This article is brought to you by the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Winter on the beach may conjure up images of brisk breezes and empty shores, but the reality of winter along Northwest Florida's Emerald Coast is warm, sunny days filled with a variety of sporting activities that keep one's toes in – or near – the sand.
Cast A Line (yes, even in January)
Anytime is a great time to cast a line in Northwest Florida; even in the chillier winter months, the lure of sport fishing draws anglers of all abilities. And Destin – known as "the world's luckiest fishing village" – is the premier spot for casting a line in the winter.
If you're an experienced angler, renting a pontoon boat and heading just offshore is the way to go; Brooks Bridge Bait & Tackle on Okaloosa Island offers boats and whatever equipment might be necessary for a do-it-yourself adventure. In winter, the emerald waters of the Gulf are full of redfish. This time of year, the redfish juveniles – those fish hatched in late fall – will be found inshore in shallow water, while the adults will be a bit farther out.
Fly enthusiasts can learn from local experts with a guided trip from Blue Bay Outfitters; inshore and flats charters as well as Choctawhatchee Bay charters are offered for anglers who want to give fly fishing a try. The most adventurous fishermen will want to head farther out on a deep-sea trip for triggerfish, vermilion snapper, white snapper, grouper and amberjack – all running in the cooler water during the winter months. Destin Fishing Charters, with one of the largest fleets of charters on the Emerald Coast, offers deep-sea charters that run from four hours to an overnight adventure.
Take to the Water
While the water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico during the winter hovers around a refreshing 61 degrees, some folks aren't inclined to get their toes wet. But there are plenty of ways to be on the water if not in it, from renting your own boat and navigating the shoreline as you practice your skipper skills to kayaking and canoeing on the bay or one of the area's rivers.
Heading out in a kayak or canoe can definitely take the chill off, and there's no prettier and more pristine river to explore than the Blackwater. The crystal-clear Blackwater is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the country and a natural draw for paddlers of all kinds. Renting a canoe or kayak in the offseason is easier, as Blackwater Canoe Rental is now open year 'round and offers rentals as well as guided river trips.
No matter the season, it's a given that a walk along the shore is part of every trip to the Emerald Coast. The winter beach offers a serene setting for picnics, long walks or simply settling into a beach chair with a good book.
Those who are looking to do a bit more will find Henderson Beach State Park the place to be. The park offers nature lovers the chance to roam through ever-shifting coastal scrub forest on the nature trail or marvel at the grandeur of the dunes from atop the boardwalk. Picnic pavilions offer al fresco waterfront dining.
Warm Up, Eat Up!
Take off the chill of the approaching evening with a warm and creamy crab and spinach dip from The Back Porch, or indulge in the casual waterside eatery's rich crab and seafood gumbo. For more formal fare, try Louisiana Lagniappe's corn and crab bisque, hot shrimp salad or oysters Lagniappe to warm up.
The oceanfront Henderson Park Inn is a delight in winter, with its glittering view of the Gulf, quiet location – it's just at the end of Henderson Beach State Park – and private terraces for every room. Be sure to request a fireplace room when booking this luxurious beachfront inn; there's nothing better than the pounding of the emerald waters as the soundtrack for a cozy night in front of the fire.
To plan your beach getaway to the Emerald Coast, call 800-322-3319 or visit www.destin-fwb.com.