Last Updated on March 31, 2024

In this post, we’ll look at over 35 free and cheap things to do in Destin, Florida, and nearby!  We’ll cover the best attractions including all the amazing beaches!

There are amazing spots like Miramar Beach, and Crab Island, and a number of free things to do in Destin, such as Harborwalk Village and Destin Commons.

Sitting between Pensacola Beach and Panama City Beach, Destin, Florida is known for its clear, emerald waters and has several soft, white-sand beaches.

Fishing, swimming, boating, shopping, and dining at the best waterfront restaurants are just a few things to do here.  There are plenty of activities for the kids, too!

Santa Rosa Beach, Grayton Beach, and Seaside are small beach towns near Destin and are so much fun to visit while in the area.

We’ll start by listing the best beaches in Destin, Florida, and then cover attractions, restaurants, and things to do in the area. 

Finally, we’ll look at awesome places to stay!




35 Free And Cheap Things To Do In Destin, Florida (And Nearby)!



Here are the 35 free and cheap things to do in Destin, Florida, including some other activities to do in the area, as well!



Beaches In Destin & Nearby

1. Henderson Beach State Park

Destin has all the top things to do on a family vacation!  The city has amazing soft, white-sand public beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast!
Henderson Beach is a state park complete with campgrounds, trails, and picnic areas- it’s also one of the best beaches in Destin, Florida, if not the best.
The park is known for its large, snow-white sand dunes, and is popular for hiking, bicycling, camping, and fishing.  The hiking path is about 3/4 of a mile long.

Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, Florida is known for it's amenities and the snow-white sand dunes that make this one of the prettiest beaches
There is a lot of parking here and several pavilions that are available for rent.  There is a kids’ playground and also grills, restrooms, and showers.
They are open from 8 am- sundown, every day.  They charge a fee of $4 if it’s one person in the vehicle or $6 per vehicle.
You will love this Destin beach and as you can see, it’s a great place to see a Florida sunset!
Henderson Beach State Park in Destin is one of the best beaches to go to see a Florida sunset

2. James Lee Park

Located along beautiful Old Scenic Highway 98, James Lee Park is one of the most iconic beaches along the Gulf Coast.
One of the best free things to do in Destin, Florida, this beach has a big parking lot, picnic tables, pavilions, and restrooms.
It’s also a popular location to see a Gulf sunset and for weddings; there was even a wedding when I was here!
Many people talk about Crystal Sands Beach to the west of James Lee Park, but honestly, the parking is probably easier as you head east on Scenic Highway 98, and the scenery is just as nice if not better!

James Lee Park is one of the most popular beaches in Destin, Florida with amazing sunsets
If you’re hungry while here, you’re in luck because the beach is right next to The Crab Trap, a seafood restaurant right on the ocean.
James Lee Park

3500 Scenic Highway 98, Destin, FL 32541

3. Norriego Point

Norriego Point is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, directly across from Destin Harbor Boardwalk, and is known for snorkeling.
This is a serene, quiet beach with beautiful views of both Harborwalk Village and Destin’s East Pass, out to the Gulf of Mexico.
The beach splits off in two, with the protected sand dunes in the middle.  (You can’t walk on or across any of the sand dunes).
To the right, it takes you along the stretch of beach across from Harborwalk Village.
If you walk straight ahead you’ll come to the East Pass.  The beach then wraps around to the right with areas for swimming and great views of the Destin bridge, and even Crab Island.

Norriego Point in Destin, Florida has incredible views of the Destin Harbor and Crab Island, and is one of most serene beaches around
The recommended swimming areas do not go out very far since the currents can get dangerous if you go out too far.
Norriego Point, with its stunning views and peaceful energy, reminds me a lot of Bean Point in Anna Maria Island.
It’s a perfect place to escape the bigger crowds of many of the other Destin beaches!
You do have to pay for parking here and for a few of the parking spots along Old Scenic Highway 98.  You can just download the Passport App and parking is $5 for 5 hours.
Norriego Point

Gulf Shore Drive (Holiday Isle), Destin, FL 32541

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

4. Crab Island

If you’re looking for an activity to do with the whole family or a group of friends while in Destin, this is it!
Crab Island is amazing with its crystal clear, emerald green water.
It’s close to Destin Harbor and one of the best things to do in Destin, Florida!
Crab Island is a popular sandbar hangout and a floating city with water slides, food boats, and drink stands.
You can also rent paddleboards and other toys, here.
While they sell plenty of fruity drinks out on the island, the stores out at Crab Island don’t sell alcohol.
You can bring your own alcohol with you, though.  We were able to bring some with us on our boat guided boat tour that we did.

