This year, Dennis and I had the unique opportunity of going on an extended family vacation to the Florida panhandle’s Emerald Coast. I’ve passed through Miami International Airport before on my way to the Caribbean but this was my first real Florida trip. My introduction to Florida was the beautiful Gulf town of Destin, not far from Fort Walton Beach.
We chose to drive the thirteen-hour trip each way, staying overnight in Alabama and taking an extended day trip to a civil war battle site in Tennessee (see photos of Franklin, TN here). Destin is such a tourist community with the main road (98) housing beach gear shops on nearly every block in garishly bright tropical colors. For shoppers, there were two major outlet malls on the main road. Golf is also popular with a course and mini-golf venues nearby lending a carnival-like atmosphere for the cool of the evening.
The planned community we stayed in was more what I expected Florida to be, a proper Southern neighborhood with big porches, lots of palm trees, and a great ocean view. I loved the sign that greeted us as we drove up to the community.
“Please slow down, you’re already here!”
Pastel homes in neutral cottage white and taupe, and occasionally, homes in lovely shades of lemon, blues and pinks lined the curving roads. Most of the homes are three-storey with a first floor acting as a garage/boat storage which elevates the property from flooding. The ones above the dunes were the only traditional two-storey structures I spotted.
Nearly all of the homes had brightly-colored shutters, the kind that pivot away from the home to allow air to circulate but retain a sense of privacy. Some of the nicest lots backed the beach, edged with sand dunes, or the lake commons. At night, the loudest sound you hear is the croaking of frogs and occasionally, fireworks from nearby HarborWalk.
HarborWalk Village is the local wharf where you can charter boats for fishing, dolphin-watching or cruises. like the pirate ship my niece and nephew loved. There are other adventure opportunities like zip-lining and jet packs, or for the less adventurous, shopping and great dining.
Check out the guy on the jet pack! Next time, I’m so doing this…
One of the many great restaurants we visited in Destin, FL was a place called HarryT’s with like 180 degree views of the water, friendly serving staff and some of the best cheese grits I’ve ever had. I’m not a seafood person but Dennis enjoyed the seafood Reuben sandwich he had. I loved the exterior’s porch with boston ferns and the fans.
If you’re down in Destin, I also strongly recommend McGuire’s Irish Pub. There was not a single thing on the menu that I tried that I didn’t like. They’re apparently famous for their prime rib and you can see/smell the smoker in front of the pub when you’re waiting for a table and it’s mouth-watering good. The wait is worth it.
The interior of McGuire’s is one of the oddest I’ve ever been in. It’s full of paraphernalia from the past and has the rich wood interior I’d expect from an Irish pub but nearly every wall, booth and ceiling is papered with thousands of dollar bills, each with a sentiment, year or name.
Make sure you try the boxtys appetizer, a mashed potato ball coated in batter, deep-fried and served with salsa, guacamole, and horseradish cream. For the Love of Food has a great recipe for boxtys I can’t wait to try out soon. Another McGuire’s tradition is their Senate Bean Soup (yum!) which is the cheapest thing on the menu at 18 cents.
Of course, the best thing about Destin is the beach. The sand is powder white and cockle shells and broken sand dollars are the only “litter” you’ll find along the line of canvas and wood fold-out chairs and large umbrellas that face the ocean. I didn’t have very much success with beach-combing but I suppose if you came when the tide came in or left you might do better.
I spent most of the time, outdoors (or indoors) catching up on my reading. I clocked in three e-books with my new Kindle Fire HD and seven (physical) books that I had packed.
Titles included: Finding My Place: 1) One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg by Margo Dill. 2) The Lady Outlaw by Stacy Henrie. 3) The Veiled Prophet of St. Louis by Joe Schwartz. 4) The Girl on the Mountain by Carol Ervin. 5) The Dark Heroine by Abigail Gibbs. 6) Jane Vows Vengeance by Michael Thomas Ford. 7) Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange.
The view from our residence for the trip:
I guess I shouldn’t hesitate to add that the sunsets were amazing. That might be my one regret — not making more time to witness the sunsets. On our last night there, I saw my first Florida sunset…
I can only imagine how the sunsets must look over the water. Maybe next time.