Staying in Destin
As for places to stay, the Emerald Coast offers more than 18,000 rooms in hotels, condos, cottages, beach houses and a B&B. The major hotel chains are represented - Holiday Inn, Radisson, Ramada Inn, Sheraton and the like. But condos and cottages are what make the area popular with families, honeymooners and even conventioneers.

Pelican Isle condos on Okaloosa Island offers one-bedroom units with hallway bunkbeds for the kids. Like many of its neighbors, it's managed by Beacon Resorts (850-244-5200). A number of other management and realty companies offer rental short-term properties as well.

State Parks
Wacky Fun

Dining in Destin

In all, the area has more than 450 eateries, many of them overlooking water of some sort. For breakfast, hit Another Broken Egg Café or the Donut Hole. A tip: get here early. Sleep in and you'll find yourself in line, whichever place you choose. The local dinner landmarks: AJ's and the Lucky Snapper, both on the docks and both with live music, and the Crab Trap, which also has a view of the water.

You'll want to order something local, of course, preferably something fresh out of the water. And don't think deciding on an entrée is easy. As many as 20 types of seafood can be available per season. Yes, you can get a steak or burger if you're not a fish person, and Destin is close enough to Louisiana to boast authentic Cajun and Creole fare as well. If you get lucky on the fishing boat, bring your catch with you. Places like AJ's and The Lucky Snapper will cook up any way you like. The locals call it "hook and cook."

Lunch at Angler's Bar and Grill and Fudpucker's Beachside Bar and Grill, where you can feed gators and sign your name on the walls.

But dining in Destin is about more than simply consuming sustenance. The eateries are local institutions with a strong sense of community. Even first-timers can almost feel like one of the family.