Texans love the northwest coast of Florida.
Most popular are Destin and the 30A areas. The reasons Texans flock here are simple and multiple. It’s drivable from Texas (approximately 11 hours from Austin to Destin), there’s emerald-colored, clear water with soft white sand, fresh seafood and a laid back vibe.
Now, these two areas vary quite a bit so “pick your poison,” based on the scene you’re looking for, but you can’t go wrong! This week, we’re shining our Lone Star spotlight on Destin. Next week, look for our feature on South Walton’s 30A area.
Destin is known as “the world’s luckiest fishing village,” so plan on enjoying Gulf-to-Table seafood throughout your visit. Many local families make their living in these clear waters so whether you’re dining at restaurants or shopping at the local seafood market and fixing dinner in your rental, you’re sure to dine on the freshest catches around!
Both Destin and the 30A beach communities enjoy the same clear water and white beaches. The biggest difference is that Destin is a busy, bustling town with lots of shopping, dining and tourist attractions. If that’s your jam, you will march to the beat of a beachy drummer in Destin.
Where To Stay
We love to hang our hats a little off the beaten path, which is one of the highlights of The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort. The Henderson, a fantastic resort that’s only been open three years, sits right next to Henderson Park. The four-story resort is on a quiet stretch, just one block off the beach. (That means, a quick three-minute walk to the sand!) Guests not only enjoy clean and comfy rooms, but also all the amenities needed for a great beach vacay: an outdoor pool with hot tub, a small lazy river and splash pad, a full-service restaurant and spa.
But let’s go back to the beach… Guests will want to soak up as much time as possible on these creamy sands stretching into the crystal blue water. Really, you’ll be hard pressed to find more beautiful water than this coastline (even in the Caribbean). The beaches are made of finely ground, perfectly round quartz crystals which create the perfect beach!
Back at The Henderson, enjoy the Southern hospitality with the service, the free, fresh coffee available in the lobby each morning, and The Salamander Spa. Our favorite spas feature many amenities, as does this one. It is relaxation perfection. I recommend indulging in this on your first day, with a Himalayan sea salt room, hot tub, lavender steam room, experience shower, and “create your own massage.” Build in some time to read/relax with a cup of hot tea in the lounge, too.
Feeding Body & Soul
While at The Henderson, treat yourself to breakfast at Primrose and lunch at Horizons, both the same dining room. We recommend a healthy start to your day at Primrose with avocado toast, on whole grain bread, with a side of berries and a cappuccino. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, try the breakfast burrito accompanied by chorizo and fresh salsa.
For lunch at Horizons, jump into the seafood with their crispy red snapper bites, followed by Baja fish tacos, the daily catch or the pappardelle pasta with big Gulf shrimp. Any of these are delightfully paired with a Chalk Hill Winery chardonnay.
Other highlights of a stay at The Henderson include shuttle transportation anywhere within a five-mile range (no need to drink & drive after dinner), admittance into the 208-acre Henderson Park next door and complimentary cruiser bikes.
Gulf-to-Table Dining Around Destin
Gulf-to-Table isn’t just about the fresh (never frozen) seafood that goes from sea to your plate within days (not months) but also about the sustainable practices of the area. Here are a few of the local and tourist favorite restaurants that are ready to dazzle your taste buds with seafood or other delights.
The Crab Trap is a popular beach restaurant just off the sand of Destin. With a super casual atmosphere (you can wear shorts and flip flops), try a local beer like the 30A blonde with their hot crab dip or their fried cheese sticks (made with real Wisconsin mozzarella cheese). Move on to a bowl of seafood gumbo, the crab and shrimp linguine, or crab legs.
LuLu’s in Destin is a must-stop one stop for all that’s entertaining. Owned by Lucy Buffet (Jimmy Buffet’s “crazy sista”), this colorful (even the duct system is bright pink!) beachy bar sits on the marina and exists to create an experience for diners. Now, plan ahead and go online to “get in line” because in the summer, there might be a two-to-three hour wait!
Start with their award-winning fried green tomatoes served with LuLu’s “wow sauce.” Then enjoy Crazy Sista’s crab toast with sweet claw meat, perfectly toasted. Or you might want to try Crazy Sista’s pork sandwich, covered with LuLu’s Lightning BBQ Sauce. And, do not leave without their Krispy Kreme bread pudding! Outside, you can rent paddle boards, lather up in free sunscreen while the kids play or grab a cooler package or boat bites for your rental boat.
For dinner, try Dewey Destin’s Harborside Restaurant, another casual option in the Harborside area of town (a fun area to walk along the water). Here, it’s all about the daily blackboard menu. Start with a hot crab dip. Then, enjoy the catch of the day (maybe grouper) and order it up just the way you like it–we recommend pecan crusted or with a parmesan coating. Definitely indulge in their jalapeno cheese grit cakes, paired with either a locally crafted beer like the East Pass IPA or a nice wine.
Before dinner at Dewey’s, enjoy a Southern Star Dolphin Cruise from the nearby harbor. Before you think this is just kitschy, there’s one thing that really separates this family-owned 80-foot boat cruise from others (and likely why they’ve been covered by CNN and National Geographic). The local dolphins really do put on a show! This performance includes a row of dolphins swimming side-by-side under the bow of the boat. It’s truly like a choreographed dance on and under the water.
A vacation to the Destin or the 30A area isn’t about what you’ll gain, but more about what you’ll lose: stress, anxiety… yourself.
Cover photo courtesy Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Marika Flatt is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. Hear her “Weekend Trip Tips” on the statewide NPR show, Texas Standard. She always relishes a Florida beach trip where she can indulge her love for glistening sands, sparkling water and a laid-back vibe.