It’s not too late to plan a last-minute summer getaway. The weather’s still great and those PTO days aren’t going to use themselves. And if you’re on the east coast, our favorite beach destination of 2012 is just a short flight away. In fact, no matter where you are, Destin, the crown jewel of Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast is worth getting to one way or another.

The first thing you’ll notice is the color of the water. The emerald-green tint actually comes from the sand, which is made up of pure Appalachian quartz and reflects sunlight up through the surf. Sound cool? It is—literally. The sugar-white sand maintains low temperatures throughout the summer.

Destin is equipped to satisfy even the most vigorous fun seekers among us. Personally, I can tell you that the TV in my hotel room at Destin’s Jade East Towers remained turned off throughout the duration of my stay—a definite first. The captivating view of the Gulf of Mexico from the balcony—standard in every room—is a gateway drug, and when you’re ready to indulge, it’s easy to take advantage of everything that Destin has to offer at a moment’s notice. 

Walking around the harbor is one way to get a feel for Destin. Parasailing is another. The view from the top is really something else, and will whet your appetite for the myriad activities down below. Luckily, jet ski rentals are ready and waiting just a few feet down the dock to launch you over the glassy, emerald waves at high speed.

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Destin Golf Course

Destin is a fit man’s playground. The soft sand adds a challenging twist to a morning run, and the water temperature is perfect for swimming. I used this opportunity to try stand-up paddle boarding for the first time.

SailingYou can find a lot of firsts here. For example, if you’ve never eaten a fish caught by your own hand, this is your chance. Fisherman’s Wharf, conveniently located adjacent to the charter fishing boats, will let you do just that. Just bring in your catch and take a seat inside the restaurant. A deep-sea charter boat—complete with skipper, first mate, and all the equipment you’ll need—can be booked on short notice.

If you’d rather have someone else—say, with more than three hours of fishing experience—catch your food for you, Destin’s fine dining begins and ends, sufficiently, at the Beach Walk Café at the Henderson Inn, where award-winning cuisine is served beachside beneath tiki lights as the sun sinks into the sea. It’s the perfect way to cap off a long day.

BeachOf course, there are other ways to do that, and Destin’s nightlife is surprisingly worthwhile. AJ’s is the undisputable hub of Destin’s party scene. With a buzzing bar area that transplants the best of Manhattan’s lower east side into a mellow outdoor setting, and ample tables with stellar harbor views, it’s the perfect location for raging with the guys or nursing a rum and Coke over some good conversation.

Obviously, like any destination, Destin is what you make of it. You can play it low key—it’s a relaxing place with good food, friendly people, and beautiful weather. If you’re like us, you’ll recognize it as an opportunity to engage in new experiences, whether it’s testing your core strength in a new water sport or hauling a feisty snapper over the side of a boat.