How To Get To Crab Island?



The best ways to get to Crab Island are by jet-ski, kayak, paddleboard, or boat.  (Take necessary safety precautions when near Crab Island because the currents can be dangerous in certain spots.)
My family and I booked a pontoon ride with Crab Island Cruises.  They took us around the harbor and showed us the area.  However, there are plenty of other local companies that are good.
We went through the East Pass (at the Hwy. 98 bridge) and to a beach area across from Norriego Point, as part of our boat cruise.
Our group got off the boat and checked out the stunning beach, before heading to the sandbar.
We even saw some dolphins on the trip.  I highly recommend a guided boat charter with a captain since they know the area waters well and will ensure you have a safe and entertaining trip.
They also bring many of the toys with for your day out on Crab Island so it eliminates that hassle. 

5. Gulf Islands National Seashore- Okaloosa Island

Okaloosa Island has many fun attractions to visit while you’re in the Panhandle area.
Gulf Islands National Seashore is also fairly close to Destin Harbor and Crab Island.
This beach is operated by the National Park Service and is in different parts of Florida and also Mississippi.
The National Seashore has parking, restrooms, a picnic area, and a boat launch for kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.
As their website mentions, they do not recommend launching trailers at the boat launch.
Hours of the beach are 8 am- sunset.
See their website to keep up to date on fees and other information.
Gulf Islands National Seashore

1 Gulf National Sea Shore Drive, Okaloosa Island, FL 32548

6. John Beasley Park- Fort Walton Beach

A place with a lot of history, this public beach near Destin opened in 1960 and originally opened as a spot for blacks to go since they were being segregated from other local beaches.
Beasley Park is a nice beach retreat with picnic areas, shaded pavilions, and boardwalks that take you right down to the beach.

Beasley Park near Destin is a nice park area and has a boardwalk that takes you right down to the beach
Beasley Park is across the highway from Gulf Island National Seashore and sits just east of The Okaloosa Island Boardwalk and you can see the pier from here.
This beach is one of the best, free things to do in Destin, Florida, and is about 10 minutes away.
As is the case with many of the beaches in the area, Beasley Park is a good choice for weddings and events!
Beasley Park

2550 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548


7. The Boardwalk On Okaloosa Island Beach And Pier

A little further into Fort Walton Beach than Beasley Park and National Seashore is one of my favorite public beaches near Destin, Florida- The Boardwalk Beach and Pier on Okaloosa Island!
As mentioned, Fort Walton Beach is about 10 minutes from Destin.
This place has everything for a day of fun, from the nice beach to the pier, to shopping and restaurants!
The Boardwalk hosts family-friendly events (like Pirate Shows!) throughout the summers.
The public beach is free and there is a playground, sand volleyball, water sprinklers, and restrooms nearby.

The Okaloosa Pier is a great place to walk, go fishing, and enjoy the views

 Enjoying the view from The Okaloosa Pier

It’s $2 to walk the pier.  The pier has a store with fishing supplies, soft drinks, and candy.  Fishing off the pier is $7 and $5 for kids, 12 and under.
Popular fish to catch here include Red Drum, Black Drum, Spotted Seatrout, Amberjack, and even Atlantic Sharpnose Shark!
From Memorial Day weekend until August, they have fireworks at the pier every Wednesday night.  My family and I stayed for a quick fireworks show while we were here.
Enjoy one of the best attractions in Destin, Florida at the Boardwalk of Okaloosa Island!
The Boardwalk Miracle Strip Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548

Looking for an activity in Fort Walton to do with family or friends?! 

Try a Snorkeling and Dolphin Tour where you can see these creatures in their natural environment. 




