Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be memorable. Destin Army Recreation Area offers military families the best of both worlds: Bayside views and affordable accommodations.
Destin sits on a peninsula straddling the emerald-green waters of Florida’s “Emerald Coast” and the deep blue tides of the Choctawhatchee Bay. The aptly named coastline stretches 100 miles between Pensacola and Port St. Joe, Fla., and features northwest Florida’s trademark white sand beaches and clear waters.
With nearby waterfront hotels going for upward of $1,200 per night, the Army resort offers a vacation option that won’t break the bank.
A popular military vacation spot, the resort is a 15-acre gated recreation area along the bay minutes from Gulf Coast beaches, restaurants, shopping and nightlife.
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Accommodations include hotel rooms, studios, suites, villas and recreational vehicle sites. The resort has a full-service marina with pontoon boat, wave-runner, kayak and bike rentals. Charter fishing and dolphin and harbor cruises are available when the weather is right. A 300-foot pier extends into the bay, making it a prime spot to fish or catch the sunset. There are several playgrounds, picnic areas, and dog parks as well as a swimming pool that sits against the bay. The resort will complete projects this month on the last of the hotel renovations that began in 2008. Renovation on the new reception and conference center will be complete in May.
A splash park was expected to open this summer. However, construction has been delayed to September to avoid disrupting guests during the busy summer season, said Bill Moore, the resort’s business manager.
The 2,500-square-foot splash park was designed with a pirate theme and will be broken into areas for different age groups ranging from toddler to adult. There will be deck space for lounging, heated water and lots of lighting so the park can stay open later in the evening. It will be located next to the pool and is expected to open next March.
The pool may get an update as well, Moore said.
Designs for a heated pool with wrap-around deck space are nearly complete and the resort is waiting on funding. If approved, construction may begin next March.
Shopping, recreation and dining are just around the corner from the resort.
Moore said staff favorites include the secluded beaches and boardwalk on Okaloosa Island. Harbor Walk, known as Destin’s “hub,” is an up-and-coming hot spot, Moore said, with lots of shops and restaurants located in downtown Destin’s harbor. In the summer, Harbor Walk hosts fireworks on Thursdays, concerts on Saturdays and several festivals throughout the season, he said.
With summer quickly approaching, now is the time to make vacation plans. Moore said villas are sold out for the summer but some hotel rooms, studios and RV spaces are still available.
For rates and reservations, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/destin.recreation, call 850-837-6423 or e-mail email@example.com.
Download maps and get door-to-door directions at www.benningmwr.com
There are 12 public beach access points within the city limits of Destin:
Norriego Point Public Beach
O’Steen Public Beach
Calhoun Public Beach
June White Decker Public Beach Park
Silver Shells Beach Public Beach
Henderson Beach State Park (Fee required.)
Shirah Street Public Beach
Shore at Crystal Beach and Park
Crystal Beach Drive Public Beach
Barracuda Street Public Beach
Pompano Street Public Beach
James Lee Park Public Beach
Parks and beaches
Brackin Wayside Park
Go out Benning Drive to U.S. Highway 98, turn right and cross Destin Bridge. About three miles on the left (Gulf side), you’ll see a sign for the park. Admission is free. Concessions, picnic tables and showers are available in the summer. For more information, call 850-651-7312.
Henderson Beach State Park
Go out Benning Drive to U.S. Highway 98, turn left and go about three miles. The park is on the right-hand side. Entrance fee is $4 per vehicle. There is a boardwalk, picnic tables, pavilions and grills. Camping is allowed. For more information, call 850-837-7550.
Eglin Beach Park
Go out Benning Drive to U.S. Highway 98, turn right and go across Destin Bridge. Take the first turn lane to the left (across from the Coast Guard station on the right). Available to DoD ID cardholders only. The beach is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily from April 1 to Nov. 1. To rent a pavilion, call 850-882-3596.
Emerald Coast Science Center
A museum filled with more than 200 touchable, workable exhibits, including a nature discovery room, air cannon, holograms and color and light exhibits. www.escience.org.
Features dolphin and sea lion shows, living sea theater and exhibits filled with exotic birds, penguins, sharks, alligators and an interactive pool. www.gulfarium.com.
The Track Recreation Center
Go-karts, bumper boats, mini-golf and more at this family amusement center just down the road from Destin military resort. www.destintrack.com.