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Located in the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico, Destin has become popular family vacation destination, and for good reason. The gorgeous green waters of Florida’s Emerald Coast are shallow and warm, and the white sand is soft and sugary. There are plenty of Destin, Florida attractions to keep the kiddos busy and colorful restaurants where the whole family will be happy. Thinking about planning a trip to Destin? Here are the best things to do in Destin, Florida for kids. These fun activities and attractions make for the ideal family beach vacation.
Things to do in Destin, Florida for Kids
1. Soak Up Some Water Activities
Some families drive for days to get to the Emerald Coast because the beaches are some of the best in the world. The sand is so soft it squeaks when you walk on it! The warm water truly is a gorgeous green.
Henderson Beach State Park and Crystal Sands Beach are highly rated Destin, Florida attractions. The beaches are super calm and very relaxing. They’re also not too crowded. The shallow and warm emerald waters draw people in. The soft, powdery, white sands are great for long walks with the family. The brilliant orange sunsets over the sparkling green waters are purely magical.
2. Hang out at HarborWalk Village
Located on the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, HarborWalk Village is a great place for family-friendly activities, dining, and entertainment. Zip line above the harbor, listen to live entertainment or taste the fresh catch at one of the HarborWalk restaurants. Rent kayaks, paddleboards, pontoon boats or jet skis or go looking for crabs along the shore. See why Destin, Florida is called the Luckiest Fishing Village aboard a charter fishing boat. Excursions such as Buccaneer Pirate Cruises or dolphin cruises on the Southern Star depart regularly.
3. Visit the Village of Baytowne Wharf
Located in Miramar Beach, the Village of Baytowne Wharf is a fun place for families to jump, climb, play and eat. My daughter loved bouncing on the Eurobungy. My son took a swing at the Chipping Challenge. Both kids played on the playground and we all enjoyed a casual lunch on the water. There are several great eateries, cute boutiques, ice cream shops, live music, festivals, and activities.
4. Zoom Around The Track
Looking for Destin, Florida attractions offering fast-moving fun like Go-Karts, bumper boats, and kid-friendly rides? Check out the Track Family Fun Park! For those who like to take things at a slower pace, there’s a carousel, Ferris wheel, and mini golf. There are two courses to choose from.
Trekaroo Tip: The Mountain Course tends to be less crowded and has a few cool waterfall features. End the evening cruising around the multi-level go-kart track.
5. Explore the Destin History & Fishing Museum
Find out how Destin, Florida went from sleepy little fishing village to major tourist destination at the Destin History & Fishing Museum! The historic and educational exhibits highlighting the transformation are interesting for all, but especially for fishing enthusiasts. Artifacts include over 75 mounts of locally caught fish and a video of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.
6. Test Your Bravery at Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park
Need a break from the beach? Go get wet and wild at Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park, the largest water park on the Emerald Coast. Of the things to do in Destin, Florida for kids we’ve featured so far, this one offers the best variety for getting wet! From the gentle, lazy river to 5-story Jumanji thrill-seeking slide, there are over 40 attractions to choose from!
My kids are big fans of wave pools, bobbing around in them for hours. There’s also mini-golf, go-karts, carnival rides, and other fun things to do. Open seasonally, the park is a little dated, but they’re always adding new features.
7. Shop at Destin Commons
The award-winning Destin Commons is an outdoor mall with over 90 stores, restaurants, and activities. Kids can hop aboard the kiddy train, splish around the splash pad, and pretend they’re pirates at the Pirate’s Cove play area. An AMC theater, Bass Pro Shops, and children’s pop fountain water play area make it one of the more family-friendly places to shop in Destin.
Where to Stay with Kids in Destin, Florida
Many families book homes and condos for their Destin getaways, but our crew chose to stay at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa in Miramar Beach. It’s the area’s largest full-service resort located right on the beach. We listened to the gentle lapping of waves on the beach and watched spectacular sunsets from our private balcony.
We stayed in a Deluxe Junior Suite, which features an alcove with bunk beds for the kids. Beach chairs, umbrellas, sand volleyball, and beach bonfires were available to make for a memorable beach vacation.
Hilton Sandestin boasts 1 indoor pool, 2 outdoor pools and 2 whirlpools. There are sit-down restaurants or grab-n-go options for coffee, ice cream and sandwiches. Kids Krew offers day and evening programs for the children to enjoy time with other youngsters while mom and dad soak up some adult time.
Golfers of all ages and levels enjoy the mini golf or the award-winning golf courses. The Village of Baytowne Wharf, Silver Sands Premium Outlets and other shopping and dining options are close by.
Where Families Like to Eat in Destin Florida
8. McGuire’s Irish Pub Has $1 Million Dollars Hanging From the Ceiling
McGuire’s Irish Pub is quite a site to see! The interior is covered is cash — $1.9 million in cash according to our server. Patrons have made a habit of adding signed bills all over the walls. This Irish pub is a happening place with games and an outdoor bar to keep all family members entertained while you wait for your table. Inside you can dine on steaks (including juicy smoked prime rib), seafood, pasta, burgers, traditional Irish pub fare, salads and even 18-cent Senate Bean Soup. Kids’ meals come with a treat like a Rice Krispie, and live Irish entertainment keeps things upbeat.
9. Sugarland Ice Cream & Candy Sure is Sweet
Located a few doors down from McGuire’s Irish Pub, Sugarland Ice Cream & Candy is an emporium of sweets such as Hershey ice cream, popcorn, chocolates and candies. The employees working on the evening our family visited seemed intent on making us happy while doling out samples of any flavor we desired.
