Looking for the best cities near Destin Florida? You have come to the right place!
The Panhandle of Florida holds some of the most picturesque beaches in the state, it’s filled to the brim with family activities, tranquil beach days, invigorating water activities, and a bustling nightlife. You can snorkel with wild dolphins, jet ski, and enjoy a boardwalk stroll.
From high-energy zip lining and quaint boutique shopping to world-famous amusement parks and river towns that are hundreds of years old, we have all the info on how to get the most out of your visit to the Emerald Coast.
Take a break from boat hopping at the Crab Island sandbar, shopping at Destin Harbor, and eating the catch of the day to explore the best cities near Destin Florida (as there is some seriously good stuff to check out!)
13 Cities Near Destin Florida You Must Visit!
Less than one hour drive from Destin is Pensacola with historical attractions like the National Naval Aviation Museum and State Parks you can spend the day meandering about in, this city is just close enough to warrant a day trip visit from Destin.
Take advantage of the Gulf Islands National Seashores Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key. Here you will discover miles of perfect white sand beaches without the crowds that Destin tends to accumulate.
There are tonnes of great restaurants to enjoy in Pensacola Beach and of course, seafood is life here. Establishments such as Peg Leg Petes is the perfect place to go for oyster lovers. Shaggy’s Pensacola Beach is the best place in town for awesome seafood. We also recommend getting one of the yummy frozen daiquiris from Shaggys – they are absolutely delicious!
Don’t miss a visit to Fort Pickens, a Civil War era fort in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The gates open to the fort at 8 am. Inside, you will find a gift shop, information center, and a covered picnic area. There are no restaurants or cafes, so bring your own food and drink if you plan on eating at the Fort.
If you are a party-goer, Pensacola also has some of the best nightlife in the State. The massive Flora-Bama Lounge has live music and events daily. Stop in if you’re looking for some good times with yummy grub, beer, wine, and cocktails.
Book the best tours in Pensacola here.
Another of the best cities to visit near Destin Fl, Panama City is a great place to visit for couples and families alike. With sailing on the Gulf of Mexico, visiting giraffes at ZooWorld, or jet skiing off of the beach, there is a little something here for everyone.
Don’t miss the Panama City Beach Winery it is one of the best places to visit in Panama City Beach for it’s unique wine flavors like banana, key lime, and guava wines. There is no added sugar to any of the wines so you don’t have to worry about watching your calories here either.
There are lots of good hotels to stay in Panama City but if you are interested in camping, there’s good options for that too with St Andrews State Park , one of the best spots to go camping in Florida.
With parking at only $8 per vehicle and $28 per night to camp, it is the perfect cheap family vacation from Destin. Take a swim in St Andrews Bay, or ride the shuttle over to Shell Island and hunt for sand dollars, don’t forget to see if you can spot gators.
Book the best tours in Panama City here.
Fort Walton Beach
In less than 20 minutes drive is one of the best places to visit from Destin – Fort Walton. Even though it may be small, Fort Walton still has plenty to do for couples, singles and families alike.
The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island boasts spectacular sunsets over the Gulf. Fishing here from the pier or on a chartered boat is some of the best you can find in the country. The months of March and November is the best time to cast your line in the panhandle.
Take the family to Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park and get up close with sting rays, visit penguins or watch a dolphin show.
You might also like to visit the Indian Temple Mound Museum, an archaeological site which was built about 850 CE by the Pensacola culture, or the popular Air Force Armament Museum, which is popular among military aviation enthusiasts.
Book the best tours on Fort Walton Beach here.
If you don’t want to drive quite as far as Panama City but still want great white sand beaches, seafood, and sunshine, Grayton Beach is a top choice, located only 45 minutes away drive away Destin. In our opinion, it is one of the best cities to visit near Destin for sure.
Ideal for hikers and campers is Grayton Beach State Park. Open from 8 am to sundown, enjoy four miles of beautiful coastal trails lined by magnolias.
You can find unique gifts for your loved ones or yourself at the Shops of Grayton – a cute beachy village with jewelry and art shops. If you are a bit peckish, there is also good food here to try.
Admire and snap photos at Grayton Beach Art Wall. Near Hotz Avenue is a tall privacy fence where art pieces have been displayed over the years. If you are an instagrammer, this space makes for a fabulous quick photoshoot.
