By Lincoln McElwee
Whether you’re banking on the predictions of a small group of famous groundhogs or looking to meteorologists for a glimpse of warmer weather, one thing’s certain: it’s never too early to start planning for a wonderful family vacation! Spring and summer will be here before you know it, so beat the crowds and book your next adventure. For a destination with style, class and bucket loads of fun, be sure to secure the ultimate family vacation in Destin, Florida, where you’ll find everything your family needs to both enjoy the warm weather and soak in the fun, fun, fun!
With white sandy beaches and beautiful Gulf waters, Destin’s popularity is unmistakable. It was recently honored in 2015 with another of Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards, this time for being one of the Top Destinations on the Rise in the United States. If that’s not enough praise, here’s more: this family “hotspot” also has the honor of being named the “Best Family Beach” in The Travel Channel’s Best Beach Awards for 2013. In addition, it was named one of the top 25 destinations in the United States by Trip Advisor, and received the Travers’ Choice Award in 2011! With accolades like these, it’s no wonder that families are frantic to experience the tranquility and welcoming beauty of Destin, Florida.
Your ultimate family vacation should ultimately begin with family-style accommodations, and Destin has you covered. Choices indeed range from island-chic hideaways to sprawling beachside resorts, and everything in-between. For a list of the most family-friendly hotels in general, you can visit Trip Advisor for crowd-favorite suggestions. Otherwise, here are a few of the best beachfront resorts that also cater to vacationers with families.
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is certainly one for the books. It covers 2,400 acres and several waterfront locations in the area. Regardless of your choice—along the Gulf of Mexico, the Choctawhatchee Bay or lakeside—you’ll receive access to all the resort’s amenities, including private beach access, kayak rentals, 4 award-wining golf courses, a spa, and the Village of Baytowne Wharf with dining and entertainment. Check out all the resort has to offer here: http://www.sandestin.com/
The WaterColor Inn and Resort is another top-notch destination. Situated just east of Destin, the 499-acre property is a true beachfront oasis, and is part of a larger resort complex of cozy vacation rentals. It offers guests a 1,400-foot-long beach, rooms with private balconies, kayak and bicycle rentals, 6 resort pools, and kids-camp activities, such as beach bonfires. View the beauty of this getaway and make your booking here: http://www.watercolorresort.com/
The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa is another family favorite, and makes it so that you don’t even need to leave the property for food or captivating fun! Guests can enjoy 2 outdoor pools, 4 golf courses, 15 tennis courts and mini-golf, to name just a few activities. There’s also a Kids Krew program that offers activities like arts and crafts, games and building sandcastles. For more details, visit: http://www.hiltonsandestinbeach.com
As far as beaches are concerned, you’ll definitely want to visit Henderson Beach State Park, which received a noteworthy accolade as well as a 2016 Travelers’ Choice for Trip Advisor. With more than 6,000 feet of natural shoreline, as well as 60 campsites, a playground, boardwalks, and multiple pavilions for picnicking and family events, this breathtaking destination truly offers something for everyone! The white sand beach is also the perfect family enclave in that, as it’s located in a state park, it offers a plethora of additional activities in case the kids get bored of the water, and is also secluded enough from the crowds and people watchers to offer ample, safe and memorable family time. Add this stop to your itinerary and you won’t be disappointed.
Another must-see spot to tack onto your itinerary is the fun-filled Village of Baytowne Wharf, which received a Certificate of Excellence in 2014. Located within the gates of the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, along the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay, this lively point of interest is a favorite among those in the know, and is a perfect place to unwind after spending a day at the marina or hours getting soaked with various water sports. Kids and adults alike will find activities such as a zip lining, arcade games, hamster balls, magic shows, concerts, shopping and dining—and much, much more!
Want to try your luck with creating a work of art, and all while soaking up the sun in the sand? Then don’t miss a chance to create a unique work of art with Beach Sand Sculptures! Book a class with these professional sand sculptors for the entire family, and you’ll learn the tips and tricks to creating your own sandy masterpiece. You can even buy a starter kit to continue the fun while on your own or back home. And with the Mobile Unit, the instructors can meet you at your resort’s private beach or a public beach based on where you’re lodging. It’s recommended to book classes in advance, as this hidden gem of family fun is gaining traction visitors. So don’t delay, visit the website for more information and to book your class!
