If you've ever been to Destin, you may already be wise – the sugary shoreline here is made of brilliant bright white sand and is known for having "the most beautiful beaches in the world." Wondering why the sand here is so very white? During the end of the last Ice Age, vast chunks of pure white quartz crystals cut from mountaintops ere carried into the Gulf of Mexico by the mighty Apalachicola River. The millennia of waves and tidal action ground the quartz to a pure white powder of tiny crystalline glass. This sparkling sand creates the Gulf's remarkable emerald-toned color, unique to our shores and that sweet squeak under your feet. The sun's rays reflect upward through the crystal clear water. The natural algae near the white sandy bottom provides an enchanting deep green luminescent glow. The beach itself has been designated as a "Blue Wave Beach" due to its unspoiled natural beauty. This significant achievement makes this place one of a precious few to have received this acclaim for excellence. It is our nation's highest rating for pristine shoreline cleanliness.
The bright beach is the pure white ribbon that wraps the show's real star, the clear, glorious Gulf water. So you may ask, why is the water in Florida so clear? Along the Gulf Coast, east of the Mississippi, there are no major rivers to dump sediment, dirt, or waste into the sea. This keeps our water clean, clear, and free of impurities. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has done numerous tests over the last decade, all showing conclusive evidence that the ocean currents carry the runoff from the Mississippi south and away from Florida's Gulf Coast. The obvious question becomes what part of Florida has the prettiest beaches with the clearest water. Key West, Anna Maria Island, Siesta Key, and Destin are consistently on the top of the list. There is a natural reason for this. The clarity of the water in any ocean or sea is influenced by how much sediment flows into them. The key quality for each of these places is a large bay adjacent to the shore. Filtration of impurities gives each of these special places their own unique presentation.
Why Destin has the clearest water beaches in Florida
Surveys for the clearest water in Florida consistently rate Northwest Florida's Emerald Coast as Number One. This esteemed title of clarity includes Destin, Miramar Beach, all the picturesque coastal villages along South Walton's Scenic 30A, and Panama City Beach. The water here is usually "swimming-pool clear"! Our sugary shore is protected from rivers draining directly into the Gulf due to Choctawhatchee Bay's huge expanse, miles away from the mainland. Again, the bay acts as a filter for any sediment coming in from small rivers way over on the other side from the mainland. The only opening between the bay and Gulf is at East Pass, which interconnects the two at Destin's Harbor. Crystal clear water pours from the deep Gulf into the bay on a daily basis. It remains mostly undiluted when it returns to the Gulf since the big bay has naturally filtered brackish inland drainage. This is not the case along most other parts of the Gulf or open oceans. The closest major rivers to our shores are the Apalachicola River, 100 miles east, which flows into another large bay, and the Mississippi 250 miles to our west.
Unlike waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that have a somber grayish-green color, here in Destin, the sea resembles the tone of glittering jewels. The main ingredient that creates the emerald green color is chlorophyll from natural microscopic plankton. The pure clarity of the water, and the sun's light on the minuscule plankton reflecting from the white sandy bottom, creates an unmistakable, luminescent glowing green tone. The dazzling array of color goes from emerald green to almost aquamarine, depending upon the mix of water conditions and sunlight. The jeweled colors are precious, and new visitors are sometimes startled with delight when they first see the dazzling sight. Occasionally when an offshore storm or heavy rain occurs, the water clarity is affected, but it is temporary. June seagrass can briefly affect water clarity, but it is natural and safe, and short-lived. It tends to drift, affecting some beaches more than others depending upon the tides. However, from early October through Memorial Day Weekend, you can expect to see the very best conditions.
Related Article: What makes Destin's Water Green
Besides swimming in the clear waters, many people enjoy snorkeling along the jetties at Destin's East Pass, where the fishing boats come and go. Mounds of rock line the sides for protection and to ensure an opening into the Gulf, which provides a perfect habitat for colorful fish. You can access it from the far western point of Holiday Isle or across the Destin Bridge on Okaloosa Island. You can literally swim with the fish and view their beauty as a colorful underwater rainbow in motion.
One of the most rollicking rendezvous points to enjoy the crystal clear waters is at Crab Island, which used to be a large raised sand bar where locals liked to go to catch crustaceans. Today it is a friendly floating playground where folk frolic from April through October. An anchored fleet of yachts, pontoons, ski boats, sailboats, and wave runners congregate in the bays translucence. The waters remain swimming-pool clear while the tide is coming in, yet another fun place to snorkel. However, most gather here to swim, eat, drink, dance, party, and engage in all forms of water-time fun. Friendly partygoers wade from boat to boat, visiting each other while enjoying the refreshing water that ranges in depth from knee-high and up to your shoulders. This wonderful watery world inspires everyone to play. Many visitors rent pontoon boats to join in the fun from LDV Water Sports at Harborwalk Village. Ocean Reef Resorts guests receive special discounts here. Nothing beats relaxing with friends on a boat while swimming, having cold drinks, listening to music, munching on tasty treats, and watching the lively human scenery. Local radio stations float in big barges during special holidays to broadcast live musical programs. There are also floating trampolines, portable slides, volleyball, and fun engaging water contact contests. Food vendors are available to deliver sandwiches, ice cream, beer, and your favorite drinks by boat, to those who haven't brought their own delicious fare.
Other clear water beaches in Florida
Obviously, we have our favorites, but here are some other great places to dip in the clear Florida waters. Each has that special recipe for clarity, including the most important ingredient, the large, tranquil bay nearby. Looking at our award-winning neighbors to the south, we first have Anna Maria Island. Just north of Tampa, we find this little gem. The beach is sparklingly bright and carries a similar green hue to our own waters. There are no chain restaurants or towering beach condos to separate you from the Gulf of Mexico, making this a great location for romance and solitude. Next on the list of clean beach buddies is Siesta Key. This time just south of Tampa and away from all the hustle and bustle of Central Florida, this quiet little beach offers an abundance of natural beauty and clear waters. And finally, and one of the most popular clearwater locals, by far, is Key West. Though it does have a rough edge to the shore, not particularly suited for gathering on the beach, it does feature consistently clear waters and plenty of history to enjoy.
Take a look at some of our Destin vacation rentals today and reserve your own vacation rental beside the swimming-pool clear waters of the Gulf. Many of our vacation homes have a swimming pool of their own, so you can have the best of both worlds!
Keep reading: 10 Affordable Vacation Homes with Pools