Nestled along the Gulf of Mexico, the Emerald Coast of Florida bestows breathtaking natural beauty characterized by pristine white sandy beaches, crystal-clear emerald waters, and stunning coastal landscapes.

From Panama City and Destin to Miramar Beach and Fort Walton, there’s so much to discover in terms of natural beauty, culture, and city nightlife. If you only have a short time in the region, it may be daunting to figure out how to enjoy those precious days.

We’ve got you covered on this. Below we put together a great weekend itinerary for you and your family to have a good taste of the best this dazzling part of Florida has to offer.

Let’s jump right in!


Friday evening: take a stroll along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk

There’s nothing better than starting your weekend exploration on the Emerald Coast by visiting the beating heart of the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Destin Harbor Boardwalk is not only home to the largest fishing fleet in Florida but also a mecca for entertainment. 

The best part? It boasts a lively atmosphere and stunning sea views that will put you in the right mood for a weekend in the region.

Before choosing one of the great restaurants around to savor fresh seafood dishes, make sure to watch the sunset over the dazzling Gulf of Mexico. 

You can also dine while watching the dusk colors since some establishments face the sea. Some excellent places for a memorable dining experience include Boathouse Oyster Bar, Tailfins Waterfront GrillDewey Destin’s Seafood Restaurant, Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House, and The Back Porch

After dinner, you can stroll along the boardwalk and visit some of the amazing boutiques and souvenir shops along the way, watch a live music performance, or simply relax on a bench watching all the activity happening around you while feeling the salty breeze from the ocean. If you have kids with you, there’s a mini-golf course, escape rooms, laser mazes, and activities where the entire family can have fun together.

The Destin Boardwalk is also the starting point for several adventures, such as dolphin cruises, fishing trips, snorkeling, diving, and parasailing adventures. So keep that in mind if you visit earlier in the day.

Saturday morning: start the day with an ‘egg-cellent’ breakfast at Another Broken Egg Cafe

To get through a day of fun on the Emerald Coast, you need to be energized. One of the best places in Destin to have a substantial breakfast is Another Broken Egg Cafe on Legendary Drive. 

Their extensive menu featuring traditional breakfast dishes will please everyone, as will the great atmosphere, reasonable prices, and extremely friendly service. Your day will start in the right direction with the cafe’s mouthwatering chicken & waffles, customizable omelets, eggs benedict, cinnamon roll French toast, and one of the patrons’ favorites: the lemon blueberry goat cheese pancakes.

After an egg-cellent breakfast fix, you’re ready for all the adventures the Emerald Coast has to offer!


Saturday morning: soak up the paradise-like scenery of Okaloosa Island

Just a 9-minute drive from Destin, Okaloosa Island is one of the most beautiful places on the entire Emerald Coast and a must-visit spot if you’re traveling in the area. Thinking about those dream-like sugar-white beaches with turquoise waters? Bingo! Okaloosa Island is home to some of them.

For a crowd-free beach day, head to John Beasley Park. This is a great option to spend the day on the beach since the park offers many convenient amenities such as beachside pavilions, picnic tables, a snack bar, changing rooms, and showers. Needless to say, the park features miles of Caribbean-like shores where you’ll have unlimited access to the calm crystalline waters, soft sands, beautiful dunes, and coastal vegetation.

Saturday afternoon: get personal with beautiful creatures at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

After soaking up the sun and enjoying the breathtaking beauty of John Beasley Park, it’s a good idea to visit the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, just a 4-minute drive from John Beasley Park. 

If you’re traveling with kids, the Gulfarium will probably be the highlight of the trip. This is a family-friendly activity where you can get close to some of the most adorable and captivating creatures. From fantastic dolphin shows and exhibits featuring incredible marine mammals, fish, and reptiles, this will be an afternoon of entertainment and learning. 

An extra-special activity is the encounters where you can get up close to the animals, such as getting in the water and engaging with dolphins, being kissed by a sea lion, petting and feeding penguins, and much more. All of this is supervised by the professional and friendly staff who will also give you insights about these wonderful creatures.


Saturday evening: savor superb and fresh seafood dishes at Captain Dave’s On the Gulf

It’s dinnertime, and since you’re on the Emerald Coast, indulging in the freshest seafood is a must. After a full day of activity, a drive to Destin to dine at Captain Dave’s On the Gulf is the best way to end the day.

Captain Dave’s is a typical Florida seafood eatery, a pretty and airy restaurant with more great water views for you to enjoy. In business since 1968 (and that’s a testament to its quality!), they focus on American seafood with a Gulf Coast twist. 

