17 Pros and Cons of Living in Destin, Florida

A photo of a orange beach chairs sitting on white sand, over-looking emerald green waters

The city of Destin is located on the panhandle of Florida, along the clear green waters of the Emerald Coast. The city began as a fishing town in the 1850s and remained focused on fishing until the 1980s when tourism-based development began.

Today, the city is a thriving beach resort town bringing in millions of tourists each year. It is pretty obvious that Destin is a great place to take a vacation, but this article will summarize what life is like for the folks that call Destin their permanent, year-round home.

10 Benefits of Living in Destin, Florida – Pros

Destin has a lot of the benefits of other Florida beach resort towns with world-class beaches, great weather, and plenty of great restaurants. Destin also has some extra benefits that make this town a great place to live year-round.

1. The Emerald Coast Beaches

The Emerald Coast is the nickname given to about 100 miles of shore on the Florida panhandle, stretching from the city of Pensacola across to the Port St Joe area. It was given this name because of its pristine white sand beaches (sometimes called “Florida snow”) that sit along the beautiful emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. 

It is estimated that the Emerald Coast area receives 4.5 million tourists a year. Pensacola and Panama City may be the most well-recognized names in the area, but it is actually the city of Destin that receives 80% of the Emerald Coast tourists. 

Obviously, folks become full-time residents of Destin because they want 365-day access to its beaches and ocean. Residents have access to both the Gulf of Mexico and the calmer waters of Choctawhatchee Bay where they can partake in any water activity of their choosing.

2. Fishing

Commercial fishing was Destin’s largest industry for the first 130 years of the town’s history. While tourism may reign supreme now, the area is still home to some great sport fishing in the Gulf and in the Bay. The city has a great geographic location for fishing, with deep waters available just 25 miles away. 

Folks not only fish offshore in one of the city’s 150 charter boats, but they also fish from the shoreline surf, from piers, and from bridges.

In total, there are over two dozen fish species commonly caught from the shores and waters of the Destin, including grouper, snappers, amberjack cobia, tuna, sailfish, wahoo, tarpon, and many more.

A photo of two beach chairs sitting on white sand, overlooking emerald green waters, with a bright sun shining into the lens

3. Great Weather

The Destin area experiences 226 days of sunshine every year, but it also gets 66 inches of rain, which is twice the national average. It is the perfect combination of sun and rain to keep the area lush with green. Summers do get hot and humid with highs in the 90s, but the winters are a cool and dry 60 degrees.

4. Diversified Economy 

Beach resort towns are often completely dependent on tourism to survive and these places face hardship when the winter comes, storms hit, the country suffers a pandemic, etc. 

Destin, however, has been able to maintain a diversified economy, mostly due to its close proximity to the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  This military base trains many of the Navy’s best pilots, is home to the famous Blue Angels, and is nicknamed “The Cradle of Naval Aviation”. 

Of the top 10 employers in the Destin area, only one is a Retailer (the Publix grocery store). All other employers are related to education, medicine, local government, and the Federal government.

5. Above-Average Income

The diversified economy (Pro #4) is likely the reason Destin residents enjoy income levels above the national averages. A resident of Destin has an average income of $40K versus the US average of $31K. The median household income in Destin is $71K versus the $57K average.

6. Schools are Good

Destin is home to one Elementary School and one Middle School. Both receive top rankings with test scores well above national averages. Overall, its public school system ranks in the Top 85% of American schools. 

In the past, there have been zero High Schools within Destin town limits and residents had to travel to nearby towns, such as Fort Walton. In August 2021, Destin opened a brand new high school of its own. It is too early to rate this new school but given the high rankings at nearby schools, it will likely rank well.

7. Plenty of Restaurant Choices

Being a tourist resort area, the Destin area has over 275 national and locally-owned restaurants to entertain both tourists and residents. There is a restaurant to meet every craving and every budget. Given the commercial and sport fishing in the area (Pro #2), you will have plenty of fresh, reasonably-priced seafood to choose from. Being on the Gulf Coast also means you’ll pick up some of that cajun influence as well.

On the downside, though, you may need to battle the tourist crowds during the warm months, and many restaurants close down during the cold months. 

8. Plenty of Nightlife

Residents and tourists of Destin will never get bored at night because the towns offer a variety of family-friendly and adult-only nightlife opportunities. Again, you’ll need to battle tourist crowds and some places may shut down in the cold months.

9. Plenty of Golf

A man is playing golf. Dressed in all white, he is swinging his club. Green trees and green grass can be seen.

The Destin area is home to eight top-quality golf courses. There are another 17 golf courses located within 20 miles of town, with most of these being open to the public.

Kelly Plantation Golf Club is rated the best course near Destin, with a 4.5-star rating from Golf Digest and a Top 5 ranking in all of Florida.

