Last updated on February 23, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to vacationing on the balmy Gulf Coast, many destinations may come to mind. However, two popular cities that are often compared are Destin in Florida and Alabama’s Orange Beach.
No wonder too, as both have beautiful white sand beaches, warm weather, and plenty of activities for visitors. Yet the reality is these two destinations are actually quite different….
For example, Destin is a livelier city with more of a fun beach vibe. The beaches are arguably nicer, the water is calmer, and the nightlife more energetic, but it can get very busy.
In contrast, Orange Beach tends to be quieter, is better for low-key water sports like paddleboarding and kayaking, and is often seen as the better option for families with younger kids.
Of course that’s just the beginning when it comes to how these two destinations differ!
Luckily we use our expertise below to compare both, and show which has the better beaches, activities, food scene, water sports, which is better for families and lots more.
Whether you’re a family looking for a fun-filled beach vacation or a couple seeking a romantic getaway, we’ll give you all the information you need to make the best decision possible. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
- Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Better For Water Sports?
- Which Is Better For Solo Travelers?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Has Better Weather?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Orange Beach vs Destin: A Quick Overview
Orange Beach: A Quick Overview
Just east of another popular city, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach has warm waters, sugary white sand beaches and a range of fun activities – in particular, it’s a fantastic place for kayaking, paddleboarding and diving.
Located next to Gulf State Park, it’s a perfect spot for nature and wildlife lovers too. It’s also great for kids as Gulf State Park is home to “Adventure Island”, an amusement park with everything from laser tag to go-karting.
With its mix of family friendly fun and small city vibes, Orange Beach is the perfect place for a mellow and relaxing vacation.
Destin: A Quick Overview
Destin is a small city located in the Florida panhandle. It’s actually a “barrier island” , a unique geographic title for a strip of connected land with water on both sides.
This double access to water on both sides makes it popular for everything from fishing and water sports to shopping and dining. It’s little wonder then that Destin is a more lively destination than Orange Beach.
Destin is a popular spot for families too because of its abundance of adventure parks (more on that later!) golfing, and world-class fishing, and it’s affectionately known as “the world’s luckiest fishing village.”
So if you’re looking to fish, there’s little doubt that Destin is the better destination for you. It also tends to be the better destination for swimming and snorkeling too, due to having calmer water than Orange Beach.
Which Has Better Beaches?
Orange Beach: The Beaches
Typically, Orange Beach has a beach for everyone, and is for sure to be less crowded than busier and livelier Destin.
On the other hand, because of its location, you are more likely to encounter days with rugged winds and bigger surf. This also means it’s not always the best location for snorkeling and swimming. If those things are important to you, you might be better off in Destin.
However Orange Beach is still home to several beautiful beaches that are popular with locals and visitors alike.
One of the most well-known is Gulf State Park, which features 2 miles of pristine white sand beaches and clear blue waters. The park also offers visitors access to a fishing pier, nature trails, and camping facilities.
Another popular beach in Orange Beach is Cotton Bayou Beach, which is ideal for families due to its usually calm waters and amenities such as showers, restrooms, and lifeguards on duty during peak season.
For those seeking a quieter beach experience, Romar Beach is a great option. This secluded beach is located in a residential area and features gentle waves, soft sand, and beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico.
Destin: The Beaches
Beaches in Destin are iconic for a reason. The water, because of some geographic properties, is especially clear, and the breathtaking beaches offer no shortage of great spots to soak up the sun and enjoy the surf. When it comes to beaches, we think Destin has Orange Beach beat.
Because of its larger size, Destin offers a wider variety of beaches–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 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 here, 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.
Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
Both have their positives when it comes to a family vacation, but as we’ll show you below, we think Orange Beach is great for kids of all ages but Destin may suit teenagers better.
Orange Beach: For Families
Orange Beach is a perfect destination for families looking for a fun-filled vacation.
And with the whole city along the beach, no matter where you are staying, you’ll have close access to the water.
There are also plenty of family-friendly attractions to explore too, such as Adventure Island, which offers go-karts, mini-golf, and laser tag, and The Wharf, which has a variety of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options.
Although not as well known for fishing as Destin, there are still plenty of fish in the sea here, and it’s quite easy and not overly expensive to charter a fishing trip for the whole family.
For those interested in learning more about marine life, a visit to the Gulf Coast Zoo or the Alabama Gulf Coast Dolphin and Nature Cruises is a must as well.
Overall, Orange Beach is a great destination for families, and is generally a little less expensive than Destin. It’s also less busy, and even public beach access at Cotton Bayou almost always has parking and it doesn’t get too crowded.
