Waters that sparkle like emeralds dance across the sandy beaches offering weary travelers a respite from the world around them. The tranquility of the sea, delectable seafood, and infinite attractions make Destin, FL the ideal coastal retreat. Located along Florida’s panhandle, the emerald coast is a shiny gem attracting visitors from across the globe. Here is our guide to visiting Destin, Florida with kids in tow. We would like to thank Visit The Emerald Coast for sponsoring this post so we could bring new travel ideas to your family. This page contains affiliate links.
Where To Stay
We had the pleasure of staying in a beautiful beachfront condo by Southern Vacation Rentals. We found the same exact condo we rented on Airbnb going for a couple of hundred dollars more. Look around and save money by booking directly through the rental company’s site, that way you are not paying the Airbnb fee! We opted to stay in Okaloosa Island which was serene and slower paced than Destin. While there are not many bars and restaurants within walking distance we enjoyed the quieter side of this popular destination.
The Best Attractions In Destin Florida with Kids
Rumors had it, that if you want to see dolphins that you must go on a dolphin cruise in Destin, FL. We hopped aboard the Southern Star with visions of dolphins leaping in our heads. Before we set sail the captain let us know that in the rare event we don’t see a dolphin, everyone aboard would receive a voucher for a free dolphin cruise! That offer went swimming away within the first fifteen minutes as dolphins were abundant during our cruise. We probably saw twenty or more over the two and a half hours we were out.
The ship even had a “glass bottom” or panels of glass in the hull so guests could see what was lurking below. There wasn’t much action on that end, but it was a nice touch that the kids onboard enjoyed. Little ones also had the opportunity to steer the boat and take home a little treasure. The highlight for my daughter was feeding the seagulls off the back of the boat. She thought it was hilarious and belly laughed the entire time. The boat itself is equipped with a bathroom and a concession area where guests could grab a drink or a snack to hold them over until they got back to port. Hand’s down one of the best things to do in Destin Florida with kids in tow.
Find a great deal on a Dolphin Cruise in Destin, FL HERE!!
Emerald Coast Science Center
A great attraction for families to explore is the Emerald Coast Science Center. Guests of all ages will enjoy the hands-on exhibits that will spark curiosity and imagination. Your inner scientist will come bursting out at the opportunity to tinker with robots, shoot an air cannon and examine bugs under a microscope. Learn about topography by creating your own sand dunes and watch the topography colors change right in front of your eyes.
The animal encounters happen throughout the day allowing guests to get up close and personal with some of the Science Center’s local residents. We absolutely loved their toddler room which had so much for little ones to explore. Be sure to look in the baskets around the rooms which often contains activities to keep little scientists busy. Another great perk is there is a playground right next to the Science Center in case you need the kids to burn off even more energy.
Hop on over from the beach for a fun afternoon, but not before you buy your money-saving tickets HERE!
Destin Fishing Museum
Every wonder why Destin is one of the premier fishing destinations in the world? Or perhaps why the sea glimmers like emeralds? Discover the answer to those burning questions and more during a visit to the Destin Fishing Museum. What I really enjoyed about this museum is the little touches that made it interactive for the kids. While they might not appreciate the phenomenal display on the history of Destin’s Fishing Rodeo, they love learning how to weigh and measure fish! Coloring areas, books, and interactive stations kept our little one entertained while we got to enjoy peering inside the history of this great fishing town.
While we did not venture to Crab Island this trip, guests raved about their time there. First, let me define what exactly is Crab Island. Crab Island is not an island at all, but whether a completely submerged sandbar that allows guests to walk around in 1-4ft of water. No land whatsoever. It is the ideal location to pull up a boat and drop anchor. Many folks rent boats or take a shuttle to the “island”. Bring cash so you can partake from the food boats, floating restaurants, and other fun activities offered such as a floating obstacle course. Booze is allowed, however, it can’t be sold at Crab Island so pack a cooler.
We were skeptical about the Gulfarium at first. It seemed small and the tickets were a little pricey, here is where we found the best deal. I am glad we decided to go because we loved it! The appearance of the Gulfarium is deceiving and it quite large inside. The majority of the park is outdoors and is covered, however, I would bring some sunscreen. There are tons of great animal shows, encounters, and chats throughout the day. If you or your family enjoy animals then this is must do attraction in Destin. We caught a great dolphin show that had my daughter wide-eyed the entire time. I love that the show taught the audience about the dolphins, how they care for them and about conservation. Tip: It can get windy up by the dolphin show, if it is cool out you may want to bring a jacket.
US Air Force Armament Museum
What a hidden gem this museum is. Located near the airport the US Air Force Armament Museum will leave you astonished, amazed and eternally grateful for the wonderful military that has served and is currently serving. The museum is free and all are welcome. Throughout the grounds, guests can get up close and personal with over 29 different aircraft, bombs, guns and more. The history surrounding this museum is unreal as it is the worlds only world dedicated to the collection, preservation, and exhibition of artifacts and memorabilia associated with Air Force Armament and its platforms of delivery. If you are lucky you will get to see the fighter jets in action from the nearby Air Base. The museum is closed on Sundays and federal holidays, so take note when planning your itinerary.
