Gems of the Emerald Coast
Encompassing Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Okaloosa Island, the Emerald Coast is located on the dazzling blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Within this area you will find a treasure trove of vacation activities, from boating across the waves to snorkeling beneath them and even meeting the marine animals who live here during special animal encounters. Expect gold-star accommodations, whether you’re staying near the water or near the shopping. These are some of the Emerald Coast’s best gems!
When visiting the Emerald Coast, boating is a must. The gentle surf of the dazzling waters surrounding Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa Island welcome you to spend the day exploring them, whether you want to embark on a fishing excursion, relax while floating on a pontoon, diving beneath the waves, or enjoying aquatic accommodations.
Destin Harbor, at the heart of the Emerald Coast, is home to the largest for-hire fishing fleet in the U.S. Depending on the season, charters will fill your boat with amberjack, red snapper, triggerfish, cobia, grouper and many other fish indigenous to the area. Perhaps this abundance of fish, combined with beautiful water and breathtaking views, is what has earned Destin the title of “World’s Luckies Fishing Village” - because you’ll certainly feel luck to be here! At the Destin Fishing Fleet Marina, you’ll find a plethora of fishing charters available, including options for group trips so that you and your family or friends can go out together. Each licensed captain is committed to finding you the best fishing spots, from in-shore fishing to offshore and even shark and bow fishing! If you’re feeling especially proud of your catch, the marina partners with a professional photographer to snap you with your snapper!
One of the biggest perks to fishing in this area is that there are many available Gulf-to-Table restaurants, which will clean and cook your catch as you relax and enjoy a lovely dinner. Brotula’s is a beautiful waterside restaurant that overlooks the Destin Harbor, specializing in fresh, locally-sourced seafood, produce, and a wide array of steamed and boiled shellfish platters that are integrated into a fun and rustic, yet sophisticated Southern fish house that is also happy to cook up your catch, and choose your sides to go along with it.
Whether you’re wanting an adrenaline kick from a Waverunner ride or a relaxing day of dolphin-watching, Boogie Watersports has it all! Fly high above the city on a parasailing trip, or shoot across the waves on a high-powered Waverunner. You can also take a Waverunner on a unique dolphin tour, experiencing the bottle-nosed dolphins at play. They are perhaps best known for their Glass Bottom Boat tour, which takes you through the Destin Harbor, bay, and Gulf of Mexico; enjoy the narrated tour while viewing marine life through the glass bottom of the boat. Be on the lookout for dolphins here, too, and be sure to bring your camera!
Perhaps one of the most popular ways to spend your day on the water in Destin is to float in the warm Gulf waters while enjoying the sunshine. Crab Island is a popular spot for pontoon boats, due to its shallower and calm waters and beautiful backdrop of the city. There is even an inflatable waterpark that floats on water! Destin Vacation Rentals specializes in boat rentals; particularly, pontoon boats! This spacious style of boat is laid out perfectly for groups, and the pontoon boats offered by Destin Vacation Rentals are even available with slides - creating an instant waterpark that is especially popular with kids and teens.
Accommodations on the Emerald Coast are not limited to the land - not only are there hotels and resorts right beside the water, but there are also houseboat rentals to stay right on the water (literally). Emerald Coast Houseboat Rentals offers the best of an aquatic lifestyle with an array of beautiful houseboats, each unique and featuring different interior styles that will suit your taste, whether you prefer clean lines and luxury or cozy, quirky comfort. Enjoy sunning or sitting out on the deck with the water spreading out around you. When you’re ready to go out an adventure, just take your floating hotel out on the waves! They also offer Waverunner rentals for an added bit of thrill.
It’s not just life on the water that you can enjoy on the Emerald Coast - it’s life under the water, too! The 100-Fathom Curve draws nearer to Destin than to any other spot on the Gulf Coast, and with such deep waters comes the opportunity to see incredible marine life with snorkeling and diving. Dive among the artificial reefs, wrecks and a limestone shelf at depths of up to 90 feet. Snorkeling is another fantastic way to see fish and pick up pretty shells, and Destin Snorkel offers snorkeling along with SNUBA. SNUBA is a great way to enjoy the perks of scuba diving without being certified, and is suitable for healthy swimmers over the age of eight.
The hotels and resorts that are located on land are still only a short ways away from the surf and sands that surrounds the area. SunDestin Beach Resort, part of Wyndham Vacation Rentals, is located just near downtown Destin and overlooks the emerald Gulf waves for which this coast is named. Enjoy spacious condo units with private balconies featuring stunning views, as well as fantastic amenities like 3,000 ft. of event space, its own beach space, and beach rentals including beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, and padddleboards for a day of adventure.
