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Get to know Destin

The sand in Destin is so spectacular that you don’t even have to go there to experience it — it’s been dredged up to whiten beaches all over the Gulf Coast. And while the sand is the star, Destin is the full package when it comes to beach town life. It’s not organically quaint or over-engineered like some resorts; rather, it’s just a great big celebration of what it means to enjoy Florida in the sun. It has all the conveniences of any medium-sized American city but adds a layer of pastel-colored fun to entice tourists from sunup until nearly sunup the following day. Destin is surprisingly family-friendly for residents as well as tourists — and we’re not talking only about mini golf and waterslides. There’s a lot more to the natural environment than just the blue skies and legendary sand if you know where to look, and when the tourists leave, Destin really sparkles. Locals still call it a “fishing village,” and with good reason.

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Living on the Emerald Coast

If the Northwest Coast of Florida has been overlooked, it’s because it’s just perfectly out of the way. Compared to other parts of the state, the scale of things is smaller and development came later, so the white-sand communities here seem thoughtfully planned rather than hodgepodge legacies of land rushes. Though the feel (and the traffic) is less metropolitan, today’s Northwest has plenty of top-notch culture, exceptional restaurants, and incredible retail experiences. This is a natural wonderland in its own distinct way, with wide rivers flowing through thick forests, vast stretches of preserved parkland, and a variety of beaches — from wild and rugged to picture-perfect strips of white. There’s plenty of golf and tennis, but the focus is on the pristine water and a boating culture that runs from yachts to fishing boats to kayaks, and from deep water to grassy flats to sparkling bays — and to the requisite bayous, teeming with waterfowl and fish. The sand is softer, the summer’s a little cooler, and the reservations are a little easier to come by — but it’s still 100 percent Florida.