DESTIN — If you ask mother-daughter tourists Deneen Miller and Tayler Weever what they think about Destin, they only need one word to sum up the beach-side city — perfect.

The duo made their second trip to the Emerald Coast from their hometown of Washington D.C. this summer, ready to enjoy a week filled with sunbathing, shopping and fine dining. Instead of renting a car, the pair opted instead for two bicycles as their only means of transportation around town.

DESTIN's future means addressing competing interests.

TIMELINE of Destin's growth.

"We rented an Airbnb so we could stay close to everything," Miller said as she parked her bike at the Destin Commons for a shopping trip. "The people here are so nice and the area is beautiful with amazing weather. This will be our yearly trip, hands down."

"The only thing I don't like about this area is that I can't live here," Weever joked. "Whoever you are, wherever you are, just come here. You have to experience it to know what it's like. Destin is perfect."

Not all tourists, however, share the same fond opinions of Destin.

If you ask many of the approximate 25,000 tourists in the city at any given time during peak season, they all share one main complaint — too many cars on U.S. Highway 98.

"The first time we came down here it was just a two-lane road and we used to just rent a bike and ride up and down the road," said Mark Cooper, who has been vacationing in Destin twice a year with his wife Sissy, and later children and grandchildren, since 1983. "Now, it's too many people and too much traffic. It just seems like it's been overbuilt for the available beach space."

The Coopers, who enjoyed watching their grandchildren play at The Track in Destin, said although city officials are doing their best to expand the highway, there is one flaw in the plan.

"If you expand the roads, all that will do is bring even more traffic in," Cooper said.

Mayor Gary Jarvis agreed with Cooper, saying the traffic woes are because of the high volume of people who want to be in the area during the summer months.

"The experiences we’re having now — especially with traffic infrastructure needs — is an event that takes place all over America," Jarvis said. 

“For the people that don’t like that kind of traffic," he continued, "they’re going to try to find other places to go to where it’s not like that. But you go to any coastal community anywhere in America — you can run, but you can’t hide (from traffic).”

Jarvis compared coming to Destin in summer is like going to Disney World over Christmas. You've just got to, "Suck it up, buttercup," he said.

THE PRICE OF PARADISE

If you ask tourists how much they spend when they're in the city, expect to hear a number in the thousands. 

Michael Antwi, who relaxed with a book at the Destin Commons on a recent summer afternoon, said he and his friend spend about $10,000 on their twice-yearly, two-week trips to Destin. Antwi said when he comes to visit the Emerald Coast, no excursion is off limits. He shoves as many adventures like parasailing, charter fishing, kite surfing and go-karting as possible into each trip.

"I've done it all," Antwi said. "Sometimes we come up here and will spend up to three weeks in Destin. I love renting Jet Skis and going fishing. It's just a nice, family-oriented place to have fun."

 

A handful of visitors tossed around $5,000 figure as how much their families spend during a week in Destin. That price included condo rentals, grocery bills and a few visits to restaurants and attractions.

One family of 14, which spent seven days in Destin this summer, provided every receipt from their latest trip to the Daily News. The total was close to $10,000. Of that, $5,170 was for housing and $2,106 was spent going out to eat. The family also spent $771 for groceries and $1,044 for attractions like escape rooms and arcades.

WHAT DO TOURISTS DO?

From the moment tourists drive over the Destin bridge and get their first look of the harbor, they see restaurants and shops, as well as signs for local attractions.

You also the Emerald Grande towering over HarborWalk Village, which has become a destination in itself. Tourists often walk shoulder-to-shoulder at the bustling strip while going to charter fishing trips, boat tours, bars, escape rooms and restaurants. Live bands playing popular cover songs line the paved walkway between vendors selling souvenirs, coconuts and funnel cakes.

On the other end of town, packs of tourists also walk the labyrinth of sidewalks at Destin Commons, a popular 500,000-square foot shopping center. In the center, children cool off in the splash pad and pull on their parents' pant legs begging to ride on the miniature train.

Visitors weave in and out of well-known clothing stores and restaurants, while some head to the Destin Commons for Destin's only movie theater.

Stuffed between HarborWalk Village and the Destin Commons are iconic attractions like Big Kahuna's Water and Adventure Park and The Track Destin. Beach supply stores are found on almost every corner, mixed in with more restaurants and attractions.

Some tourists, though, say there still just isn't enough to do.

Alicia Ellis, who came down to Destin for the first time this summer with her husband and three children, said Destin lacked enough attractions and restaurants to accommodate the amount of tourists in the area.

"We always go to Myrtle Beach and there is always a ton of stuff to do," Ellis said. "At Myrtle there is a lot to do, with less wait. Here, it seems like there is more people with less things to do or places to eat."

Jarvis said accommodating the tourists is definitely a challenge each season. And, although, some unhappy vacationers might not return to the area because of congestion, there will always be enough to sustain the economy.

"There are only so many beautiful white sand beaches in the continental United States, and we happen to have one. And we’re close to the largest population growth area in America — the southeast United States. So, yeah, we’re going to lose some, but we’re not going to lose them all. Three hundred and fifty million people live in this country, and everybody’s got to be somewhere.”

And, Jarvis seems to be correct.

Despite Cooper's concerns about traffic woes and crowding issues, the Alabama man said he will never stop coming back to his second home.

"I still love the place," Cooper said. "The people are nice and the beaches are the best in the world."