by Liz White
The beach, of course, and daily dips in the Gulf are the big draw. Tweens and teens will love parasailing with Destin Parasailing (destinparasailing.com, 866-359-3114; $50 per person for parasailing adventure (must be age 6 or older). Or hop on a jet ski (harborwatersports.com; 850-650-0390; $70 an hour rental includes fuel; must be 16 or older to operate a jet ski, but younger kids can ride with Mom or Dad).
Nature lovers will want to visit Henderson Beach State Park for wildlife-watching, an easy hike or a picnic. Everyone appreciates that the park’s beach is often less populated, and kids love the playground. A bonus: Reserve one of the 60 campsites for your RV or tent and spend very little for a family getaway. (floridastateparks.org, 850-837-7550).
Big Kahuna’s water and adventure park, with 40 water rides, a racetrack and mini-golf, will engage the entire family for hours. (bigkahunas.com, 850-837-8319; unlimited water and adventure park pass, $56.99; water park admission only, $37.99 for 48" and taller, $29.99 for under 48").
For a relaxing evening, cruise Destin’s harbor aboard the Cattywampus, a 46-foot catamaran sailboat formerly known as the Emerald Dancer. Or go dolphin-watching on a two-hour daytime cruise. (cattywampus.us; 850-586-0450, evening cruise $30 per person, plus tax and gratuity, $10 for ages 5 and younger; dolphin cruise $35 plus taxes and gratuity, $10 for ages 5 and younger).
You’ll find entertainment, beach bars and dancing on The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island (theboardwalkoi.com; swampclub.com; howlatthemoondestin.com); relaxing treatments at the Spa at Emerald Grande (emeraldgrande.com ); shopping at Destin Commons mall (destincommons.com) or Silver Sands Premium Outlets (premiumoutlets.com), chartered deep sea fishing on the Miss Nautica (missnautica.com), and golf at Regatta Bay (regattabay.com) or Kelly Plantation (kellyplantation.com).
Many families rent a condo with a great view and quick access to the beach. Prices vary by season. June prices for a one-bedroom start around $1,000 for seven nights. You can find deals for as low as $130-$180 a night; expect to pay more in the summer. Websites to get you going:
emeraldcoastoffers.com: for Spring deals throughout the Destin area
wyndhamvacationrentals.com: Wingate by Wyndham and other properties
resortquestdestin.com: Find many options, including Crystal Villas; Grand Caribbean Destin; Nantucket Rainbow Cottages; and Jade East Towers, where we stayed
destinvacation.com: Lots of options here, including Beachside Inn and Hidden Dunes Cottages
Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar & Grill offers seafood and sandwiches and an extensive kids menu including kids’ “cocktails,” plus kids can feed the alligators at Gator Beach, watch a gator show and hold the smaller gators for a photo op. (fudtv.com, 800-622-3837).
Dewey Destin’s Seafood and Restaurant, with two locations on the harbor and on Crab Island, also welcomes kids. It’s run by the descendents of Leonard Destin, who founded the town in 1835. (destinseafood.com, 850-837-7575).
Another family favorite is The Crab Trap, with a restaurant on the beach in Destin, and two more in Fort Walton and Perdido Key. (crabtrapdestin.com, 850-654-2722).
AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar on the harbor has kids’ events throughout the year, a good kids menu and kids’ “cocktails.” Through AJ’s Get Off the Docks, the business offers dolphin and pirate cruises. (ajs-destin.com, 850-837-1913; getoffthedocks.com, 850-837-2222).
Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, (emeraldcoastfl.com, 850-651-7131) has extensive information on its website and an online visitors’ guide that lists attractions, arts and entertainment and much more.