8. Miramar Beach

Great beaches, boating, fishing, and parasailing are just a few of the fun things that Destin and Miramar Beach, Florida have to offer.  Here, you can do it all!
It was a perfect place to spend our day on the 4th of July!
My sister and her family rented a townhouse just a couple of blocks away from Miramar Beach so we spent quite a bit of time here on this trip.
We went to the main public beach, next to Pompano Joes.  The beach is on Scenic Highway 98, which takes you along the coast.  (This road is great to take a cruise on!)
This is one of the nicest public beaches in the Destin area, with its sparkling, white sand and incredible Gulf views.  It’s a must-visit while you’re on the Emerald Coast.
The beach sells passes for parasailing and has other fun water activities here, including Banana Boat Rides.
There’s also a big, free parking lot for the beach and Pompano Joes.  It does fill up fast during the peak months so come early for a spot!
Miramar Beach is about a 10-15 minute drive from Destin.
2237 Scenic Gulf Drive, Miramar Beach, FL 32550




9. Santa Rosa Beach

Santa Rosa Beach is one of the highlights of South Walton Florida and runs along Scenic 30A Highway.
Other cities/beaches that are right along this Gulf Coast road and are listed in this post include Grayton Beach and Seaside.  Not listed are Dune Allen Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Watercolor, and Seagrove.
These beaches are nice because they seem a little quieter and the cities give you more of a small-town feel than Destin, but they still have a lot of activities to offer!
Santa Rosa Beach is located 30 minutes east of Destin, halfway between Destin and Panama City Beach.
This particular public beach is Ed Walline Beach Access and is right across the street from several restaurants, shops, and colorful art displays.
Ed Walline Beach has free parking, picnic areas, restrooms, and seasonal lifeguards.
Also, watch the people playing in the water or try to spot a dolphin from the second-level viewing platform that overlooks the beach!
Visit Santa Rosa Beach today!
Ed Walline Beach Access #39
4447 W County Hwy 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

10. Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach is about 40 minutes from Destin, Florida, but these area beaches make it worth the trip!
The South Walton area has some of the most beautiful beaches in America and Grayton Beach is no exception.
It’s an artsy, authentic beach town that offers fun things to do around Destin.  Grayton Beach also has great places to stay year-round with lots of charm and character you won’t find anywhere else in Florida!
This public beach is nice and wide and offers soft, white sand, and clear blue Gulf waters.

Grayton Beach is a nice, white sandy beach with lots of room
While here, you’re also close to Grayton Beach State Park with camping, cabins, hiking/biking trails, bird and animal watching, boating, fishing, and a mile of beach!
Grayton Beach is an awesome place to visit while in Destin!
Hotz Avenue, Grayton Beach, FL, 32459

11. Van Ness Butler Jr Beach- Seaside

This is one of my new favorite beaches, not just near Destin, Florida, but anywhere!
Its picturesque views, beach houses, and old beach town feel make this place a memorable experience.

Seaside has some incredible Gulf views at the beach
Van Ness Butler Beach is right at the edge of Watercolor and Seaside.
There is a free parking lot located at 20 Western Lake Drive, which is close to the beach and not far from activities in both Seaside and Watercolor!  There are restrooms here, too.
The beach has bike racks, and lifeguards during peak season, and is free!
Seaside beaches are some of the most fun places to go!  Seaside is about a 40-minute drive from Destin.
If the area looks familiar to you, it could be because the movie, The Truman Show was filmed here!
Van Ness Butler Jr. Beach Access has some spectacular Gulf views
Van Ness Butler Jr.- Regional Beach Access- 30
1931 E County Hwy 30A, Watercolor/Seaside, FL 32459


Looking for a beach activity to do with the kids?

Try Sandcastle Lessons! 

Whether it’s just one person or a large group, their coaches will come to the beach you’re at and give you 2-hour lessons.

With their tips and techniques, you’ll be building art in the sand in no time!




12. Russell-Fields Pier/Beach- Panama City Beach

Just an hour away from Destin, my family and I enjoyed some sun at the Panama City Beach Pier and Beach.  There is a dog-friendly public beach right across the street from Pier Park.
Pets are also welcome at Pier Park, as long as they are in the outdoor areas and on a leash.
The pier and beach area was a nice place to go and hang out after seeing everything at Pier Park.  The dog-friendly beach is just west of the City Pier.

