Last updated on February 23, 2023 by Wandering our World
Destin and Gulf Shores are two popular vacation destinations located on the tropical Gulf Coast – and for good reason.
Although only 80 miles from each other – Gulf Shores is in Alabama, while Destin is part of the Florida panhandle – both are actually quite different…
For example if you’re looking for clear waters, white sand and a more luxurious vacation with plenty of shopping and dining options, Destin may be the right choice for you.
But if you’re looking for a more relaxed beach experience, with plenty of outdoor activities, then Gulf Shores – which is very family friendly – may be perfect.
However that’s just the very start when it comes to how Destin and Gulf Shores differ.
That’s where we can help! We use our knowledge of both and compare them below, looking at which has the better beaches, fishing, activities, nightlife and lots more!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- Which Has Better Fishing?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has Better Weather?
- Which Has Better Dining & Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Families & Kids?
- Which Is Better For Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview & Comparison
Destin: A Quick Overview
Destin is a small city located in the Florida panhandle, and is known for its pristine beaches and clear turquoise waters.
Technically, it’s a “barrier island”, a unique geographic title for a strip of connected land with water on both sides.
It’s a popular destination for families and couples alike, especially due to its abundance of adventure parks (more on that later!) golfing, and world-class fishing.
In fact it’s affectionately known as “the world’s luckiest fishing village”.
Destin is also slightly larger than Gulf Shores, and is known for being quite a bit busier and having a more lively nightlife.
Gulf Shores: A Quick Overview
Gulf Shores is a city located along the Alabama coast which is known for its natural beauty, including miles of white sand beaches, wildlife preserves, and abundant fishing opportunities.
The city is popular with families as well and has a number of attractions, including the Alabama Gulf State Park, the Gulf Shores Zoo, and the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
Gulf Shores also has quite a vibrant nightlife (albeit a little quieter than Destin’s), with a variety of bars and restaurants to choose from.
It tends to have is have a price point for everyone too, as there are activities and attractions ranging from free to luxury and endless variety.
Which Has Better Beaches?
Both Destin and Gulf Shores have beautiful beaches, but the sand in Destin is finer and whiter, making it a popular destination for sunbathing and beachcombing.
On the other hand, Gulf Shores is known for its more natural and rugged beaches, and is a popular destination for outdoor activities like fishing, hiking, and kayaking.
For a more detailed comparison of the beaches so you can make the right decision for your holiday, keep reading!
Destin: The Beaches
Those who have visited Destin always talk about the clarity of the water and the sugar white color of the sand.
That’s because Destin’s unique location away from any rivers running down into the Gulf means that the water in this area is especially clear. However that also attracts the crowds, and you’ll find the beaches in Destin tend to be busier than in Gulf Shores.
The beaches in Destin are simply breathtaking too, and there’s no shortage of great spots to soak up the sun and enjoy the surf.
Whether you’re looking for a peaceful spot to relax with a good book, or an action-packed beach where you can try your hand at water sports, you will find it in Destin.
One of the best known beaches in Destin is Henderson Beach State Park, located on the eastern end of the peninsula.
This stunning beach is known for its secluded, pristine shoreline, and it’s a popular spot for nature lovers who come to watch the seabirds, collect seashells, or go for a leisurely stroll along the water’s edge.
Henderson Beach also has 30 foot sand dunes, which will keep kids occupied for hours with exploring.
Another popular option is Miramar Beach, an exceptionally wide beach that is popular with those wanting to try their hand at some of the more adventurous water sports.
Parasailing is quite popular there, as is jet skiing, and the width and length of the beach means that there is always room and it doesn’t get quite as packed as other beaches.
Finally, if you feel like getting off the main drag, you can take a boat out to Crab Island, which has floating restaurants and lounges, water trampolines, paddleboarding, and volleyball!
This area is a hub of activity and attracts boaters and people who want to hang out on the water. If sand and boating sounds fun, you will love Crab Island.
Gulf Shores: The Beaches
Gulf Shores, being only 80 miles down the road from Destin, has similarly lovely beaches with warm clear waters.
Generally speaking, the water is slightly less clear here because of the influence of some of the rivers that converge with the ocean in this area. That being said, the water is no less clean or lovely to swim in.
Gulf Shores overall has less crowded beaches than Destin and is slightly less of a party destination too.
One of the top beaches in Gulf Shores is Gulf State Park Beach. This beach is well-maintained and offers visitors a variety of amenities, including picnic areas, showers, and restrooms. The crystal clear waters and miles of white sand make it a great spot for families and beach lovers.
Little Lagoon Pass Beach is another top option, known for its serene atmosphere and natural beauty. This beach is ideal for those looking for a peaceful escape and an opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the Gulf Coast.
