Browse by Feature

Walkway to the beach with blue water and sky
Search All Rentals

Your vacation home is waiting!

We have just the place for you.

Local's Secrets for Exploring Destin


Situated along the shimmering Gulf of Mexico, Destin, Florida, is renowned for its stunning white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters that beckon tourists from around the world. 


Yet, beyond the popular tourist attractions, Destin harbors a wealth of hidden gems and local secrets waiting to be discovered by those willing to explore a bit deeper. 


The tranquil coastal dune lakes unique to the region, and the serene underwater museum of art are just a few of the array of less-traveled paths and experiences that this vibrant community offers. Each one provides a more authentic glimpse of what makes this area so appealing. 


In this article, we dive into the heart of Destin, guided by the insights of locals who cherish the city’s natural beauty and laid-back lifestyle.


You’ll learn about the best spots for paddleboarding at sunset, where to find the quietest stretches of sand away from the usual crowds, and how to navigate the extensive network of bike paths that offer stunning views and a peaceful escape into nature. 


First-time visitors and seasoned travelers alike will benefit from these insider tips geared towards helping you experience Destin in a way that goes beyond the typical tourist itinerary, immersing you in the local culture and the area’s exquisite natural environment.

Coastal Dune Lakes

One of Destin’s most remarkable yet underappreciated natural wonders is its series of coastal dune lakes, a rarity that exists in only a handful of locations worldwide — including New Zealand, Australia, and notably, within Walton County, Florida. These unique ecosystems are a result of wind and wave action carving out freshwater basins just a stone’s throw from the salty expanses of the Gulf of Mexico. Their rarity and ecological significance make them a must-visit for nature enthusiasts exploring the Destin area.


Among these, Deer Lake State Park stands out as a prime spot to immerse oneself in the tranquil beauty of a coastal dune lake. Enclosed within this protected area, Deer Lake itself offers a serene escape, where visitors can engage in kayaking or paddleboarding across its calm surface. The park, named after the lake within its bounds, features an environment where golden asters, scrub oaks, and southern magnolias flourish, creating a stunning backdrop for your aquatic adventure.


Beyond the allure of water-based activities, Deer Lake State Park is a haven for diverse flora and fauna. It houses rare plants like the Gulf coast lupine, spoonflower, pitcher plants, and Curtiss sandgrass — one of the most significant populations in Florida. This diversity is not just limited to the terrestrial; the park provides habitats for a variety of birds and butterflies, with the changing seasons bringing splashes of color and activity that are a delight for wildlife watchers.


The park’s amenities extend beyond the lake itself. A boardwalk cuts across the dunes, offering easy beach access where guests can swim, fish, or simply enjoy a picnic with a view. This wooden pathway also serves as a vantage point for appreciating the dune ecosystem — one of eleven natural communities identified within the park’s confines. The experience is a blend of leisure and learning, with the park’s staff engaging in efforts like the restoration of wet prairies and seepage slopes to support the growth of endangered species like pitcher plants.

South Walton’s Bike Paths


Another treasure that South Walton residents and visitors alike hold dear is the area’s extensive network of bike paths, which not only serve as a means of leisurely exploration but also as a window into the heart of local culture and natural splendor. Among these, the 19-mile Timpoochee Trail is a standout, hugging the coastline to provide cyclists with an uninterrupted view of the shimmering Gulf of Mexico and the region’s iconic, sugar-white sand beaches.


But the Timpoochee Trail isn’t the only way to immerse oneself in the beauty of South Walton by bike. The Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach, known as the original beach cruising spot within the community, expands the cycling experience with its own unique charms. As the website “Visit South Walton” notes, cycling along Scenic Gulf Drive’s paved multi-use path offers an easy ride, framed by great views and the soothing coolness of ocean breezes. This beachfront roadway is more than just a route; it’s a journey through the very essence of South Walton’s coastal lifestyle.


Renting a bike from one of the local shops is the first step towards unlocking these scenic vistas. The Timpoochee Trail and Scenic Gulf Drive collectively offer a tapestry of experiences, weaving through charming beach communities where cyclists are greeted by friendly locals, unique small businesses, and hidden gems. The journey is punctuated by unexpected discoveries, from secluded beach accesses that invite a moment of serene contemplation to whimsical local eateries where the taste of Gulf seafood can be savored alongside views of its origin.