10. Great Retirement Options

Destin is home to 8 active adult communities, ranging from condos to 55+ communities. There are an additional 6 assisted living and nursing homes. Combined with the rest of the Pros above, it is no wonder Destin is in the Top 2% Best Places to Retire in America.

7 Drawbacks of Living in Destin, Florida – Cons

No location is perfect, and Destin has several of the concerns that often come along with living in a beach resort town. 

11. High Cost of Living/Housing

An aerial photo of Destin showing a lot of buildings and surrounded by a lot of water

Being a beach resort town, it should be no surprise that the cost of living in Destin is 18% higher than the US average, driven mostly by the fact housing costs are a whopping 62% above average ($490K Destin versus $291K US). 

As mentioned in Pro #5, average income levels in the area are 25% higher in Destin versus the national average, which helps offset the increased costs a bit. However, the expensive housing is still going to be stretch for many of the residents. 

12. Hurricane Risks

A conversation about the Florida coast wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the risk of hurricanes. The Gulf coast is at higher risk of a major hurricane than the East coast because the warm Gulf waters turbo-charge incoming storms. 

The Destin area is ranked #10 highest risk of hurricanes in the country, which is higher than any other location in Florida; the only other areas more at risk of a hurricane are elsewhere on the Gulf coast. The flood maps predict that major portions of the Destin peninsula could be covered with storm surge should a major hurricane make a direct landing. 

13. The Colder Offseason

One of the benefits of Destin is that winters are much warmer than areas of the north (Pro #1). Having highs hit 60 degrees is a dream for someone from Minnesota, but 60-degrees is a bit chilly for swimming and sunbathing at the beach. Unlike areas of southern Florida which stay warm/hot year-round, the northern panhandle area has a cooler offseason, typically November-February, where there are fewer tourists visiting.

During the offseason, many of the town’s restaurants and attractions may be closed. Residents employed in the tourism and retail sectors may find themselves laid-off for a few months. Thankfully, Destin has a diversified economy (Pro #2) so there are jobs available outside of the resort areas.

14. It’s Crowded

A blurry photo of a very crowded street full of people walking

The number of full-time residents (eligible to be counted in the census), is only 14K people. With a size of only 8 square miles, Destin has a high population density of 1,800 people per square mile. So even in the winter offseason, the town is going to feel crowded.

Now imagine what happens when the 3 million tourists pour in during the summer months. That is a lot of people on a relatively very small sliver of land. Overcrowding was the primary complaint in reviews for the town.

15. Traffic is Bad

All of the crowds have to move around the city, and there is only one road cutting through Destin (Route 98). There are also only two main bridges leading to the mainland. As mentioned in Con #14, the population of Destin surges during the summer, entertaining a total of 3 million visitors. 

That is a lot of people on just a few roads and bridges. This means there is a lot of traffic during the summer months. Imagine sitting in beach traffic full of tourists when you just want to get to work or get your kid to a soccer game.

16. No Top-Ranked Hospitals Nearby

The Florida Panhandle lacks top-ranked hospitals. The local hospitals (Ascension and Baptist) are adequate for your basic hospital needs. However, if you need to get to a nationally ranked Florida hospital, you will need to drive 3 hours to Tallahassee, 5 hours to Jacksonville, and 6 hours to Orlando.

17. Limited College Opportunities

A photo of a university lecture hall. Rows of black chairs circle a lecture stand

The Destin area is home to only one community college, the Northwest Florida State College. It ranks below average in the country. 

If you want a 4-year college, you will need to make the short drive into Pensacola to reach the University of West Florida, which has decent rankings. 

Is Destin, Florida Expensive to Live?

Yes, consistent with most Florida beach towns, the cost of living in Destin is 18% higher than the US average, driven mostly by the fact housing costs are a whopping 62% above average ($490K Destin versus $291K US). 

As mentioned in Pro #5, average income levels in the area are 25% higher in Destin versus the national average, which helps offset the increased costs a bit. However, the expensive housing is still going to be stretch for many of the residents. 

Is Destin, Florida a Safe Place to Live?

Yes, there is nothing overly concerning about crime in the Destin area. Violent and property crime rates are right at the national average.

Is Destin a Nice Place to Retire?

Yes, Destin is in the Top 2% Best Places to Retire in America. The town has over a dozen retirement communities to choose from. Retirees that can afford the housing will enjoy the world-class beaches and great weather. Just prepare yourself for large crowds.

Are there Alligators in Destin, Florida?

Southern Florida has millions of alligators, but the panhandle only has thousands of these creatures. So, yes, there are alligators near Destin, but they are a rare sight to see.

What’s the Coldest Month in Destin Florida?

The coldest month in Destin is January when high temperatures reach the low 60s and can drop down to the 40s at night.

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