Weekend Getaway: New Orleans to Destin, Florida

Overlooking the Destin harbor from Margaritaville, Destin

When I was thinking about how I wanted to spend my birthday, I knew I wanted to take a few days to relax. Chris and I considered heading to Austin or Birmingham but nothing had an appeal like a weekend at the beach! I wanted to feel the sand between my toes, feel the sea breeze and eat fresh seafood.

Where is Destin, Florida?

Situated on Florida’s panhandle, Destin is a small town known for beautiful green-blue waters and white sand beaches. Due to this beautiful color, the larger area around Destin is known as the Emerald Coast.

Originally, Destin was a small fishing village assembled on the Gulf of Mexico. Sitting between two bodies of water, the Gulf and Choctawhatchee Bay, it continues to be known for its great fishing conditions.

Over the years, Destin has become a popular place to vacation for all ages from college spring-breakers to retirees. It’s estimated that of the 4.5 million visitors to the Emerald Coast, 80% visit Destin at one point or another.

Pontoons coming in to anchor at Crab Island

How far is the drive from New Orleans to Destin?

It may be surprising to find out that the drive from New Orleans to Destin is only 250 miles and takes 4 hours by car.

As someone from California where it takes 8 hours to drive to the nearest state, it was even more surprising to find out that the drive takes your through two other states, Mississippi and Alabama, before getting to Florida. The drive from New Orleans to Destin is just short enough to visit for a weekend and just long enough to feel like you got away!

If you want to make the road trip just a tad longer, there are plenty of things to do along the way to Destin. Just an hour outside of New Orleans, John Stennis Space Center provides bus tours to show behind the scenes of this NASA location. The Science Center is also open Mon - Sat from 9am to 4pm.

Next, you can stop in the port city of Mobile, Alabama to see a WWII Battleship, the incredible Mardi Gras Museum or historic Dauphin Street. Mobile was established before New Orleans and has a great history of Carnival!

As it nears dinner time, stop in adorable Fairhope, Alabama for art, antiques and a great meal at Sunset Point at Fly Creek Marina. Every evening the restaurant stops for just a minute and cheers to the sunset.

Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina in Fairhope, AL

Best Time to Visit Destin, Florida

According to locals we met, things don’t really pick up around Destin until Memorial Day Weekend. That’s when most people visit to cool off during the summer months and most businesses are open.

During the summer, Destin even has nightly fireworks to add an air of celebration. I could see it being a fun place to spend 4th of July here! The only thing about summer is that it gets quite humid and you may experience more crowds.

Even though it was considered off-season, I really enjoyed visiting Destin at the end of March. Due to spring break, Chris and I were anticipating an overwhelming amount of visitors, but it didn’t feel crowded at all. We were worried about things to do in Destin if it rained, but the weekend ended up having nice weather. We were able to do everything we planned!

Dolphin sighted in Destin Harbor

Things to do in Destin, Florida

Since Destin is a beach town, some of the best things to do are focused around water activities! Lounge on the beautiful beaches, swim in the ocean or paddle-board in the harbor. Destin also has jet ski rentals, cruises and boat rentals.

We decided to rent a pontoon for a half day (4 hours) and head out to Crab Island. To rent the boat, you will need a boating license. If you don’t have one you can take a test on the day, just arrive 15 – 20 minutes early to prepare. I thought four hours was going to be a long time, but the time on the pontoon flew by!

Our first stop was to boat to Crab Island. Pro tip: Crab Island isn’t actually an island. It’s a spot of the bay where it’s very shallow (1 – 3 ft deep) where boats can anchor. People spend the whole day here with their snacks, drinks and water games. There are even floating restaurants and small boats that sell food. You can spend a whole day at Crab Island without any inconveniences!

While we sped off towards Crab Island, we noticed a pod of dolphins. They swam up to our pontoon, then they swam to one boat, then another. They swam between us and all boat were giddy from excitement watching the dolphins. We must have spent a whole hour watching them feed and swim around. If you don't end up renting a boat, there are also glass-bottom boats that do dolphin tours.

Past Crab Island and the Destin Bridge is Norriego Point. There are little beaches to pull into where you can spend the whole day between beach and boat.

Crispy fish tacos and jerk salmon at Margaritaville Destin

We worked up an appetite sunbathing on our pontoon and decided to eat at Harborwalk Village. This waterfront area is full of carnival games, shops and restaurants. There are also food trucks and one in particular caught our attention called Wine Not? A clever name for wine-infused ice cream!

For dinner, Chris and I hopped into Margaritaville Destin, for food with a view. From a breezy booth on the second floor, we were able to see boat sails by (even the famous pirate ship!) and enjoy seafood in the form of crispy fish tacos and marinated jerk salmon. But first, we started a cheesy artichoke dip. Our waitress recommended all three dishes and we were so glad she did!

We were also told that the third floor deck was a prime spot for sunset. We even met a local up there who said it was his favorite view in Destin, and that he came whenever he could. Watching the sun set behind rows of boats and the Destin bridge, I could definitely see why!

The next day was a bit cloudy so grabbed brunch at Crackings, donuts at The Donut Hole and headed to see more of the beaches on Okaloosa Island like John Beasley Park and Gulf Islands National Seashore. Other notable beaches include James Lee Beach and Hendersen State Park. There are plenty more beautiful, white-sand beaches that you can explore to either side of Destin.

Sunset view from Margaritaville, Destin

Places to Stay in Destin, Florida

Driving from New Orleans to Destin cuts costs compared to flying to Miami, or another city in Florida. Places to stay in Destin can be pricey, however. Since so many tourists come through this small fishing village, places to stay start at ~ $100+ per night. The other option is to stay a little further away from Destin, in Fort Walton. We decided that the ride-share to Fort Walton could be about the same price that we would pay for both ways to and from the Harborwalk Village, so we opted to stay close.

The Village Inn

We opted to stay at The Village Inn right across from the Harborwalk Village so we could have easy access to the waterfront and dining options. Our room was very clean, we had two beds, and all the basic amenities. We barely stayed in the room since we were exploring all day, but the bed was comfortable and we had a good night's sleep! The room also came with a continental breakfast in the morning that we, unfortunately, slept through.

Overall, it was the perfect weekend getaway from New Orleans and I'm so glad we had the opportunity to visit Florida for the first time! We heard a lot of good things about the Emerald Coast and we were not disappointed. I'd love to go back during the summer and experience Crab Island with a group of friends!

Have you taken a trip from New Orleans to Destin before? What were your favorite things to do? Leave a comment below!

Disclaimer: Special thank you to Margaritaville Destin for hosting us for dinner during our weekend getaway to Destin. All views and opinions are my own.

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