The beauty of these bike paths lies not just in the landscapes they traverse but also in their accessibility. Well-maintained and thoughtfully designed, the trails cater to cyclists of all skill levels — from families looking for a leisurely afternoon excursion to seasoned bikers seeking a new adventure. The paths themselves act as guides, offering a more intimate look at South Walton’s natural beauty that can often be missed when traveling by car.

Destin Paddleboarding

The serene Choctawhatchee Bay, with its expansive and placid waters, presents an idyllic landscape for both novice and seasoned paddleboarders to navigate the gentle embrace of the Gulf. Its calm waters, sheltered from the robust currents of the open sea, offer stability and peace that serve as the perfect training ground for beginners while still providing the kind of experience that keeps experienced paddlers coming back.


Paddleboarding at the golden hour of sunset is nothing short of enchanting. As the sky above dances with the fiery hues of sunset, painting a canvas of oranges, purples, and pinks, the bay below reflects this spectacle, turning into a mirror of the sky’s twilight performance. These moments of day’s end bring a heightened sense of tranquility to the Bay, as the water adopts a glass-like quality, unrippled by the catch of day’s winds. It is during these hours that paddleboarding transforms from a simple pastime to an experience of profound natural beauty.


Local paddleboard rental shops around Destin cater to this waterborne pastime with services ranging from equipment rentals to guided tours. These businesses are staffed by passionate individuals who not only provide the necessary gear but also share their local knowledge to enrich your experience on the water. For those with less experience, beginner-friendly boards offer stability and ease of use, ensuring every customer can confidently glide over the water regardless of skill level.


Guided tours elevate the paddleboarding experience by directing guests to the Bay’s most secluded and scenic waterways. Not only do these excursions showcase the area’s breathtaking landscapes, but they also often lead to encounters with the local marine life. Imagine the thrill of being on a paddleboard as a pod of playful dolphins surfaces nearby, or the surprise and delight of spotting a sea turtle navigating the depths. These experiences serve as potent reminders of the area’s rich biodiversity and the importance of preserving such delicate ecosystems.


For those seeking to go at their own pace, the bay’s numerous inlets and coves provide plenty of opportunities for self-guided exploration. Maps and advice from locals can point you to the best spots for wildlife watching or finding a quiet space away from the more popular areas. The sense of discovery that comes with finding a quiet little part of the bay all to oneself is a cherished part of the Destin paddleboarding experience.

Snorkeling South Walton’s Artificial Reef

South Walton Artificial Reef

The South Walton Artificial Reef Association has meticulously crafted a series of four snorkel reefs, each designed with the dual purpose of supporting marine life conservation while offering stunning underwater vistas. Nestled just off the shore, beyond the pristine white sand beaches, these artificial reefs serve as vibrant underwater sanctuaries, fostering biodiversity and providing safe havens for a variety of marine species.


These man-made reefs are not only a testament to the community’s commitment to preserving the natural beauty and health of the ocean but also a treasure trove for underwater adventurers. Each reef, with its distinct structure, attracts different types of fish and marine creatures, laying out a mesmerizing underwater tableau. Exploring these reefs, divers and snorkelers are often greeted by schools of colorful fish darting around the coral, sea turtles making their leisurely way through the water, and an occasional photobomb by a curious dolphin. It’s an underwater ballet that showcases the harmony of nature and human ingenuity, making each dive not just an adventure, but a journey into the heart of the ocean’s mysteries.

Experience Destin with RealJoy Vacations

Choosing to vacation with us at RealJoy means you’re not just getting a place to stay; you’re unlocking a tailored experience in one of the most beautiful stretches from Destin to Panama City Beach. Our commitment to providing unforgettable stays is evident in our diverse array of vacation rentals, each poised to offer something unique, from beachfront bliss to the comfort and privacy of a homely retreat. With features like beachfront access, pet-friendly options, private pools, and 24/7 support from our local team, each detail is meticulously woven into the fabric of your vacation experience to ensure it’s nothing short of amazing.

Explore more blogs