Edited by Laura Hoot
Florida is not known for its deals. Although the warm weather lets you pack a little more lightly, food, amusements and lodging prices can all have quite a spike to them. To help stretch your dollars a bit further during your time in the Destin sun, enjoy some of these nearly-free and budget-friendly options. Whoever said paradise had to be expensive didn't search hard enough, here's your guide to the top Destin vacation deals:
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You can easily be gouged in the wallet with the many attractions in the area. However, with the right insider knowledge and a bit of planning, you can still get a great taste of Destin and the surrounding beach towns in the area while still keeping some green for yourself.
- Fudpucker's is known for its alligators, but what most out-of-towners aren't aware of is that you don't have to eat here to enjoy one of the shows. Feedings and shows with the dozens of resident reptiles happen throughout the day, so you can stop by and likely catch the animals in action. The restaurant is located off of Highway 98 outside of town. 20001 Emerald Coast Pkwy
- Drive over to Seaside, Florida - just 25 miles east of Destin - to check out the local shops. Unlike other tourist-heavy towns, Seaside boutiques offer a number of cheap souvenirs and retail options, including Sundog Books, which sells a number of paperbacks for around $1 a pop. If you need a fast amusement in a pinch, stop by The Quincy Shop. This craft supply/game store usually has a number of toys out front, and the owners welcome people testing them out before they buy! With old-fashioned toys and wonderfully unique odds and ends, everyone is sure to find something to strike their fancy.
- The Destin Fishing and History Museum is a great way to soak up the oceanfront culture when you need to get out of the sun and indoors. Admission is just $5. 108 Stahlman Ave,
- Of the Destin area's many beaches, one of the best is Miramar Beach, offering up all the charms of a small beach town and the convenience of a big one. East of Destin
- Today's Florida Panhandle is filled with condos and modern developments, but the true beauty of the state comes into full view at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Entry is four dollars per car, yet the area remains remarkably uncrowded. You and your vacationing buddies can sink your toes into the 3.2 miles of pristine white sands here, or venture over one of the many dunes that form picturesque hillsides. Boats are not allowed, so all you'll hear are the sounds of the softly crashing waves and local wildlife - which includes the rare snowy plovers and eastern bluebirds. Whether you're in the mood to hike, sunbathe or comb the beach for the next addition to your shell collection, this is the most peaceful place in the area to do it. 7525 W Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL
- Fort Walton's Boardwalk offers access to several great seaside picnic spots that are feet from the surf - although being this close to the waves can make it hard to wait 30 minutes after eating to swim. Volleyball nets located along beach provide a great place to join an impromptu game. 1450 Miracle Strip Pkwy SE, Fort Walton Bch, FL
- One of Destin's cheapest amusements only costs the price of a loaf of bread. Make sure you and your travel brood head to the beach bright and early to feed the seagulls when they are still hungry. The dance of the gulls as you toss out bits of bread here is something that cannot be described, yet always manages to put a smile on travelers' faces.
Destin is a Florida paradise, but unlike some of the well-known areas, it has plenty of places to grab a bite for $10 or less per meal.
Lunch & Dinner
- Jasmine Thai is a great place to enjoy a romantic meal that will still fit into your budget. Best of all, this cheap restaurant offers a number of vegan, gluten-free and kid-approved meal options on its menu. Choose from authentic entrees like Pad Khing Sod or Pra Ram Long Song for around $9 or less. The most expensive item on the kid's menu - sauteed zucchini with shrimp - tops out at around six bucks. 4424 Commons Drive East #3C
- Crush Wine Bar isn't just a spot to indulge - this small-plate eatery allows you to stay on budget with delectable multi-cultural meals that include Spanish, Japanese and American flavors. The daily wine paired specials - which include Cuban paninis, blackened shrimp tacos and Caesar salad made with local shrimp - are some of the best deals in house, and usually cost around 10 bucks per meal. 25 Central Square, Seaside, FL
- If you're an avid angler, one of the cheapest meals you can get in the region is with your pole. Destin has been called the "world's luckiest fishing village" due to the high concentration of marine life here. If you've got a fishing license and a few hours to spare, grab some bait and see what you can catch! It could be one of the freshest meals you enjoy. Read more about the top Destin beaches.
- Whether you prefer breakfast at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m., Donut Hole Bakery and Cafe will provide. This 24-hour eatery serves up all of your hearty breakfast favorites, from Belgian waffles to biscuits and gravy served up with delectable bites of sausage. Of course, there's also plenty of donuts and coffee to go around! Most meals cost around seven to 10 bucks. 635 Harbor Blvd
- For a quick meal on the go, head to Not Just Bagels. As the name implies, this eatery may specialize in a number of delectable bagel combinations - including cinnamon sugar bagels with strawberry cream cheese - but is also known for its sandwiches and strong coffee. Locals love the Aphrodite or the Raspberry Turkey. 4447 Commons Dr E # 112
Coffee, Tea & Dessert
- Shaved ice is a the perfect way to cool down on a hot Florida evening, and Frostbites in neighboring Seaside offers the largest selection of flavors in the region. Try one of more than 30 flavors, like pink grapefruit or refreshing guava, or indulge in one of their delectable custard cups for $5. 2215 E County Hwy 30a, Santa Rosa Beach, FL
- Located along Fort Walton Beach, Coffee Grounz & Bake Shop is the place most locals go to enjoy a cup of joe, tea or their favorite pastry. Using only Arabica beans for their coffee and a variety of black, green, oolong and rooibos tea blends, you're sure to find your favorite morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up here. 73 Eglin Pkwy NE #106, Fort Walton Beach
- Sugar Baby's Candy & Ice Cream is the perfect one-stop-shop for a sweets addict. Ice cream flavors like Garbage Can and Smurf are perfect for a hot day, and nostalgic candy like giant gummy sharks and candy cigars provide a sweet treat to take home.
Destin has no shortage of lodging options, but one of the best ways to save is by opting for a vacation rental during your stay. In-town condos, single-family homes just off the beach and cottages that provide sweeping sunset views are all available for prices that are often much lower than you'd spend at a traditional lodging option. Best of all, most homes come equipped with their own full-service kitchen (perfect for affordable home-cooked meals), private yards (for a quiet nightcap) and expansive dining and living spaces, so everyone has plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the full Destin experience. With each alternative lodging option providing its own unique style, you'll truly encounter the city like a local would.
If you're still looking to keep a few more extra dollars in your account post-vacation, try a few of these tips when you're exploring Destin vacation deals:
- Destin's shoulder seasons are from April to May and September through November. Temperatures average in the 70s during both, so you'll stay warm and still be able to enjoy better rates on top attractions in the area.
- If your travel plans are only located at a few keys spots in town, you may want to forego a car and opt for the local transit, Wave. Fare for adults is $1 per ride, and kids who are shorter than the top of the fare box ride for free.
- Look for ticket deals throughout the city's fine arts venues to uncover great deals. For example, one recent deal gave members of the military and their families $10 fare to Sinfonia Gulf Coast, the area's Symphony Orchestra.
- Destin's popularity in recent years has brought up the price on many local attractions, so to get the best deals a bit of coupon-cutting (or at least online searching) is often needed. Many families have turned to great online deals to cut the price of a bowling match, mini golf game or day at the waterpark by as much as half.