Crossing from Okaloosa into Walton county, Scenic Highway 98 — also known as Old 98 and Scenic Gulf Drive by locals — takes a step back to the slower pace of yesteryear when it was the main west-east coastal route.
Lesser known now than its newer inland sister, U.S. Highway 98, Scenic 98 offers a 5-mile stretch along the Gulf of Mexico. Although packed with condominiums, resorts and vacation rentals, the road is also home to several restaurants, beaches and entertainment venues.
So, roll down your windows and cruise Old 98 with us:
If you're looking for some fun, stop by Rent Gear Here on the corner of Hutchinson Street and Scenic Highway 98. The company offers daily rental prices for bicycles, paddle boards, coolers, beach gear and even bonfires and eco tours. Visit www.rentgearhere.com.
Cruise the street in style with a Scootcar from FantaSea Scooter Rentals. FantaSea also rents out mopeds, scooter-trikes, paddle boards, kayaks, fishing rods and metal detectors at hourly and daily prices. Visit www.fantaseascooters.com
TO THE BEACH
Speaking of beach fun, there are both public beaches and private resort beaches along Scenic 98.
Public beaches are The Shores at Crystal Beach Park, Crystal Beach Drive Access, Tarpon Street Beach Access, Shirah Beach Access, Pompano Street Beach Access, Barracuda Beach Access, James Lee Park Public Beach (at The Crab Trap) and Miramar Regional Public Beach (at Pompano Joe’s)
Two things to note when heading to the beach on Scenic 98 are parking and beach amenities. Our tip for parking? Get there early. The early bird gets the beach as all parking is first-come, first-served in both the public beach parks and along the street.
As for amenities, the accesses labeled as "park" have more to offer by way of public bathrooms and pavilions.
For example, The Shores at Crystal Beach Park and James Lee Park Public Beach both offer restrooms, parking spaces and pavilions while accesses such as Tarpon Street and Shirah Beach offer only a wooden walking path and an outdoor shower. Most private beaches have signs alerting beachgoers as to which resort guests have access to that particular beach.
When it comes to beach-side rentals, companies such as La Dolce Vita and Island Sands Beach Service offer hourly and daily beach chair and umbrella rentals as well as paddle boards and kayaks.
PLACES TO EAT
Now let’s talk restaurants. Along Scenic 98 there are plenty of eateries to chose from, most featuring local Gulf seafood and all-American options.
Located conveniently across from a public beach access, Camille’s at Crystal Beach offers two cafes — the downstairs café serves breakfast and lunch options and the upstairs café opens for dinner.
For finer dining, choose from the Beach Walk Café within the Henderson Park Inn, which is open to the public for ages 13 and up with a reservation. There is also 790 on the Gulf, a Cajun restaurant hidden within the Inn at Crystal Beach.
Another fine-dining option on Scenic 98 is Captain Dave’s on the Gulf. It opens daily at 4 p.m. but is closed Tuesdays. Finally, on the nicer side, you will find inside Surfside Resort the Royal Palm Grille, which offers seafood, steak, oysters and sushi with a view of the Gulf.
For more of a beach-themed, laid-back atmosphere, choose from the next few options of the Crab Trap Destin, Pompano Joes or the Surf Hut. Each of these options offers spacious family-style dining on the beach so you can enjoy a meal then head right back out to the sand.
A unique blast-from-the-past diner experience can be found at Kenny D’s Beach Bar & Grill, a Cajun-style restaurant reminiscent of the popular metallic lunch cars of the 1940s.
If you're looking for food on the go, take-out places on the old beach highway include JB’s Pizza to PoBoys, Dairy Queen, Chick-Fil-A, Lin’s Asian Cuisine, Dominos Pizza and Smoothie King.
SWEETS AND BEVERAGES
For desserts and drinks, there are also several options along the route.
For a chilled sweet treat, stop by Frozen Dune Cold Fried Ice Cream Sushi & Smoothies. Here you'll find the popular new trend of rolled ice cream as well as smoothies, flavored teas, Hershey’s ice cream, fountain drinks and even sushi.
Another local favorite spot is Bad Ass Coffee, where you can grab a hot or iced caffeinated beverage along with pastries.
As for adult beverages, choose from beach bars such as the Whale's Tail Beach Bar & Grill or nearby Beach Bar at Royal Palm Grille.
For wine lovers, a true hidden gem on Scenic 98 is Emerald Coast Wine Cellars, which is seen from the road next to Bad Ass Coffee with a sign simply reading, “Winery.”
Emerald Coast Wine Cellars offers Florida-produced wine from nearby Chautauqua Winery. Customers may wander the spacious gift shop and boutique and enjoy free wine-tastings daily until 5 p.m.
SOUVENIRS AND MORE
Let’s not forget the beach gear and souvenir shops dotting the highway, including Alvin’s Island, Paradise Found and Surf-Style. These stores have every beach-related item you can imagine and some even have henna tattoo artists on hand.
So there you have it. For a slow day by the beach on the original highway of Destin, head to Scenic 98.