Families are traveling again, and one of the top beach destinations pre-pandemic – garnering some 4.5 million visitors a year – exploded to nearly twice that once restrictions were lifted.
Families looking for a vacation destination that keeps everyone happy and engaged are headed to the Emerald Coast cities of Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Okaloosa County, Florida welcomed an impressive 7.5 million visitors to its beaches in 2021, and Henderson Beach State Park, on the Destin-Fort Walton coastline, was named one of the best family beach vacations this year by TripstoDiscover.com.
Recognizing that “More than 50% of the nation’s children spent less time outside than prison inmates,” Jennifer Adams, Director of Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism, has dedicated significant resources towards helping families get outdoors while on vacation.
This year the county launched its Little Adventures program, which offers free courses to families looking to try something new together. Last season’s classes included paddleboarding, surfing, and fishing lessons at their outpost stations that can be found along the beach. Parents struggling to find things to do for kids of various ages can even live chat with local moms on the Destin Fort-Walton Beach, FL website.
Luxurious Resorts Designed With Kids in Mind
According to a recent study, the biggest challenge for hoteliers is to create an atmosphere that caters to the expectations of families with children of different ages. That doesn’t seem to be an issue in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
With on-site activities for kids and luxurious spa options for parents, The Henderson Beach Resort makes it easy to keep the entire family excited. Kids can enjoy an ice cream cone from Sprinkles, get creative at Poppy’s Kids Club, splash in the pool, float down a lazy river, and play games on the lawn.
The Emerald Grande, which is located on the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, is just steps away from shopping, access to rentals, fishing charters, snorkeling adventures, waterfront restaurants, and even zip lining. And, when your family is ready for a bit of beach time, the Emerald Grande offers a free beach boat shuttle.
Beach-loving families requiring plenty of time in the sun should check out The Island Resort – a beachfront hotel just minutes from Destin in Fort Walton Beach. Relish in the heated Grotto pool with a swim-up bar for adults, take to the beach for sunrises and sandcastles, enjoy live bands, or play trivia and music bingo with the entire tribe.
Endless Options for Time Out on The Water
Destin-Fort Walton Beach is the perfect place for a family beach vacation, with endless miles of beautiful coastline, sunshine, soft white sand, and clear, emerald-green water.
Whether you’re interested in paddleboarding, kayaking, surfing, fishing, snorkeling, sailing, kiteboarding, parasailing, or jet-skiing, there’s something for everyone in the family to get excited about. Equipment rentals are plentiful, and businesses like the Destin Paddle Company make it fun for families to learn a new watersport together.
And, of course, you can’t visit Florida without seeing a pod of beautiful bottlenose dolphins! Smile-n-Wave Adventures offers an excellent trimaran dolphin cruise up and down Choctawhatchee Bay, where the kids can help sail the boat with beloved Captain Pam and her crew.
All The Kids’ Favorites if They’re Just Not That Into Seafood
Destin-Fort Walton Beach is a seafood lover’s paradise, offering fresh gulf shrimp and Mahi fish tacos to adventurous bites like lionfish. With many seafood restaurants being waterfront, you’ll also get gorgeous gulf views with your meal.
Locally-owned restaurants like Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer, Dewey Destin’s, Rockin’ Tacos, and Camille’s at Crystal Beach provide exceptionally appetizing menus served with a side of excellent customer service. Kids’ menus are readily available with all the fan favorites such as mac and cheese, pizza, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, and pasta.
But what if my child has food allergies? While most restaurants offer non-seafood dishes for kids, one restaurant goes the extra mile to ensure kids (and adults) stay healthy. Lulu’s Destin, owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy (LuLu) Buffett, offers six different allergy menus. Those allergic to eggs, shellfish, gluten, soy, dairy, or seafood have their very own menu selection.
Experience Exciting Marine Life Up Close and Personal
Destin-Fort Walton Beach has an exciting marine life habitat for aspiring marine biologists in the family. One activity your family will enjoy is visiting the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. At the Gulfarium, you can meet playful sea lions, feed African penguins, pet stingrays, or even get splashed by a dolphin! They even have a sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation center where you can learn more about what you can do to help save these beloved endangered reptiles.
Amusement Parks Entertain for Hours
While visiting, don’t forget to include a day at one of Destin-Fort Walton Beach’s amusement parks! Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park has a wave pool, waterslides, and a relaxing lazy river if you’re looking for an activity to keep you cool during the hot summer months. But you’ll want to head to Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone or The Track if you’re looking for go-karts, bumper cars, roller coaster rides, and arcades.
A Family Beach Vacation To Remember
Whether you’re strolling along the boardwalk or splashing in the surf with your little ones, you’re unlikely to run out of things to do during your time in Destin-Fort Walton Beach. On top of all that, there’s nothing like coming home with a sun-kissed glow and an endless supply of beautiful memories.
Travel writer Scott McConkey, from Miles With McConkey, has visited Destin-Fort Walton Beach many times with his family over the years. “Some of my most cherished memories are from our family vacations in Destin and Fort Walton. Memories of us all laughing together at Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park, eating s’mores on the beach, and walking down the fishing pier are still a big part of our family conversations.”
Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida, offers a wholesome family beach vacation that the kids will cherish and remember fondly. Excitement, adventure, and, most importantly, relaxation, from scenic beaches and picture-perfect sunsets to fun-filled water parks and kid-friendly attractions.
Alexandrea Sumuel is the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel better.