Is Key West Better Than Destin (Did Someone Say Vacation?)

Planning a trip to Florida will leave you with this inevitable question: is Key West better than Destin for vacation? If you’ve asked around, both places come highly recommended. 

Your heart is set on Florida, but deciding the exact location can be challenging. Key West and Destin are so different, and each has unique qualities.

Both cities have the most striking crystal-clear water, and there are plenty of activities in both locations.

As you learn more about each location and the differences between the two, you should feel more comfortable making the right choice. 

Key West vs. Destin (For Vacation)

Key West is the ideal destination for watersports, kayaking, snorkeling, and other watersports. The reefs, rich culture, and shallow, clear waters give the island a Caribean feel. If you wish to relax at the beach, Destin’s sandy beaches with emerald waters trump those of Key West. Destin has many fun, child-friendly activities, making it the best destination for families with young children.

Atmosphere And Culture In Key West

Key West, fondly known as the Conch Republic, has a laid-back atmosphere that draws you in and brings out the lighter side of life. Key West is the Caribbean of the USA.

There is a rich culture as the island and city are old; some buildings were built in the 1800s. You can easily walk where you need to be, exploring historic buildings as you stroll.

The locals are eccentric, easy-going, and inviting to visitors, giving a sense of community. While there are many elderly locals, most people have a carefree, accepting attitude.

Chickens roam freely in the older parts of the city. You will find no shortage of quirky elements, places, and experiences. 

Key West’s vibrant nightlife can easily rival Florida’s other party hubs like Miami. Restaurants and bars are abundant, and the food is heavenly.

Atmosphere And Culture In Destin

Destin is a much younger city than Key West. Consequently, the buildings are newer with more high-rises. Destin has a fun, “family vacation” atmosphere. 

While Destin is charming in its own right, it has a very different atmosphere than Key West. The city is more modern and active, with many resorts and shopping malls. 

If you are trying to escape the city rush, Key West is a better choice. Destin gets crowdy in peak season, and as the city is daunting to walk or cycle, there is, unfortunately, a considerable amount of traffic. 

Things To Do In Key West 

Key West may be small in size, but don’t be fooled into thinking there isn’t much to do. With such a rich culture, fascinating history, and breathtaking nature, there’s something here for everyone.

One of the highlights of Key West is watersports. The crystal clear, shallow waters and breathtaking reefs make Key West ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. 

Paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, and sailing the surrounding waters are an experience not to be missed. For a romantic experience, book a sunset sailing excursion and enjoy the sight of dolphins playing in the water. 

While the best way to fully experience Key West is by boat, there is plenty to do on land. So be sure to rent a bicycle and cycle through the old city. 

Head to the country’s most Southern point for a bucket-list activity. After all, were you even in Key West without the photographic proof of a selfie at this national landmark? 

Other places worth visiting include the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Duval street with dazzling nightlife, and Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. 

The food is a gastronomic fusion of Cuban, southern, and other cuisines. Blue Heaven is one of many must-visit eateries. If you like seafood, there are many restaurants to choose from, all with fresh seafood.

For nature lovers, the following should not be missed:

  • Dry Tortugas National Park. In spring and summer, thousands of Sooty Terns nest on Bush Key. Although Bush Key is off-limits to visitors, the main island is close enough for spectacular sightings through binoculars. Other activities include camping, snorkeling, and fishing.
  • Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory 
  • Fort Zachary Historic Park

Things To Do In Destin

Like Key West, Destin offers plenty of activities that keep visitors returning year after year. This charming city on the Emerald Coast will steal your heart.

Planning a trip as a family? These activities will keep the young ones happy:

  • The Track – an amusement park with arcade games, go-karts, miniature golf, and many more fun activities
  • Urban Air Trampoline & Adventure Park
  • Spend a day at Destin Harbor Boardwalk
  • Build sandcastle lessons
  • Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park
  • Visit Crab Island

Destin offers other activities, including golfing, biking along the Scenic 98 Highway, fishing, and shopping. Silver Sands Premium Outlets and Destin Commons are two of the best places to “shop till you drop.” 

In need of a relaxing time sipping cocktails at the beach, rejuvenating at spas, and simply spending time at the beach? Vacation goers come from far and wide to laze on Destin’s soft, powdery beaches. 

The city boasts some of the most spectacular beaches in the state. With crystal clear, turquoise-green waters and ample public restroom facilities, what more can a beach lover ask for?

Destin is also known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village,” so a charter fishing trip is a great way to experience the Gulf of Mexico and reel in some fish. There is also great inshore fishing available in Destin, it’s a great place to try your luck with bass fishing.

Are The Beaches In Key West Better Than Destin?

There is quite a stark contrast between the beaches of Key West and Destin

As a small island forming part of the Florida Keys, Key West is an exposed coral reef. Unfortunately, while the reef makes snorkeling and diving an otherwordly experience, the beaches aren’t comfortable. 

On the other hand, Destin has soft, white sand and long stretches of beach. So if you are planning a beach vacation, Destin is, without a doubt, the place for you. The waters are clear too, excellent for swimming. 

Is Key West More Expensive Than Destin? 

Cost is always something to consider if you plan a vacation on a budget. How expensive these two places are will also depend on your vacation style. 

Food and accommodation are more expensive in Key West than in Destin. The abundance of activities, like snorkeling excursions and sunset cruises, in Key West can add up if you decide to go all out.

However, you will likely save on fuel when visiting Key West. Destin is not as walkable as Key West, places are further apart, and traffic is almost unavoidable. 

If you consider spending more on shopping sprees and resorts in Destin, you may find that the cost of the two destinations balances out. But Destin will be cheaper if you plan to take it easy. 

Verdict: Key West Vs. Destin

Key West and Destin are wonderful vacation spots with breathtaking scenery and crystal-clear water. However, that’s where the similarities stop.

If you are looking for a nature-filled, adventurous vacation, you will be happiest visiting Key West. It will also be the best choice for watersport lovers. 

Although the beaches aren’t that great in Key West, the sunsets are out of this world. It’s the perfect place for couples, artsy solo travelers, and outdoorsy families.

Destin is the best vacation spot for beach bums and families with children. There are loads of fun-filled things to do with young kids, shopping malls, and some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.