Swimming with manatees that very morning was great but pulling out of Crystal River, FL we knew we were starting a long drive a bit later than we had hoped. But that was okay, it was only the third day of a six month trip and we were far from tired. We also had a very loose plan as to where we wanted to be each day. There were no reservations so we could stay wherever we wanted or so we thought. It was a pretty boring ride, not along the coast as you might romanticize it. If you took that route it would take days, something neither of wanted to do. Of course, we eventually did make our way to the coast just around dinner time and conveniently in the town of Destin, home to McGuire's Brewpub.
The town itself was disappointing and the beach or what we could see of it didn't look all that inviting. McGuire's had been on my wish list since my first trip across country but I just never seemed to be able to squeeze it in. It was either the wrong time of day or I was in a hurry to get back home, not wanting to spend another night on the road in Florida of all places, my home state. The place was quite touristy but fun and though the beers were less than mind blowing, their stout was well enough crafted and went down easily after the drive. When we saw Sheppard's Pie on the menu the die was cast for a good meal to round out the beery experience. It would have been an easy place to hang out with an entertaining bartender and happy hour prices. But we still had some driving to do and weren't exactly sure where we'd stay that night. The bartender told us to make sure to not miss a particular stretch of beach on our way out so we headed that way in hopes of catching it before it got dark. Once we crossed a causeway bridge we finally saw what the fuss was about as far as beaches go. There were huge white sand dunes and nice houses with beautiful views. We did some beach combing, collecting shells and nearly forgetting that we weren't on a small weekend beach trip.
Fondest memory: As the sun went down we decided to take the road we'd come on a bit further to see if it could get any better....and it did. It turned out to be a National Seashore with very little development and snow white sand on both sides of the road which seemed to run into infinity. The sun was now just about setting and our timing was perfect to enjoy the show. Without the brewpub stop we'd not only have been much earlier here if we made it at all but likely we'd have missed it entirely without the bartender's suggestion. We beamed in our luck and watched the red glow on the sand around us and then in the distance as a huge ball of fire. But once the sun has set it only brings darkness and we now had to really get on the road and find a place to stay. We passed Pensacola too quickly and even Biloxi, Mississippi came up a bit soon. We never saw any signs for cheap rooms and kept driving. We were in Louisiana before we knew it and played with the idea of going right to New Orleans but it would have been crazy to show up at that hour without a room so we were happy to see Motel Six signs in Slidell, a town about forty-five minutes from the Big Easy. It had been raining off and on for most of the ride so we were glad to finally be in a room. That was the first of many times we found out we couldn't always stay were we wanted but rather we would stay wherever we stayed.
If you are debating between staying on Okaloosa Island or Destin, let me give you a few pointers.
First, Okaloosa Island is much older than Destin, thus more run-down. It has a very gloomy and commercialized feel to it; very cheap and touristy. The hotel buildings are ugly, and ruin the coastline views. Coming over the Brooks Bridge you will see a line of tall, rectangular, grey buildings lined up on the beach...not very appealing. In addition, Okaloosa Island experiences more damage during every hurricane, and it takes time to rebuild. As a result, there still many damaged areas from hurricane Ivan! Some hotels are still being reconstructed, which affects the appeal of the entire area.
Destin, on the other hand, is much newer and nicer. Destin is still an obviously touristy destination, but it manages to keep its charm. The buildings are all well-kept and attractive, making Hwy 98 a somewhat appealing strip of highway. Even the supersized souvenir warehouse shops aren't as offensive as the ones on Okaloosa Island; they are brighty colored (vs being dingy) which makes them less of an eyesore.
In addition, the strip of highway between Destin and Okaloosa Island is hopelessly congested during the summer/spring months. This makes traveling between the two very frustrating. Most of the activities and restaurants are located in Destin (and ALL the nightclubs, save Swamp and Howl-At-The-Moon are in Destin), so if you are staying on Okaloosa Island you will be sitting in traffic a lot.
One last tip...the police frequently set up DUI checkpoints between Okaloosa Island and Destin. Since most of the nightclubs are in Destin, it's more convient to stay in Destin; you avoid a potenial DUI, and cab fares will be cheaper.
Favorite thing: The Destin Library is a very new, beautiful building that is a wonderful place to read, study, or browse through books. In addition, every Tuesday night they show a free screening of a award-winning independent or foreign movie.
Snorkel Adventure, watch for dolphins, see tropical fish, find shells, and enjoy the sights on this relaxing and entertaining cruse.
The gulf's best and friendliest snorkeling value.
Fondest memory: An inredible underwater excursion awaits.
Hwy.98, east of the Destin Bridge at Harbor Walk Marina. 654-4655
My favorite thing about Destin is by far the beaches. The sand on the beaches in Destin is very fine & white. It's like walking on sugar. I'm so used to the sand in this area that no other beach can compare to it. For me this is one of the best places in the world to go to the beach.
Fondest memory: Going to the beach of course.
Emerald Coast's Beaches the sand here is among the whitest, cleanest and softest in the world.
The fish are always biting and the local flavor can't be beat.
Fondest memory: Families flock to the "Best Beach in the South", numerous attractions, spectacular shopping and fabulous local restaurants will keep you busy.
Destin is all about beaches and a beach vacation. That means lots of R&R on the beach, clubbing by night, and just recovering from whatever "real world" problems you have back home. This is the place where I have stayed 4 times. We keep going back because it is so awesome.
Fondest memory: Bar-B-Q'n on the grills on either side of the beach house. Good food in beautiful surroundings, with great friends... I can't think of a better way to spend my vacation.
Get in the car and drive down Hwy 30-A . . . It has the most spectacular scenery . . . Stop at the little towns along the way . . . Grayton Beach . . . Santa Rosa . . . Seaside . . . Seagrove
Fondest memory: Watching the dolphins play in the surf
take a walk on the beach at sunset/sunrise, go to big kahunas, go to the beach at night...especially if you're a teenager...great parties...and u must go snorkeling
Fondest memory: well they are too many to name...i have been going every year since i was 3. everything is an awesome memory. but probably just sitting on the beach with my family and friends, having the time of my life.
Fondest memory: Ocean waves crushing along the shore, salty ocean breeze, sun, the smell of the ocean, watching dolphins play. You know what, maybe heaven is up there in the skies, but paradise is defenetly down here on the Earth!!!
defenetely beaches. REMEMBER THE 3 S RULE: SUN, SAND & SEA. Welcome!!!
Fondest memory: Maybe paradise exists, or is it just a peace of heaven on Earth. Crystal clear emerald green ocean, snow white, sun kissed sand, golden sun, gorgeous sunsets. The beach just goes on, and on, and on... Amazingly beautiful area, like a little peace of Carribean Islands on the coast of Florida. Walk all the way along the beach, let the golden sun shine in your face and warm see breeze play with your hair, feel the water and sand between your toes!!!!!
Fondest memory: View of the Emeral Coast. I always knew Carribean beauty starts in Florida, where ocean flows together with sky. Look at the colours! Too gooooood to be true...It's about the time, when I realized that I would rather be here than ahywhere else in the world!!!
Favorite thing: Walk around the town, there are a lot of nice places. Shopping spots and little seafood restaurants, pick any you like they're all goooood!!! That's, of couse in case, you will ever be able to leave the beach. I never did. Too beautiful!!!!
Walk along the beach, let the sun warm your skin, with water and sand between your toes, let the sea breeze refresh you. There are great golf courses, gulf aquariums, a zoo, great restaurants, boats and the best fishing.
Fondest memory: Definitely the ocean waves crashing on the shore, the salt spray and ocean smell.