Pensacola vs Destin: The Florida Panhandle extends along the coast for 200 miles, the jewel-toned green Gulf of Mexico earning it its nickname of Florida’s Emerald Coast. The lesser-known area is rich in natural beauty and home to a number of idyllic beach towns which include Pensacola and Destin. Both these towns offer something for everyone, however choosing your destination comes down to which town ticks most of your beach vacation boxes. Keep reading to discover the key differences between Pensacola vs Destin.
Both Pensacola and Destin boast remarkable beaches and enjoy the same sparkling emerald green water the Florida Panhandle is famous for! The key differences we’ll explore are the beaches, activities on offer, nightlife, climate, atmosphere and accommodation to help you decide which beach town to visit next.
Pensacola Beach forms a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, so it’s protected beaches are absolutely pristine. Pad along the sugary soft sand and dip into clean, jade-hued water to cool off which is teeming with fish and other sea creatures. Not only is the water brimming with marine life, it is common to spot endangered birds and sea turtles on Pensacola Beach making Pensacola a nature lover’s paradise!
Beaches: Gulf Island National Seashore, Navarre Beach, Opal Beach, Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key Beach
The soft, powdery sand on the beaches in the Panhandle town of Destin will have you wanting to sink your toes in all day long. There’s nothing worse than rough and abrasive beach sand hurting your feet, so beaches in Destin are perfect for strolls, frisbee games and building sandcastles with the kids.
Beaches: Crystal Sands Beach, Henderson Beach State Park, James Lee County Park, Jetty East Beach, Okaloosa Island
With protected beaches and reefs, there’s no shortage of sea life in Pensacola’s waters making it a premier snorkeling destination. Other activities include walks in the local parks, a day of thrills at the amusement park, exploring the museums or watching the Blue Angels air show from Pensacola Beach.
It’s no wonder Destin has gained a reputation for being Florida’s “Luckiest Fishing Village.” Grab a spot on the jetties for a spot of fishing or head out to sea for a deep sea fishing charter. Destin is also a great area for snorkeling, with Choctawhatchee Bay offering some of the best snorkeling experiences for the whole family. Other popular water sports for visitors in Destin include paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing and kite surfing.
Another fun spot to visit are the sandbars at Crab Island, a great area for swimming, snorkeling and dining at a floating restaurant. We recommend booking the Sandbar Adventure Tour for a fun day out on a tiki bar boat.
Destin also boasts a number of championship golf courses so if you’re a golf enthusiast definitely gear up to play a round on the world-class courses.
There is not a big difference between the weather conditions in Pensacola vs Destin. Average summer temperatures for both are in the mid-70s while average winter temperatures are in the low 60s. Annually both destinations receive around 60 – 65 inches of rainfall. Being along the Florida coast, they both have warm and pleasant climates, even in the winter months.
When it comes to nightlife in Pensacola vs Destin, there are a few factors to consider. Pensacola may be a relaxed coastal town but it doesn’t mean you can’t let your hair down when the sun sets! There are plenty of dive bars, lounges and late-night dining options to cater to all tastes.
Destin has gained a reputation for being a family-friendly town so their tolerance for loud late-night parties and general rowdiness is pretty low. Maintaining their kid-friendly atmosphere, there still is plenty to do by night. You’ll find your fair share of dive bars and beach clubs offering live music, dancing and themed nights from karaoke to games nights.
Pensacola has an authentic small-town feel and is a much quieter destination than Destin. When visiting Pensacola most people visit to spend lazy days on the beach so while there is less to do in Pensacola vs Destin, the beaches are certainly where you’ll want to spend your time. If a holiday immersing yourself in nature and natural beauty sounds like what you need, Pensacola is the place for you.
Destin is very much a family-oriented town with warm and friendly locals making sure you always feel welcome. However it does have a more touristy feel than Pensacola and is known for being a shopaholic’s dream destination with two upscale malls including Silver Sands Mall and Destin Commons. With a bit more on offer activity-wise, Destin is a great place to visit with kids.
Both Pensacola and Destin have plenty of beautiful hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, and rental homes and condos. If you are planning a trip to either city, here are some of the places you need to consider booking.
Margaritaville Beach Hotel: A gorgeous beachfront hotel sitting on over 800 feet of gulf-front property, the Margaritaville Beach Hotel features luxurious rooms, an outdoor pool, poolside tiki bar, live entertainment, and adventure activities, including dolphin cruises, charter fishing, kayaking, and more.
Portofino Island Resort: Ranked one of the 10 best Family-Friendly Beach Hotels in Florida by Southern Living Magazine, Portofino Island Resort’s condo-style rooms with 2-3 bedrooms are ideal for longer-term stays. The resort has seven pools, three restaurants, and a spa.
Beach Club Resort & Spa: A beautiful hotel with condo-style rooms that have a kitchen, dining room, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, and spacious balconies overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The Beach Club Resort & Spa also offers bicycle rentals, two pools, a spa, and a gym, making it the perfect place for a Pensacola vacation.
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort: One of Destin’s most poplar resorts, the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is set on 2400 acres of manicured land with 4 golf courses and views of the Gulf. The resort offers accommodations that range from studios to four-bedroom units, homes, condos, and penthouses.
The Henderson Beach Resort: A beautiful seaside resort featuring five restaurants, a bar, an outdoor pool, and direct beach access. Located right on the beach, with a 200-acre nature preserve on the other side, the Henderson is one of the best resorts in Destin.
Spoiler alert! There is no verdict here! The better location for your next beach vacation on the Emerald Coast comes down to your preferences. Pensacola’s protected beaches offer a real chance to immerse yourself in nature with days spent on the beach or in the water snorkeling. Destin, on the other hand, offers travelers with kids more to do, great shopping and a family friendly vibe, although it can be more crowded. Go to Pensacola for an authentic small-town beach getaway and Destin for a family-friendly vacation.
When is the Best Time to Visit Pensacola?