Over time, artists have donated their art to the wall, and it has grown into somewhat of an attraction.
Book the best tours near Grayton Beach here.
One of the best places for a day trip from Destin is Alys Beach, only a 55 minute drive away. With its unique architecture and all-white buildings, this small city is the perfect backdrop for beautiful vacation photos.
Alys Beach is known also for its wetlands, having 22 acres of wetlands you can explore via an elevated boardwalk. Rent bikes and explore the wooded area at your leisure.
You can also enjoy one of the nine parks spread throughout the town. Alys Beach Amphitheatre is the largest gathering area in town, perfect for children to run, and where all the plays, movies, and other performances are held.
If you are traveling with kids, don’t miss Papilio Park, a beautiful park in the area with spaces of short grass, shady olive trees, and unique sculptures strategically throughout. The perfect place to travel from Destin for a picnic with the fam!
Only a 30 minute drive from Destin, Niceville is another beachy Panhandle city oozing with charm which is worth checking out
Get your hands on some really great food. Try Pounders Hawaiian Grill for very casual and tasty unique Hawaiian dishes that will mean you definitely need to make a second trip to Niceville (the food is that good). They have an array of meats and sides to choose from, but it doesn’t matter what you pick; everything here is amazing.
Enjoy some craft brewing at 3rd Planet Brewing. Located in downtown Niceville, it offers a fun place to get drinks coupled with its nightly activities and entertainment.
Go canoeing, paddleboarding, back bay fishing, camping or kayaking at Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. The park opens at 8 am and costs only $5 fee per vehicle, making it a cheap option for a date or some family fun.
Book the best tours in Niceville Florida here.
Slow down a little and take advantage of one of the best beach cities near near Destin – Miramar is perfect if you want to sit back and relax. Miramar is only located a short 20 minute drive from Destin so you won’t have to go far – a perfect short Saturday outing.
Stroll the art galleries to browse or buy some unique art. The Zoo Gallery is precisely what it sounds like—an eclectic mix of wall art, sculpture, apparel, and more. The Zoo Gallery isn’t something you would expect to find in a sleepy beach town, but that’s what’s to love about it. You can take a peak at the Zoo Gallery here.
The Village of Baytowne Wharf, with outdoor events suitable for the entire family, has a cool boardwalk worth checking out set up on the Choctawhatchee Bay.
Check out the village calendar here so you can plan your day accordingly. Don’t miss the weekend farmers market if possible. You can buy local seafood, beef, and other good quality local produce most weekends from 10 am-2 pm.
Enjoy the carousel, right on the water or get active at the Baytowne Adventure Zone, which has a bungee trampoline, ziplining, a rope course, and more!
Book the best tours in Miramar Florida here.
Ponce de Leon
Around one hours drive from the beaches of Destin is the cool city of Ponce de Leon. If you aren’t aware, Juan Ponce de León is credited with being the first European to reach Florida.
Here you can find yourself swimming in a genuinely clear freshwater spring. There are two beautiful Florida springs to choose from in this city: Ponce de Leon Springs State Park and Morrisons Springs County Park.
Both of these springs are very popular snorkeling spots in the State so remember to bring your snorkel with you.
Birding, tubing, hiking, picnicking, and fishing is also popular at Ponce de Leon Springs. While in addition to what Ponce de Leon offers, Morrison Springs’s 90-foot-deep caverns might be of great interest to divers.
The water at these springs is a bit chilly year round (spring water averages at around 70 °F ) so you should save this activity for a hot Florida day.
Don’t miss Ponce de Leon as one of the must-visit cities near Destin.
A little longer drive from Destin (about 2 hours away) you will find Mexico Beach, a small, picturesque beachside-town with iconic beach houses on stilts.
This city is popular with divers as 25 feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico’s surface, you can dive or snorkel the Vamar shipwreck. The ship sunk in 1942 and has created a home for interesting sea creatures over the decades – hence why it is a popular snorkeling spot in the State.
If you don’t feel like swimming, paddle boarding and spearfishing are other popular activities in this area of Florida.
Don’t expect a lively city if you come here – it’s all about peace and relaxation at Mexico Beach! One of the most popular activity for locals is strolling the wide, quiet white sand beaches. Buy yourself some ice cream from Mexico Beach Sweets before taking a stroll up the beach.
