Ocean Reef Resorts has been providing fine distinctive vacation rentals to generations of happy guests for almost 40 years. Families and friends love to stay with us every year to create magical memories during their vacations or fun beach reunions along the sugary white shoreline. However, some people are just now learning about this paradise along the jewel-toned waters of the Emerald Coast. That's why we created this "Beginner's Guide" with a few things you need to know when traveling to Destin.
Getting to Destin
Most of our vacationing guests arrive here by car since it is only a day's drive from most locations in the southeastern United States. We are located in the northwest Florida Panhandle about an hour east of Pensacola. This places Destin only about four and one-half hours away from Atlanta since our Central Time Zone gives all visitors from back east an extra hour as a gift upon arrival. Unfortunately, they take it away from you when returning. LOL! The actual time is five and one-half hours. We are also about eight and one-half hours away from Houston, seven hours away from Nashville, and four hours from both Birmingham as well as New Orleans.
Of course, like the old Kokomo Beach Boys song said, "You can get (t)here fast and then take it slow" by traveling on an airline. There are non-stop flights into three Destin area airports, the closest of which is the Destin Executive Airport in town for private planes. The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport is 15 miles away, which is only about 30 minutes away by car. Most visitors who fly use this airport since non-stop flights arrive from Atlanta, Charlotte NC , Chicago, Houston TX and Dallas TX to name a few. Direct flights to Destin originate from more than two dozen other cities nationwide. The Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City Beach accommodates flights from overseas as well as additional direct flights. It is about 45 miles away, which is about an hour's drive away from Destin.
The answer is simple because Destin is a great destination year-round, so take your pick! The height of the season runs from Memorial Day Weekend up until about Labor Day, which coincides with peak rental rates due to huge demand. Family vacations are a fun annual tradition since schools are out, and there's a lot to do. Although tropically humid temperatures usually hover in the upper 80s, which feels nice since there's almost always a nice breeze since Destin is sandwiched in between the open gulf and the expansive waters of Choctawhatchee Bay. Summertime makes this the place to be on a beautiful beach and luxuriating in the jeweled waters of the glowing gulf. This time of year spectacular sunsets occur right over the serene waters of Choctawhatchee Bay so many enjoy drinking and dining at the charming Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin. Many relish participating in a variety of water sports at Destin's HarborWalk Village, including jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards, and pontoon boats where Ocean Reef Resorts discounts are available through our complimentary Reef Rewards program.
From mid-August, until late October, lower fall rental rates are available, beaches are less crowded run, and the gulf remains warm enough for swimming. In October, humidity becomes almost non-existent with extraordinarily comfortable daytime temperatures in the mid-seventies and delightfully crisp evenings with lows in the fifties. There are lots of festivities held during the autumn months at Sandestin, HarborWalk Village, and along nearby Scenic 30A. These include Oktoberfest celebrations, art shows, wine festivals, and the famous Destin Fishing Rodeo competition, which runs throughout October with daily weigh-ins on the docks for cash prize awards at the end of the month. The delicious Destin Seafood Festival occurs at this time of year for three days with tons of fresh seafood, beer, wine, and musical entertainment performed on various stages along the harbor.
The winter season starts on October 31st and runs until mid- March which coincides with the absolute lowest rental rates available all year. This sweater weather season is accompanied by sparkling sunshine almost every day with crisp azure blue skies and temperatures usually in the mid-fifties during the day with the low forties at night however, occasionally daytime temperatures can even reach up the low 70's. There are bountiful buffets, holiday light festivals, outdoor concerts, parades, and fabulous firework celebrations that occur around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with another uptick for Mardi Gras.
Sensational sunsets occur this time of year right over the gorgeous gulf waters, which are a magnificent sight from all beachfront properties and restaurants. Many golfers flock to championship courses here during the winter since they are open and have virtually no waiting times. Ocean Reef Resorts provides our guests with special discounts provided at one free round of golf at the Emerald Bay Golf Club in Destin and at Seascape in nearby Miramar Beach.
Mid-March until Memorial Day has the same delightful weather and rental rates that are here during the fall. This is the time of the year that features Spring Breaks, so families vacation here, especially around Easter time, and save money compared to higher rentals during the summer season. Although the weather is perfect, the water temperature of the gulf can be a bit chilly until May arrives.
Things to Do in Destin
The number one favorite attraction in Destin is the beautiful beach. The pure white quartz crystal sand provides a sugary shoreline is found in very few other parts of the world. The brilliant bright reflective quality of the cool powdery sand does not burn your feet and also makes the gulf light up to resemble the color of glowing green jewels, which is why this precious piece of paradise is famously known as The Emerald Coast.
