Florida’s Panhandle does not get as much credit as the other bigger touristy towns of the state, like Orlando’s Disney Complex or Miami’s Nightlife and Beaches, but it does have that small town southern charms that will draw travelers over for a quick visit. Closer to Louisiana (4 hrs away from New Orleans) and Alabama than it is to Miami, the Panhandle has its own distinct charm, culture, and vibe that makes it feel different from the rest of Florida.
In the beach town of Destin, you can definitely feel a stronger city vibe compared to Fort Walton Beach. There is a bigger boardwalk entertainment area called Destin Harbor, which has a nice assortment of shops, restaurants, and bars, with a great view of the beach. Keep a lookout for nice local bakery called Donut Hole Bakery Café, where you can grab fresh donuts, key-lime pie, and a wide assortment of sandwiches, from Tuna Salad to Roast Beef and Cheese Steak.
After you’re done eating, you should try either a snorkel or dolphin boat tour. It will get you out on the water and let you interact with some of the fishes, turtles, and rays in the water.
The sand at Okaloosa Island is like fine flour. It is white and quite possibly one of the softest sands you will ever walk on anywhere in the world. In addition, the water is a beautiful green color, and when you walk on the Okaloosa Island Pier (2 USD admission per person), you get to see people fishing amid the nice and lively atmosphere.
Just a few miles away is John C. Beasley Park, which is more of a beach than a park, so the name is a little misleading. This is a terrific spot for those that wish to get away from the more crowded parts of Fort Walton Beach and Destin, and simply watch the waves on a quiet beach. The parking is plentiful, there are shower facilities, and if you look closely, you will sometimes see sea turtle nests.
Destin Jetties: Snorkeling in the emerald waters
If you love snorkeling, a nice place to do just that is at the Destin Jetty East, which is located near numerous condo/resort developments, but it isn’t the easiest to find. To get here, head to the street called Gulf Shore Drive and follow it to the end. You will see a small beach access point from which you will walk for a few minutes past a big condo building and find the snorkel spot.
The water is fairly clear and not too murky, so you will see many fishes (hundreds, if not thousands of them, actually), rocks, crabs, and sometimes perhaps encounter a turtle, a stingray, and even a barracuda. The best time to go snorkeling is during high tide, so be sure to check the official website beforehand for the low-high tide information, so that you won’t be disappointed.
Within the vicinity is a nice buffet place called Golden Corral, which is a well-known buffet chain, but always has a nice variety of food; from salads and soups to fish, chicken, rice, pasta, and delicious desserts. And you can have unlimited food there for less than 13USD a person!
Emerald beaches in a relaxed setting
Destin and Okaloosa Island offer plenty of rich experiences, the greatest being the beautiful beaches that are visited by many visitors all year round. The combination of relaxation on a fine white sand, coupled with a good meal by the water, is something that draws many families and travelers from all over the world. If you like to snorkel and explore the wonders of aquatic life, then the Destin Jetty East is a great spot to meet some curious fishes!
When the sun sets and you’re at the edge of the pier, gazing at the water all around you, you’d feel at peace but also full of energy, ready to get up the next morning and hit the emerald waters.
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