If you have the time, you might make plans to visit the Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club. This stunning golf course, designed by the lead architect for Arnold Palmer, has been named one of Golf Digest’s “Top Places to Play in North America!” It’s also been designated by Emerald Magazine as “The Best Golf Course of the Emerald Coast” for ten straight years. The venue offers on-course circulating beverage carts, a state-of-the-art Parview GPS system on its golf carts, a clubhouse with a golf shop, chilled apples on the 1st and 10th tees, and mango-scented iced towels. There are also a variety of specials and packages to suit your needs, so be sure to inquire before you go. Another wonderful amenity is a full-service restaurant! Overlooking Lake Regatta, the Regatta Bay Clubhouse offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a daily happy hour with 2-for-1 drinks.
One of the most popular family venues in Destin is Harborwalk Village, where all sorts of fun—and at all levels—can be found around the clock! In addition to multi-level shopping right on the waterfront, guests get a thrill from the variety of aqua adventures offered, such as boat, Jet Ski and pontoon rentals, as well as fishing, and Harborwalk Village’s celebrated dolphin cruises! There are also weekly fireworks and live entertainment, as well as Cubby Caboose, a choo-choo train that weaves through the Village itself. Regardless of your family’s choice of fun, Harborwalk Village ensures that your enjoyment while on vacation will indeed come in many forms.
Destin Snorkel offers an exciting array of interactive tours for the entire family. Tours include a 2-stop snorkeling adventure where guests spend 3 hours throughout the day in search of crabs, shells, small schools of fish and other underwater delights. Guests are also treated to a dolphin tour as part of the adventure. Another fun tour from Destin Snorkel is Snuba, which combines the best of scuba and snorkeling into one amazing tour. The tour allows guests to breathe underwater by means of a 20-foot air line that is connected to a scuba tank. Sights include marine life not visible when snorkeling, such as toadfish, spadefish, sea anemones, and flounder. Shelling tours allow small children to get in on the fun. They can search for shells, learn about marine life and look for dolphins! Destin Snorkel also offers a variety of cruises, including sunset, dolphin and firework cruises.
The dolphin cruises, run by Olin Marler Charter Boats, will provide your family with enough memories to last a lifetime! Booking a fishing charter with Olin Marler Charters means that your family is in the capable hands of the oldest and longest running recreational fishing fleet in Destin, with 45 years in the business of charter fishing! The Destin Dolphin Cruises are popular for both the recreational and educational aspect of the cruises. Your family will embark on a daily dolphin watching tour and learn about the history of Destin itself! This family friendly approach to dolphin cruises and charter fishing is what has made Olin Marler Charter’s Destin’s favorite charter service since 1967!
Another cruise that will have everyone in the family joining in the fun is the interactive treat known as the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise. The Buccaneer Pirate Ship departs from the Harborwalk Village Marina. Guests will then sail the high seas of the beautiful Emerald Coast like the pirates of old! While out to sea, you’ll be entertained with sword fights, storytelling, water gun battles, singing, dancing, and treasure hunts! One of the advantages of the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise is that parents can either participate in the fun with their children or simply sit back and relax while watching their children have the time of their lives. As well as providing the Scurvy Dogs’ Club cruises for adults, the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise also offers birthday cruises for children, which include a private area on the quarter deck, decorations, a complimentary group photo, a flag raising ceremony, and a souvenir flag to being back home! The birthday child even gets to steer the ship!
For a bit of family-friendly entertainment on land, the Bart Rockett Magic Theater is a must-see! Bart Rockett is a global phenomenon, an amazing variety performer who has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX, to name just a few of his media appearances. Offering a magic experience for all age groups, tickets for upcoming shows can be purchased online. Bart Rockett also offers magic and ventriloquism workshops for all ages. The theater has a magic shop as well, where one-of-a-kind show souvenirs and magic tricks/illusions can be purchased by those looking to test their skills.