Looking back into the city and Pier Park from the Panama City Beach Pier
There is no admission for the beach and we were able to park for free in the shopping area parking lot and walk over.  There is also parking next to the beach.
The pier is one of the biggest around at 1,500 feet!  It’s $4 to walk the pier and $7 if you want to go fishing.
Panama City Beach/Russell-Fields Pier

16201 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, FL 32413


Full List Of Public Beaches In Destin, Florida (And Nearby)


In Destin

Henderson Beach State Park

James Lee Park

Norriego Point

Crab Island (sandbar, only accessible by boat)

June White Decker Park


In Okaloosa Island (Fort Walton Beach)- 10 minutes from Destin 

Gulf Islands National Seashore

John Beasley Park

The Boardwalk On Okaloosa Island Beach & Pier

Ross Marler Park


In Miramar Beach- 15 minutes from Destin

Miramar Beach Regional Access


In Santa Rosa Beach- 30-45 minutes from Destin

Ed Walline Beach Access

Topsail Hill State Park

Dune Allen Beach

Blue Mountain Beach

Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach State Park

Van Ness Butler Beach

Seagrove Beach


In Panama City Beach- 1 hour from Destin

Russell-Fields Pier/Beach

MB Miller County Pier

St. Andrews Park 



Free And Cheap Attractions & Things To Do In Destin, Florida!

13. See The Attractions At Harborwalk Village

We all know that Destin, Florida has some of the best beaches but did you know that it also has great shopping and activities?!
Harbor Walk Village is a bustling waterfront attraction in Destin, Florida, with nice shops, fishing charters, boat rides, rentals, concerts, and more.
It also has its share of activities for the whole family.  Mini-golf, a mirror maze, a rock climbing wall, an escape room, axe throwing, caricatures, zip line, free fall, and a 7D virtual experience!

Harborwalk Village is a great place to go in Destin for attractions, restaurants, and activities for the entire family!
The Village has restaurants including, Margaritaville and Coyote Ugly, and popular seafood places such as AJ’s and Harry T’s.
Some of the shops and stores include The Fudgery (ice cream and fudge shop), Moonshine BBQ Products, Naples Soap Company, Kitty Hawk Kites, and plenty more.  There are also several clothing/gift shops.
Harborwalk Village is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Destin, Florida, and best of all, it’s free to walk around.
The website states that parking is $10 but I didn’t have to pay when I came here in September.  If you park in the condominium parking lot and are not a guest, you can expect to pay.
Harbor Walk Village

34 Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541


14. Go On A Deep Sea Fishing Charter

As Destin is known for the best things to do in the Florida Panhandle, it’s also known as the “World’s luckiest fishing village” so getting on a fishing boat is one of the most popular things to do here!
The peak season for fishing in Destin is from late May to November.  Choctawhatchee Bay in Destin is a great place for fishing, even in the winter months.
Amberjack, grouper, mackerel, sheepshead, tarpon, cobia, tuna, blue marlin, and shark are all common catches in Destin!
There are so many fishing charter companies in the area to choose from, but I recommend this one that includes fishing and a dolphin tour.



15. Get Out On The Water!  Jet Ski, Kayak, Parasailing, Misc. Rentals

As you can imagine, water sports and activities are very popular in Destin!
From Destin Harbor to Crab Island to Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf, there are so many good spots in Destin to take out paddleboards, kayaks, or jet skis for a day of fun!
Crab Island typically has floating stores where you can rent water toys and Harborwalk Village has lots of these rentals, too.

Looking For More Fun Things To Do In Destin?


Check Out This Post On The Best Destin Dolphin & Sunset Cruises!




16. Visit Destin Commons

If you’re looking for more shops and restaurants in the Florida Panhandle, Destin Commons is another place worth checking out on the other side of the city.
There are several clothing and athletic stores, and a movie theater.
Destin Commons also has a World of Beer where you can sip on beers from all around the world.
Get some chocolate and fudge at Kilwins or grab a Category 5 milkshake next door at Gulf Coast Burgers!
Trying to eat a little healthier while on vacation?  Check out Formula Fresh where you can get green juices, smoothies, and acai bowls!

Formula Fresh is located at Destin Commons and offers juices, smoothies, and bowls

Destin Commons is a perfect activity for the whole family and it’s free to walk around.
Destin Commons

4100 Legendary Drive, Destin, FL 32541

Looking For More Shopping Near Destin?


Silver Sands Premium Outlets is an outlet mall in Miramar Beach with several name brand stores and restaurants.




