Florida offers a lot of noteworthy places to spend your next vacation but nothing beats the beautiful sights of Destin and Clearwater. Since they both sit on the Gulf of Mexico, you can rest assured that you’ll be embraced by the white beaches as you dip your toes in the warm sand and gush over the beautiful sunset.
Despite some similarities there are significant differences between the two. If you want to make the most out of your vacation you’ll need to know these differences so you can decide which one would be worth your time and money.
In its essence, Destin is more suitable for families, and Clearwater, thanks to its thrilling nightlife and abundance of activities, attracts younger crowds and couples. But when planning your next vacation it’s important to dive deep into the specifics.
In this post, we’ll be comparing the two beach vacation destinations, what they have to offer, how much they cost, and which one would give you the best value for money.
Destin VS Clearwater: Things to See and Do
Both Destin and Clearwater have beautiful beaches. They both feature soft white sands and bodies of bright blue water.
But both places have a totally different vibe with the nightlife experience they offer. Destin tends to be calm and peaceful as the sun goes down, whereas Clearwater shines brighter in the night thanks to the late night activities it offers.
Located on the Emerald coast of Florida, Destin is a city of Florida most popularly known for its beaches. Destin started as a quiet fishing village and later expanded to a popular destination for families and tourists.
It features big beaches giving you the perfect setting for long romantic walks on the beach with your significant other.
Within the Destin area, you can take part in multiple activities including watersports, jet skiing, and snorkeling.
Moreover, if you’re keen to fish, you’ll love Destin. It has everything a fisherman needs to have the best fishing experience in Florida. With over 250 boats, various fish species, and convenient access to the Gulf, you’ll be making some great catches.
Destin allows fishermen to fish for different species, fish in adjacent waters, and perform deep water paraplegic fishing – it is the all-in-one package for fishing. It was, for this reason, also deemed the “World’s Luckiest fishing village.”
Gulf Coast beaches
The Mexican Gulf Coast is the most famous beach in Destin. Destin’s natural waters that give an emerald-green shine complement the white soft sand of the bright beach. The beach itself is a combination of different separate beaches including John Beasley Beach Park, Henderson Beach State Park, the Okaloosa Island Pier, and Jetty Beach.
There are a total of 5 different beaches in the Destin area with fun activities and 12 access points. In Destin, you can enjoy various activities such as:
- Family theme parks
- Checking out the Destin History Museum
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Pontoon boating
If you’re an animal lover be sure to check out The Florida Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach. Over here you’ll be treated to live marine shows and get to see many dolphins and sea lions. They also hold meet-and-greet sessions with the animals where you’re allowed to touch, pet, and feed them. So if you’re traveling with kids, we’d definitely recommend The Florida Gulfarium to create some everlasting memories and If you’re a bit more adventurous you can even swim with a real-life dolphin yourself!
Overall, Destin stands out as a popular Florida Panhandle Beach when compared to other famous names in the country such as Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, and Grayton Beach.
Clearwater beach is just west of Florida’s Tampa Bay area, located on a barrier island, and is the most famous beach in Clearwater. With a bright beach, white sands, and a plethora of activities to enjoy – the Clearwater beach area doesn’t disappoint.
It has a much more lively beach with lots to see and do and may attract a younger crowd. Whereas, Destin is much more family-friendly with a relaxed pace of enjoyment.
Because the city of Clearwater is busy and popular it also offers numerous opportunities for adventure including:
- Jet ski rentals
- Boat tours
- Helicopter tours
- Sky Surfing
- Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise
- Taking tours to Clearwater marine aquarium
Clearwater beach has a little bit of everything for everyone. Whether you’re traveling alone, with other travelers, as a couple, or with family, this city has an abundance of activities anyone could participate in.
Destin VS Clearwater: The Nightlife
The nightlife is an essential aspect for many people choosing between Destin or Clearwater beach, especially older kids or younger crowds. Fortunately, both Destin and Clearwater beach have their fair share of nightlife activities.
Since Destin is geared towards families it may want to maintain its family-friendly atmosphere by restricting late-night partying. Despite this, Destin has a few things to offer for a good nightlife experience.
