As we started planning this year for the 35th Annual Destin Seafood Festival, I couldn't help reflecting back on the changes along the harbor.
As a local charter boat captain, I have been a firsthand witness to the changes over the last 32 years. From back in the days when there were woods (and tree people) along the harbor, to today when there are first class restaurants and fishing marinas where commerce abounds.
Over the years the harbor has been slowly changing as development has come along. Locals have always been able to "walk the docks" from one end to the other, but the advent of the city’s harbor boardwalk has opened that experience up to visitors and locals alike.
Now you can easily stroll down the harbor from one end of the boardwalk to the other, taking in all of the sights and sounds of the working harbor — from the charter boats and party boats unloading their fish every day, to the harborside restaurants and bars. The harbor has become one of "THE" destinations that cannot be missed. When family and friends come to town, they all want to go “walk the docks and see the sights".
The boardwalk is the perfect and natural setting for the Destin Seafood Festival. It has something for everyone, from the busy, festive market place on the west end of the harbor to the last little piece of old Destin on the east end at Heron Harbor.
As you walk over each plank, you are actually walking through Destin's future and into Destin's past. Starting at the west end of the harbor is the bustling Harborwalk Village and Emerald Grande.
As you walk east past Olin Marler's you come to AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar, a Destin landmark and local gathering spot. AJ's is home to the Destin Fishing Rodeo and "THE" place to be in October.
The outdoor scene is fun and it just feels like Destin. As you stroll down the boardwalk past Galati Yachts and Dewey Destin's the boardwalk opens up and creates a beautiful wide open space leading to the Fishing Fleet Marina and the Destin Fisherman's Co-op. This is home to many of Destin's charter and party boats and fishing is the No.1 item on the agenda! If you want to see some serious fish hit the dock, this is a good place to start.
It is also the center of the Seafood Festival and home to the future gateway to Destin harbor. Our VIP area is anchored at Dewey Destin's and The Royal Melvin Heritage Park is the festival central HQ as well home to our Annual Kids Mingo Toss and the Destin City Main Stage.
East of Fleet Marina and the Co-op is East Pass Marina. East Pass is home to some of the best bay fishing boats in Destin. It was Destin's first fuel dock and the Jones Family homestead. The fuel dock still is open and the entire scene is a romping good time between the Boathouse Oyster Bar, Dockside Ale House and The Red Door Saloon. This is where you will always see locals having a good time, enjoying music, and good food. This is definitely a rockin’ part of the harborfront!
East of the Boathouse and Dockside is the last little piece of the old Destin harbor, but with a brand new boardwalk.
For those that were here when the village really was a village, you would recognize this stretch of the boardwalk as the home of Captain Dave's on the Harbor Seafood Restaurant. This is where Jaws 2 was filmed, and the original dock where the restaurant sat over the water is still in place. It is also home to some of Destin's oldest fishing families.
Capt. Brant Kelly and Capt. Dean Cox, both from multi-generational fishing families dock here on the Boardwalk along with Capt. Todd Allen and Capt. Robert Hanshaw, who both still dock their fishing boat on their families’ (the Maltezos and Marlers) historic homesteads.
This is one of the widest parts of the boardwalk and there is plenty of room to sit and enjoy the harbor. Here you will find what it felt like back in the day, before the craziness and excitement of ziplines and hamster balls.
Nowadays this end of the Boardwalk is called Heron Harbor. It is home to charter boats, water sports, the Monkey Bar and Burrito Del Sol. It also plays a huge part in this year's festival.
Heron Harbor is home to the Festival’s Kids Pirate Village and magic shows. Meyer Boarding Company will have a skimboard workshop on the dock where kids can try their hand at painting their own skim board or skate board.
The Heron Harbor Stage will keep everybody grooving all weekend and will get its kicks on for "Country Music Sunday." Some of the best food and arts and craft vendors will anchor the east end of the festival — and best of all, there is plenty of room to enjoy.
So come take a stroll down the harbor boardwalk, see the sights, taste the tastes and take in all the festival has to offer. Come find a piece of old Destin on the new harbor boardwalk.
Capt. Mike Eller is a festival organizer. To volunteer at the festival e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org