17. Dine At The Restaurants

Destin has excellent waterfront dining options and there are many other great restaurants throughout the city worth trying!
As mentioned, Harborwalk Village is a nice area to visit for restaurants on the water!  Pictured above is East Pass Oyster House in Destin.
Dewey Destin’s is popular in the area and has 2 locations in Destin.  They are known for their large seafood and fish selection.
If you’re looking for a barbecue joint, Moe’s Original BBQ has some of the best-smoked meat, pulled pork, ribs, and seafood.  Moe’s even does catering and deliveries.

Moe's has the best barbecue and pulled pork in Destin!
Pepito’s has great Mexican food and plenty of Margarita options.  You can get the Big S Burrito here, a huge chicken or steak burrito with a pound of meat!
For a full list of the best restaurants in Destin, go here!


18. Play Arcade Games At Fat Daddy’s

Located right next door to Fudpucker’s and Gator Beach, Fat Daddy’s in Destin is a perfect spot for a rainy day activity with the kids or to escape the Florida sun for a bit.
They have more than 120 arcade games and several different packages you can buy.
Fat Daddy’s is one of the best indoor and family-friendly activities in Destin!
20009 Emerald Coast Parkway, Destin, FL 32541


19. Get A Drink At McGuire’s Irish Pub

After getting your fill of the best beaches and activities in Destin, Florida, be sure to get a drink or food at McGuire’s!
It’s right by the Harbor and is a well-known Irish Pub and steakhouse.
McGuire’s claims to have one of the biggest restaurant wine cellars in the world.
Come for a glass of wine or one of their brewed beers, like McGuire’s Irish Red Ale, and listen to some traditional Irish music!

Checking out all the dollar bills on the walls and ceiling at Vinny McGuire's bar in Destin!
You can also come get a pizza and beer at Vinny McGuire’s, and see the collection of dollar bills on the walls and ceiling!
For the best live music and entertainment in Destin, visit McGuire’s Irish Pub!
McGuire’s Irish Pub

33 US Highway 98 East, Destin, FL 32541

20. Make A Splash At Big Kahuna’s Water Park

Cool off from the Florida heat with a day of water activities at Big Kahuna’s!
One of the most well known attractions in Destin, Florida, Big Kahuna’s has a wave pool, lazy river, slides, and other water attractions for you to enjoy.
They also have amusement park attractions with mini-golf and thrill rides, like the Cyclone Twister, which is 140 feet in the air and spins you around at 50 miles per hour!
Big Kahuna’s is another top-notch place for family-friendly fun and entertainment in Destin!
Big Kahuna’s Water Park

1007 US Highway 98 East, Destin, Florida, 32541

21. See Alligators At Gator Beach

Come see the gators at Gator Beach!  Gator Beach is located outdoors at Fudpucker’s restaurant in Destin, and next door to Fat Daddy’s Arcade.
It’s free to come up and walk around, and you don’t have to be a Fudrucker’s customer to check out the gators!
Gator Beach opens at 11 am and they have daily Alligator shows at 12, 2, 4, and 6 pm.
They also have paid VIP passes that you can get to get a little closer to the alligators.  With the VIP pass, you can get a picture with a gator, feed one, and learn more about them.
VIP passes range from $75-99.
See why they say this is one of the most exciting things to do in Destin, Florida.
Gator Beach at Fudpucker’s

20001 Emerald Coast Parkway, Destin, FL 32541


Here Are A Few More Fun Things

To Do In Destin, Florida!


Destin History and Fishing Museum

Maximum Magic Show

Comedy Hypnosis Show

Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill



As you can see, there are many amazing free and cheap things to do in Destin, Florida!
I also recommend checking out the nearby cities of the Panhandle when you’re in the area.
These include Miramar Beach, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City Beach, which are all fairly close and offer a great range of beaches and attractions.

Best Things To Do Near Destin-


Miramar Beach



23. Eat At Pompano Joe’s And The Scenic Highway 98 Restaurants

Scenic Highway 98 has amazing waterfront restaurants from Destin to Miramar Beach!
If you get hungry while at Miramar Beach, you can grab a bite to eat at Pompano Joe’s, which is located right on the main public beach.
Pompano Joe’s is known for its Gulf seafood and has even been on the travel channel.
They claim to have the best Seafood Gumbo on the coast!
There is another Pompano Joe’s location in Pier Park Panama City Beach.
Come to Pompano Joe’s for good food and amazing views; it’s one of the best things to do in Miramar Beach!

