By Lauren Tjaden
Snuggled against the Gulf of Mexico in northwest Florida, Destin is rightfully famed for its sugar-white sands and emerald-hued waters.
But those are just two reasons why this Florida favorite was named to TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice list of Top 25 Destinations in the U.S.
Here are 10 delightful diversions you can enjoy there:
1. Due to its plentiful, hungry underwater population, Destin’s widely known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village,” so you've got to hook into some fishing fun. Enter a tournament, book a charter, dangle your line off a pier or cast it into the surf – the choices are almost endless.
2. Family friendly snorkeling fun with Emerald Coast Scuba is also a must-do. Though spotting rays, fish, nurse sharks and sea turtles is common (and visitors have even spotted humpback whales), this doesn’t begin to describe the wonder of the Gulf’s underwater world. Snorkeling transports you to a strange, new, beautiful planet. Just bring your swimsuit; they’ll take care of everything else.
3. Emerald Coast Scuba also offers tempting trips for all levels of Scuba divers. If you’ve never been before, start off on the right fin with their Discover Scuba Experience. You’ll make a real dive in a safe, non-threatening atmosphere. Scuba, like snorkeling, transcends description. There, a lobster becomes a strange, prehistoric-looking monster. Coral and sponges are thick on the limestone ledges, and odd plants that are sometimes really animals sway in rhythms only they can hear. Yes, go.
4. An afternoon bouncing over the surf in a wave runner is just the medicine for a bored beach bunny. If you’ve never ridden one before, you’ll be amazed at what speedy little fun machines they are. Of course, you can rent one! With Dockside Water Sports’ convenient docking, you won’t even get wet.
5. How about a dolphin tour via wave runner? This is the perfect combination of adrenaline and nature. Every morning a guide leads an adventure into the Gulf of Mexico and the Choctawhatchee Bay to get a gander at Flipper’s friends. (OK, they may not really be Flipper’s friends. They look a lot like him, though.)
6. To snag panoramic beach views beyond compare, try parasailing – Dockside Water Sports offers them, too. The boat’s engine will roar, the colorful sail will fill, and seconds later, your feet will dangle below as you embark on an exhilarating, peaceful, stunningly beautiful flight. Dockside also rents pontoon or fishing boats, but if you’d rather just unwind, a trip to their Daiquiri bar will be a welcome diversion.
7. Henderson Beach State Park, located a tad east of Destin boasts 6,000 feet of picturesque shoreline snuggled against the emerald Gulf of Mexico, rich with dolphins, sea turtles, fish and birds. The park offers swimming, picnicking and bicycling. A hike on the nature trail will allow you to snag a rare glimpse of the coastal dune ecosystem. The wildlife is plentiful, the views are serene, and it’s pet friendly, too. Guided tours are available upon request.
8. Animal lovers will adore the Florida Gulfarium with its three live marine shows. The Dolphin Show and the Multi-Species Show rock, but the kids’ favorite is the Sea Lion Show. Want to get close enough to touch? The “meet and greet” sessions allow you to feed, pet and help the Gulfarium’s dolphin stars perform a behavior, and the “dolphin encounter” allows you to actually climb in the pool with one. You’ll need to make reservations at least 24 hours in advance for the dolphin encounter. Check their website for other requirements and restrictions.
9. Prefer to snag a glimpse of dolphins in the wild? Try a dolphin cruise on the Southern Star– it features a glass bottom and is 80 feet long.
10. At the Track Family Recreation Center, get into some smashing good fun in a bumper car, or some splashing good fun in a Blaster Boat. These bumper boats have water cannons – can you say water -war? You can take a spin in a go-kart, venture into Kids’ Country (a paradise for pint-sized patrons) or experience the thrill of skydiving in the SkyFlyer. On a scale of one to 10, your adrenaline will be an 11 when you take the 75-foot Bungee Jump plunge. After that, you’ll be ready for a round of mini-golf.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA unless otherwise notice