"One of my favorite destinations..."
Destin is an amazing beach... beautiful emerald waters and sugar white sand. Very similar to Panama City, FL, but without the pandemonium. Destin is extremely family-friendly, quiet, clean, and safe. I love to spend a few days here every so often to sit on the beach just to do absolutely nothing but relax.
Note: In the picture above, those are not barnacles on that post. Someone has posted flip-flops all over it. Those are shrimp boat shoes on top.
"Places to stay..."
ResortQuest and Dale Peterson Vacations have a lot of rental choices. I have used both and have been pleased. I usually stay at Grand Caribbean across the street from the beach, which is obviously less expensive than beach-front properties. Very nice. However, this last trip, I stayed at Crystal Sands, which is beach-front. The condo is very similar to Grand Caribbean but the view, complimentary beach chair/umbrella service (so nice when flying in and unable to bring chairs/umbrellas on plane), and convenience of being able to just run up to the room was well worth the extra money.
I would also recommend getting a condo on Scenic 98. Its not as crowded on the beach when compared to the beaches near the high-rises closer to Ft. Walton Beach. Plus, you can usually walk on the beach to a restaurant or bar. From Crystal Sands or Grand Caribbean you can walk to The Crab Trap. They have an outside bar that's nice to wait until your table is ready. The margaritas are good, but they are always better at the beach. :)
My rule is that I fly if the trip is going to be more than an 8 hour drive. So, I usually end up flying to Destin. For those not familiar with the area, you can fly into Destin/Ft. Walton Beach (VPS), Pensacola, or Tallahassee. I like to fly into VPS since its only a few miles from the beach, but flying into Pensacola is nice too because you can drive along the beach all the way to Destin.
A word to the wise about the Destin airport... if you need to fill up your rental car, don't wait until you get to the airport. The last time I was there, there wasn't a gas station near by and we ended up having to pay the enormous fuel surcharge at the rental counter.