As far as dining is concerned, Harborwalk Village has you covered, and then some! If you want to dine like a local, try Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer, the sister eatery to Jackacuda’s Seafood & Sushi restaurant, which is also worth a trip. Brotula’s has a local fishing hole history similar to Jackacuda’s, but even more legendary. The Brotula is actually commonly known to the area’s local fisherman as the Cusk Eel, a rare Gulf fish that’s found in waters that are 300 or more feet deep. It is because of this fact that local fishing captains are some of the only people familiar with status of this rare fish. The restaurant was created to share the history and rich local tradition of the Brotula to the common public, and has create a mouthwatering menu to achieve that end. This fine restaurant offers a range of dishes to ensure good times and great taste! Try the Southern Poutine Fries with pulled pork and BBQ gravy, the Bro’s Shrimp Po’boy sandwich or the Conecuh & Potato Crusted Red Snapper, a fan favorite. There’s also a daily lunch menu. Brotula’s and Jackacuda’s are both AKA Mom favorites!
With Jackacudas Seafood & Sushi, the same thrill and expectation of fishing at one of Destin’s famous fishing holes is now available for all those who “charter” a trip to the Destin, and then to this restaurant for seafood and setting. Try the Fried Avocado, the Pulled Pork Nachos, the Southern Style Mac & Cheese with Bacon, Shrimp and Smoked Gouda, and the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise. The restaurant also has an impressive drink menu, including international beer, wine and sake.
Away from the harbor, there are plenty of places to wine, dine and unwind! For starters, be sure to check out Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The eatery is mere steps away from Henderson Beach State Park, making it the perfect place to stop after enjoying Henderson’s white sands and emerald waves. Bubba Gump’s has a Kids Menu, as well gluten-free options, so you won’t have to worry about allergies and “making do” with your dining choice. For kids, try the Ribs or Popcorn Shrimp. There’s also pizza, healthy sides and Build Your Own Sundaes. Adults will get a kick out of the Shrimper’s Net Catch with peel ‘n’ eat shrimp steamed in beer, the Seafood Hush Pups, the Shrimp Po’ Boy or the Dumb Luck Coconut Shrimp! There’s just so much here to choose from, you’ll want to eat until you drop or set aside multiple meal times just to try it all! One of the other noteworthy things about Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is its amazing grass roots organization known as the Shrimpossibles. This dedicated group is comprised of restaurant employees who support their local communities through volunteer work and fundraising, including fighting hunger, illiteracy and supporting the Special Olympics!
Another favorite is Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar & Grill. This place is truly an event in itself! There are eight different dining rooms, with enough space to host a family dinner or a family reunion! And during the spring and summer months, this crowd-favorite stopover provides ample outdoor dining so that guests can enjoy not only the scenery but the talent of local musicians. There’s also an on-site gift shop for souvenirs, such as t-shirts, not to mention the eatery even has its own app! For the kids and fun-seekers alike, Fudpucker’s has its own famous attraction as well, called Gator Beach, a free alligator exhibit featuring “Pearl,” one of the few albino alligators in the entire world. And families, take heart—there’s even a large playground and game room, not to mention the fact that the kids can get their picture taken holding a live alligator! With all of the fun right at your fingertips, Fudpucker’s is a must-see site indeed! Of course dining is the main draw, so be sure to try the Stuffed Shrimp Parmesan, the Fried Pickles or Gator Tail a la Fud. Don’t forget there’s a bevy of famous burgers, plus mouthwatering deserts, such as the Key Lime Creation. So grab your gear, visit the app and head on down to Fudpucker’s for food and fun!
Destin, Florida is a nonstop center of award-wining memories! This family favorite destination is a veritable one-stop shop of fun and feel-good times for the entire family, no matter what time of the year, but especially memorable in the spring and summer months. So don’t delay. Many of the above-mentioned destinations make use of social media, like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook—some even have their own apps! Additionally, each place has its own website and representatives standing by, so be sure to inquire and get in on this award-winning DESTINation—be sure to book your family vacation in Destin, Florida today!