25 Fun Things To Do in Destin, Florida with Kids
Destin, Florida may have a reputation as a party spot for spring breakers, but this city on the Florida Panhandle is actually brimming with kid-friendly activities. Families love the impeccably clean and clear waters of the "Emerald Coast," the unofficial nickname for the 100-mile stretch of beach along the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, the fun doesn't stop at the sand. The greater Destin, Florida area offers plenty in the way of interactive museums, amusement parks, animal adventures, and great restaurants, making it a go-to Florida vacation destination for those with children in tow.
Here are 25 of the best things to do with kids in and around Destin, Florida, including delicious Destin restaurants and great Destin, Florida resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals.
Things to Do Outdoors with Kids in Destin, Florida
What will you spot on Henderson Beach State Park's nature trail?
1. Hit the Beach
Duh, right? Travel along Highway 30-A in Florida and you will see mile after mile of beautiful coastline (this scenic drive definitely rivals Highway 1 in California). Not all beaches are public, however, so pick your spot wisely. My family loves the white sands of Miramar Beach in Destin and Ed Walline Beach in Santa Rosa Beach. Both offer free parking, though it is limited. Your best bet is to head out early. Henderson Beach State Park has a nice playground and nature trail, along with access to the Gulf waters. Parking here is plentiful but costs $6. Even in January(!!!) we were able to enjoy a few days playing in the water, though the beaches get considerably more pleasant, as well as crowded, as the summer months approach.
2. Snorkel in Destin's Artificial Reefs
There are more than 100 man-made reefs in the greater Destin area, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. The Destin jetties, located next to the HarborWalk Village shopping center, is perhaps the city's most famous location. Visitors have reported seeing sea turtles, crabs, and even an occasional manatee here. Visibility is always best at high tide.
Unleash your inner pirate on the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise. Argh! Photo courtesy of the cruise
3. Ride on a Pirate Ship
Ahoy, matey! The Buccaneer Pirate Cruise is sure to delight your little swashbucklers. (Sorry, couldn't help myself.) Expect plenty of lively entertainment aboard the 100-foot vessel, from pirate stories and face painting to treasure hunts and water-gun battles. Cruises last about an hour and 45 minutes. If your family is more into sea life than scallywags, Destin offers plenty of dolphin-watching excursions and glass-bottom boat tours as well.
Open March through Labor Day, Big Kahuna's is a Tiki-themed water park with 40 different rides, slides, and pools. Older kids love the Kowabunga Racer, a 4-lane drag strip plunging five stories downhill. Little ones enjoy Buccaneer Cove, a giant splash pad with a pirate motif. There's also a lazy river, a wave pool, and a mini golf course.
Soar above the Village of Baytowne Wharf on a zip line.
Without a doubt, my daughters' favorite thing to do in Destin is visit the Village at Baytowne Wharf. This outdoor mall has got it all. The Baytowne Adventure Zone has a ropes course where brave kids (and parents!) can climb three stories to "walk the plank" and ring the bell at the very top. Kids also flip for the Euro Bungy trampolines and the Baytowne zip line, which soars 300 feet above a lagoon in the middle of the shopping center. And speaking of shopping, my kids are semi-obsessed with Dolls & Friends, a store that sells clothing and accessories for—you guessed it—dolls. Pro tip: Be sure to check the Baytowne Wharf calendar before visiting, as the village hosts regular fun events such as concerts, Mardi Gras parades, magic shows, and a pop-up ice skating rink in the winter.
6. The Track
A family can easily spend hours at The Track, a Destin amusement park with attractions for kids of all ages. For teens and tweens, there's Hurricane 360, a spinning, swinging thrill ride 40 feet in the air. For the little ones, there's a carousel, flying airplanes, and a small Ferris wheel. Did I mention there are also bumper cars, blaster boats, a large arcade, and a mini golf course? Whew! (Note to parents: Like many Destin points of interest, The Track scales down its operations significantly during the winter. Be sure to call ahead to find out which rides are open.)