Destin: For Families
Destin, like Orange Beach, is also great for families. It has plenty of activities for the family to enjoy, like Big Kahuna’s Adventure Park, and opportunities to interact with alligators at Fudpucker’s “Gator Beach”.
But the primary difference between the two is that Destin tends to be a little bigger, more crowded, and caters to a slightly older crowd. While there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself with younger kids, the crowds can be overwhelming for younger ages.
Restaurants often have long waits, and so you may be better off in Destin once your kids have reached teenage years and have a little more patience.
But if you do have older kids, they’ll love hanging out on the water at Crab Island, a great place for families to congregate and for kids to meet each other.
Plus, any of Destin’s boardwalks are great for strolling with the family in the evening – something that Orange Beach lacks as it is less walkable than Destin.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
Orange Beach: Couples & Honeymoons
Couples looking for a romantic getaway can find plenty of activities to enjoy in Orange Beach and because Orange Beach is smaller and tends to cater to more low-key crowds, it’s a great destination for couples looking for alone time.
With fewer crowds, couples can enjoy a day of sunbathing and relaxing in the warm sun in more secluded areas.
Many companies also cater to smaller, one on one lessons in parasailing, jet skiing, and paddleboarding, and with fewer crowds you’re more likely to have a quiet, romantic experience.
Couples can also explore the area’s wildlife with a dolphin watching tour or sunset cruise right off the beach.
For those who love good food, Orange Beach has plenty of restaurants that offer delicious seafood and local cuisine, and the area is known for its seafood festivals and culinary events.
Couples can even enjoy a day of wine tasting at the Perdido Vineyards or take a “paint and sip” class at The Southern Grind Coffee House.
Overall, for couples wanting fewer crowds, a small town but still upscale vibe, and the opportunity to explore local food and drink, Orange Beach is the perfect destination.
Destin: For Couples & Honeymoons
That being said, couples will still have a great time in Destin, and it’s especially good for those who like to take in the nightlife together.
From the famous Destin Harbor you can easily rent a boat (with or without a captain) to take out on the water at sunset. Destin Harbor also has many romantic gulf-side restaurants perfect for couples who want to take in the hubbub and people watch.
Destin is also home to some romantic and high-end restaurants perfect for a fancy night out – Marina Cafe, a famous steakhouse, is right on the water and boasts romantic tables for two out on their deck. Then after dinner you can explore Destin’s lively bar and club scene.
For beaches, while most will be quite crowded with families and kids, Navarre Beach is a common pick for couples wanting to get off the beaten path. Although a bit of a drive, it’s worth it to take in the white sand and turquoise waves in privacy.
Which Is Better For Water Sports?
Anywhere on the Gulf Coast is going to be excellent for water sports and you’ll find no shortage of water-based fun in both Orange Beach and Destin.
In Destin, though, you will likely find a higher number of shops willing to rent to you right on the beach, but usually for a slightly higher price point.
Orange Beach, on the other hand, due to having really only one or two main roads, will have slightly less variety but at a slightly lower price point.
Below we look at the water sport options in both destinations in more detail, so you can see which may suit you best:
Orange Beach: Water Sports
In Orange Beach, travelers will appreciate all the different areas of Orange Beach to try out various water sports.
That’s because the unique geography there means there are numerous little bays and coves to try out mellow water sports, while also having easy access to the open ocean if you wish.
If you have a large group, it’s recommended that you stay somewhere around Bayou St John, simply for ease of travel to and from rental shops to the water.
Orange Beach, like Destin, is a hub for any type of watersports you may want to enjoy, but its major advantage is that it has more protected areas and bays to explore for low-key watersports like kayaking, paddleboarding, and diving.
It is also a hub for diving and seeing oceanic wildlife – more so than Destin – and there are both artificial and natural reefs just off the coast, sunken boats, and “highway rubble” which are sunken areas of road from storms that have now become home to vibrant coral reefs and fish.
All in all, to avoid the crowds and for low-key watersports like diving, kayaking and paddleboarding, Orange Beach will be better than Destin.
Destin: Water Sports
If you decide on Destin, the major hub for water sports will be along Destin Harbor.
From there, a stroll along the boardwalk or major road will yield every type of shop renting gear for any number of sports.
But Destin is also a great place to try parasailing, as it is a very popular sport in the area, and many shops, like Sun Dogs Parasail, will teach you everything you need to know and ensure everyone in the family has a good time.
Many of these sports are pricey to try, though, especially if you rent from anywhere right along the harbor – which is potentially the only drawback to Destin as a destination for water sports.
