RVing through Brilliant Destin and The Emerald Coast

 RVing through Brilliant Destin and The Emerald Coast

Destin, Florida, is “The World's Luckiest Fishing Village!”

Destin, FL has it all. Awesome beaches, upscale dining and shopping, great fishing, and it’s one of our favorite destinations for RVing.

I’ve always been curious about the Welcome to Destin sign we see on Highway 98 that brags about this panhandle town’s moniker as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

How did that come about, I wondered? Turns out, it’s another story that unfolded back in the 1950s.

How Destin Got Its Nickname

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To find the answer, I stopped at the Destin History and Fishing Museum, located a block off US-98.

The nickname itself goes back to 1956 when then Florida Governor Leroy Collins stopped by the local fishing docks on a campaign swing. A local fisherman, Captain Salty, tried to get the Governor aboard his boat for a short tour of the harbor but the governor had a full schedule.

Capt. Salty said it would only take 20 minutes and he guaranteed a catch. So, reluctantly, with the press watching and waiting, Collins climbed aboard. In 20 minutes he was back, proudly holding a 29 pound King Mackerel.

The press corps was pretty dumbfounded and one of the accounts of that day and that catch noted that Destin was “The world’s luckiest fishing village.” After that, the town liked the notoriety so the nickname stuck.

But there’s an actual reason as well why Destin really could be the world’s luckiest fishing village.

And that has to do with its location on crystal clear, emerald-colored waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

First, there is a great diversity of limestone structures offshore as well as artificial reefs which have been positioned over the years to further encourage the breeding of reef fish such as grouper, snapper, amberjack, and triggerfish. Seasonal fish such as cobia also make the area popular for in-shore fishing.

Another huge factor is Destin’s proximity to the Desoto Canyon further offshore, where the gulf floor drops below3,000 feet in spots, making it attractive for billfish like Blue Marlin, Sailfish, and Wahoo.

Destin is unique among Gulf Coast communities in that deep water is within a relatively short distance of shore. Within a half-hour of leaving Destin Harbor, anglers are in waters as deep as 60 feet and 100-foot depths are easily within 10 miles of shore.

As a result of all these factors, Destin is such a great fishing spot that it has the largest charter boat fleet in the entire state of Florida.

Things to Do in Destin and The Emerald Coast

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Even if you aren’t planning on going fishing (although I’d suggest you give it a go!), exploring the docks and activities at the quarter-mile Destin Harbor Boardwalk and HarborWalk Village is something else.

There’s a lot of excitement and something for everyone there including shopping, numerous bars and restaurants, live music, boat rentals, and cruises.

Private and Group Fishing Charters

There are lots of private charters and group charters available and all you have to do is be there when they come back to the docks to see that, indeed, Destin is one awesome fishing place.

The busiest fishing month is October when the city hosts a huge fishing rodeo that draws anglers from all over the world.

If you’re interested in fishing (aside from the abundant charters at the docks), there are two unique charters that I’ve used before which have been quite the experience.

The first is with Lewis “Rip” McLendon, who runs a charter service called Family Land Based Shark Fishing and Tagging.

Yup, that’s right, catching sharks right from the beach.

What kind of sharks, you ask? Makos, Tigers, Bull Sharks, Duskys, Hammerheads, and Sandbar Sharks to name a few.

It’s all catch, tag, and release. The tagging helps provide valuable research information on shark populations, their movements, and the general health of the ocean.

I’ll admit, it is a bit unnerving to realize that the ocean’s apex predator is so close and reaching such gigantic sizes.

But, they aren’t dangerous to swimmers. Shark attacks in the clear waters of the gulf are extremely rare. These sharks don’t eat people. They eat fish.

The second charter is kayak fishing. I’ve always liked to fish. From shores, boats, riverbanks, docks, piers, and even through the ice in Michigan during the winter.

But down here on Florida’s gorgeous Emerald Coast, I have found what just may be the best way to fish yet: From a kayak.

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I went with guide Dave Posey of Kayak Fishing Destin, an awesome company that takes anglers out into the Gulf of Mexico and inland waters in pursuit of a stunning variety of fish.

The neat thing here is you navigate these kayaks by pedaling. It feels much like pedaling a recumbent bicycle. You can, of course, navigate by paddling the kayak.

