Adventures in Isolation: Destin, Florida Style

Sunrise, Sunburn, Social Distancing, Sunset, Repeat

My travel plans looked a little different this summer. I had a previous trip scheduled that I had to cancel (and now I have a Southwest Airlines voucher I’m not sure what to do with) and my personal goal of using my passport for the first time to visit a new country was out of the question. The travel bug was biting, but there was nowhere to go. Or so I thought. I’m a school-based Speech-Language Pathologist, and my district informed me summer school would be pushed back a month, giving me all of June off which I typically didn’t have. My sister had planned a trip to Destin, Florida months ago and she invited me to tag along. Destin has been a vacation destination for my family for as long as I can remember and even though I typically write about places I’ve experienced for the first time, I thought it would be fun to write a short post about this relaxing and fun Florida city.

Most of our mornings and afternoons were spent relaxing on the beach. We woke up early, gathered our beach bags and coolers, packed up the golf cart, and arrived at the beach around 9:00-10:00 each morning to pick out a prime spot on the beautiful white sand. I would recommend getting to the beach as early as possible, since it can be difficult to find a parking spot later in the day. However, the beach never felt crowded, even during the weekend when vacationers were just beginning to arrive. Destin was the perfect place to escape to and unwind after months of being cooped up at home. It was nice to see people hanging out with their friends and family, listening to music, playing games, and overall enjoying life.

PSA for all of my fellow St. Louisans: if you wear any STL, Blues, or Cardinals attire, be prepared to have at least one person ask about where you live. For some reason, people from STL love to vacation in Destin. Last year, I was in Destin during the Stanley Cup finals and the restaurant I was at was PACKED with Blues fans. Even the manager of the restaurant (who wasn’t born in St. Louis) is a big STL fan and was cheering on the Blues. If you visit Destin, you are bound to run into someone who’s from St. Louis or is a Cardinals/Blues fan. I think I need to make a beach drinking game the next time I visit. Should I take a drink every time I see someone wearing Cardinals/Blues clothing or take a drink every time someone asks me if I’m from St. Louis?

The Crab Trap Destin

Besides hanging at the beach, we ventured out to a few restaurants. Destin is home to a plethora of local and chain eateries that serve different types of cuisine. If you plan on visiting Destin though, you have to try their seafood. Our first restaurant stop of the week was Surf Hut for dinner. There was a wait time, due to less seating being available, but we ordered drinks at the bar and chatted until we received a text message letting us know that our table was ready. Their piña colada and Barrier Red Reef sangria held me over until my Mahi-Mahi sandwich was served. Surf Hut has become one of my favorite dinner outings in Destin. The food and drinks I’ve tried so far have been delicious, so I would highly recommend giving it a try!

After dinner we hopped in the golf cart and drove to the Crab Trap to grab a drink, enjoy the weather, and people watch (and failed spectacularly at not making eye contact with the teenagers making Tik Tok dance videos next to us). The restaurant has an outside beach bar and a huge, spacious deck where you can sip on drinks and wait for your table while you practice social distancing. This bar is also open to beach goers, no shirt or shoes required. You can walk on up in your swimsuit, order a frozen beverage, and take it back on the beach with you. The drinks can be pricey, but if you need something to cool you down after laying out in the hot sun, they are definitely worth trying! There is also an inside bar where you can order drinks or food in your beach attire. My sister and I went inside to purchase appetizers and take them back on the beach with us one afternoon. I ordered a Crab Trap favorite, the hot crab dip. In hindsight, I should have gone with something my stomach could handle on a hot day. The dip was delicious, but the combination of a full belly and the heat from the blaring sun did not sit well with me later that day.

Our next dinner destination was World of Beer. They have a $5 burger special on Mondays, which they serve all day, and hundreds of beers from around the world (like the restaurant’s name implies) on tap . You can build your burger however you like, but be aware that certain toppings will result in an upcharge. My absolute favorite beer in their lineup has to be the Secret Llama Blueberry Wheat Ale, a local beer brewed in Lakeland, Florida, which comes garnished with blueberries. It was light with just a hint of blueberry which complimented my savory burger.

Destin Harbor Boardwalk

A popular tourist attraction in Destin is the Harbor Boardwalk which is comprised of seafood restaurants, food trucks, bars, shops and outside entertainment such as live bands, outside TV’s broadcasting sports games, ziplines, and fishermen unloading their catch for the day. Parking at the harbor lot costs $10, but you keep your ticket and are able to reuse it for the remainder of the day. You could potentially go to the harbor in the morning, leave for the afternoon, and return in the evening without having to pay another $10 parking fee. When we arrived, we walked around the harbor for a bit and decided to eat dinner at AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. We had about an hour to kill before our table was ready, so we stopped by Fish Heads, one of the many outdoor bars, to get a drink and watch the boats leave on evening cruises or dock in the harbor. More frozen drinks were consumed when we were seated at our table. I ordered a cup of their seafood gumbo as an appetizer and stuffed shrimp as my entree and we enjoyed our meals as a quick storm rolled through. After dinner, we explored the harbor a bit more, taking note of some of the dolphin cruise options, before heading back for the night.

