Last Updated on November 27, 2022 by Wandering our World

If you are dreaming of some fun in the sun, dipping your toes in soft sand, and walking along the shore as waves lap at your feet, then you may be considering Clearwater Beach or Destin – two wonderful beach destinations in Florida.

Yet despite these two beach cities having similarly fantastic white sandy beaches and gorgeous Floridian sunsets, there are some important differences between both that could decide which you should visit.

Luckily we know Clearwater Beach and Destin well!

The biggest difference between Clearwater Beach and Destin comes down to the different vibes of each destination. So if you want a vibrant and lively atmosphere for some fun time, then Clearwater Beach should appeal to you. However, if it’s a family oriented and less crowded getaway that you’re after, then Destin has the laid-back vibe you’re after.

Below we compare both, so you can find out which one suits you best. Alongside comparing the vibe, beaches, nightlife and activities, we also look at which is cheaper and more!

So let’s get started!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Has The Better Beaches & Activities
  3. How Do The Hotels Compare
  4. Which Is Better Value For Money
  5. Which Has The Better Nightlife
  6. Which Is Easier To Access & Get Around
  7. The Weather To Expect
  8. Which Is The Better Choice
Clearwater Beach, Destin infographic

A Quick Overview Of Clearwater Beach vs Destin

So, you’ve been looking to visit the Florida Gulf Coast, either for a holiday or a house move, and you may be wondering what sets Clearwater Beach and Destin apart from each other. The answer is quite a few things!

Before we delve into which has the better activities, nightlife and more, here’s a very quick overview of each.

Clearwater Beach: An Overview

Best known for its stunning and iconic sandy beaches, which stretch for 2.5 miles, it’s easy to see why Clearwater Beach attracts so many visitors annually.

Indeed, the region is well equipped with everything that you might expect from a bustling and thriving coastal city, including jet ski rentals, boat tours, and more. It’s a place with lots of energy, and that understandably often attracts a younger crowd.

What’s more, in keeping with its seaside appeal, Clearwater Beach has been ranked as one of the United States’ best beaches for multiple years. A previous reader poll by USA Today even concluded that Clearwater Beach was the best beach town in Florida!

Whilst TripAdvisor named Clearwater Beach the sixth-best beach globally in 2019, a claim that’s certainly not to be scoffed at.

This place has wonderful beaches, lots to do, and a nightlife that’ll make any party animal proud. We’ll explain more on that later.

clearwater from above
iStock.com/6381380

Destin: An Overview

Destin is located on the Emerald Coast of Florida, and similarly to Clearwater Beach, it is well known for its stunning white beaches. In fact in our opinion it’s hard to separate these destinations when it comes to beaches alone.

However the beach vibe in each certainly sets them apart. Destin is more laid back whilst Clearwater Beach is more lively.

That’s not such a surprise considering Destin was originally a small fishing village, but over the years it’s grown into one of the biggest tourist destinations in the region.

Indeed, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Destin accounts for approximately 80% of the total tourism to the Emerald Coast, making it a substantial player when it comes to tourism in the country.

Yet despite that it’s still retained a regional rustic charm and has become one of Florida’s best family friendly beach towns.

Sunny day on Destin Beach in the Panhandle of Northern Florida
iStock.com/Ruth Peterkin

Which Has The Best Beaches & Activities?

There are countless opportunities in Clearwater Beach and Destin in terms of things to see and do. But which one is best for you will depend on the activities you like to take part in, and the type of atmosphere you prefer.

Destin typically has more land-based activities, such as the Destin History and Fishing Museum, the Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park, and the Gator Beach Alligator Park. It’s also a place perfect for long beach strolls, or hikes in the state parks and reserves nearby.

Clearwater Beach is renowned for its massive array of different water-based activities, such as parasailing, stand-up paddleboarding, jet-skiing, as well as street performances. It also has a very active nightlife scene.

Of course in both you’re going to have lots of beach based activities, from sunbathing and volleyball to cocktails at beach bars.

The beaches and activities you can do at each are some of the most important factors when deciding which of these places to visit. So we delve into those factors a little more below.

Two empty Adirondack chair on a balcony deck overlooking the beach and the ocean
iStock.com/aceshot

Clearwater Beach: The Beaches & Activities

Clearwater Beach is the main beach in Clearwater and boasts soft, white sand. Beach parking is limited and can be expensive though, and parking is limited to five hours unless you are staying at one of the beachfront hotels.

We’d say the beaches at Clearwater Beach and Destin are quite similar, but what sets these destinations apart is the vibe at each.