Fort Morgan Beach is another popular choice in Gulf Shores, offering a lively atmosphere and a variety of activities. This beach is a great spot to meet new people, try water sports, or just relax in the sun.
With either location, you can’t go wrong if you’re a beach lover. Overall, the primary differences and things to consider are how busy you like your beaches, whether or not you want to take in the party scene while you’re there, and how much wildlife and seclusion factors into your decision.
Destin has an overall much more busy and crowded atmosphere, while Gulf Shores is slightly easier to escape the crowds and find a secluded beach corner to relax in.
Which Has Better Fishing?
While it’s still worth it to consider fishing in Gulf Shores, Destin is a renowned location for anyone looking to take a fishing trip.
As mentioned above, its nickname is “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”. This is because of the unique topography of the underwater landscape – the shallow waters of the shore drop off dramatically into the deep waters of the Gulf just twelve miles off shore.
This gives Destin a unique advantage over other places–the wide variety of water depths means there is an enormous number of types of fish available to catch.
The other phenomenal thing about fishing in Destin is that there is fishing available for every level.
Those on a low-key family vacation will be able to rent poles from shops around town and fish right from designated areas on the beach. While those looking to take out a boat but wanting to keep their trip low-key can rent fishing boats from anywhere along the shore.
And finally, for the ultimate Destin fishing experience, you can take a fishing charter!
The multiple charter companies located around Destin will teach you everything you need to know about fishing, provide you with your equipment, and take you out to all the best spots.
Ultimately, because of the unique topography and the culture of fishing in the area, Destin is the place to go for the best fishing.
Gulf Shores: Fishing
Gulf Shores has excellent fishing as well!
However inshore fishing in Gulf Shores is particularly popular, thanks to the numerous bays, estuaries, and backwaters that provide ideal habitats for a variety of species.
The area is home to a wide range of inshore species, including Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder, making it a great destination for those who enjoy the challenge of catching fish in the shallows.
Additionally, inshore fishing is a great option for families, as it’s typically less physically demanding than offshore fishing and allows for a more relaxed experience on the water.
While arguably not as good as Destin, offshore fishing in Gulf Shores is also a top option, with a variety of deep sea species to target, including Amberjack, Tuna, and Grouper.
Gulf Shores is home to several deep sea fishing charters that offer everything from half-day trips to multi-day excursions, making it easy for anglers to get out and experience the excitement of catching big game fish in the open ocean.
Whether you’re an experienced angler or a beginner, Gulf Shores is a destination that offers a wide range of fishing opportunities and experiences.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: The three-star Hyatt Place Sandestin is a great budget choice where you will also have access to fantastic amenities – like a lovely outdoor pool, fitness center, and even bicycle hire so you can explore Destin. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Wave and Sea Sun Destin Hot Tub Pools Beach is a very 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!
Budget: Looking for a budget place but still within a couple minutes walking distance of the beach? If so then Comfort Inn & Suites near Gulf State Park will be perfect. It even has a swimming pool! See photos and rates here.
Luxury: For direct beach access, unobstructed sea views, and celebrity treatment, then it’s hard to beat The Lodge at Gulf State Park. This Hilton Hotel is gorgeously done up, has a wonderful pool, and is all-round one of the best places to stay in the region. See photos and rates!
Which Has Better Weather?
Both Destin and Gulf Shores enjoy warm weather year-round, with temperatures typically ranging from the mid-70s to the mid-80s in the summer and the mid-60s to the mid-70s in the winter.
The hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico can last from June to November, so it’s important to check the weather forecast before you plan your trip.
It’s also worth noting that in the hottest months, usually early fall, both areas can reach up to 100 degrees during a heat wave.
Being so close to each other, Destin and Gulf Shores do not have significant differences in weather, and usually the weather in one won’t be too different from the other.
However, there is a slight increase in rainy days in Gulf Shores, so if being able to count on a string of sunny days is an absolute must, Destin might have the slight edge on Gulf Shores.
Which Has Better Dining & Shopping?
Destin: Dining & Shopping
Both Destin and Gulf Shores offer plenty of dining and shopping options, but Destin has a larger variety of upscale restaurants and high-end shopping options, making it a popular destination for those who enjoy luxury.
Destin is known for having a couple of major hubs for those looking to stroll around and do some shopping after dinner.
The first is Destin Commons, which has many interesting boutique stores you won’t find elsewhere in the states. This is also the perfect place for those who need to pick up an extra bathing suit – the boutique “Everything But Water” has every type of bathing suit imaginable.
Those wanting to be able to shop along the water will enjoy Destin’s “Harborwalk Village”, a large walkable pavilion along the marina packed with shops and restaurants.
