Cloche Designs | Cloche Does Destin!
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Cloche Does Destin!

By: Christin Gish

“You should trust me on this, for what it is worth:
30A just might be the best place on this earth.

It has beautiful beaches, the Gulf is so clear,
and it stays nice and warm nearly all of the year.

The water is emerald; the sand sugary white,
and there’s so much to do every day, every night.”

—Excerpt from The 30A Book for children by: George Wickey

The sugar sand and crystal waters of Florida’s Emerald Coast have held a special place in my heart for a decade. My husband and I spent a week in Destin before the birth of my first child and returned nine months later to experience the joy of his first trip to the beach. This summer, we enjoyed a full week there with our now family of four. Although Destin, and many of the quaint towns along 30A have grown, their beauty and charm remains as magical as it was during our first visit.

My aunt has owned her beachfront property in the heart of Destin for more than thirty-five years, so we’ve fallen in love with the city through her local eyes. I’ve learned many tips over the years and I’m excited to share them. Here are a few of my Destin favorites!

Where to Eat:

The Donut Hole – Locals and tourists alike have loved the Donut Hole for nearly 40 years. My family is no exception. There are two locations in Destin (one on 30A). Depending on the day and time, the line for take-out can be as long as it is for dine-in, so arrive before 8:00 a.m. The early bird gets the worm at The Donut Hole!

Baytowne Provisions – Don’t miss this new restaurant in Baytowne Wharf! It’s the brainchild of award-winning and nationally recognized chef Jim Shirley, owner of some of Seaside’s most revered restaurants including: The Great Southern Café, 45 Central, and The Meltdown. Start with a cold Grayton 30A beer and the lobster nachos!

Dewey Destin – Call ahead for casual, delicious seafood if you have a larger party (or plan to wait) during high season. Request a table on the upstairs patio close to the water. Kids will enjoy the active marina below.

Camille’s at Crystal Beach – Nestled on the West end of Scenic Highway 98, this is a beachside favorite with delicious options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try the seared scallops or their delectable sushi!

Pompano Joe’s Café A beachside family favorite with a fun atmosphere and yummy seafood. Enjoy lunch or dinner on the patio with fabulous gulf views!

Primrose – Located in The Henderson Beach & Spa Resort, you and your family can enjoy a delicious farm-to-fork breakfast while you watch the sunrise from the fabulous patio overlooking the coast (see photo above).

Beach Walk Cafe at Henderson Park Inn – The award-winning cuisine and magnificent sunset views are a perfect compliment to the delicious dinner menu at Beach Walk Cafe. Perfect for a date night if you need a vacation from your vacation! Call ahead for reservations (note: all guests must be at least age 13).

Where to Stay:

The Henderson Beach Resort & Spa – Nestled on the edge of the pristine Henderson Beach State Park you’ll find this breathtaking 170-room, five-star resort complete with a lazy river and kids’ club. If you’re not staying at the resort, stop by for dinner and spectacular sunset views. Then head downstairs for ice cream at Sprinkles and browse the halls to enjoy the work of The Henderson Artist Project consisting of thirteen local artists commissioned by The Henderson.

Baytowne Wharf The Village of Baytowne Wharf boasts eight luxury properties within close proximity or walking distance to the resort activities. You can find alternative accommodations within the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort here. Baytowne Wharf is a fantastic option for families and large groups with several dining options and daily activities.

Where to Play:

Crab Island – A water wonderland, Crab Island boasts two floating inflatable courses, floating food and beverage vendors, water volleyball, kayak, jet ski and paddleboard rentals, and live music nestled around a small underwater sandbar where families can enjoy the day in the waist-deep, aqua water. If you have young children (mine are 4 and 8) I recommend a 3-hour excursion. Call your rental company the day before you arrive in Destin for advice on the best days to plan your visit to Crab Island based on the current tides. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience. My family loves it! Here are a few tips:

  1. The best way to get to Crab Island is to rent a boat or use a charter service. I recommend SunVenture Cruises.
  2. High tide is the best time to visit. Trust your boat guide’s recommendation on when to visit. For example, ours advised us to book a different day than originally planned because of higher winds.
  3. The two inflatable water courses are covered in sharp barnacles on the bottom. Make sure your kids jump out to get off of the inflatables and never swim underneath!

Big Kahuna Waterpark – If you’re looking for a change of pace but still want to stay cool, Big Kahuna Waterpark is worth a visit. If you’ll be in Destin for several days, purchase the season pass for a small upgrade. Life jackets are available free of charge and water activities will appeal to all ages. Arrive early and don’t forget you’re waterproof phone case so you never miss a photo, even in the water! My phone stayed bone dry.

Baytowne Wharf – A one-stop shop for delicious food and drinks, hours of fun and games for the kids, and fabulous shops all within walking distance. Baytowne Wharf is a quaint little village within a large golf resort and subdivision on the eastern side of Destin. Plan an early dinner followed by a sweet treat, and enjoy the activities offered throughout the summer. Your kids will beg you to return the next day.

Getting There – We always fly on Southwest Airlines into Panama City, about 50 miles east of Destin; but you can also find great flights into the Fort Walton Airport located about 30 minutes west of Destin. I definitely recommend a rental car throughout your stay, as many of our favorite activities and restaurants mentioned below require some drive time!

Helpful Links:

Beach Chair Rentals – My least favorite part of any beach trip is hauling beach gear. Do yourself a favor and leave that to the pros. Chairs and umbrellas are available to rent in many of the more popular beaches including Seaside and Destin.

Grocery Delivery Service – The Beach Butlers will save you time and energy by doing your grocery shopping for you and even unload it in your condo before you arrive. Instacart will also deliver to many locations along the Florida panhandle.

Baby Gear Rental – When my kids were younger Rent Gear Here was a life-saver to avoid traveling with bulky baby items. Their rentals extend well beyond baby and their customer service is top notch. If inventory is limited in the summer months, Live Well 30A, The Crib Connection and Baby’s Away are great resources.

Beach Photography – Until our most recent trip to Destin, we’ve never done a family beach portrait, but I was determined to find the perfect photographer this summer. I consider myself a photography snob, but I was absolutely blown away with the beautiful beach photos from Two Lights Photography. Their incredible team of talented photographers is available from Fort Walton Beach and as far east as Pensacola. Our session was such a joy and I am in love with my portraits! Leslie Brown is another photographer recommended by a close friend (who’s photos are also gorgeous)!

What are some of your favorite things to do or places to stay in Destin? If you are considering a trip to Destin or have any questions send us an email, we would love to hear from you!