10. LuLu’s is fun for families
Owned by the “crazy sista” of singer Jimmy Buffett, Lucy Buffett’s LuLu’s is celebrating 20 years in business! It has all the beachy markings of classic Destin Florida attractions — picnic tables in the sand and live music entertainment. Their tuna dip is to die for. They have an allergy menu with great options for most diets. My husband loved the gumbo and I thought the Summer Shrimp Salad was pretty tasty.
11. Fudpucker’s is Legendary for Alligator Feeding
12. Pizza at Pazzo Italiano is Wood-fired Perfection
Pazzo Italiano often gets voted as “a best” in Destin Florida. The wood-fired pizza is the reason to go, but it’s also easy to get your veggies in because the salads are splendid too. From the moment we arrived, we were treated enthusiastically, with the host quickly thanking us for coming, and the servers happy to please (even our gluten-free daughter, who is especially picky).
The roasted vegetable salad is fresh and phenomenal. The pizza crust is like crisp, chewy pillows of deliciousness. We ordered a cheese pizza as well as the Diavalo pizza with roasted peppers, salami and peppercinis. Even though we were stuffed, we didn’t want to leave any pizza uneaten, it was that good! This was definitely the best food we had in the Destin area, and I almost shrugged off going out for pizza. Don’t pass it up!
13. Seagar’s is a Great Date Night Spot
Want a great way to squeeze in a date night on your vacation? First, take advantage of the Kids Night Out Program at the Hilton Sandestin, available seasonally for children ages 5-12. Then take your sweetie to a luxurious meal at Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood Restaurant while the kids are busy roasting marshmallows and hunting for crabs on the beach with new friends and trained staff.
We took our kids tag along on our romantic dinner. They love calamari! The meal was lovely and the service is top-notch, but this AAA Four Diamond establishment offers a long, lingering experience.
14. Breakfast is Best at Another Broken Egg Café
Open now in Sandestin and coming soon to Destin Commons, this café chain serves many delicious brunch options. From indulgent to skinny dishes, all family members are sure to find their fill. This mostly-Southern chain is known for their omelets stuffed with regional delights such as Louisiana crawfish or lobster. There are also over-the-top pancakes, like peach cobbler and bananas foster. We especially appreciated their huge gluten-friendly selection.
15. Savor seafood and Snowballs at Dewey’s Destin
This waterside restaurant has simple, superb fresh fish. After enjoying your feast from the waters, try the many flavors of New Orleans-style Snowballs (like snow cones) from the truck out in front of the Crab Island location. While Dewey’s has three locations, only Crab Island has a snowball truck. Choose from a long menu of flavors like tamarind, wedding cake, guava and pink bubble gum (or make a rainbow out of three like my kids did!). All the syrups are made in-house using Louisiana sugar.
Day Trips in Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island
Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island are a short 5-mile drive from Destin and feature some family-friendly activities. You’ll notice that the Fort Walton Beach area is a little more low-key and less crowded than Destin, Florida.
16. Okaloosa Island Beach
This laid-back beach is the perfect place to plant a beach chair and enjoy the soft sand and gorgeous waters while soaking up the sun shine. Located on a narrow three-mile island between Fort Walton Beach and Destin, Florida, Okaloosa Island Beach tends to be less crowded. Part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the island serves as a barrier between Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and is home to many species of wildlife. Prepare to be super relaxed and soak up the chill vibe.
17. Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone
Located in Fort Walton Beach, Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone packs in two mini golf courses, go-karts, laser tag, a ropes course, arcade, 4D movie theater and so much more. The T-Rex Island Adventure Golf features dinosaurs that move and features that surprise you with mist and smoke. The Tree Top Challenge Ropes Course allows the brave to climb over 60 feet high.
18. John C. Beasley Park
Enjoy the powdery, white sands and gentle emerald waters at John C. Beasley Park. This beautiful public beach offers free parking, lifeguards and bathrooms to change in. Close to restaurants and shops, but with no big buildings by the water, there is plenty of space to walk and play. It’s a great place to picnic under a pavilion, sun yourself or look for shells.
19. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Educational exhibits as well as dolphin and sea lion shows delight visitors to Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Marine animal enthusiasts will enjoy encounters with dolphins, stingrays, seals, penguins, gators and more (for additional fees). If you’re traveling with kids under age 12, it’s best to do a half-day visit as there is a lot to take in. The park also boasts open-air exhibits and great views of the Gulf in additional to adorable animals with personable antics.
20. Emerald Coast Science Center
Great for a rainy day, the Emerald Coast Science Center is a hands-on adventure for the whole family. STEM activities, a maker lab, brain teasers and animals pack this small museum full of fun. If you have a membership to another museum, check to see if you can enjoy reciprocal benefits such as free or discounted admission.
21. Goofy Golf
For over 50 years, families have been having fun on the two mini golf courses at Goofy Golf in Fort Walton. With two courses that both end in a snake’s mouth, it’s simple, affordable, old school enjoyment (with prices much cheaper than other local mini golf courses). Land your last putt in the snake’s mouth and score a free game!
We wish you the most relaxing, enjoyable family beach vacation. May your Destin family memories warm your heart for years to come!
Ready to explore the rest of the state? Check out the Top 10 Things to do in Florida with Kids.
Lead Image courtesy of Visit Florida
Disclosure: The author was provided a discounted rate at Hilton Sandestin and VIP pass for some attractions and discounts on dining by the Destin CVB in order to facilitate writing this article. All opinions are her own.