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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

10 Things about Destin, Florida

Just a few short weeks ago, our little family went on a big vacation to Destin, Florida. You can read about how interesting our trip was here and here.

But today, I just want to share with you ten things we have learned about Destin. Some of these tips are businesses that we have patronized, and others are just tips for your handy knowledge that we have learned in our visits to Destin over the last couple of years. I hope this information is helpful to you.

1. Crystal Beach / Scenic Highway 98
The first year we went to Destin was about 6 years ago when my daughter was 2 and we traveled with my whole family (8 adults + 7 children at the time). My oldest sister had been several times before that with her family. She advised all of us about where to stay and since that trip, I’ve not strayed from that advice. Yes, I understand that you might be able to save some money on lodging if you stay a street or two away from the beach, and I suppose that’s your prerogative. However, it’s my opinion that if I am going to the beach, I want to stay so that I can just walk out my door and step onto the beach. Besides, when travelling with small children, gathering yourself up to leave the house is hard enough, but imagine dragging all your gear a couple of blocks to a public beach access point. And especially this year is was nice to be able to go back to the condo and take short breaks without much to-do. The Crystal beach area long Scenic Highway 98 fits the bill as the condos are low rise (only 3-6 stories tall) and therefore, even in the busiest of times, there are not as many people on your particular stretch of beach to deal with as you try to keep up with your small children. It’s all very low key and family oriented. Too see it on a map, go here.

2. Crystal Sands
Specifically this year we stayed in a condo at the Crystal Sands. Our condo was beautifully decorated and the facilities were very nice. I know that the beach is an every changing thing so what I tell your right now, might not hold true later, but I loved our little stretch of beach this year. It was shallow out quite a ways so that in the evenings when the tide had gone out a bit, there was a wonderful flat shallow area for little ones to play and great tidal pools perfect for hunting sea creatures. There was also the remains of an old pier right outside of our condo and it gave our daughter a perfect visual barrier of what to not pass as she was riding her boogie board and drifting with the tide.

3. Destin Ice Seafood Market
I have gone several times to get shrimp at this market. The shrimp I have gotten there has been very good and the folks behind the counter are all very nice and patient with me as I stand there and carefully ponder how much shrimp I need to buy. Visit them at http://www.destinice.com/.

4. Little Nemo Fishing Boat
We went on a family oriented cruise and fishing trip on the Little Nemo and it was just our speed. With our condo, we got a free adult and child and then we paid $30 each for the rest of us. We cruised around the harbor for a while and all the kids who wanted to got a chance to drive the boat. We headed on out and did some dolphin spotting and watching and then let down our hooks to do some bait fishing. They let out a couple of troll lines to see if we could hook something bigger and while we did not on our trip, it’s my understanding that if something bigger is hooked, all the kids get a chance to reel it in for a bit if they choose. While an accomplished fisherman might be disappointed in such a trip, it is perfect for the child that you want to introduce to fishing. The boat captain was incredibly nice and great with the kids as were the crew. It was a very relaxed, kid friendly atmosphere. Save your money & do this instead of a dolphin cruise. However, I would caution against taking any child less than say, about 3 years old. We took our own life jackets for the kids and I was glad we did so that they were handy and I could just have Nathan wear his most of the time. It made this mama feel a little more at ease. Pack a lunch that can be easily eaten and lots of water and other drinks. And a camera for lots of pictures.

As a side note, it had rained the night before we went which cooled things off a bit. There was so much sea life activity that it was pretty exciting for us. We saw many dolphins and several mama/calf pairs about. We also saw a Spotted Eagle Ray that swam right up next to the boat where we were. I saw what the captain told me were Spinner Sharks jumping out of the water and spinning around. Here's a cool Spinner Shark video that I thought I'd share with y'all.

5. The Back Porch
We have eaten several times at The Back Porch. It’s a good beach side restaurant with a playground in the sand on the beach for the kids while you wait and inside or outdoor dining. All the food I’ve had there has been very good. Be prepared for a bit of a wait as it’s fairly popular.

6. Dewey Destin
We ate at a new place this year on recommendation from someone we met. It’s supposedly where a lot of locals go. Dewey Destin is a little scary looking and a bit of a “hole in the wall” kind of joint, but it’s pretty good. They serve mostly local seafood, so if you have your heart set on something, like, say, Blue Crab... you'll want to go early. When they run out of something, that's it. And keep in mind, also, that the kitchen closes at 8:30 pm.

Our meal there this year was okay. It wasn't fantastic and it wasn't awful. I don't know that we will necessarily go back again next year. We only allow ourselves one meal out at a restaurant when we go and this just didn't do it for us enough to draw us back. Mostly because we like to let our kids play on the beach during the evening and we don't want to be rushed to get someplace for dinner before they run out of x, y, or z.


7. Emerald Coast Scuba
The incredibly nice and helpful staff at Emerald Coast Scuba has outfitted our family with snorkel gear for the last couple of years. They have sizes to fit everyone down to my son when he was 3 years old. I would suggest that you rent your gear in the late afternoon and plan to return it the following afternoon/evening. They also offer snorkel & dive trips which I’m sure are great, but with our little kids, we haven’t been convinced that going on an all day excursion was the best option for us. Oh, and one of the ladies there makes some cute jewelry that she sells in their dive shop.