Clearwater Beach and the city of Clearwater can get very busy, especially at the weekends and holidays. So if you’re looking for peace and quiet this probably isn’t the place for you.

However, because it’s so busy and popular you will find many things to do. Be that visiting Clearwater Aquarium, hiring jet skis, enjoying party boats or arcades.

There’s also Pier 60, a huge fishing pier where there’s children’s play equipment and even entertainers that perform in the evening. The pier is a huge draw and one of the things that sets Clearwater Beach apart from similar Florida beach destinations.

In essence, there’s always something happening at Clearwater Beach.

Clearwater Beach Pier at Sunset
iStock.com/Susanne Neumann

Destin: The Beaches & Activities

Destin’s beaches are also known for being soft and filled with fine sand – you’ll just want to bury your feet in them all day long!

That makes Destin ideal for beach walks with your family or significant other, as well as sand castle making and other on-shore activities. In fact Destin has gained a reputation for being a peaceful and family friendly town. 

It’s quieter than Clearwater Beach, and it feels a lot more laid back and relaxed too. This is a place to walk, sunbathe and fish, although there are opportunities for more energetic activities like jet skiing as well.

But if you’re a keen fisher, then Destin is likely going to be the best choice for you.

Fishing is a big sport in Destin. You can join locals in their favourite pastime here by fishing from jetties or deep-sea fishing further out. In fact, Destin is often termed Florida’s “Luckiest Fishing Village”.

Basically picture Destin as a charming beach town with things to keep you busy, but with all of that tied up in a relaxed pace of life.

Clearwater Beach on the other hand is far busier, more energetic, and is the place to party (see further down for our nightlife section) rather than enjoy laid-back beach strolls.

Destin and Miramar Beaches in  morning from above
iStock.com/WanderDrone

How Do The Hotels Compare?

Having access to excellent hotels is vital when visiting a region on holiday – or even just for a night away from home as a resident.

However, the cost of hotels in Clearwater Beach and Destin tends to be more expensive than many other regions in Florida, especially for hotels close to the beaches themselves. As such, you may want to consider that as part of your decision.

Destin: The Hotels

For hotels in Destin, you’ll usually be looking at prices starting from a minimum of $110 per night, with $300+ per night rooms being incredibly common. While not necessarily a bargain price compared to the average cost of hotel stays in Florida of around $96-$109, that’s still not a bad price for such an exclusive and popular destination.

If you’re swaying towards a stay in Destin and need some inspiration about where to rest your head, clicking here will actually take you to the top rated accommodation in Destin thanks to our partners at Booking.com.

But we would recommend checking out Wave and Sea Sun Destin Hot Tub Pools Beach for a unique high-end experience.

This beachfront holiday home is super spacious and luxurious and includes excellent perks such as a hot tub, a fitness centre, outdoor swimming pool, and unobstructed views of the sea from the comfort of your own balcony. Check out photos and rates here!

pool villa terrace resort
iStock.com/runna10

Clearwater Beach: The Hotels

However, for Clearwater Beach you’ll usually be looking at a minimum of around $140 per night for most properties, and as you begin creeping closer to the stunning beach itself, expect to pay easily in the region of $350+ per night – with some beachfront rooms costing as much as $1000 per night or more. You can find accommodation inspiration for Clearwater Beach by clicking here.

But for the price you pay, you really do get quality. For example, check out the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa if you want a picturesque beachfront location with a fantastic pool area complete with poolside service.

All in all, Clearwater Beach is a more expensive destination than Destin when comparing accommodation and hotels. Although in both cities you can also find more budget friendly places.

Image of couple drinking cocktails when relaxing on chaise-lounges by swimming pool
iStock.com/DragonImages

Which Is Better Value?

You may have guessed it already, but if you’re looking to save money on your holiday, Destin is undeniably the better destination in terms of value.

Indeed, its largely rustic and less city-like feel have also helped inspire more affordable prices in terms of food, activities and accommodation. All of which makes it an excellent option to consider when looking to save a little money.

However, with so many activities and attractions in the region, you may want to consider whether or not you can keep up with these budget savings rather than being drawn in by the island’s resorts and attractions.

For a more budget-friendly day out in Destin, we recommend a visit to the Mattie Kelly Park and Nature Walk or the Henderson Beach State Park – both wonderful places to hike. Or, why not simply spend some time making the most of the gorgeous white sandy beaches on offer?

While Clearwater Beach is a more expensive region, there’s also plenty of variability in terms of price. So, with a little shopping around and some careful spending decisions, you can still keep your holiday or trip to Clearwater Beach relatively budget-friendly.