Other delightful diversions include focal points for fun festivals, shopping, and water adventures. The Destin Marina and HarborWalk Village are top attractions. The marina serves as home to the largest private charter fishing fleet in all of North America. Destin was originally founded on catching huge hauls of fish since it has the closest proximity to deep water on the Gulf of Mexico. This continues today, and visitors may join them on charter cruises. HarborWalk Village was created on the marina in recent years and exquisitely designed to look like a wonderful waterfront village from over 100 years ago. The stunning setting overlooks East Pass, where the boats go in and out of the glistening gulf, which can be seen in the distance. The village features many waterfront restaurants, lively bars, specialty shops, fun festivals year-round, concerts and fabulous firework displays on special holidays as well as throughout the summer. Ocean Reef Resorts guests receive reduced rates at HarborWalk Village through our complimentary Reef Rewards program for water recreation craft, dolphin cruises, sunset dinner excursions, boat rentals, and other adventures.
Crab Island is located in the bay a short distance away from HarborWalk Village and used to be a shallow sandbar where locals enjoyed catching crabs. Today it's a destination for a giant boat party during warm weather when a flotilla of vessels of all kinds anchor together and have a good time! The crystal clear water there when the tide is coming in is usually only three to five feet deep, so after anchoring, many revelers disembark and party with whoever else is there. Most Ocean Reef Resorts guests arrive on pontoon boats that they rented with our complimentary reduced rates along with coolers of beer and picnic baskets filled with tasty food. Crab Island has increased in popularity, so nowadays, there are also floating venues providing sandwiches, ice cream treats, and tropical drinks. Sometimes music is provided on a large barge that is simulcast on local radio stations while people frolic in the water.
Shopping is another popular past time, and there are two top destinations. Destin Commons is a giant pedestrian-friendly retail complex that features about 100 specialty shops, clothing boutiques, restaurants, bars, and a modern Multi-Plex Movie Theater. Flag topped turret towers, palm-lined streets, fountains, and the architectural design resembles a fanciful medieval village that also celebrates seasonal festivals. Destin Commons is consistently named as the "Best Shopping in Destin" in local surveys recorded by readers of Emerald Coast (EC) Magazine.
The Silver Sands Premium Outlets in nearby Miramar Beach is one of the largest Designer Discount Centers in the nation. There are over 110 world-class designer stores here that offer daily discounts from 25% to 65% off regular retail prices. Name brands include Adidas, Bass, Brooks Brothers, Brooks Brothers, Disney, Eddie Bauer, Cole Hahn, Coach, Columbia, Harry & David, Hertzberg Diamonds, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Lacoste, Levis, Movado, Nautica, Polo Ralph Lauren, Reebok, Saks Off Fifth Avenue, Samsonite, Sketchers, Sperry Top-Sider, Swarovski Crystal, Vera Bradley, Waterford Wedgewood, and Zales Outlet to name a few.
Another popular and quite enchanting destination is the Village of Baytowne Wharf and Grand Boulevard at the exclusively gated Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in neighboring Miramar Beach. Baytowne is a charming, almost Disney-like version of the French Quarter in New Orleans with a clean, safe, family-friendly setting. It is located on Choctawhatchee Bay in Sandestin near the yacht club with a long wharf for fishing and relishing spectacular sunsets over the mirror-like water from late spring till late summer. This picturesque village features numerous restaurants of all kinds, friendly bars, specialty shops, fun festivals all year long, free outdoor concerts, seasonal fireworks, and abundant amusements for all ages. These include zip lines, rock climbing, towering obstacle courses, video arcades, laser mazes, and an old fashioned carousel. The sophisticated town center of Sandestin just east of the main gate off the Emerald Coast Parkway and is called Grand Boulevard. This tropically landscaped boulevard lined with towering Royal Palm plays host to quite a few upscale clothiers, fashion boutiques, fine restaurants, and clubby bars. They also feature special events for the Songwriter's Festival, an Arts Quest show, and a Wine Tasting extravaganza.
Read more: Top 10 Destin Attractions
Where to Eat in Destin
Destin and nearby Miramar Beach have almost 100 restaurants that feature fresh Seafood, Cajun, Caribbean, French, Italian, Mexican, Greek, Mediterranean, Barbeque, and Southern-style comfort food. Quite a few of them have received national acclaim for excellence as gourmet restaurants. They have been honored with Certificates of Excellence, Five Star Ratings, and Gold Spoon Awards for fantastic food as well as fine wine selections.