And of course Destin is a hub for recreational and sport fishing, and one of the best places in the U.S. to cast a line.
Which Is Better For Solo Travelers?
Solo travelers can also enjoy a fun and exciting vacation in Orange Beach and the area offers a range of lower price activities for solo travelers, including kayaking, paddleboarding, and parasailing.
The beaches are perfect for those who love to read or relax, and there are plenty of spas in the area for those who want to pamper themselves.
Solo travelers can also take a day trip to nearby attractions such as the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park or the Pensacola Naval Air Station Museum. The area also has a range of golf courses, perfect for those looking to get in a round of golf while on vacation.
As a solo traveler in Destin, the primary difference is that you will have much busier areas to hang out in and meet new people if that’s something that interests you!
Crab Island, a famous water party zone with floating bars and restaurants, is a must see destination and a great place to hang out and meet new people right on the water.
The village of Baytown Wharf often has live music, festivals, and other attractions, making it a great place for solo travelers to go and enjoy arts, shopping, and other activities.
Overall, as a solo traveler, the decision between Orange Beach and Destin comes down to whether or not you prefer traveling solo in a busy area with opportunities to meet new people (Destin), or in a quieter place that allows for more solo time (Orange Beach).
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Although not on the beachfront, SpringHill Suites by Marriott Orange Beach is a lovely accommodation with great service, big outdoor pool and free breakfast. And best of all, it’s about half the price of many other accommodations in the city. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Sitting right beside the beach with views of the sea, there’s few better places to stay in Orange Beach than at Perdido Beach Resort. And if you get bored of the coast then why not take a dip in their outdoor pool, or head into the city which is just a short walk away. See photos and rates!
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!
Which Is Better For Food?
Orange Beach: The Food
Orange Beach is primarily known for its fresh seafood, and visitors can find a variety of locally caught seafood served in restaurants throughout the area.
Fresh shrimp, crab, and oysters make their way onto almost every menu, including at iconic staples like Zeke’s and Louisiana Lagniappe.
Although it’s possible to find non-seafood restaurants (Moe’s BBQ is a staple of the area) Orange Beach’s small size compared to Destin means that most of the restaurants have a seafood theme.
Additionally, another drawback of Orange Beach is that it is not the most pedestrian friendly area. And not being able to walk along an area to decide where you want to eat is not always possible–so this is something to consider before your trip.
If you like to be able to walk, check out menus and ambience before you decide to eat, Orange Beach might not be the place for you.
Destin: The Food
Destin also has a strong seafood scene, with many restaurants offering fresh seafood caught daily in the Gulf of Mexico.
You will want to check websites though – many places that advertise fresh caught fish don’t actually have it – so just make sure they’re buying it straight from Destin Harbor!
The city is home to several restaurants that have been featured on popular food shows too, and there are also many local favorites that have been serving up delicious seafood for years.
In addition, Destin has a wide range of dining options, from casual beachside eateries to upscale fine dining restaurants. And several non-seafood options too.
The city is also known for its sushi restaurants, with many offering creative and unique rolls.
Primarily, the best thing about Destin is that with its many pedestrian areas concentrated with places to eat, you can stroll around, look at menus, and make a culinary tour if you so desire.
At the end of the day, by dint of being a larger place, Destin offers the best culinary variety – but at a slightly higher price point.
Which Has Better Weather?
Destin and Orange Beach are both popular destinations because the weather is so temperate year round.
The weather in both locations is generally warm and sunny, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to the low 90s Fahrenheit (24-33 Celsius) during the summer months.
However, there are some subtle differences between the two. Orange Beach tends to have slightly more rainfall than Destin, with an average of 65 inches of rain per year compared to Destin’s 60 inches.
Additionally, Destin is slightly more prone to hurricanes, as it is located farther east along the Gulf Coast.
Ultimately, you won’t have to worry too much about the weather in either place, but it is worth considering if you’re going during hurricane season–and keeping a close eye on the forecast.
Orange Beach vs Destin: Which Is The Better Choice?
Overall, the biggest differences to consider when planning your trip to the Gulf Coast are the things that are important to you.
Orange Beach is laid back but still upscale, and has plenty of activities for a low price point. That being said, you don’t get much of A “vibrant city on the water” vibe from Orange Beach, but you will from Destin.
Destin’s active nightlife and reputation for being busy all year round make it ideal for travelers who like to soak up the vibes of a busy city and meet new people. Both are great for families.
But those on a budget may like Orange Beach for its low prices – while those with older kids may like Destin more for the walkability and wide range of activities.
You can’t go wrong with either, no matter what you choose!