I visited Destin in April of 2001. I had been thinking I might want to move to this area, so the goal of this trip was to look around and see what I thought. Unfortunately the drive over from Pensacola was so long and the traffic so bad that by the time I got to Destin, I'd already decided I didn't want to live there. But I was able to enjoy the visit anyway, just by being a tourist... which is obviously what the area is best suited for.
Highway 98 runs right down the center of Destin; on the south (Gulf) side are swarms of beach homes and condominiums crowding into every free inch of beachfront land. Various shops, stores and restaurants line the other side of 98.
I stayed at a beachfront condo called the Coral Reef Club. It's a small, three-story complex, with a convenient location and an affordable price. The condo was wonderfully spacious, with a full sized kitchen, a stackable washer and dryer (which I especially appreciated), and a huge balcony overlooking the beach. The only thing it didn't have that I particularly missed was internet access.
I think if you're going to visit the Florida gulf coast, you really should stay in a place that's directly on the beach. While there are some public-access beaches, these are often crowded and parking can be a problem... plus there's the fact that you'll have to drive to get there. Whereas if you stay in a place that's actually on the beach, all you have to do is stroll outside.
One thing that amazed me, and that I hadn't really been prepared for, was how loud the ocean was. Even with the balcony doors closed, I could hear the endless roar of the waves. It wasn't unpleasant, just a bit disconcerting.
The ocean water here is a beautiful, clear emerald green. It was a bit cold in April, so I didn't actually swim. But most every night I was there, I'd go out at sunset and walk barefoot along the shore, letting the waves wash up over my feet. Very relaxing.
Of course there's more to Destin than the beach. While I was there I did some shopping at the Silver Sands Factory Shops, and at the nearby Market Shops at Sandestin. The Market Shops were pretty neat; the "Zoo Gallery" there had some nice animal-themed art and paintings. And at the nearby kitchen store I found some wonderful dip mixes (and to this day the Jalapeno Vegetable dip I discovered there is still one of my absolute favorites).
I also had to drive down the coast to Seaside and see what all the fuss was about. I had a really lovely photo book about Seaside and always thought it looked so lovely in the photos, and wanted to see it for myself. Though perhaps one needs to actually stay in Seaside to get a true feel for the place. Next time I visit, I think I'll do that.
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