Oak Tree Nature Preserve
We stumbled upon this preserve while looking for a great spot to take a little hike. If you are visiting the Target in Fort Walton then you are only minutes from this fun trail. The trail itself has a parking lot, a shelter and if pretty well maintained. It is beautiful, peaceful and mostly flat which was great with a toddler. The only hang-up I have is that there are ticks. My husband found a dog tick on him when we got home. To be fair we didn’t spray ourselves before our hike, but I would recommend it.
Wat Mongkolratanarm Buddist Temple
One of the neatest experiences we did during our stay was visiting the Wat Mongkolratanarm Buddist Temple for their weekly charity market. Every Sunday they host a charity market that is packed full of delicious homemade Thai food, groceries and more. Bring cash as you will need to buy tokens before visiting the food booths. Everyone is incredibly friendly and helpful. I recommend getting there early as popular items tend to sell out fast. It’s hard to give a recommendation on what to get because everything we sampled was mouth-watering good. Get the Thai tea, the fried plantains, the grilled pork, a noodle bowl and top your meal off with a few warm sesame donuts.
Uncle Bucks Fishbowl
If you are on the hunt for a great indoor thing to do in Destin, FL Uncle Bucks Fishbowl is right up your alley! This unique underwater themed bowling alley is the perfect escape from the suns rays or a rainy afternoon. Be warned on weekends and rainy days there could be a significant wait for a lane as it is a popular Destin indoor activity. They do have a small indoor arcade, a restaurant, and a full bar. Read our full review of Uncle Bucks Fishbowl here.
Ross Marler Park
We found the magic unicorn of playgrounds in the Ross Marler Park in Okaloosa Island. It is right on the water with gorgeous views at every angle. Picnic areas and grills are available, but the highlight was the playground. The playground was fenced in, with only two exits and the entire thing had rubber matting. NO MULCH! There were two play structures one geared at older children and another for toddlers. As if it couldn’t get any better, the play areas are shaded. The shades were not up during our visit but will during peak season. I highly recommend swinging through here if you have a little one needing to burn off some energy. We did notice a few homeless folks hanging out in one of the shelter areas. As sad as it is, this is a common sight we saw across many of the public parks.
Where To Eat in Destin Florida with Kids
I have a confession, I am a bit of a seafood addict while I am visiting coastal towns. Coming from a city where fresh seafood is a rare find, I tend to indulge in the fresh and tasty treasures from the sea. Here are a few of the best spots to grab great seafood in Destin Florida with the kids.
This grab-and-go fish shack is one place you don’t want to miss out on. I was thrilled to see they are adding another location in Okaloosa Island. The food comes out fast, fresh and fried. Hushpuppies were out of this world and their fish was even better. They even have a drive through if you are looking to take your meal to the beach, park or home.
Old Bay Steamer
I have a mixed review about this place. The food was excellent, but the staff was not. It was hard to get a smile or a friendly gesture out of anyone which is not what I expected when I am dropping over $40.00 a meal. From the host being annoyed that we needed a high chair to curt wait staff, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Everyone is entitled to a bad day, so I will move on. There were tons of great options on the menu and I felt the price was fair for what all you got in your steamers. I got a little steamer which quite honestly could have fed two people.
Doc’s Oyster Bar
This was my favorite place to eat in Ft. Walton. It is off the beaten path, but those who venture here will be greatly rewarded. The oysters were so fresh they could jump back in the ocean. Place your order inside and then find your table. We opted for waterfront dining which was relaxing. Be warned that throughout the course of your meal you may hear the fighter jets taking off from the air force base and see them zipping through the blue skies.
Right in the heart of Destin, you will find Boshamps. They have a great view of the harbor and outdoor seating available that is perfect for watching the boats passing by. We walked in and our mouth started watering because the smell was intoxicating. I would recommend the grilled fish or anything off the grill, just fabulous.
Located in the harbor this seafood shack is serving up fish sandwiches and specialties that will make you want to come back again and again. There are two Dewey Destin’s. We opted for the one that overlooks Crab Island off of Calhoun. The fish sandwiches were so good, I ended up going back to get another because Sophie ate most of mine! The pelicans are perched like statues on the old wooden posts and with a gentle sea breeze, it is a great spot to catch the sunset.
Coffee and Pastries
Hunting down a great cup of coffee is one of my favorite vacation treats. You will find great coffee and breakfast options here. It is small inside, but they do have high chairs and toys to keep little ones occupied. We got a slice of banana bread and two of their specialty iced coffee drinks and were hooked.
Imagine buttery, flakey croissants fresh from the oven just waiting for you to come and take them home. Bon Appetit in Fort Walton is a phenomenal little french bakery with cases full of tasty temptations. From an endless variety of croissants to handmade macaroons and cakes it is difficult to leave with only one item. I am grateful we were not going back to our condo, otherwise, I would have bought more pastries than socially acceptable.
For even more great family travel hacks check out this great post by YOLO Travel Experiences.
It should go without saying that each time you visit Destin Florida with kids you need to spend time enjoying the beach and those gleaming waters. Build a sand castle, enjoy the sunset and soak up the sun because life doesn’t get much better than on the beach! Looking for more great things to do along the Gulf Coast? Check out our recent visit to Gulf Shores!