Destin, FL Visitor's Guide

Destin, Florida, otherwise known as "The Worlds Luckiest Fishing Village", is a resort town located on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. With Panama City Beach directly to the east and historic Pensacola Beach directly to the west, visitors to Destin experience a melting pot of both of these world-renowned destinations, mixed in with its own unique, southern charm.

Settled in 1845 by Captain Leonard Destin for its fruitful fishing yields, Destin, Florida has remained a world class vacation spot for families and celebrities alike. With locally owned restaurants and shops around every corner, an ever growing atmosphere of family-friendly fun, and a pulsing nightlife located parallel to the exciting Destin Harbor, one could not choose a better Destin-ation for a memorable vacation! Below I will discuss all you will need to know before planning a trip to "The Worlds Luckiest Fishing Village".

Weather
Visitors to Destin, Florida have no trouble finding the sun! Northwest Florida typically is graced with an average of 320 days of sunshine a year. Mid-Western and New England residents, as well as many foreign visitors, find themselves unprepared for the warm, humid climate producing hot, hot, summers, and no dry season. The "warm season", lasting May 24th to September 30th, produces an average temperature of 83.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while the "cold season", lasting November 30th to March 5th, cools even the bravest beach goers with an average daily temperature of 56 degrees (and a low of only 46 degrees)! Be prepared to dress in layers in the late fall, winter, and early spring, and to peel those layers down to a bathing suit when May comes around.

Landmarks
The Destin Harbor defines Destin just as Pier 39 defines San Francisco. The sights, sounds, and (sometimes overpowering) smells of a legion of fishing boats hauling in their daily catch is enough to make any non-local see where the heart of Destin truly lies. The East Pass located directly beside the Harbor is the only outlet to the Gulf of Mexico from the Choctawhatchee Bay (which stretches 129mi), and is said to have been dug out by hand many years ago by local residents. The majestic beauty of the Harbor is a stunning backdrop to dozens of unique shops, family activities, fresh seafood restaurants, and busy night spots.

Things To Do
A face full of sunshine accentuated by crystal clear emerald waters; a successful birdie putt on the 18th hole of a luscious golf course green; a cooler overflowing with fresh caught grouper filets after a relaxing day at sea; a hand-in-hand stroll across a moonlit white-sand beach; these are not the pipe dreams of an overworked parent planning his or her dream vacation, these priceless experiences illustrate just a fraction of what's possible out of a Destin, Florida retreat. Destin has developed from its humble fishing roots into one of America's classiest resort towns. Visitors can tailor their vacation to fit any lifestyle. For the avid outdoorsman, fishing, boating, swimming, and golfing can make for a perfect getaway. For the young family, private and public beaches, water parks, and recreation centers like "The Track" can fill any holiday with delight. However you choose to spend your time in Destin, it is sure to be time well spent.

Dining & Nightlife
Seafood is the talk of the town in Destin, Florida. Some of the nation's top seafood restaurants are located in this tiny, fishing village. Many of Destin's fine eateries are supplied by local fisherman providing the freshest and finest tasting seafood for which any restaurateur could hope. Stunning views of the beaches, harbor, and Gulf of Mexico also work to enhance the atmosphere at even the very modest of establishments.

Live music (and a livelier dance floor) help to define the night life in Destin. Out of towners flock to the Destin Harbor at night to see it lit up and electrically charged with dozens of bars and nightclubs, most offering late-night menus, drink specials, and entertainment. Arrive with no particular plan, and leave with a slew of memories (and maybe even some embarrassing photos) as most the bars in the Harbor are within walking distance, free of cover charge, and open until 4am!

Lodging
With hundreds of hotels and condos to choose from, picking the best lodging for a trip to Destin is no easy task. The first thing to consider is: Hotel or Condo?

Hotels typically offer limited amenities, more traditional rental rooms, and less proximity to the beach. But the average Hotel makes up for what it lacks by offering lower and negotiable rates, and 24 hour service. Many renters consider Condos for their stay because of the large room size (to more easily accommodate larger families and longer stays), and proximity to the beach (many condos are Oceanside and feature gulf views and instant beach access). Also, condo management typically will include family-fun activities and events like movie nights, beach luaus, and pool parties to give guests more bang for their buck. Remember that rates for both Condos and Hotels fluctuate seasonally. Typically rental rates will increase in the spring and summer, and drop during fall and winter. If interested in booking a condo, always attempt to book in advance for the best prices and availability.