Wild Willy's is a dinosaur-themed amusement park with a treetop ropes course, a giant arcade, laser tag, and three go-kart race tracks. The real highlight here, though, is the park's 18-hole "T-Rex Island" mini golf course, featuring animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar as you practice your short game.
View fish, sea turtles, alligators, and more at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
This half-outdoor aquarium in Fort Walton Beach offers tons of wildlife viewing, including sea turtles, alligators, and otters. Kids can get up close with sea urchins and starfish in the Gulfarium touch tank. The free dolphin and sea lion shows are also a highlight—just prepare to get wet if you sit in the front! For an extra fee, the marine park offers several animal encounters, from snorkeling with sting rays to feeding penguins.
It's no secret that Florida loves its alligators. You can learn more about these fierce reptiles at Gator Beach, an animal park dedicated to them next to the Fudpucker's Beachside Bar and Grill. Catch one of the park's daily shows, feed an alligator, and have your picture taken holding a baby gator (we did this on my birthday and my kids loved it). Bonus: Fudpucker's is a family-friendly restaurant with an on-site playground and an adjacent arcade. Admission to Gator Beach is free, though you will have to pay for the extras.
Feed giraffes at the Emerald Coast Zoo.
Located about 45 minutes outside Destin, Florida in Crestview is the Emerald Coast Zoo. This modestly priced wildlife center (only $10 admission for those 2 and up) features plenty of animals like lions, macaws, kangaroos, and bears. The zoo also offers a ton of animal encounters. My daughters loved feeding the giraffes and going for a ride on the dromedary camels. Next time I visit, I am determined to try the sloth-petting experience!
11. Go Shopping
Who knew Destin was such a premiere destination for shopping? The Destin Commons outdoor mall is especially family-friendly, with colorful murals, a small playground, a mini train that circles the area, and several shops that cater to kids (Build-A-Bear, anyone?) If you're on the hunt for bargains, head to the Silver Sands Premium Outlets, which houses an Old Navy outlet, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, and a Disney Store outlet, to name a few.
Indoor Activities for Families in Destin, Florida
The weather in Destin, Florida can be a bit unpredictable, with sunny skies one moment and thunderstorms the next. Good thing there are plenty of fun indoor activities!
Urban Air is a great place to spend a rainy day. Photo courtesy of Urban Air, Facebook
12. Bounce Around
Kids can bounce their hearts out at Urban Air trampoline park, then ride the Sky Rider zip line, battle each other on the dodgeball court, and challenge themselves on the climbing walls.
13. Go Bowling
For a less strenuous sporting activity, hit up one of Destin's bowling alleys. Uncle Buck's Fish Bowl and Grill boasts an underwater-themed bowling atmosphere, while Hurricane Lanes has more of a traditional vibe, with 26 lanes and six pool tables.
Destin is known as "the world's luckiest fishing village."
Destin, Florida is known as "the world's luckiest fishing village" because of its access to the Gulf of Mexico and the large variety of fish species that live there. This museum highlights the experiences of local anglers, including those that participate in the annual Destin Fishing Rodeo (a major local event which includes plenty of great eating and drinking!) Now, I know a fishing museum doesn't sound like it would be particularly fun for a kid but this spot does it right. There are plenty of interactive stations, cool vintage photos, and animal exhibits. We always leave with plenty of coloring and activity pages, all sea-life themed, naturally.
Let kids' creativity run wild at Rock Paper & Scissors 30A.
15. Channel Your Inner Artist
Hands down, one of the best kids' art studios I have ever visited is Rock Paper& Scissors 30A in Santa Rosa Beach. The staff is especially patient and friendly. We love going during the walk-in open studio hours, offered Mondays through Saturdays. Kids get to pick out a project (there are usually about six choices) and materials. Examples include 3-D canvas paintings and wooden animals and cars. The studio also sells plenty of take-home kits and art supplies.