Our last dinner in Destin was at Pompano Joe’s Seafood House. We knew we were in for a long wait since it was a Friday night, but we were still surprised to hear that there was a 2+ hour wait. We put our names down and checked with another restaurant down the street, where we were told that they could seat us in about three hours. We decided to stay at Pompano Joe’s, passing the time at their outside tiki bar just a few steps away from the beach. There was plenty of space for people to order a drink and find a seat or stand on the sidewalk and watch the sunset. It was dark by the time we were seated at a table, but the wait was well worth it. I ordered a cup of seafood gumbo as my appetizer (I’m a sucker for gumbo if you couldn’t tell) and holy moly it was delicious! Their gumbo is famous for being a 3-time winner of the Sandestin Gumbo Festival and it was one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. My entree was the Mahi Mahi “Bajan” – crab and shrimp stuffed Mahi Mahi – which I confidently (and incorrectly) pronounced to our waitress. It was a seafood combination I didn’t know I needed and I was slightly disappointed that the seafood gumbo had left me feeling fuller than I had anticipated. I was unable to finish my entree, nor could I box it up since we were leaving early the next morning, but the meal was delicious and the most memorable compared to the other courses I had that week. Out of all of the restaurants I’ve mentioned, Pompano Joe’s has to be my #1 recommendation especially if you are wanting to try delicious seafood right by the ocean.

If going out to restaurants multiple times a week isn’t feasible or you want to keep your distance from others with everything going on in the world, check out one of the many grocery stores Destin has to offer! We shopped at Winn Dixie the day we arrived and split the cost of lunch meat, bread, and snacks that we could easily pack and eat on the beach. We also planned on making a few meals at the house during the week (one such delicious meal is pictured above) and everyone chipped in buying and preparing different entrees and sides. Eating out in Destin can get expensive, but if you are staying in a place with a kitchen you can save a few bucks by eating in a couple times during your trip. I would also recommend checking out restaurant websites in advance and looking up their happy hour deals. A majority of the restaurants in Destin have great food and alcohol happy hours during the weekdays that are hard to pass up and can help save some money that can be used for other excursions!

One such activity we wanted to do during our trip was an evening dolphin cruise. We purchased our tickets online for the Glass Bottom Boat ($31.70 per adult and if you book online you can use code BWS to save $2!) and headed for the harbor. A big headache we didn’t consider was the traffic. There is a ton of traffic in Destin, especially if you are driving towards the harbor. Sometimes you can get lucky and miss the worst of it, but more often than not you get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and your GPS says it’s going to take you an extra thirty minutes to get to your destination. We were getting anxious about being late and the boat leaving without us, but we found a parking spot fairly quickly and picked up our tickets with enough time to grab a drink on the harbor and get a place in line.

Once on the boat, we were ushered to the stern where we got a group picture taken (we purchased not one, but two prints because of how comical it turned out) and we were told we could order drinks at the bar, located on the top deck. We made our way up the stairs to order a drink and take in the sights. There was no drink limit on this dolphin cruise which was a plus, since other cruises we researched limited adults to two alcoholic beverages. When we set sail, we moved to the lower level of the boat to check out the glass bottom. The captain informed us that the water close to the harbor was green and not at all clear, therefore making it difficult to see anything out of the glass until we started to get farther out into the ocean. While the glass bottom is this boat’s selling point, we decided to stay on the main level which ended up being a smart move. About an hour in, we started to see dolphins from a distance, but then a few dolphins slowly started to appear closer to our boat. At one point, there were three dolphins crisscrossing by the bow, keeping pace with the ship. Check out my Instagram – @erineallen – to see some footage of the dolphins I caught!

The two hour long cruise was absolutely worth the ticket price. We paid for a few drinks, learned about the history of Destin from the captain, and saw way more dolphins than we expected. It was fun getting out on a boat, feeling the sea breeze and ocean spray, and watching the dolphins swim and jump out of the ocean. Time flew by and before we knew it the boat had docked. By that point the sun was beginning to set. Every Thursday around 9 p.m. the harbor shoots off fireworks. We decided to try out one of the many food trucks on the harbor, grab a drink, and find a spot to watch the show. The fireworks can be seen on many of Destin’s beaches, so you don’t have to go to the harbor to experience the show, but it is exciting to have a close up view of the fireworks. There are even sunset cruises you can book that will take you out on the ocean to watch the show. The harbor has a little something for everyone, and is a great place to check out at least once during your trip to Destin.

This unplanned vacation gave me the perfect excuse to get out of the house and decompress in a relaxing city. I was in a much better headspace when I returned home versus when we began the 12+ hour journey. My favorite part of the trip by far was the dolphin cruise. Most of my trips to Destin consist of eating out at restaurants and laying on the beach, but it was nice to get out on the ocean and do something different for a change. I’m hoping to try some different restaurants and attempt some new water activities (maybe parasailing?) in the future. If you have been to Destin and have any recommendations regarding restaurants, tours, attractions, or water activities, leave a comment and let me know what I should try next time!

Until the next adventure ✈️