Florida : Safety by City
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Destin, Florida, sits along the Emerald Coast as the sister city to nearby Fort Walton Beach.
Many sources will lump the two together, but not here.
We’re going to give you specific safety and travel advice for Destin.
To learn more about Fort Walton Beach, you can view our review of that city.
Destin is rated as the #4 Best Beaches in the U.S. and #2 Best Family Beach Vacation by U.S. News and World Report.
This is known as The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village, but it’s less about luck and more about the varying levels of depths in the Gulf off the coast that brings such a wide variety of fish.
Be warned, if you are coming to Destin with an angler, you probably won’t be seeing them very much unless you go fishing with them.
If the two cities are sisters, this might just be the “wild child”.
There’s so much packed into just 8 miles and this area is a little more crowded compared to its laid-back sibling on the other side of the National Seashore.
Destin doesn’t have its police force.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff handles the policing here, making accurate crime statistics a little challenging.
The reports submitted by the county cover a larger area than just Destin, and it extends up to the state line with Alabama.
Warnings & Dangers in Destin
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk. Crime rates, even countywide, are so low I had to double-check the numbers.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
The Emerald Coast Rider is a bus system throughout the region that takes you to all the hot spots, but also has routes for the people who live here and need to get to work and home again. You can grab a taxi or rideshare safely. There's an all-around low risk. If you aren't leaving Destin, there are bicycles to rent and it's just eight square miles, so you could also walk it. If you are going to venture out of the city, it's a good idea to have a car if you can swing it. There's just so much to see. The Destin Water Taxi is a great way to get across the harbor without having to go ALL the way around.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Three pickpockets and purse snatching were reported in the whole county in 2020. There's a low risk, but that number also shows how diligent travelers are about keeping their personal belongings close.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
This is hurricane country. From June through November, everyone keeps an eye on the tropics with special attention in the busy months of August and September. Hurricanes can directly hit Destin, or sideswipe it with heavy rains like Hurricane Sally did in 2020, leaving damage and flooding behind. Severe thunderstorms also pop off in the summer with some tornadoes or waterspouts likely. That's why we call this a medium risk, even though an average day is pretty calm.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here. 26 robberies were reported in a county with 211,000 people in 2020. You're more like to fish with a big fish than another person.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
Englin Air Force Base is nearby and that's enough to call this a medium risk, as military installations are known to be hard targets. They test a lot of weapons at Eglin, so don't be worried if you hear what sounds like war. That's just part of their training missions and you can check the website to see if any tests are happening while you are there.
SCAMS RISK: MEDIUM
I've done a lot of research on travel safety, and I can't tell you how many stories of rental scams I've seen. This trend is leaving people's vacations ruined. Avoid using Craigslist for rental bookings, and even popular websites like Airbnb and VRBO can have scammers sneak into the listings. The first sign of a scam is if you are asked to wire money for a deposit. While the internet makes a lot of things easy for us, it's a good idea to look up a local rental company in Destin, verify their business license, and book the old-fashioned way.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
I'm still going to call this a low risk as I did with Fort Walton Beach, but it's a higher low risk if that makes sense. It's just a busier area with more of a party vibe. I've been to both Destin and Fort Walton Beach as a single woman, and never had a concern for safety. Use common sense if you are going to be drinking alcohol here alone or walking around at night. Don't make yourself a target and you'll be fine. Oh, and please don't ever take a drink you didn't see poured. I've seen too many cases of drugged drinks in my travels, sadly, and I don't want it to happen to you.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
Destin and Fort Walton Beach have the same water system, and it's a low risk. The water meets or exceeds all standards.
Safest Places to Visit in Destin
Just to be clear, these options will hyper-focus on the Destin area, without touching Fort Walton Beach.
We do have another article about that area with hyper-local information to help avoid confusion.
I’ve been fishing once in my life and that was enough for me, but even I would be tempted to check out the World’s Largest Fishing Fleet, located across the bayfront of Destin.
There are options for bottom fishing/trolling, back bay fishing, and deep-sea fishing.
You can do a four-hour tour or spend a whole 24 hours at sea.
Many area restaurants are gulf-to-table, so you can bring that snapper with you to be cleaned and cooked for dinner.
You can also go on a Buccaneer Pirate Cruise to pillage the seas for treasure.
Well, not quite, but there’s a lot of interaction with pirates and some lucky people get to do sword fights and fire a cannon.
Destin Commons is the place to go shopping and strolling in the Gulf breeze.
This is also the area where festivals are held throughout the year.
This area is going to have some of the most nationally-recognized brands.
To check out the local flair of shopping, head to HarborWalk Village.
This one is enough to give me vertigo, but adrenaline junkies will love HarborWalk adventures.
There’s a zipline high above the harbor with breathtaking views (if you don’t have a panic attack as I would).
There’s a special freefall adventure, with a 100′ drop before the bungee line catches you.
There’s an LED light rock wall that shoots 40 feet straight up.
If you were looking for me, I’d be trying to figure out the Hall of Mirrors.
Don’t have a meal right before trying these adventures out!
If you’re looking for more of a laid-back activity, try taking a sandcastle class or drive the seven miles of pristine national seashore across the way to Fort Walton Beach.