Pompano Joe's has good food and amazing views!
Other restaurants along Scenic Highway 98 include The Crab Trap and Capt. Dave’s (Destin), Whale’s Tail, Surf Hut, and Kenny D’s (Miramar Beach).
Whale’s Tail is personally one of my favorite restaurants to eat at.  You can also have breakfast on their deck, from 7-10:30 am.
For more of the best restaurants in Miramar Beach, go here!
Pompano Joe’s- 2237 Scenic Gulf Drive, Miramar Beach, FL 32550


24. Explore The Village Of Baytowne Wharf

The Village of Baytowne Wharf is an entertainment and shopping destination just minutes from Destin.
There are lots of things for you and your family to do at this waterfront attraction in Miramar Beach including; shops, restaurants, galleries and more!
Kids’ attractions include Adventure Land Playground, a zipline, carousel, arcade and laser maze, ropes courses, tower climb, and more!
But Baytowne Wharf isn’t just for kids; there are concerts, shopping, restaurants, beer festivals, and bars for adults to enjoy!
Restaurants and bars here include Rum Runners, Marlin Grill, Hartell’s, Fat Tuesday,  Slick Lips, Seaside Sweeteries, Roberto’s Pizzeria, Village Door, Hammerheads, Crazy Lobster, and Drunken Goat Saloon.
Its beautiful waterfront location on Choctawhatchee Bay makes it one of the most popular places to visit in Miramar Beach.

The Village of Baytowne Wharf is along Choctawhatchee Bay in Miramar Beach
The Village of Baytowne Wharf

9300 Baytowne Wharf Blvd, Miramar Beach, FL 32550

26. Tee Off At The Golf Garden

The Emerald Coast of Florida is a natural paradise and therefore a fantastic area to spend time outdoors and have some fun golfing!
Whether it’s playing the executive course with friends or colleagues, or just playing the putting course with the family, The Golf Garden has you covered.  There’s also a driving range to work on your swing.
With their beautiful 18 hole executive length golf course, practice greens, and driving range, they can serve everyone from beginners to experienced players who want to improve their skills.
Play on the professionally designed par 3 holes, as well as short game areas like chipping greens, sand traps, and bunkers.
The courses at Golf Garden of Destin are lit up so that you can play at night during the summer months!
The Golf Garden is one of the most fun outdoor things to do in Destin, Florida!
12958 US. Highway 98 West, Miramar Beach, FL 32550


Fort Walton Beach


28. Shop And Dine At The Boardwalk

After a day of relaxing at the Destin, Florida beaches, grab some food inside or on the oceanside deck at one of the waterfront restaurants!  My family ate at Rockin’ Tacos.  I recommend their Gator Tacos!
Other restaurants here include Angler’s Beachside Grill, Floyd’s Shrimp House, The Crab Trap, and Al’s Beach Club Burger Bar.
Come to Angler’s for a beachside breakfast on Saturdays and brunch with unlimited mimosas on Sunday!  They also have daily Happy Hour specials.
The Boardwalk also has a few gift shops/clothing stores and a coffee shop with pizza and ice cream!
See why The Boardwalk is one of the top attractions near Destin.
Go here for the Top 10 Things To Do At The Boardwalk!

The Boardwalk Miracle Strip Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548

29. Watch Dolphins And Sea Life At Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

The Gulfarium is located right next to the Okaloosa Pier.  It’s an aquarium like no other.
You can see dolphins and other marine life swimming right next to you.  They also have Siamese crocodiles!
The Gulfarium offers several different animal encounter packages where you can get up and close to the dolphins, stingrays, seals, reptiles, penguins, sea lions, alligators, and turtles.  See their website for costs.
Their team works every day to make sure visitors have the best time possible when they come through the doors.
If you’re looking for a break from the beaches and a fun, family-friendly attraction in Destin, Florida, be sure to check out what’s going on at Gulfarium!

