The beaches of Destin and South Walton on Florida’s Emerald Coast make for the perfect family vacation.
School is out, summer’s here and that means there’s no better time to plan for a relaxing trip to Florida’s extravagant Emerald Coast. Destin and the Beaches of South Walton offer the best in soothing sand and surf. And let’s face it, the beautiful white-sand beaches and emerald Gulf Coast waters are the main reasons to go there. But when you need a break from soaking up the rays, the area features several fun family offerings as well. Here are some of the highlights from my recent trip.
Dolphin lovers, take note. Your family will love the Southern Star Dolphin Cruise (850-837-7741; southernstardolphincruise.com; $29 adults, $15.50 ages 4 – 14, free ages 3 and younger). The two-hour excursion aboard a double-decker, glass-bottom boat allows guests to see dozens of playful dolphins in their natural habitat. The knowledgeable captain loads folks up with lots of facts and gives all kids on board the opportunity to take a turn steering the vessel, which makes a great photo opportunity for Mom and Dad.
Kids love water parks, so be sure to schedule a day at Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park (850-837-8319; bigkahunas.com; $37.99 adults, $29.99 kids). The park features more than 40 wet and wild attractions, from a variety of slides and pools to non-water fare like miniature golf; thrill-seeking kids can take to the air on the Skycoaster and Cyclone.
Nearby, check out The Track (850-654-4668; destintrack.com; prices vary by attraction). The star of this awesome adventure park is the Wild Woody, a three-tiered go-kart/roller coaster hybrid. The Track also features an indoor arcade, bumper boats and a 75-foot bungee-jumping tower for the most daring in your clan. The littlest ones in your family will enjoy the Kids Country area featuring kiddie karts, a Ferris wheel, train, swings and more.
Experience animal encounters galore at the amazing Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park (850-243-9046; gulfarium.com; $19.995 adults, $11.95 ages 3 -12; additional fees apply for feeding encounters). See a variety of aquatic wildlife like bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, penguins, turtles and more. Make advance reservations to experience up-close-and-personal encounters where families can feed African penguins, as well as touch and feed stingrays and harbor seals. All ages can stop by the fishing hole with a bamboo cane pole and test their angling skills while learning about resident fish. The Gulfarium also hosts a few different dolphin encounters.
In case you experience a rainy day, head over to the Emerald Coast Science Center (850-664-1261; ecscience.org; $5.75 adults, $3.75 children) where kids can enjoy hands-on fun discovering how the five senses work, explore several animal exhibits, fly and land a model airplane in a wind tunnel, learn about color and light, and beyond.
Where to Stay
Newman-Dailey Resort Properties has many options to choose from in Destin (800-225-7652; destinvacation.com) as well as along the Beaches of South Walton (800-225-7652; southwaltonvacation.com). I stayed in a lush condo at the Mediterranea property on Miramar Beach, and it was the perfect, comfortable home away from home while enjoying time at the beach. The condos here have everything you need from a kitchen stocked will all necessary cooking tools and dishes to comfortable beds, books, board games and private balconies boasting breathtaking views of the Gulf.
Swing by the Destin Ice House Seafood Market to pick up a fresh catch for dinner at your condo, and you’ll definitely want to pop into Pompano Joe’s right on the beach across from Mediterranea. It’s a little pricey, but well worth it. The garlic-crusted grouper with lobster is divine!
Chad Young is managing editor for this publication.