Places to Avoid in Destin
There aren’t bad neighborhoods or parts of town you should drive around because of the dangers.
Most of the “avoiding” happens right in Destin.
Don’t drink and drive.
The deputies here are always looking out for safety and will set up random checkpoints.
You should avoid speeding in the downtown area as law enforcement will pull you over quickly for even just a few miles over the speed limit.
The beach closes at dusk, but you’ll still see people out there walking around.
It doesn’t mean it’s okay, but it’s not strictly enforced.
Between May and October don’t go to the beach at night with a flashlight as it could impact nearby sea turtle nests.
That’s why there’s limited lighting from nearby developments.
The turtles get confused in the light and can never make it back to the sea.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Destin
- Know the beach flags before going in the water. A double red flag means the water is off-limits due to rough waters and you can get fined for trying. A purple flag means there’s hazardous marine life, so ask the lifeguard exactly what the issue is. It could be anything from jellyfish to sharks.
- If you do get stung by a jellyfish, it can be quite painful. There are rumors that urinating on the sting spot will help, but please don’t do that. There’s a lot of conflicting information on how to handle a jellyfish sting. Even the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic have conflicting advice. This is the advice of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science; remove any visible tentacles with tweezers, use vinegar to stop the stinging sensation, soak the affected area in hot (but not scalding) water, and apply a lidocaine spray after the skin is dry.
- With so much fishing to be done, you’ll need to have a license from the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife. Their website has an easy way to start the process. You will need separate licenses for freshwater and saltwater fishing.
- Florida law does not require a scuba license, but many of the charters do require certification. You can start certification from your hometown or take a class there. Some charters do offer the option of having a scuba buddy who handles all the navigation while you just enjoy the underwater view. Check with your preferred charter about requirements way ahead of time. A heads up: many of the charters don’t include the rental equipment in the tour charge, so confirm that part as well.
- Many of the fishing cruises provide the necessary equipment, including the fishing license, but you’ll want to confirm what you should bring vs what they provide. Many charters don’t allow GPS or hand-held devices of any kind. Rain won’t cancel a charter trip, but lightning and thunder might. Just be sure you know all the facts before handing over money. It’s also customary to tip the mate 15-20% at the end of the trip.
- Download the PassportParking app to pay for parking in Destin. The city website has an extensive list of parking areas and fees.
- For the safety of others and the wildlife, when you are done at the beach, take all your trash with you. The “Leave No Trace” initiative is a big deal around here. The motto is “Take only memories, leave only footprints.” That means don’t take any sand, sea oats, or plants that grow near the beach. You can take seashells, per Florida law, but only if there isn’t a living creature inside of it.
- Florida is one of the top states for pedestrian accidents. At least 16 people were hit by pedestrians in Okaloosa County in 2021. Please only cross the street at crosswalks and confirm the traffic is slowing down before you go. Just because you have the right-of-way doesn’t mean drivers will pay attention.
- If you want to drive a golf cart in Destin, you’ll need to have a valid driver’s license. You can only take a golf cart on a road where the speed limit is under 35 miles per hour.
- Alligators live in this area and are mostly under the freshwater lakes and ponds. In Destin, you don’t have to leave a sighting to chance or risk your safety. Check out Gator Beach, where there are hundreds of alligators to see and it’s a free attraction.
So... How Safe Is Destin Really?
It’s a very safe area by crime statistics, reviews, and even U.S. News & World Report agrees.
There are always the basic risks of crime in a tourist corridor, but you know better than to leave a bag sitting on the beach while you go snorkeling, right?
You aren’t going to wave around a wad of cash at the bar, are you?
Here’s how the Okaloosa County Crime risks break down:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 449 risk
- Property Crime: 1 in 11 risk
- Theft: 1 in 141 risk
- Overall risk: 1 in 89
You also have the safety steps to take on the water, whether it’s fishing, snorkeling, or swimming.
Follow the beach flags, listen to the boat captain, and take a break if you are getting tired.
How Does Destin Compare?
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|La Paz (Bolivia)||52|
|Sao Paulo (Brazil)||45|
|Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)||43|
The Visa information gets handled at the airport or port of entry and you need nothing else to get into Destin, Florida.
You'll use the U.S. Dollar currency here. Just about all activities take credit cards or allow you to pay through a mobile device, so there's little need for cash.
Since this is in northern Florida, you aren't going to get the heat as intense as other places in the state, but you're also going to have to deal with some cooler weather. The coldest it gets is the 40s at night from November through March, with some 30s possible in January. Brr. Bring a coat. The highs will be in the 60s or 70s during that stretch. The summers have highs at or near 90°(F), so sunscreen is a must and loose clothing that can handle a lot of sweat.
The Destin-Fort Walkon Beach Airport is 16 miles north of town. The Pensacola International Airport is about 90 minutes west. I recommend taking the scenic route along Highway 98 as you'll ride the coast to your exit. It's worth the extra time and slower traffic to see all the amazing beach communities along the way.
You'll want travel insurance for your trip to Destin, as an approaching tropical storm or series of thunderstorms can delay travel for hours or days.
Destin Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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