1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548


30. Play Mini Golf And More At Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone

If you’re looking for a little more excitement for the kids, Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone is just across the highway from The Boardwalk.
They have go-karts, laser tag, restaurants, and more.  We played mini-golf and arcade games, and everyone loved it.
Don’t forget to grab some frozen yogurt at Yogo Mogo’s while here.  It’s right next to Wild Willy’s.
Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone

1306 Miracle Strip Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548

 Santa Rosa Beach


31. Visit Northwest Florida’s State Parks!  Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

I already mentioned Henderson Beach State Park and Gulf Islands National Seashore when covering the public beaches near Destin, but there are so many state parks in Northwest Florida!
I visited Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach and loved it.   This state park is just a half-hour east of Destin, towards Panama City Beach.
If you like hiking and biking, this park is for you!   It is almost 1700 acres and has plenty of trails, more than 15 miles worth!
And if you just want to go to the beach, while here, you can do that, too.
The beach is really nice and it’s also a great place for canoeing and kayaking.  There are restrooms right down by the beach area.
They have all sorts of rentals here; kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, bikes, beach carts, and more.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is one of the best beaches near Destin, Florida in Santa Rosa Beach and is away from the traffic of the bigger cities

The beach is about a mile from the entrance and you can take the tram if you don’t feel like walking!
The path to the beach (and Campbell Lake Bike Path) is paved which makes it convenient for walking and biking.
There are 3 tram stations in the park that will pick up about every half-hour.  The rides are free.
Many people come here to camp, as they have tent camping, RV campsites, bungalows, and cabins.   See online for costs and details.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

7525 West County Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549

Hours- 8 am until sunset every day

Fees- $4 per single-occupant vehicle, $6 per vehicle

Other State Parks Nearby Include:

Grayton Beach State Park

Point Washington State Forest

32. See The Artists At Gulf Place

While at Santa Rosa Beach, be sure to drop by The Artists of Gulf Place across the street, which is a selection of art galleries from local artists.
These shops have sculptures, photography, jewelry, painted vintage windows, more.
The Artists At Gulf Place is surrounded by a coffee shop, restaurants, and boutiques.  It’s definitely a cool area with colorful buildings; a must-see attraction when visiting Destin!

Gulf Place is a colorful area with restaurants, shops, art galleries, and the beach!

Grayton Beach


33. Check Out The Grayton Beach Restaurants

Just a block or so from the beach are some nice restaurants to visit in Grayton Beach.
Red Bar is known as a funky restaurant and bar, popular with both locals and tourists.  It’s a great place to go for live music in the area.
A fire destroyed this place in 2019 but they have already rebuilt and have been back up and running since 2020!
I visited Chiringo for lunch, which is just across the street and serves salads and bowls, tacos, burgers, and seafood such as oysters and shrimp.
I got the lobster roll while here.  While a little on the pricey side at $25, it was a good sandwich.  Plus, the restaurant is in a great location, just steps from Grayton Beach.

Try the lobster roll sandwich and other beach food at Chiringo Restaurant
If you’re looking for more fresh seafood close by, AJ’s (also in Destin) is just a few blocks away!

63 Hotz Avenue, Grayton Beach, FL 32459




34. Walk The Seaside Town Square And Grab Some Food

Seaside is the perfect name for this beachfront resort community near Destin on Florida’s Gulf Coast!
With a population of just over 1,200 people, it’s a slow-paced waterfront town, that seems far removed from the hustle and bustle of nearby Florida cities.
Whether it’s relaxing at the town square watching the kids play in the grassy area or hanging out at the beach across the street, this community definitely gives off some relaxed, easy vibes.

Seaside is a slow-paced beach town about 35 minutes to Destin
This city has a cool town square area with airstream trailers lined up on the street that serve as food trucks.
Across the street are more of the food trailers and a few restaurants too, with the beach in the background.
Some of the food served here includes tacos, pizza, shrimp, burgers, gyros, and hot dogs.
Visit here and you’ll see why it’s one of the best things to do in the Destin area.
E County Highway 30A, Seaside, FL 32459
Go here for The Best Things To Do In Seaside!


Panama City Beach


35. Visit Pier Park For Entertainment, Shopping, And Dining

We spent a day of our trip in Panama City Beach.  PCB as it’s called is arguably the most well-known city in the Florida Panhandle and there are many fun things to do here.
It’s an hour away from Destin but definitely worth the drive with all the fun activities!
Our group went to Pier Park, an outdoor shopping area with lots of restaurants and entertainment.
It’s free to walk around here and parking is free too.
The park has plenty of large-chain retail stores, gift shops, and candy stores.
Pier Park has a large Ferris wheel called the SkyWheel.  We did the Mirror Maze here and the entire family had a good time.