8. Norriego Pointe Public Beach Access
Gulf Shore Drive dead ends into the parking for the public beach access for Norriego Pointe. There are three coves along some rocky barriers that are really good for snorkeling, especially for small children. Just be prepared for a little bit of a walk. Little bit is an understatement, actually. Especially when dealing with young children. It will feel like you are walking across the Sahara dessert. My man suggested that you might consider some kind of sled for pulling gear and small children across to the beaches… not a bad idea, actually.

The coves are protected and free of a lot of the wave action that you might get at other beaches. There is one beach that serves as the main beach for the Emerald something or other hotel but there are other coves and beaches to choose from. Take an umbrella or some kind of shade as the umbrellas that are there are for the hotel patrons. Take frozen peas to feed the fish & they will gather around like crazy. Being next to the harbor, you also have the added excitement of seeing the boats come and go.

Pack a lunch and plenty of drinks and water. Also take some cash with you for the ice cream boat. Yes, you read that right. Ice Cream BOAT. Complete with music and everything. Plan on about $3 per ice cream treat.


9. Wal-Mart on Saturday night
Everyone goes to Wal-Mart to stock their condo fridge and pantry. And it seems that everyone does so on Saturday night. You gotta do what you gotta do, so don’t avoid it. Just go understanding that it will look much like the day after Thanksgiving. Have 2 people go. Get some of your larger items out of the way and into the basket then have one person stand in line with the basket while the other person continues to run around the store gathering smaller things. Go with a list, stay on task and you can probably get in and out of there in 1 to 1 ½ hours (plan on about 45 minutes in line to check out).


10. Sand Castle Lessons at Village of Baytowne Warf
We saw this great listing in a local area guidebook that there were sandcastle building demonstrations and lessons and we thought it would be a nice way to spend one afternoon.

FAIL!

Other than finding Blue Bell Ice Cream and a playground with a digger for Nathan to play with, we were completely disappointed. The guidebook listed times from 10 am to 6 pm. However the Village of Baytowne Warf website that I’m just now looking at says 7-9 pm. Lesson learned. If you have “google” ability, then look up the attraction and check times on their site. Don’t trust even the local guide books.

However, I will say that the Village of Baytowne Warf looks like it would be a wonderful place to spend an evening. It was just a bit much to take heat wise in the middle of the day. Which is probably why the sandcastle thing is scheduled for the evenings.... Ah-hah, it's all making sense, now.


Do you have any tips about Destin that you would like to share? Please do so in the comments. I'd love to hear from your knowledge for future reference.

This post is part of a couple of carnivals:

Oh Amanda's "Top Ten Tuesday"
Musings of a Housewife's "What I learned this week"

10 Comments:

Lori said...

I've never heard of an ice cream boat! That's what I get for being land-locked, I guess. :) Sounds like a fun place to visit - I'm jealous!

Musings of a Housewife said...

I have nothing about Destin, as I've never been there, but I'm so jealous! I love Florida, and Destin looks beautiful.

Staci said...

I'm going to Destin this weekend! SO excited! And I totally know what you mean about Wal-Mart on Saturday nights. It really is crazy! It's like the end of the world!

Mandi @ It's come to this said...

LOVE the Back Porch!!!

Sallye said...

We always stayed at Blue Mountain Beach. We have friends that have a Beach House on the Dunes. This is a very residential area, and the kids were safe riding bicycles up and down the street, we could leave all of our stuff on the beach over-night and it would be there the next day. Wonderful little place to eat in Grayton Beach call Picolo's Restaurant and the Red Door Bar. Good food, and live music. Bar in the back that is away from the kids. http://www.theredbar.com/

Also love the shopping at the outlet mall in Destin.

If you have time to drive over to Pensacola FL and go to the Naval Museum it is an all day worth the trip. Last time my Mother and Brother were there, they got a free Blue Angels show, they were practicing.

Donna @ Way More Homemade said...

Sallye,
The Naval Museum is something we have wanted to do but just haven't gotten around to yet... mostly because it is an all day affair. If we go back next year, it will likely be on our list.

Thanks for your comment and your input.

Amber said...

I'm from Niceville, just across the mid-bay bridge from Destin, so I loved seeing pictures of and hearing about "home"! Have you been to Seaside? You'd love it. The Truman Show was filmed there. It has the cutest houses and little shops. It's a fun little beach town. (with great restaurants!)

oh amanda said...

What great info! Too bad about the sandcastle thing. that sounded way fun! Now I just need to go to Destin...

Andrea said...

I have heard great things about Destin and have still never been! This makes me want to go EVEN MORE!

chandy said...

Hi there!
I found your blog from the cake round up on life as mom and this post caught my eye.

Thanks for the tip on the Emerald Coast Scuba shop. We're going to Pensacola/Navarre at the end of the summer, and this might be worth the drive!