16. Go Roller Skating
Black-light roller skating with some old-school pop music? Yes, please! Fort SK8 Family Fun Center, a longstanding family-owned roller rink in Fort Walton Beach has everything you need when the weather takes a turn and your family needs to blow off some steam. Along with its 11,000-foot skating floor, Fort SK8 has a large arcade and a snack shop.
Destin Restaurants Kids Will Love
Ocean Club may be fancy, but it happily welcomes kids.
17. Seafood Rules
It's no surprise that the world's luckiest fishing village has some terrific seafood restaurants. Boshamps Seafood & Oyster House serves up Southern-style seafood with sides like cheese grits and greens with bacon. Located on the Destin harbor, this casual spot has been a local favorite since the 80s. Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House, at the Village of Baytowne Wharf, is another laid-back eatery that fish fans will especially enjoy. And if you are looking for a special-occasion restaurant, head to Ocean Club in Sandestin. Don't be intimidated by the white table cloths; the restaurant has a kids' menu and is quite family-friendly. We love to go on nights when there is live music and dancing!
Pizza plus ocean equals heaven! Photo courtesy of Pizza by the Sea
18. Pizza, Please!
Who doesn't love pizza night? And Pizza by the Sea, with four locations around Destin, takes it to a whole new level. This local gem is really good, with lots of dietary options including a crunchy cauliflower crust. Another great spot for pizza is Roberto's Italian Pizzeria in Sandestin. Customers loving watching sports on the restaurant's 15 big-screen TVs while noshing on pizza.
19. Sweet Treats
Sometimes you just have to indulge that sweet tooth, and Pecan Jack's in Santa Rosa Beach is the perfect place to do it. This family-owned business has tons of gourmet candies and nuts, but the real star of the show is its artisan ice cream. I love "The Elvis," a chocolate concoction with marshmallows, peanut butter, and banana. And speaking of fancy flavors, Smallcakes offers delicious classic cupcakes, as well as specialty and seasonal treats. Gingerbread cupcakes? I'm there.
Destin, Florida Hotels & Resorts on the Waterfront for Families
Stay steps away from the sand at Hilton Sandestin Beach. Photo courtesy of the resort
Stay steps away from the sand at one of Destin's oceanfront resorts, Hilton Sandestin Beach. It has more than 600 rooms (some with bunk beds for the kids!) and three pools, as well as a toddler splash area. There are also seasonal drop-off kids' programs during non-Covid times.
Families that stay at The Henderson Beach Resort receive free access to Henderson Beach State Park. The hotel also has a family pool with a splash pad and a lazy river, family crafts (for an extra fee) on Fridays and Saturdays, several on-site restaurants, bike rentals, and a kids' club that's open during non-Covid times.
This hotel across the street from the beach only has two-room suites, making it perfect for families. There's also an outdoor pool, free breakfast and parking, and an on-site restaurant.
Destin, Florida Vacation Condo Rentals for Families
Many visitors to Destin, Florida choose to stay in condo rentals via Airbnb or Vrbo. Local property managers are also happy to accommodate families.
Rent a condo at Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village for spectacular Gulf Coast views. Photo courtesy of Emerald Grande
If you are seeking that stunning view of the Gulf Coast, know that all units at Emerald Grande have balconies. Plus, visitors enjoy easy access to HarborWalk Village's restaurants and shops.
TOPS'L Beach & Racquet Resort is in a quieter, gated community in Sandestin with a premiere tennis club and three restaurants on site.
Be in the center of the action when you stay at The Village of Baytowne Wharf. Photo courtesy of the village
Want to be in the middle of the action? Rent a condo at The Village of Baytowne Wharf. You won't be staying on the ocean, but you'll have access to a pool, a fitness center, and all of the fun happenings taking place at the shopping center.
All photos courtesy of the author unless otherwise indicated.