The menu offers classic fried, grilled, and broiled seafood dishes. Here’s a golden tip: Make sure to ask what the daily special is; sometimes they have great surprises! Their floor-to-ceiling windows make you feel like you’re right on the shore, even if you sit inside, and their welcoming hospitality will make a real difference in your dining experience. 

Oh, there’s also a full-service bar with a spacious lounge — in other words, a great place perfect for a drink after a great dinner.

Sunday morning: have breakfast like a champion at
Maple Street Biscuit Company in Miramar Beach

Rise and shine! Another day on the Emerald Coast, and how about spending it in charming Miramar Beach? 

If you’re driving from Destin, the ride takes about 18 minutes, while driving from Fort Walton takes a little over 30 minutes. Or, if you’re based in Panama City Beach, it’s a 1-hour drive, making it possible to do a day trip.

Start the day by getting all the necessary energy at Maple Street Biscuit Company, where they promise to serve a “never boring, always inspired” breakfast. Their specialty is biscuit sandwiches and mouth-watering Southern sides. Portions are generous, flavors are bold, and the ingredients are the freshest available. Whether you choose a Family-Sized Biscuits & Gravy or Chocolate Chip Waffles, breakfast here will brighten your mood for one more day of adventure.


Sunday morning: visit the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park 

After breakfast, head to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park for one more morning/afternoon embracing the best the Emerald Coast has to offer. 

Topsail Hill is known for its gorgeous sand dunes rising over the white sands of the 3 miles of pristine beaches protected by the park. The dunes form a unique ecosystem of freshwater lakes and coastal vegetation — both brimming with wildlife.

The unspoiled shores are simple heaven on earth: uncrowded sands, tranquil and crystal clear waters, and unmatched vistas to the Gulf of Mexico. What else can you wish for? The park also has amenities like restrooms, campsites, and picnic areas if you want to bring some snacks. 

Sunday afternoon: hit some balls on a golf course

Florida is home to top-notch golf courses, so why not try one of them while on vacation? Whether you’re a pro or just want to learn and try something different with the entire family, there are plenty of options along the Emerald Coast.

Some of the most popular choices are The Golf Garden of Destin, which offers a family-friendly experience, while the Burnt Pine Golf Club caters to more experienced golfers looking to challenge themselves. Just a short drive from Miramar Beach, the best options include Indian Bayou Golf & Country Club, Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club, and Emerald Bay Golf Club.


Sunday evening: explore all the entertainment options at The Village of Baytowne Wharf

The Village of Baytowne Wharf is the full package. Like the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, in this family-friendly destination in Miramar Beach, you’ll find dining, shopping, and lots of entertainment options for a fun evening.

You can enjoy dinner at one of the fantastic restaurants featuring diverse cuisines. Some of the most popular eateries are Hammerhead’s Bar & Grille, Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House, and Cannery Lane Cantina. Then, indulge in a delicious gelato at Seaside Sweeteries and explore the village. 

There are plenty of amazing shops for souvenirs, an adventure zone, a lovely carousel, and an amazing arcade with over 60 redemption and video games where you can collect tickets for great prizes. While exploring the area, you might also come across live music performances, adding to the pleasant and festive atmosphere of the place.

Sunday evening (alternative plan): prepare a private dinner at your vacation rental

If you’re staying in a comfy vacation rental and want to wear your chef’s hat, why not prepare dinner at home?

Since you’re close to the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” this is a great opportunity to explore Destin’s fish markets and buy the freshest seafood for a memorable dinner with your family. Some of the most popular markets are Blalock Seafood Market, Sexton Seafood Market, Destin Ice Seafood Market, and Shrimper’s Seafood Market, to name a few.

Nothing beats an intimate dinner with your folks, celebrating the end of an unforgettable weekend on the Emerald Coast!


Your Weekend Itinerary to the Emerald Coast

There you go. If you follow our tips above, your weekend will be so much fun that you’ll be wanting to head back to the Emerald Coast in no time, and not just for a weekend!

Want more tips to make your trip to the Emerald Coast extra special? Then head to our blog on things to do in the area.

We’ve covered many topics so far, like some interesting and fun facts about the area, a guide to the best restaurants, and a blog on pet-friendly spots. And guess what? There are more amazing blogs coming soon, so stay tuned!

Wondering where to stay on the Emerald Coast during your visit?

Book your stay with Emerald Coast Vacation Rentals. We offer an unmatched selection of vacation rental properties to suit every traveler’s taste. Whether you’re looking for a beachfront condominium, pet-friendly rentals, or a charming beachside cottage, we’ve got it.

Our properties are strategically located, which means you’ll be steps away from idyllic beaches, great dining options, exquisite golf courses, and an array of outdoor pursuits like deep-sea fishing, dolphin tours, and more. That’s the secret to a perfect Emerald Coast Gateway!