The sound of surf. The view–a horizon divided between turquoise water and pastel blue sky . The feel of soft, warm, sugary sand. The salty tang of fresh Apalachicola oysters.
Our getaway to Florida’s Emerald Coast refreshed all the senses.
Why Destin in the Fall?
Women Communicators of Austin holds a fantastic silent auction at their annual Banner Brunch. I always get there early to scope out the selection and plan bids. This year, one item in particular caught my eye: a four-day, three-night stay at a Newman-Dailey Resort Properties condo in Destin, Florida. I’ve wanted to visit that area, and my husband loves a beach trip. It would make a great reward for my hard-working sweetie. Though winning seemed a long shot, I bid anyway.
Surprisingly, my lowball bid won (which immediately made me doubt my coup—did everybody else know something I didn’t?).
Between the property management’s blackout dates and our busy schedule, the trip was pushed to September. Weather forecasts for the date looked glum: 80–90 percent chance of rain all weekend. I worried: Was this trip going to be a bust?
Oh no. Far from it.
Fun On Our Florida Getaway
The goal was to unplug, unwind, and explore a new area of the country. After establishing home base at the condo, we simply woke up and let the weather dictate each day’s activities.
We’re beach connoisseurs who camp out in a chair by the ocean. Naturally, the first order of business was hitting the sand.
Beach Resort, our condo, was a five-minute walk from Miramar Beach. As we stepped from the boardwalk onto the gleaming white sand, we marveled at its texture. Staying at the condo gave us access to two beach chairs and an umbrella, so all we carried were a soft-sided cooler filled with snacks and our towels. The water was clear and there was no crowd on the beach. Heaven.
Though we did get rain here and there, the sun shone some every day. Locals told us that September and October were optimal months to visit—warm weather and fun festivals but fewer people. I imagined the crowded sidewalks, congested roads, and packed beaches during peak season and thanked the scheduling stars we’d lucked into September.
Eden Gardens State Park
When the weather wasn’t beach worthy, we took a short drive to explore. I was amazed at how many local, state, and national parks were nearby. What drew us to Eden Gardens State Park were the preserved Wesley Mansion and its lovely surrounding grounds.
Surprisingly (at least, to me), Destin is a mix of East Texas’ piney woods and Caribbean coast. Fir trees stood next to white sand dunes. The Wesley Mansion, originally built in 1887, was situated near the Tucker Bayou so lumber from the family’s saw mill could be easily shipped. Learning about the home’s history and renovation was fascinating.
After the home tour, we’d hoped to wander the nature trails but drizzly weather hurried us back to the condo and Saturday’s college football games.
Indian Temple Mound Museum
I’d searched to discover if there was an actual Ft. Walton and stumbled upon the Indian Temple Mound museum. Soldiers in the Civil War used the historic Native American site to create Camp Walton (which evolved into the name Ft. Walton). The museum has an interesting collection of artifacts, uncovered via multiple digs at the mound, belonging to various indigenous peoples. While our visit focused on the Indian Temple Mound and accompanying museum, there are several additional historic buildings located at the Ft. Walton Heritage Park & Cultural Center (Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, Garnier Post Office Museum, and the Civil War Exhibit Building).
Eating Out in Destin
Even on vacation, we love to cook. After picking up supplies at the new Whole Foods Market and ABC Fine Wine and Spirits on U.S. Route 98, we cooked breakfast every morning and enjoyed happy hour on the patio. Lunch consisted of snacks packed for the beach.
Dinner, however, was an outing.
An easy place to grab lunch, dinner, or a late afternoon snack, Pompano Joe’s abuts Miramar Beach—you can walk in straight off the sand. We enjoyed raw oysters and cold beverages while basking in the late afternoon sun on the seaside deck.
Now that’s my kind of happy hour.
Jackacuda’s Seafood and Sushi
HarborWalk Village is home to a cluster of attractions–bars, shops, restaurants, and even the Destin Fishing Fleet. I read about executive chef Allen Teuton in a local publication, so we visited Jackacuda’s, one of several eateries at HarborWalk Village. Sushi is a favorite; we started with several rolls and moved on to local seafood for dinner. My martini was just right.
Jackacuda’s is a casual eatery with indoor and outdoor seating, and the cluster of family-friendly attractions meant lots of kids at the restaurant. If you go to HarborWalk Village on Thursday night, there’s even a fireworks show.
Beach Walk Café at Henderson Park Inn
Looking for a romantic date-night experience? This is the place to go in Destin. The Henderson Park Inn sits within Henderson State Park on the coastline and is a popular wedding location. On our last night, we made reservations at Beach Walk Cafe, the Inn’s restaurant; luckily, the rain stopped so we could enjoy a table on the wrap-around porch overlooking the beach. Light from outdoor torches illuminated the glistening sand as music from a reception accompanied the sound of the waves.
Our waiter provided excellent wine recommendations. My food was not only delicious but beautifully plated. At the end of the meal, I was presented with a gorgeous long-stemmed rose.
I’m smiling as I remember that night.
While Destin is a casual city, shorts and beach attire are not appropriate at Beach Walk Cafe. Put on your fine going-out attire and make dinner a celebration.
Getting Around Destin
It’s possible to stay in Destin and walk or bike to beaches, restaurants, and some shopping, but other destinations—HarborWalk Village, Eden Gardens State Park, Ft. Walton Heritage Park & Cultural Center, for example—involve taking the highway. You’ll want to rent a car.
It’s a little confusing sometimes as to where one city begins and another ends, and we often found ourselves puzzling over whether we were in Miramar Beach, Destin, or South Walton.
And heads up: When you make flight reservations, the local airport for Gulf Coast access is Ft. Walton Beach Airport (or VPS, call letters for Valparaiso Airport), also known as Northwest Florida Regional Airport. To make matters more confusing, VPS is located within the Eglin Air Force Base.