist destination known as Pier Park was completed in recent years offering a variety of restaurants, friendly bars with live bands and excellent shopping along the palm lined boulevard. A Multiplex Movie Cinema with sixteen screens and an amusement park offers abundant entertainment. Kids of all ages may enjoy laser maze competitions and bungee jumping. A giant pier anchors the end of the park with the distinction of being one of the longest wharfs on the entire gulf. For a nominal fee you can fish here for the day or take a walk to enjoy the views. Seasonal festivals often offer live music, great food, drinks and fireworks.

Ocean Reef Resorts offers fine distinctive vacation rentals in Destin and Panama City Beach, so take a look to choose the one that you like best. It’s like comparing apples to oranges since they are both delightful and come with a bright beautiful white sand beach!