Gulf Shores: Dining & Shopping
Gulf Shores is known for its casual and laid-back dining scene, with plenty of seafood restaurants, beach-themed shops, and fun local bars.
The town also has no shortage of shopping areas, although it’s not necessarily what the area is known for.
Gulf Shores does have “The Wharf” and Pelican Place at Craft Farms that are worth visiting. Both of these spots offer more than shopping, making them great for those wanting a break from the beach.
The Wharf has a ferris wheel, a large amphitheater with frequent shows, while Pelican Place is a great getaway into some air conditioning for shopping, movies, or hanging out in the large mall courtyard.
At the end of the day, since both Destin and Gulf Shores are major tourist areas, you can’t go wrong with either one.
However, you can expect slightly higher prices and higher end stores in Destin, along with more crowds. The traffic in some of the major thoroughfares is notorious, so if a more low-key experience and being able to meander without the crowds appeals to you, Gulf Shores might be more up your alley.
Which Is Better For Families & Kids?
Both Destin and Gulf Shores are great for kids, and offer a similar amount of activities and fun things to do with the whole family.
However the primary difference between the two locations will just be the overall vibe–Destin is busier, larger, and has a more city-like vibe in some sense.
Gulf Shores is generally a tad more affordable and will not be quite as crazy as Destin. Therefore, those with young children who may be inclined to be fussy over long lines for food or activities should consider Gulf Shores for a more low-key and hassle-free trip.
That being said, both locations have plenty of activities for kids.
The primary difference is that Destin is generally regarded as being slightly more upscale, and might appeal to those with older kids who are content to go shopping or hang out on the beach in between activities.
Gulf Shores has potentially a slightly longer list of activities for kids, and more area to explore between the nature reserves, bike trails, and parks in the area.
The choice will all come down to what kind of atmosphere you are looking for, the age of your kids, and your budget!
We’ll lay out all the information and best options below, and then you can decide which one is best for your family…
Destin: The Best Family Activities
It wouldn’t be a beach destination vacation without a trip to some sort of water park. In Destin, that would be Big Kahuna’s.
With multiple twisting waterfalls, a wave pool, and an adventure park, Big Kahuna’s is non-stop fun for all ages.
If the kids aren’t too tired from the adventure park, the next fun thing to do will be to take them out on the Sea Blaster Dolphin ride. This chartered boat ride will take you out to meet with the dolphins off the coast, and even snorkel in the crystal blue waters if you so decide.
Kids will enjoy the free tiki drinks on board (brace yourself for the sugar rush) and steering the boat under supervision.
Finally, if you’re worried that Destin, with its plethora of bars and nice restaurants, might be a little too upscale for kids, you’ll have to take them to Fudpucker’s.
A renowned restaurant in Destin, they have free alligator shows, alligators on the menu, and are as kid friendly as restaurants come.
Gulf Shores: The Best Family Activities
Similarly to a water park, a family vacation is often not complete without a trip to the zoo! Gulf Shores is known for having an excellent family friendly one, called the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
This zoo has a theme park, interactive animal adventures, and even a giraffe feeding station to get up close and personal with some of the zoo’s most exotic creatures.
For some additional thrills, the next day you can visit “The Track”, an adventure park primarily known for having a hair-raising go-kart track that will keep older kids happy all day.
The park also has rides, arcades, and mini-golf, making it family friendly for all ages. If these activities aren’t enough,
Gulf Shores still has endless other activities–there are many areas for a bike tour, chartering a snorkeling boat, checking out some of the historical forts in the areas, and more.
Which Is Better For Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties?
Both Gulf Shores and Destin are great locations for bachelor and bachelorette parties, since they both have large condos and vacation rentals to accommodate large groups, beaches, and good food.
But ultimately, Destin might be the better choice for those wanting your typical party amenities–it has a more vibrant nightlife scene that will be sure to satisfy even the most hardcore partiers.
Those wanting to charter a large boat for a day out on the water will be able to do so too, and as mentioned before, Crab Island in Destin is a well-known destination for party-goers and those who want to explore a variety of water activities.
That being said, those who want a more low-key adventure will love Gulf Shores. With slightly lower prices and fewer crowds, you’ll be able to spend more quality time with your friends without having to worry about waiting in line for things or the availability of boat rentals.
At the end of the day, it just depends what kind of vibe you are looking for and whether you want a party atmosphere or more laid back vibes.
Destin vs Gulf Shores: Which Is The Better Choice?
In conclusion, both Destin and Gulf Shores are great vacation destinations, but they each have their own unique features that can make one a better fit for your next trip.
If you’re looking for a more luxurious vacation with plenty of shopping and dining options, Destin may be the right choice for you.
But if you’re looking for a more natural and relaxed beach experience, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, then Gulf Shores may be the perfect destination.