72 Hours in Destin, Florida
Coined as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”, Destin, Florida, is known for its white sand beaches and easy access to deep sea fishing. But locals think of it as a once small fishing village that morphed into a tourist hot spot over the course of the last few decades.
If you’re anything like us, there’s no better way to experience a new destination than to do as the locals do. Well, we can tell you, most locals don’t spend three back-to-back days alternating between slamming cold ones on the beach and napping through sunburns. As Destin locals, we can assure you: we get out and enjoy all the elements, primarily via SUP board, no matter the time of year.
Here’s our favorite itinerary for a long weekend in Destin, Florida.
Paddle Out Into The Gulf of Mexico
Every local has their personal favorite paddle board spots, but they can all agree a must do is launching your stand up paddle board right off the beach into the Gulf of Mexico and heading for the second sandbar.
“Primarily, I recommend going out to the Gulf of Mexico, out to the second sandbar because you can paddle in super crystal clear water and see all sorts of marine life. Sea turtles, dolphins, tarpon, sharks. You never know what you’re gonna see. It’s a big world out there,” says Chris Blumenthal, BOTE’s Destin Showroom Manager.
For a More Mild Paddle...
Paddle boarding around the coastline is adaptable to you, which is why it’s so awesome. And depending on the type of paddle you’re looking for, you’ll want to check the current flags set up along the beach so you know what you’re in for. Calm conditions set you up for a nice easy paddle exploring sea life and maybe having a couple of drinks while viewing the contrast of a busy beach from a distant setting. There’s a lot of beach to hit in Destin, FL, but we recommend popping in your board anywhere along Crystal Beach. There’s plenty of public beach access parking, often tied to a restaurant so you can get your grub on after a day of playing.
The Gulf of Mexico is also home to over 700 artificial reefs in an effort to preserve the ecosystem while making an interesting and fun attraction to the public. While technically just over the border of Destin by a mile or so in Miramar Beach, the Dolphin Snorkel Reef can be found by parking at Pompano Joe’s public beach access and following the signs on the beach to directly where it rests. An easy paddle out, this reef is in the shape of a bottlenose dolphin and only 20’ deep, making it a house party of sea life, to include dolphins, sea turtles, and plenty of species of fish.
For Some Adrenaline...
If you see a yellow flag when you get to the beach, you’re in for some moderate surf and currents, and by that we mean waves. You’re not going to find Destin, Florida on the world's top list of extreme surfing towns, but the waves can be perfect for paddle board surfing. The set back sand bar allows you to go a good distance out to catch a wave while riding it for quite some time before it breaks.
It’s nothing to be intimidated by. Easy rider waves are what Destin is known for, and the big bonus of a paddle board is simply catching them since you’re already standing and you have a paddle in hand to keep you on track with the wave. If you’re ready to get out there and try paddle board surfing, check out this article we wrote on SUP surfing for beginners.
For Gulf of Mexico Paddling, We Recommend the Flood Paddle Board
BOTE’s Flood stand up paddle board was built to be fun, easy, and simple; exactly what you want when traveling out into the Gulf where the current and other circumstances can change on you. It’s super stable so you can go from knees to feet firmly planted in no time, and when you’re ready to take a seat and chill for a bit, the Flood has a built-in cup holder so you can drink a beer while doing it.
Should you try your hand at paddle surfing, the Flood’s planing style hull is a surf style hull so you glide above the wave, and the entry rocker nose tilts up, allowing you to sit high for great visibility while gaining speed and control on the wave. All in all, its versatility is perfect for an off-the-beach paddle experience.
Cruise the Destin Harbor
Over the years, Destin has grown into a local restaurant haven, frying, grilling, and blackening some of the freshest seafood straight from the Gulf. You could drive down Destin’s main road, Highway 98, to see it all by car, but what’s the fun in that? Drop your board in at the Destin Harbor and experience it from a different lens--a much more flattering one, too.
Launching From the Destin Harbor
The Destin Harbor has a quarter-mile long boardwalk that provides morning to night entertainment from deep sea fishing charters, jet ski rentals, and tons of restaurants and bars. It’s a cool spot, but if you’re a ‘path less traveled’ kinda person, experiencing the harbor by SUP board is the only way to do it.
Launching into the harbor can seem a little confusing at first. There’s boat traffic, lots of different canals, and private property you need to consider. So we recommend launching your paddle board from Norriego Point, a sandy beach point with public parking and a super easy launch area for paddling. On one side, you have the view of Destin Harbor and on the other side you see the East Pass that enters into the Gulf of Mexico.