Shopping
When many vacationers arrive in Destin they have one thing in mind; shopping! Fueled by the massive condo and hotel industry, the shops in Destin vary anywhere from tacky souvenir shops, to local art galleries, to upscale clothing stores. One such shopping landmark is characterized by a mesmerizing megaplex and roaming fountains that make for a super-charged run through the sprinklers! Located on the east end of the city, Destin Commons offers premium shopping at designer boutiques including Lucky Brand, Bebe, Buckle, and Forever 21, as well as family-fun browsing at retailers like Bass Pro Shop and Brookstone. Stop and enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants, and when you're seeking an escape from an afternoon shower (or an all-too-common beach-day sunburn), drop into the AMC cinema nestled in the center of the mall. With a state-of-the-art playground featuring safe structures, coin rides, a multi-car train, and the aforementioned (and publicly accessible) ever-changing fountain floor, Destin Commons is not just a getaway for Mom and Dad. "The Commons", as the locals call it, has developed since 2001 into an ever expanding regional attraction that is currently adding dozens of new shops and restaurants.

Annual Events
The Destin City Council, supported by a long list of local business owners, consistently aims to foster an environment suited to the tastes of both Destin's local residents and welcomed visitors. Over the years this has led to the creation of beloved national events enjoyed by people from around the world.

The Destin Fishing Rodeo takes place October 1st to October 31st in the Destin Harbor. The Rodeo started in May of 1948 to bring broader geographical attention to Destin's flourishing fishing industry. The Fishing Rodeo has since become a worldwide sensation attracting anglers from across the globe to test their luck in both the shallow green waters of Choctawhatchee Bay, and the deep blues of the Gulf of Mexico. The rodeo is free to enter (when fishing aboard a registered boat), is open to both private and charter boats, and Fisherman are awarded recognition and cash prizes.

The largest single event of the year in Destin is the Destin Seafood festival. The Seafood Festival, which coincides with the kickoff of the Fishing Rodeo, takes place October 3rd to October 5th. This culinary focused fair is accompanied by live music from both local and major touring acts, and regional artists showcasing and selling their creative masterpieces in an arrangement of whimsically decorated tents.

Top 10 Travel Tips
1) Never underestimate the sun, use sunblock at all times. The white sand may be cool to the touch, but it's also reflecting the sunlight upwards and accelerating the rate at which your skin will tan (or burn).
2) Winter and Fall lodging rates are typically 30-50% less than what are quoted in Spring and Summer. This is great for most visiting on a budget, however most leisure travelers will notice a lot of tour operations shut down, restaurants are short-staffed, and there are very few events offered.
3) Most families will find it less expensive to split a 2 or 3 bedroom condo rather than doing separate condos. The savings could be anywhere from 20-30% for each family.
4) Tour companies are typically slower on Saturdays and Sundays during the peak tourist season (June-August). Look for special deals and offers on these days to save on tickets.
5) Visit the Destin Harbor in the early afternoon during the season to see the daily catch from the various fishing charter boats. You never know what you'll see!
6) The first 2 weeks of June and the last 2 weeks of August are the slower weeks during peak tourist season. The rates are slightly lower and the beach are slightly less crowded.
7) Hurricane season starts through June and run through November. Make sure to check the policy on hurricanes before booking lodging or activities. Some rental agencies are more restrictive than others.
8) Parking at public beach accesses in Destin can be hectic during Spring Break and Summer. Get an early start to avoid the rush or go later in the date (after 3pm). Henderson State Park costs $6 to enter, but they have plenty of parking and updated restroom facilities.
9) For those travelers who plan on going charter fishing, but don't know what to do with the meat, take it to a local seafood restaurant. Most seafood restaurants will prepare your fish into a meal for around $10 - Checkout AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar.
10) Pontoon boats rentals are the best way to explore Destin. Go snorkeling, fishing, cruising and more without needing professional boating experience. Rentals are available all year 'round.

References
1. http://www.cityofdestin.com
2. http://www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
3. http://www.weatherspark.com
4. http://dep.state.fl.us
5. http://www.destincommons.com
6. http://www.destinfishingrodeo.org

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