Riches on Land
As much as the Emerald Coast is all about the water, there’s plenty for a landlubber to do! Get in touch with wildlife at a nature park, stay in the most romantic inn, conduct science experiments with the family, encounter dolphins up close, or shop to your heart’s content.
Nature lovers cannot miss the fantastic Henderson Beach State Park, which features 6,000 feet of scenic shoreline dotted with beautiful dune rosemary and sand pines. Enjoy the boardwalks that wind through the dunes, and keep your eye out for the birds who live here. Camping, fishing and even geocaching are also available, and it’s pet-friendly! (Leashes, please.) Located just off U.S. Highway 98, it is not only easy to access the park, but also to find attractions and accommodations nearby.
Those who enjoy the serenity of the park will certainly find restfulness at the Henderson Park Inn, which is adjacent to the park on the Gulf-front. This luxurious, all-inclusive resort is an adults-only, New England-style retreat offers a romantic touch to your trip. Delight in elegant decor in each suite, each with different amenities like private balconies, kitchenettes, fireplaces, and whirlpool tubs. Enjoy a gourmet breakfast, picnic boxed lunch, cocktails at the Tiki Hut, complimentary wine, grapes and chocolates upon arrival, beach chairs and umbrellas, bicycles and more. There’s a reason this was voted the #1 most romantic hotel in North America!
On the other side of Henderson State Park is a more family-oriented option, the Silver Sands Beach Resort and Spa. Their 31-acre beach borders the park, and they offer spacious condos that perfectly combine resort luxury with essential amenities like kitchens, dining areas, balconies, and more. Enjoy beach chair service, or lounge by the 7,500 square foot Lagoon Pool - the centerpiece of the resort. Visit The Sandbar tiki hut on the beach to cool off with a frozen cocktail, or enjoy a massage at the full-service spa. Parasail trips, Waverunners, sailboats, and kayaks can all be rented right from the beach. Indulge in a fantastic dinner at the onsite Ruth’s Chris Steak House of Destin, or take a short drive (or perhaps even a stroll in the pleasant evening air) to nearby restaurants and cafes.
When visiting this area of the Florida Panhandle, you should certainly visit the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which is spread between the states of Alabama and Florida, connecting in the Panhandle. Florida’s section of this park is on the Emerald Coast’s Okaloosa Island, located along Choctawhatchee Bay. The calm waters on the Gulf side make it ideal for swimming, and the park offers public facilities, including showers. This is the perfect time of year to see the island’s beautiful and rare blooms, like Indian Blanket and Large-flowered Pink Marsh flowers. And, don’t miss the chance to look for dolphins!
A fantastic family day trip destination is the Emerald Coast Science Center in Fort Walton Beach. This interactive museum focuses on activities that explore science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). Meet the collection of birds, reptiles, and small mammals, each one named after a famous scientist. Learn about ecology and the regional environment with The Emerald Coast Ecosystem Exhibit, where kids can engage in activities about climate and weather, local terrain, and wildlife and use a augmented reality sandbox, so you can make watershed models and conduct experiments with virtual rainfall. Parents and children will love these and so many more activities; it’s the perfect blend of learning and fun!
Another great day trip for all ages is a visit to the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park on Okaloosa Island. This is a fun and exciting place to learn about the rich marine life of the Emerald Coast and other parts of the world, and to meet marine animals up close! Watch a thrilling dolphin show featuring playful bottlenose dolphins, and then meet the stars of the show themselves with a hands-on dockside encounter. Sweep your fingers over a sleek stingray at the touch tank, meet and hold juvenile alligators, and go behind the scenes on the Gulfarium’s long-term turtle rescue. You will also encounter penguins, sea lions, harbor seals, and more!
In this waterfront vacation destination, it’s no surprise that even some of the attractions on land have to do with enjoying the water; so it is at Big Kahuna’s, the Emerald Coast’s largest waterpark! Combining the refreshment of a swimming pool with the thrills of a theme park, Big Kahuna’s offers heart-pounding fun on the 40-foot free-fall of Jumanji, the four-lane, heads-first race of the Kowabunga Racer, or the dizzy swirls of the Cobra Twister. There are over 40 rides to enjoy, including smaller and slower-paced rides for little tykes and a mini golf course to check out after you dry off.
