VIBE: Relaxed, Free Spirit
3510 Scenic Hwy 98, Destin, FL 32541
Are you searching for picturesque, quiet beaches that are still close to amenities? You will find them in the Panhandle between Destin and Pensacola. James Lee Beach offers the gorgeous white sand and emerald water you crave.
Destin beaches are popular Florida vacation spots, especially for those who love a sunny beach. They are home to many hotels and resorts as well as restaurants, shops, and other attractions. In fact, the parking lot for this beach is shared with a great seafood restaurant. The area is also known for its fishing opportunities. Camping is nearby.
Destin Beach Sand is Enchanting
We don't think there is any softer or whiter sand to be found than Destin, Florida. It seemed like we were walking in the snow! Quartz crystal mineral makes up nearly 97%-98% of this sand. Sand dunes surround your entry to the beach with easy walkovers. The sand is cool on your bare feet, just like Siesta Key. When walking along the beach, we noticed a squeaking noise with each step. This is familiar to us because we live near the "singing beach" of New Smyrna Beach, where the sand dunes have a similar quality.
James Lee Beach is quite flat and there have been some erosion problems. In early 2022, a beach enrichment project was underway to capture sand as it moves in the water. This helps with sand accumulation that will widen the beach and extend the shoreline. The beach is open but there may be some fencing in place.
Destin Beach Water
The Gulf water in the Destin area can make you believe you are in the Caribbean. The emerald color against the white sand beachfront is breathtaking. Most of the time you can see clear down to your toes and you can walk out far: it is shallow. Is it better than Clearwater or Siesta Key Beach? You decide! This beach park has 3 pavilions, picnic tables, a playground, and restrooms with changing rooms. Kids will love the snowy texture of the sand: so perfect for building a sandcastle. So change into your bathing suit, come on in and enjoy the water!
Beach Parking and Amenities
Destin is a popular tourist destination, especially in the summer months. It is so popular there's even a Margaritaville vacation rental property here. With a beachfront population of more than 15,000 in the summertime, you might want to escape the crowds. James Lee Park to the rescue! As a public access beach, this site can still be busy at times.
Destin Beach Activities
During the summer months it may get crowded because the Gulf water is at its warmest that time of year. Even though there are 166 free parking spots, the lot gets filled up quickly with cars, pickup trucks and golf carts. We always tell people: go early or go late. Don't go at 10 am or noon because you likely won't get a spot. Be prepared to drive around the lot to find one. There are only 5 handicapped spaces.
It's an easy walk to the beachfront. The cost to rent chairs and umbrellas is high, so make sure you bring your own gear in your beach truck. James Lee Park and Beach also goes by the name "Crab Trap Beach" because it is located beside a popular restaurant with the same name. A landmark on Old 98, The Crab Trap offers diners incredible views of the Gulf beach with indoor and outdoor seating. Check out their beach cam before you head out. You won't want to miss the sunset on James Lee Beach. There is a playground but its not covered like Sombrero Beach.
Destin Beach Temperatures
The Gulf of Mexico water doesn't really warm up in the Destin area until summer, as you can tell by this chart courtesy of seatemperature.org. For water temperatures that are most pleasing, July and August are the best. However, hurricane season will have started at that time. With a little planning, you can get a wonderful vacation in before it starts. In the fall it might be another story. Keep on top of the weather using the National Hurricane Center. This advice applies to any Florida destination you wish to visit, but the panhandle is often a target for Gulf storms. November is surprisingly pleasant with cooler nights. Do your homework and have a good time.
What We Really Think About Destin Beach
This is a very low-key Florida beach perfect for families and seniors. Much of the activity involves relaxing, wading and eating. Any beach in Florida that offers free parking is bound to fill up fast, so get there before 10am or after 3pm to get a spot. There are lifeguards in season and dogs are not allowed.
This is one of our favorite panhandle beaches. It's beauty is not to be missed. If you love camping, then try Camping on the Gulf which is only 5 miles away and has beach access. Besides traditional beach camping, they offer "glamping" which is an upscale, climate-controlled way of camping. Is it for you? We love the idea!
Destin Beach Hotels
Best Western Sugar Sands Inn & Suites
Holiday Inn Express & Suites E - Commons Mall Area
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Destin
Destin Beach Restaurants
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Susan and Bruno are travel bloggers. We write about Florida beaches on every coast. Our opinions only.