Once you launch off Norriego Point, you are in your very own ‘choose your own adventure’ story. BOTE’s Destin Showroom Manager, Chris Blumenthal, recommends cruising in and out of the canals, checking out the crazy big homes with their equally crazy big boats. He also says you’re likely to find lots of sea life here, as the harbor is a great spot for dolphins to catch an easy snack and protect their young.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the restaurants you can pull up to via paddle board...
"You’re likely to find lots of sea life here, as the harbor is a great spot for dolphins to catch an easy snack and protect their young."
Best Restaurants to Pull Up Your Paddle Board
At BOTE, we love that paddle boarding is a sneaky way to get a workout, and after a couple hours on the water, you’ll find yourself ready to get something tasty and maybe wash it down with a local lager. While you’re on the harbor, there are a couple of places worth mentioning that locals love just as much as vacationers.
With its very own family-friendly beach on the harbor, multiple decks for a guaranteed awesome view, and a super easy place to pull up on paddle board, Boshamps is rad. Don’t be mistaken, the laid back feel of the restaurant does not bleed into the kitchen, because they crank out some of the best local seafood around. Our personal favorite is the Pan Roasted Gulf Grouper, a staple on their menu for years. Pair it with a local beer and hopefully some live music on the back deck watching the sunset.
Another awesome spot is Harbor Docks, a restaurant that is so much more than a restaurant. The harbor-facing side will have you pulling up your board to play a game on their volleyball court, drinking arguably the best margarita in town, and slamming way more sushi than you thought you could pack in. The fan favorite is the Destin Roll, a tuna based roll with a twist, it does not disappoint.
For Harbor Paddling, We Recommend the HD Paddle Board
We call the HD SUP board the “one board for everything”, due to its awesome combination of stability, speed, and standard features that make it the most versatile board in the BOTE line up. Offered in two different lengths and made from Gatorshell Technology, the HD can handle everything that awaits you in the harbor. Smooth movements, tough exterior, and ease of use will have you cruising the harbor like a boss.
Get In Some Back Bay Fishing
Destin, Florida is unique in its shape, a narrow peninsula running west to east creating the beach, the harbor, and the bay. At BOTE, we’re pretty crazy about fishing, and though a little biased, we’re saving the best for last with some back bay SUP fishing.
Launching Off the Bay
If you pull up a map and trace your finger along the bay of Destin, you’re going to find tons of parks and bayous that offer public boat ramps to launch from. Most of them even have separate kayak and paddle board launches so you don’t have to worry about maneuvering around larger boats.
Chris Blumenthal is particularly keen on Joe’s Bayou. “It’s beautiful and it’s wide. You can see Eglin Air Force Base from the bayou and you can watch the airplanes flying in and out. Not to mention, the fishing is very good there. You’ll find a lot of shallow, clean, and healthy grass beds in waist to chest deep water which are typically loaded up with fish. Trout, mackerel, red fish, you name it,” said Blumenthal.
"You'll find a lot of shallow, clean, and healthy grass beds in waist to chest deep water which are typically loaded up with fish. Trout, mackerel, red fish, you name it."
We Can't Give AWay the Honey Holes, But...
Before you head to Joe’s Bayou, stop by Half Hitch Tackle to get your bait and ask about what the fish are biting. If you have a motor on your SUP board, head across the bay to the coast guard station to cast for trout and redfish. If you’re paddle board fishing, head east out of Joe’s Bayou, hug the coastline, and fish the grass flats and docks headed toward Jones Bayou and the Mid Bay Bridge. Aside from redfish and trout, you may catch some flounder and sheep’s head.
Paddle Fish From a Rackham Paddle Board
When it comes to the best fishing paddle boards, the Rackham is best suited for back bay fishing, since the Choctawhatchee Bay is a large body of water with surprisingly strong currents and wind depending on the time of day. It’s displacement hull and thicker rails absorb the chop and cut through waves, and the sunken cockpit provides maximum stability. Simply put, it’s the SUP board you need to get you to the area’s honey holes as efficiently as possible.
It’s easy to get swept away in the natural beauty of Destin and the area’s waterways. But just like paddling anywhere, do your research, stay aware of your surrounding, and always wear a PFD. For example, the East Pass is fun to look at, but the current is no joke. Admire it from the comfort of Norriego Point and don’t go past the tip of Norriego Point unless you plan to take a hard right into the Choctawhatchee Bay. Oh, and keep your head on a swivel. Just like riding a bike down the street where cars are supposed to keep an eye out for you, there’s an inherent danger in paddling alongside yachts, charter fishing boats, and ski boats, no matter where you are in the world.
Out of all the things to do in Destin, Florida, it’s hard to beat experiencing Destin on a stand up paddle board. On your way in town, stop by one of our local flagship stores in downtown Fort Walton, across from the Destin Harbor, and in Grayton Beach. Our team knows a thing or two about stand up paddling in Destin, Florida, and will always steer you in the right direction.