If you feel like staying for dinner, Killer Seafood is one of the most popular dining spots in the area, serving up some of the best seafood on the coast, from grilled shrimp to fish tacos to fried shrimp baskets.
Book the best tours near Mexico Beach here.
Looking for something different? Only a 20-minute car ride from Destin is a small city across Choctawhatchee Bay called Ocean City.
Head over to Elgin Airforce Base between 9:30 am and 5 pm to see The Air Force Armament Museum.
The museum has over 29 different types of aircraft, and it is all free to explore. If you have a few hours and an interest in aviation, this is the spot for you.
There are planes from WWI & II, Vietnam, and the Korean wars, in addition to a gun vault exhibition which is interesting to check out.
If you are looking for some light-hearted fun, the Goofy Golf miniature golf course is popular and worth checking out. There is also a nice park in the area for a walk called the Don & Susan Stillwell Park.
Tallahassee, one of our favorite places in Florida, is only a 2.5 hour drive from Destin. This college town has plenty to offer therefore.
There is something for everyone here, between eco-tours on airboats of its surrounding lakes and rivers, to its historical downtown or even mountain biking – you will not be short of things to do.
To get better acquainted with the city, we recommend taking a walking tour of Tallahassee. You can get all sorts of tours in Tallahassee from historical to ghost and art tours so you should be able to find a fun tour that tickles your interest.
FYI, the best time to visit Tallahassee is between September and May due to the weather and most tours only run during these months.
We would also recommend checking out the Monarch butterfly migration at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge if you are in town in October. Bring your camera to record the butterflies making their way to Mexico.
If you have time to make the trip, Tallahassee is for sure one of the best cities near Destin you should plan to visit.
Book the best tours in Tallahassee here.
Milton, located about an hours drive away, is another of the best cities near Destin you should visit, especially if you love nature.
The Black Water River State Park, one of the best things to do in Milton, is open from 8 am to sundown, and entry fees start at just $4 per vehicle. No security here, it is based on an honesty system so just put the money in the box on entry, and you are good to roam the 600-acre park.
Milton is known to be the canoe capital of Florida so if you are into kayak or canoeing you are going to just love it here. Blackwater, Sweetwater, and Coldwater rivers’ provide more than enough paddle time for canoe lovers not to be left disappointed! We would recommend you bring snacks with you as if you go to the State Parks, there isn’t a lot of good food options nearby.
The Blackwater Heritage State Trail is popular with cyclists if you are looking for a great biking path in the area. With over eight miles of trails, you will most likely see a whole range of activity here from skaters, horseback riders to the more standard walkers, and runners. Read more about the history of the trails here.
We would also recommend you head downtown and enjoy the Riverwalk Boardwalk lining the Blackwater. With a cute gazebo and restaurants in this historic downtown, it is a relaxing way to finish off a day of discovery and adventure.
Navarre is the last beach city near Destin on our list, but it is not the least important. Navarre is located just a short 40 minute drive from Destin, making it a great choice for a day trip from Destin with the fam!
The primary focus for guests in this coastal island town is R&R, so leave any worries you might have on the mainland and explore a paradise of uncrowded white beaches!
One of the biggest draw-cards of Navarre is the reefs which are free to explore and home to plenty of marine wildlife. Make sure you bring your snorkel gear with you!
Parasailing over Navarre Beach should also be on your list of things to do in the area. Strap yourself in and prepare to soar with the birds.There are companies that have booking available online, but asking the locals what company is best is always an excellent way to go too.
Jet skiing, paddle boarding, shelling, boating and fishing are also unsurprisingly popular beach activities in Navarre. One of the best spots for fishing is the 1,500+ foot long pier. It costs $1 to go out onto the pier.
We personally enjoyed visiting The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center, a hospital for sea turtles which is open to the public for education. Who doesn’t love sea turtles? They open the doors at 10 am and general administration starts at $5 for adults. Highly recommended if you love learning about wildlife.
Book the best tours in Navarre here.
So, as you can see there are some fantastic cities near Destin Florida that are just waiting to be explored!
If you plan on being in Destin for more than three days, you should definitely pick out some of these cool places to visit. Pack your sunscreen, bring your water and don’t forget to enjoy!