But the pedaling allows your hands to be free to handle your rod, change baits, drink some water, or take photos. Plus, kayak fishing is stealthy. You can sneak right up on the most easily spooked species.

I was surprised by how much fun it was pedaling a kayak. But it was also strenuous. I admit I was huffing pretty good a couple of times there as I tried to keep up with Dave. We fished fats and drop-offs in an incoming tide.

I was captivated by the beauty of the sound. Most of the time, we were 50 or so yards offshore, slowing drifting with the water.

If you’ve never tried kayak fishing and are heading down this way, call Dave and book a trip. It will be a highlight of your travels.

I know, I know we’ve spent a lot of time on fishing here but it is “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” If you’re not fishing in Destin, there are still a number of great things to do in the area.

Okaloosa Island

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When we want something low-key, we like to visit is the Okaloosa Day Use Area on Okaloosa Island, between Destin and Fort Walton Beach, FL.

Okaloosa Island is technically also recognized as Santa Rosa Island and is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore but you can only access it from the Fort Walton Beach/Destin area. The road doesn’t connect from Navarre Beach.

That’s fine for us because it means there are 3 more miles of unencumbered, sugar-white sand beaches to explore and day camp.

When we recently launched our RV Lifestyle clothing line we did it from the balcony overlooking the beach on Okaloosa Island. Sometimes you need a little hoodie or sweatshirt here. Check it out!

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State Parks

If you want a nice walk or hike, look no further than Henderson Beach State Park or Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

These are two of our favorite state parks anywhere. We’d highly recommend getting a site at either, but even if you can’t it’s still worth exploring them!

The 30-foot sand dunes and sprawling pet-friendly trails of Henderson Beach State Park are ideal for leisure hikes and reconnecting with nature.

Despite all the busyness of US-98 and the trendy town of Destin, you will even notice signs at Henderson advising campers to bring in food each night because there are black bears in the area!

You’ll feel like you are in the middle of the wilderness at Henderson, though you are in the heart of one of the busiest tourist areas in the region. The beach is sugar sand and takes up 6,000 feet of natural, undeveloped scenic shoreline.

The park features some of the area’s most intriguing wildlife, including wading and shorebirds (as well as migratory birds in the spring and fall), migrating monarch butterflies, small reptiles, rabbits, bobcats, and gopher tortoises.

A three-quarter mile nature trail provides visitors a rare glimpse of the coastal dune ecosystem and abundant wildlife and is pet-friendly. Pets, though, are not allowed on the beach.

At Topsail Hill Preserve State Park – which, if pressed, would be our favorite of the two – you can explore 3.2 miles of secluded white sand beaches with majestic dunes over 25 feet tall.

Three rare coastal dune lakes provide excellent freshwater fishing at Topsail. Although boats are not allowed, fishing from the shoreline yields bass, bream, panfish, and catfish. Lakes, pristine beaches, old-growth longleaf pines, sand pine scrub, and a variety of wetlands offer a bird-watching and hiking paradise.

You can also explore Point Washington State Forest. The 15,400-acre forest is home to ten natural communities, including sandhill, cypress swamps, basin swamps, wet fatwoods, and wet prairie.

The Eastern Lake Trail System is one of the most popular trails which consists of three double-track loop trails. You can hike or bike the trail in a 3.5, 6, or 11-mile loop.

 

Want more of Destin and The Emerald Coast?

We've written so much about this beautiful area of Florida — you can read through all the posts right here.

Destin & The Emerald Coast Campgrounds

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Similar to Pensacola, there are a number of RV resorts and campgrounds in the area. Many of them are private and can get quite expensive, especially as you get closer to the beach. For a complete list of campgrounds and more great things to do in the Florida Gulf Coast, check out our adventure guide…

7-Day RV Adventure Guide: Florida's Gulf Coast 

We've done all the planning for you! This guide takes you through the spectacular stretch of Florida's Gulf Coast from Pensacola to Naples.

The guide includes a suggested route and itinerary, links to multiple boondocking sites and campgrounds, and the best things to do along the way.

Hit it all in seven days, do a whirlwind weekend tour, or explore the destinations over a few weeks.

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RVing through Brilliant Destin and The Emerald Coast

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

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