Pier Park Restaurants


Restaurants at Pier Park include large chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, Margaritaville, Five Guys, and Dave and Busters.
They also have places that are more unique to the area such as Great White Pizza, Hook’d Pier Bar & Grill, The Back Porch Seafood & Oyster House, along with many other restaurants to choose from.
The Brass Top is a popular bar at the park.
Pier Park

600 Pier Park Drive, Panama City Beach, FL 32413


Hyatt Place near Destin was a good experience and a recommended place to stay at in the area
On my first trip here, my group stayed in a condo at the Palms of Destin Resort.
These condos have a full kitchen and balcony.  The resort has a fitness center, coffee shop, large outdoor pool, restaurant, and bar.
Also, we were able to see an awesome 4th of July fireworks show from our balcony!
The only thing I didn’t like about the hotel was the parking since you have to park in a parking ramp.
Other than that, the place is great.
From the Palms of Destin, you’re just a couple minutes’ walk from local attractions, such as Big Kahuna’s and The Track (family race track).
2 of the best public beaches in Destin, Florida- June White Decker Beach and Henderson Beach State Park are both just a short drive away.
For restaurants, the Palms is right by Wingstop, Hooters, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Merlin Pizza, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and The Back Porch.
There’s also a Walmart just a block away for your shopping and grocery needs.
My sister and her family stayed in Miramar Beach, just a couple of blocks from the public beach and Pompano Joes Restaurant.
There are nice condos and resorts in this area too.
On my most recent trip, I stayed at Hyatt Place in Miramar Beach.  It’s a little further from the beach (Miramar Public Beach), about a 10-minute drive, but still a nice place.
It has an outdoor pool, free parking and they do a free buffet breakfast, too.
The Hyatt is just a few minutes to The Village at Baytowne Wharf.  It’s a great place to stay to do all the best things in Miramar Beach and is about a 15-minute drive to Harborwalk Village and Crab Island in Destin.


For More Hotels & Resorts In Destin, Check Out This Post!



√ Artists At Gulf Place

√ Boardwalk At Okaloosa Island

√ Destin Commons

√ Gator Beach

√ Harborwalk Village

√ Pier Park 

√ Town Square Seaside 

√ Village Of Baytowne Wharf 



What Is The Best Public Beach To Visit In Destin, Florida? 


√Henderson Beach State Park

Where Is The Clearest Water In Destin?


√Crab Island/Choctawhatchee Bay 

What Are The Best Months To Go To Destin?


√ April, May, September- Avoid the summer prices and heat


Destin, Florida has some of the best beaches to visit with the whole family!

Conclusion: 35 Free And Cheap Things To Do In Destin, Florida (& Nearby)!

Destin, Florida is an awesome city with the best beaches and there are so many fun attractions and free things to do!  I’ve been here a couple of times now and I really love the area.  It truly is one of the best places to visit!
Also, check out Panama City Beach and the cities in between!  There are so many great activities to do here, including Pier Park.
If you’re looking for the best beach resorts and more things to do in Panama City Beach go here!

Booking a last-minute trip to Destin?  

If so, we have you covered.  Here are some top recommended tours and experiences!

Top Tours in Destin

Crab Island Sandbar Adventure (Crab Island has been my favorite experience in Destin!)

Crab Island 12 Passenger Pontoon Boat Rentals (Half or full-day rentals)

Sunset Dolphin Watching Cruise (one of the most beautiful cities to catch a sunset)

Tikis Harbor Lights Cruise (Fantastic Destin Harbor Nighttime Cruise)

Dolphin-Watching Speedboat Ride  (Dolphin Watching Off The Coast of Gulf Mexico)

Top Hotels In Destin

Hotel Effie Sandestin (Top Rated Hotel With Lots Of Activity Options)

The Grand Sandestin – (Best Rated Hotel In Destin)

Hyatt Place Sandestin – (Hotel Near Miramar Beach Destin)

Holiday Inn Express Destin E – (Highly Rated Budget To Mid Range Hotel)

 Looking To Get Around In Destin

Check out rental car rates here! 🚗

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  1. Capri Mungeam

    Oh No! You missed SandCastle Lessons in this article. SandCastle Lessons w/ are available from Okaloosa Island through Destin And Miramar Beach, all along the 16 coastal communities of South Walton (30A), and into Panama City Beach.

    • waynekask

      I will get this added to the post, thanks for reaching out!


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