Destin has several bars located on the western side including Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar & Grill, Down Under Bar, and McGuire’s Irish Pub. Besides bars, Destin also has nightclubs with some noteworthy ones being Lucky’s Rotten Apple, AJ’s Club Bimini, and Bric a Brac.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for some live music you can head on over to Club LA, Harbor Docs, or The Village Door Music Hall.
The nightlife offered in Clearwater beach offers an overall better experience than Destin. There are countless bars, nightclubs, and restaurants to treat yourself. Even if you don’t stop by to eat, there are many other activities that’ll keep you entertained throughout the night.
Before night falls, seeing the sun set in the crystal clear water can be a blissful sight. To experience this, I’d suggest you stop by Jimmy’s Crow’s Nest in the afternoon. The food over there is delicious and it has a spacious rooftop location with a breathtaking view of Clearwater Beach which lets you clearly see the sunset.
If you’re looking to grab a bite, Clearwater has some great restaurants including Papa’s New York Diner, Clear Sky Beachside Cafe, and Florida Subs & Gyros. All these restaurants have delicious options with the best seafood and Juicy burgers or mouthwatering tacos.
Apart from the food, if you’re in the mood to party, Clearwater beach features numerous nightclubs with the most popular being Jamminz, Amorama Latin Night Club, and WAVE at Shephard’s Beach Resort.
But perhaps the most notable attraction of this charming beach town is the well-lit Pier 60.
Pier 60 is a fishing pier and recreational center that stretches for about 1080 feet along the glowing green gulf. Apart from being a great fishing spot in the day, you also have the chance to book yourself sunset tours that take you through a nightly celebration of the sun setting featuring artisans and street performers for your entertainment. it can give you the most beautiful sunset view you might have ever seen.
As the sun goes down, Clearwater seems to just be waking up with its Pier 60 festival. Over here you’ll get to see some of the best performers and craft vendors that can breathe life into the night.
Destin VS Clearwater: Costs and Budget
Before booking a ticket to Destin or Clearwater, it’s essential to take in the costs. A common mistake first-timers make is that they only calculate their traveling expenses along with how much they would spend on hotels and food.
But, when you’re going on a vacation, you’d be looking for some fun activities to do there as well. So, it’s important to consider how much the ideal vacation would cost you. Below we break it down and compare the costs of Destin and Clearwater to see which one provides the better bang for your buck.
Destin doesn’t experience a lot of busy crowds compared to Clearwater beach, which is why it may be relatively less expensive. The average daily cost you can expect to pay for your time in Destin is estimated to be around $153. This includes accommodation, food, transport, and entertainment.
However these prices can widely vary from person to person, so we’ll break it down further into different categories.
The typical hotel room for a single person in Destin may cost you $89 per night. Whereas if you plan on getting a double room, the price jumps to $178. These prices can vary immensely by location, the closer the hotel is to the beach the more it typically charges.
Destin is easier to access and move around as it provides cheaper transportation that might cost you an average of $40 per ride. You can even fly directly into Destin through the Mid-Bay Toll Bridge, which would save you a lot of money in getting a taxi to the beach.
If you’re planning to dig your teeth into the tasty seafood Destin’s vendors, bars, and restaurants have to offer, you can expect to spend $41/day on average. This would vary on how much you plan on eating and more specifically the number of people that accompany you on your trip.
Activities & Entertainment
If you plan on having a relaxing journey – dipping your feet in the soft golden sand of the Crystal and Miramar beaches and gazing into the emerald coast, Destin is your type of place.
Destin doesn’t offer as many activities as Clearwater beach and may be more suitable for taking peaceful hikes, enjoying sunset tours, and taking in the natural beauty.
Most activities are quite cheap and other travelers have reported spending an average of $14-$40/per activity in Destin. So, if you’re looking to have some fun while saving money, Destin may be a suitable choice.
Since Clearwater beach offers a lot more in terms of entertainment and nightlife it’s understandably more expensive than Destin. The average daily cost in Clearwater beach can be estimated at around $241.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of what you can expect to pay for different areas of your trip.
Hotel rooms in Clearwater cost significantly more than in Destin due to busier crowds and smaller beaches. You can expect to pay around $140 per night with the price of rooms increasing the closer you’re located to the crystal waters. Also for a double-occupancy room, the price can climb to $250-300.
