John and Dawn Foy have been in the vacation rental business for 23 years – 10 years in Destin, Florida alone. After vacationing in Destin for a couple of days, John and Dawn fell in love with what they have heard described as, “a Hawaii in the States,” moved a couple months later and still haven’t left. Now they are the owners of 14 rental properties. The Foy’s were some of Destin’s first property managers to recognize what exactly vacationers look for when choosing the perfect vacation rental. ”The number one requirement is that the house have a private pool, so we added pools to our properties,” said Dawn. ”At first, people thought we were crazy. Now almost everyone is adding pools to their rental properties.”
“They also want King size beds,” Dawn adds, “and views.” And if you’re vacationing in Destin, Florida, how could you not want views once you’ve seen Destin’s almost blindingly white sand in bright contrast against the clear turquoise ocean?
“Members of Destin’s Chamber of Commerce collect little bottles of sand from wherever they visit and Destin’s is the whitest,” explains Dawn. ”It literally squeeks when you walk on it because it is so fine and powdery.” It’s not just local bias that makes the sand seem so white and sparkeling. The sand comes from the Appalachian Mountains, and is made of finely ground quartz crystal, which gives it the appearance of sugar.
But there is much more to Destin than the white sand and teal ocean.
Destin is home to virtually every water sport and activity imaginable. The water is consistently warm with temps reaching 86 degrees in October. Vacationers can go boating, parasailing, jet skiing, or snorkel with some of the local marine life including manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. You don’t even have to take a charter out of the harbor to find a great snorkeling location. Dawn offers this local’s tip: snorkel on the jettys off of Gulf Shore Drive on Holiday Isle, where you can park for free and walk down to the water.
“The snorkeling here is amazing!” Dawn says. ”We tell our vacationers to bring frozen peas or Cheerios to feed the fish. You’ll see fish in all colors – bright yellow, royal blue, and black and white striped ones…they’re everywhere!”
For other activities, there are dozens of golf courses, the Big Kahuna waterpark, the Gulfarium (“A cute mom and pop type aquarium that is popular with kids and families” according to Dawn) or the Harbor Docks in downtown Destin, offering free parking and a variety of specialty shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors – a great place to rent boats and snorkeling equipment.
Destin is also known for its great dining and shopping. On the East end of town there is the Silver Sands Outlet Mall, the largest designer outlet mall in the US, and in Mid-town Destin is the newly built Destin Commons, which is home to a Hard Rock Cafe as well as a 14 screen cinema and other retail shops.
The Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin, a bustling sub-community of Destin, has lots of shops and it is a great place to take the family or head out to for a night on the town. At Christmas they even bring in an ice skating rink and put up lights!
For food, here are Dawn’s picks:
- The Back Porch – known for their fresh seafood and oysters
- The Crab Trap – on Scenic 98, on the beach, has a bar, restaurant (inside and outside dining), play ground on the sand for kids, ice cream bar, regular bar and is part of James Lee Park which has a public bath house, picnic tables and plenty of parking for the public
- Dewey Destin’s (the town was named after his family!) – located on the harbor and serving up large portions of great downhome cooking
- Pompano Joes Restaurant – its right on the beach on Scenic 98, and also has outside as well as inside dining, casual entertainment and a casual beach bar
- Captain Dave’s on the Gulf – has been around for over 30 years and is one of Destin’s favorite waterfront restaurants
- Bonefish Grill – good service, consistently great food, and a nice, quiet ambiance – perfect for a romantic dinner or special occasion
- Donut Hole – a popular locals spot that has been a staple since the towns conception - makes a great keylime pie
- Broken Egg – fresh and nutritional food, over 130 menu items, great for breakfast, brunch or lunch
- Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ – great southern food made from scratch
- Fudpuckers – perfect for the family, kids can feed alligators, play in the arcade, and there is a great souvenir shop with unique local gifts
- Ciao Bellas – they have the best pizza!
- Cafe Grazie’s – real Italian food, great kids menu
Destin’s peak season runs from the end of May through the first part of August but “the luckiest fishing village in the US” as Destin is also known, hosts one of its main annual events in October – the annual “Fishing Rodeo” where the person with the largest catch nets $100,000 in prize money!
What keeps people returning to Destin year after year for a great vacation spot?
Dawn thinks it is the “beauty of the water – it’s turquoise, clear and breathtaking. People can’t believe it when they first pull up to the water.”
“It’s still family oriented,” describes Dawn. ”A quaint town – no crowds or high-rises – and the people are down to earth…good ‘ol boy people.”
Destin has managed to maintain this small-town feel, yet is only 55 miles from the Spring Break-type of vacation one can find in either Pensacola, Florida and Panama City, Florida.
And the sluggish economy hasn’t hit Destin as hard as other popular vacation destinations – perhaps due to its central location on the Froida panhandle, making it easy to get to on not too much gasoline from southern Florida, and the neighboring states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Destin is about to get much more accessible thanks to the addition of an International Airport that is already in the works for Destin, set to be completed by Summer 2010.