Some of the best restaurants include the following: The Back Porch in Destin, which does indeed have a wide "back porch" with rocking chairs and tables overlooking the glistening gulf. This local favorite has been a culinary destination since opening back in 1974. They serve only fresh-caught Gulf seafood, which arrives daily and features an authentic Oyster Bar; The captivating Beach Walk Café at the far western end of Scenic Highway 98 overlooks the gorgeous gulf and has unobstructed views across the sugary dunes of the Henderson Beach State Park. They serve an awesome gourmet selection, have dining on the beach, and were named as one of the most romantic restaurants in the nation; Bijoux is a highly acclaimed gourmet restaurant at the Sandestin Marketplace on Emerald Coast Parkway near the gulf side gate. They've earned prestigious awards that include "Best Restaurant in Destin," "Best French Restaurant" and "Most Romantic Restaurant" for five consecutive years in a survey by Emerald Coast Magazine along with an "Award of Excellence" by Wine Spectators Magazine; Boshamps Seafood & Oyster House has a 4.5 Star Rating on TripAdvisor. They serve great seafood, overlooking the Destin harbor, have a beach playground for kids and are Pet-Friendly; Burrito Del Sol at HarborWalk Village rates as the best Mexican restaurant in Destin with Baja styled cuisine that includes a wide variety of entrees like blackened shrimp tacos, Chipolte BBQ, Steak Nachos and very slow-roasted chicken for burritos; Dewey Destin's Great Great Grandfather Captain Leonard Destin founded the town in the 1800s. His namesake bayfront restaurant overlooks Crab Island on the original docks the family had always used to unload the gulf's harvest. They serve daily fresh catches of Grouper, Amberjack, Snapper, Trigger Fish shrimp, and fresh oysters. Dewey Destin's Harbor Side is his second restaurant and sits above the marina; Emeril Lagasse actually lives here and opened Emeril's Coastal Italian in Miramar Beach at Sandestin's town center of Grand Boulevard. It is a chic, upscale eatery that features his fine fare done with coastal flavors that feature fresh-caught gulf fish and seafood. His wine list is so extensive at many of his restaurants that Wine Spectator has given him a Grand Award every year since 2000; Lagniappe is a French Cajun word that stands for "a little something extra" and the name certainly applies to the popular Louisiana Lagniappe restaurant that sits beside the harbor on Holiday Isle. People say you get a lot of lagniappe here due to their fine Louisiana Creole-inspired cuisine; Jimmy Buffet's sister Lulu has opened a restaurant in Destin that is located on the bay at the foot of the Mid Bay Toll Bridge. Lulu's Restaurant features her "Life is Good" spirit with lots of seafood, sandwiches, delicious southern sides, favorite drinks, live musical performances daily and a beach playground for kids; Jimmy Buffet's iconic Margaritaville restaurant overlooks the marina at HarborWalk Village, and besides tasty food, it features, (you guessed it), great margaritas!; McGuire's is the spirited bar and restaurant that happens to be an Irish Pub. Besides great food, the atmosphere promotes decadent delightful fun since their long-standing motto is: "Feasting, Imbibery, and Debauchery!" They serve a large selection of self-crafted beers and have been named as one of the best places for prime steaks in the nation; Pompano Joe's is a vibrantly colorful yet rustic restaurant on the sugary shore off of Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach. The Travel Channel featured Pompano Joe's as "The Ultimate Beach Snack Shack" and named it as one of the world's best beach restaurants! They are multi-time Blue Ribbon Winner for serving the Best Gumbo at the Sandestin Gumbo Festival. Their gulf caught seafood is prepared with a Caribbean flavor; Seagars is a Four Diamond Award-winning restaurant on the gulf side at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. It is also acknowledged as one of the top five steakhouses in Florida, and they feature an extensive wine list.
Where to Stay in Destin
Ocean Reef Resorts provides fine distinctive vacation rental accommodations of all kinds. They come in all building types, architectural styles, sizes, and locations. They range from intimate gulf view cottages or condos for romantic getaways to giant beach homes on the shore for large reunions and luxury residential towers at resorts. Some of the most popular homes are located on Holiday Isle in Destin and along Scenic Highway 98 as well as on Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach. Popular beachside resorts have fun, abundant amenities, and a wide array of accommodations. Some of the most popular include: the iconic Majestic Sun towers that resembles a gigantic manmade sandcastle with a soaring arch through its center; The twin towers of Ariel Dunes I and Ariel Dunes II which have chic urbane Las Vegas styled exteriors and swimming pools with encompassing thousands of square feet around their base; the Amalfi Coast which is a perennial favorite with double pools, tennis courts, and a lovely lagoon; Edgewater which is a duplicate copy of a luxury high rise hotel on the French Riviera that looks like a curved ship's exterior with open terrace "bows" and features lovely swimming pools overlooking the beach and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort with forested grounds adorned with natural lagoons and lush tropical landscaping that sprawl across 2,400 acres from the beachside to the bay. This wonderful self-contained exclusively gated world includes delightful diversions at the aforementioned charming Village of Baytowne Wharf and Grand Boulevard.
You will find all of these properties listed here on our state of the art user-friendly website, which includes detailed individual descriptions, vivid images, seasonal rental rates, and dates of calendar availability for the ease of making reservations. Enjoy making plans now to come for a visit Destin and let us know how we can serve you.