Shopaholics will find plenty of places to pick up some treasures to take home, particularly after spending a day at Destin Commons. The Commons is a local favorite and has been voted “Best Shopping Center,” thanks to its refreshing open-air design that feels more like a village than a mall. Peruse 95 specialty stores including Belk, Bass Pro Shops, AMC 14 Theaters, H&M, and other popular brands. Enjoy restaurants and entertainment options with a little something for everyone, like Buck's Fish Bowl & Grill bowling alley and restaurant, Chipotle, and others. Children love the mini train, interactive water fountain and Pirate's Cove soft playground.
Just a short ways down the road from Destin Commons is the newly-renovated Best Western Sugar Sands Inn and Suites, packed with all kinds of amenities and the kind of friendly customer service you’d expect from this popular hotel brand. Rooms and suites are spacious and feature a fresh, modern take on coastal decor. Relax beside the pool or take a refreshing swim, play at the arcade, or head out and explore the shopping, dining, and other attractions close by. You’ll be fueled for the day with the hotel’s complimentary full breakfast served in their dining room.
More of the Emerald Coast to Discover
RESILIANT GULF COUNTY
Loyal visitors to Gulf County — don’t throw in the beach towel! Despite changes to lives and landscapes after Hurricane Michael, this resilient community has been focused on the future to ReBuild and welcome you back. ReVisit to ReDiscover Gulf County, where the sun still shines bright and the beaches are still beautiful. Experience new views and scenery, fresh coats of paint, and the same friendly smiles. Join in the community’s powerful journey at Visitgulf.com.
COZY BEACH RENTALS
Pinnacle Port Vacation Rentals offer homey coziness coupled with resort-style amenities in Panama City Beach. Pinnacle Port is a private, gated resort at the west end of Panama City Beach, offering lake and Gulf views. Choose from one to three bedroom condos that come fully furnished and equipped, and enjoy all of the resort’s amenities like the seasonally heated pool, men’s and women’s saunas, fishing at Lake Powell, and being close to PCB attractions!
UNFORGETTABLE 30A RENTALS
Garrett Realty Services offer a superb selection of beach homes, condos, townhomes and more along Scenic 30-A, near famous Seaside and Rosemary Beach. Enjoy luxurious beachfront houses featuring panoramic views, or affordable condos offering exceptional amenities like tennis courts, beachside pools, private balconies and more. Whether it’s your next family vacation or a romantic getaway, they’ll provide you with lifelong memories of the Emerald Coast.
VIEWS FOR DAYS
At the Dunes of Panama, you will without a doubt be amazed with the magnificent views of the Gulf of Mexico from every spacious two and three bedroom unit. A family-friendly resort with several different floor plans to accommodate 6 to 12 people. Delightful pleasures include our 1,500 feet of beachfront, three Gulf-front swimming pools, tennis, barbeque grills, fitness room, Suds Weezers & Sneaky Tiki for frozen concoctions, food and snacks, and much more.
Visit us at www.dunesofpanama.com 1-800-874-2412
PIRATE ADVENTURE ON THE HIGH SEAS
The Sea Dragon is a two hour, fun-filled pirate adventure with activities, songs, and treasure! From our unique vantage point you can see some of our local residents: bottlenose dolphin, manta rays, egrets, heron, and even Osprey. Enjoy our air conditioned area, plus snacks and drinks for purchase. The Sea Dragon is a must-dofor families with young children, or anyone who ever dreamed of riding the high seas aboard a pirate ship!
Create your own luxurious home-away-from-home at Moonspinner Condominiums in Panama City Beach. Located in one of the most desired Florida destinations, and adjacent to a State Park, these vacation rental condos are ideally placed near several marinas, grocery, and retail outlets. Enjoy relaxing in your condo or exploring Moonspinner’s 800 feet of pristine beach. All condo units offer fully equipped kitchens, dining, and living space with private bedrooms and spacious balconies facing he Gulf- front. www.moonspinner.com
COUNTS-OAKES RESORT PROPERTIES
Are you dreaming of the ultimate beach vacation? Look no further than Counts-Oakes Resort Properties in Panama City Beach, South Walton Beach, and Destin and Miramar Beach. Gorgeous, white-sand beaches and warm Gulf waters make this one of the most desirable beach destinations in the world! Enjoy a wide array of property styles and units, all perfectly situated and equipped. When you book with Counts-Oakes Properties, your beach vacation dreams come true!