Transport in Clearwater also costs a lot more than in Destin as you’d be making most of your trips through hired cars and shuttle services that are expected to be around $40-150. It’s also not possible to fly directly into Clearwater which makes it less accessible to most travelers on a budget. This can set you back a couple hundred dollars as private airport transfers can easily cost around $150-600 or more.
Since Clearwater beach provides more food options and has a lot more restaurants, bars, and bistros, the price of the food here isn’t as much. The average person can typically expect to spend around $38/per day on their meals.
Activities & Entertainment
Clearwater offers a lot of engaging activities including tours, cruises and an exciting nightlife, compared to Destin’s calmer vibe. If you want to get the full experience of Clearwater beach you’ll need to keep some spare cash.
Although some activities in Clearwater are much cheaper than Destin having the ability to rent jet skis, parasail, and go on some of the most memorable cruises, can quickly raise the costs. We weren’t able to get a hold of an exact estimate for the cost of entertainment, as they hugely varied, but the most common activities in Clearwater have a range of $15-29 per ride which would include prices of entry tickets, tours and other activities as well.
Destin VS Clearwater: Best Times to Visit
Both cities are in close proximity to each other which means they would have a similar climate. Since they’re also located around the gulf waters both Destin & Clearwater beach have humid weather all year round.
Clearwater, located in Tampa Bay, is somewhat known for its sunny weather. Since the gulf at Clearwater is usually warmer, it can act as a great winter destination as well.
Destin, on the other hand, has cooler weather so if you’re looking to get your tan on, Clearwater might be the better option. Otherwise Destin is more suitable for people who prefer a cool breeze on the beach.
Both destinations are popular during spring break. So, if you wish to avoid large crowds or hope to save some money on rooms, it might be better to travel before or after spring break ends.
Destin VS Clearwater: Places to Stay
Destin and Clearwater beach may not be the cheapest resorts in Florida, but the hotels there offer a good price for the quality time you’ll be having.
You can find many condos located at the scenic gulf coast beaches near the Destin harbor. But the closer the hotel is to the sea, the more you can expect to pay per night. Our best selections for places to stay in Destin are:
- Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort – the ideal location to have a memorable vacation in Destin. It is a huge hotel that stretches for 2400 acres and includes a children’s playground, a magnificent ocean view, and excellent customer service.
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Destin – an affordable option located near Henderson State Park. Its convenient location makes it a great place to stay for shopping and restaurants. It features spotless comfortable rooms, a small gym and a large pool.
- Wingate by Wyndham Destin – a great option for travelers on a budget. It features various activities for children to partake in, a beautiful blue outdoor pool, and a delicious free breakfast.
Clearwater beach has around forty-three hotels with much better locations compared to Destin. It also costs more per night and bookings should be made a few days or weeks in advance to make sure you get a room amongst the busy crowd. Some of the best hotels we’ve seen in Clearwater are:
- The Avalon Club – is a high-end beachfront resort located just a walk away from Clearwater beach. It is the highest-reviewed hotel on Booking.com and features a balcony with a breathtaking view, an outdoor swimming pool, and a fitness center.
- Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach – a conveniently located hotel in the heart of the Clearwater beach area with access to boating activities, and just a few steps away from Pier 60. It includes upscale facilities including a full-service spa, an outdoor pool, and multiple dining options.
- Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa – stunning hotel located just a few steps away from the gulf waters. It has spacious rooms, a huge balcony from which you can see the sun sets, and a spa to wind off.
Destin or Clearwater: Where Should You Plan Your Next Vacation?
Destin and Clearwater have some of the finest beaches in all of Florida. When planning your next vacation these two are a must consider.
However, since they are both located in the gulf it can be hard to make a decision especially when the differences between them are subtle.
In this post, we highlighted the similarities in the beach and what each city has to offer in terms of food, hotels, and entertainment.
Although both cities can cater to every type of person, Destin is better suitable for families due to its peaceful atmosphere and ample amounts of family activities. Whereas Clearwater is more geared towards people looking for an exciting adventure and making the most out of their trip. It offers enticing nightlife and a lot of activities for the more adventurous types.