However, you’ll need to prepare to pay if you want to make the most of the region’s phenomenal watersports and nightlife opportunities. So make sure to bring some spare cash along so you can have the full Clearwater Beach experience.

Tide breaking on Destin Beach. Emerald green waters in the morning as waves crash on Destin Beach. Fish swimming in low tide. Beach chairs and umbrellas set up in the morning for tourists and vacationers to relax on a Florida day.
iStock.com/George Femmer

Which Has Better Nightlife?

Whether visiting on holiday or looking for a new home in the region, the nightlife is a critical selling point for many people.

Luckily, this is something that both Clearwater Beach and Destin provide in ample quantities. However, for a more lively experience, Clearwater Beach should be your destination of choice.

There’s certainly a lot to love with countless restaurants, bars, nightclubs and bistros on offer. In short, Clearwater Beach only seems to liven up as the sun goes down!

Related: A Local’s Guide to Clearwater Nightlife

In addition to the nightlife, Clearwater Beach also offers something notably unique: a nightly festival on Pier 60, which is home to countless performers and craft vendors alike.

However, that’s not to say that Destin is a bad destination in terms of nightlife, it just doesn’t have quite so much to offer.

Most of the bars in Destin are located to the west of the city, including popular haunts like Margaritaville Restaurant, McGuire’s Irish Pub, Lucky’s Rotten Apple, and the Red Door Saloon.

Related: A Local’s Guide to Destin Nightlife

While there are many options in Destin, it’s worth noting that this town has a high intolerance for rowdy late night behavior. That’s mainly because Destin wants to keep its image of being a peaceful family-oriented destination intact.

So if you’re looking for late night partying, Clearwater Beach is going to be a better bet than Destin.

Expert barman is making cocktail at a bar.
iStock.com/santypan

Which Is Easier To Access & Get Around?

Both Destin and Clearwater Beach are prominent players in Florida’s tourism scene so have excellent connectivity and transport options. As such, they’re often considered excellent destinations for individuals looking to visit the region.

Destin is easily accessible thanks to the US Highway 98 from the mainland, which leads directly to the Destin Executive Airport and throughout the region – although to use that airport you’d need your own jet!

Destin can also be accessed via the Mid-Bay toll bridge by using the Toll Florida 293 route for visitors entering the region from the mainland’s Destin Fort Walton Beach Airport.

Access into Clearwater Beach is marginally trickier since there is no airport directly in the city itself. With that being said, the Florida East State Road 60 ends in Clearwater Beach, so it’s easy to reach by road.

Overall, neither Destin nor Clearwater Beach is particularly hard to access, making them both excellent destinations to consider. However, if you’re looking to fly directly (or almost directly), Destin may be a better option in that regard.

Clearwater Beach from above
iStock.com/6381380

The Weather To Expect

Let’s face it; when it comes to finding a new home, or if you’ve been looking for that ideal holiday destination, you probably don’t want to be spending most of your time huddled inside from the rain.

Luckily, both Clearwater Beach and Destin, being in close proximity to one another, offer an excellent climate for most of the year. Although there are some subtle differences.

But first, it’s worth considering that due to their proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the climate in both Destin and Clearwater Beach can be somewhat humid. This also increases the chance of thunderstorms. Although those are more common in Clearwater Beach than in Destin.

Clearwater Beach also has slightly higher annual temperatures than Destin, with an annual average high year-round of 81.3 degrees Fahrenheit and an average low of 64.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Destin is cooler, with average highs of 78.1 degrees Fahrenheit and average lows of 16.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

As such, if hot weather is your thing, Clearwater Beach might be the better location for you. However, if you’d prefer a slightly cooler climate, you may want to consider Destin as a destination.

Sunset at Destin Beach, Florida, with pier in background
iStock.com/Courtney Ward

Clearwater Beach vs Destin: Which Is The Better Choice

If you’ve been looking to visit Florida, then both Destin and Clearwater Beach are stunning and breathtaking destinations.

However, they’re also among the more expensive regions in Florida. But with Destin slightly cheaper, if price is important to you then Destin may be the better choice.

It’s hard to separate these two when it comes to beaches alone, but there are two significant differences: the vibe and nightlife.

Destin has a more laid-back vibe, is more family friendly, less crowded and busy. In comparison, Clearwater Beach is more energetic, geared towards people having a good time, and there’s something happening there at all hours of the day and evening! So Clearwater Beach will likely suit those looking for a lively beach experience and energetic nightlife.