What to Do in Destin, Florida: Explore the Sun and Surf, Sustainably

Aside from seafood restaurants and resort culture, Destin, Fla., hosts preserved natural landscapes, plant-based eateries, and family-friendly water sports.

Bianca Piazza - Author

Jun. 21 2024, Published 12:07 p.m. ET

landscape background image of Destin, Florida, alongside smaller photos from Red Onion Organic restaurant and SUP Express paddle board and kayak rental service and Green Matters's "Green City Guides" logo
Source: ISTOCK, redonionorganic/INSTAGRAM, sup_express/INSTAGRAM

According to the official City of Destin website, the northwest Florida area has nautical roots, as Captain Leonard Destin settled in the panhandle city in the early 1850s after years of voyaging the Gulf of Mexico. The sailor revolutionized the fishing industry, and Destin is still deemed the “World's Luckiest Fishing Village."

The fishing industry is tied to environmental destruction and by catch-driven cruelty. Biodiversity issues and the climate crisis are worsened by overfishing, as many fish species face extinction, which then affects the food web and marine ecosystems.

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However, we recognize that organizations and initiatives are working to protect Destin and its nearby ecosystems, including the water stewardship group Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance of Northwest Florida State College, Okaloosa County’s artificial reef program, and the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament (perhaps a controversial addition, but they're an invasive threat).

As for what fun-seeking Destin tourists can do, there are many ways to revel in the Sunshine State's beauty without making a negative environmental impact.

photo of illuminated buildings from a beach in Destin, Florida
Source: iStock
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Where to stay in Destin: Enjoy complementary nightcaps and private access to the beach.

Embassy Suites by Hilton Destin Miramar Beach:

Located at 570 Scenic Gulf Drive, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Destin Miramar Beach is an all-suites hotel complete with complimentary made-to-order breakfast and evening reception, a fitness center, an outdoor pool, beach chair rentals, and private access to the gorgeous white sand beach. With Henderson Beach State Park being six miles away and the Gulf Coast Axe House, the Seascape Towne Center, and Escapology Escape Rooms all just one mile away, fun is at your fingertips.

Regarding its sustainable initiatives, the Embassy Suites location has eco certifications ISO 14001 (concerning environmental management systems) and ISO 50001 (concerning efficient energy management), offers organic food and drinks as well as compostable food containers and utensils, and boasts a food waste reduction program and a soap and toiletry donation program.

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Where to eat in Destin: Savor the locally-sourced flavors of vegan sweet potato gnocchi and watermelon "tuna" tartare.

Vibe Vegan Bistro:

The stylish Vibe Vegan Bistro at 4507 Furling Lane aims to "introduce people to foods that nourish the body and soul." Using local produce and plant-based ingredients, chefs Divaldo DeLima and Amy Elizabeth make vegan fare inventive and exciting at the stylish eco-oasis. Just imagine taking a bite of the watermelon "tuna" tartare with ginger, soy, and mango dressing or sipping on a refreshing citrus, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and ginger elixir.

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Red Onion Organic:

In the mood for healthy, organic Mediterranean fare? Head to Red Onion Organic at 529 Harbor Boulevard! A blog post by RealJoy Vacations recommends that vegetarians try the house-made hummus and pita dish, the falafel, and the baba ghanouj at the beachy family-owned restaurant.

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PB&J Bistro & Café:

Nestled in the City Food Hall at the Destin Commons at 4100 Legendary Drive is a little eatery named after its husband-and-wife owners, "Phillip Bauer & Jess." The PB&J Bistro & Café has something for every sensitivity, allergy, and health-conscious diet, as Chef Phillip Bauer has worked to expand his skills in areas like vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, and nightshade-free cooking. Plus, PB&J supports local vendors, businesses, and charities and pre-listed all nutritional information on the MyFitnessPal app for convenience.

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Where to shop: Find European antiques and fresh local produce and goods in and around Destin.

Antiques on Holiday:

Though the Antiques on Holiday social media pages relay the shop is run by "direct importers of European antiques in Destin, Fla.," it's actually located in Miramar Beach at 105 N. Holiday Road.

Whether you go for oil paintings of half-naked men acquired in the South of France or a 19th-century bleached oak secretary desk found in Belgium, the rustic, old-fashioned beauties and oddities will surely enchant you.

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Destin Community Farmers Market:

Looking to support local artisans, vendors, and farmers? Bring your reusable shopping bags and totes and head to the Destin Community Farmers Market at 743 Harbor Boulevard, which had its grand opening in April 2024. Open year-round on Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the market hosts about 30 vendors who sell various homemade crafts, local coffee, baked goods, jams, mushrooms, soaps — you name it!

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What to do: Get your beach bum on and explore Florida's gorgeous dunes.

Henderson Beach State Park:

Into "30-foot white sand dunes and warm gulf waters"? At 17000 Emerald Coast Parkway lies a beautiful beach on a preserved strip of the Emerald Coast. Open to the public since March 1991, Henderson Beach State Park offers a 3/4 mile nature trail (with dune and coastal scrub habitats on display), 60 campsites (for both tents or RVs), and a boardwalk to stroll down. Slather yourself in sunscreen and soak in all things coastal beauty and vitamin D.

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Stand-Up Paddle Boarding:

Sure, lazy beach days are essentially a requirement when visiting the Florida panhandle, but we implore you eco-conscious travelers to attempt stand-up paddle boarding for some refreshing low-impact movement. What's fabulous about the SUP Express paddle board and kayak rental service is that they deliver the goods (aka a Bote paddle board, a paddle, a leash, and a USCG standard life vest) straight to your Emerald Coast hotel or home. And don't worry, you "walking on water" newbs can schedule a spot in SUP's guided sunrise or sunset tours.

Who knows, as long as you keep a respectful distance, you may be gifted with a dolphin sighting.

In “Green City Guides,” a travel series from Green Matters, we break down what to do, where to stay, what to eat, and more in various cities around the world — while staying sustainable.

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