Budgeting For Your Destin Vacation

Budgeting For Your Destin Vacation

Over the last few years, Destin has become a hugely popular travel destination. Even if you’ve never visited before, you’ve probably read that it’s expensive to vacation in Destin. Only after you decide that you want to visit and have done a bit of planning, do you understand just how expensive it can be. However, there is a way to have a great Destin vacation no matter what your budget is.

In this blog post, we are going to look at 3 different budgets for a Destin vacation and how you can go about planning for your trip to meet your budget. No matter if it’s a small budget, medium budget, or an “all-out” nothing’s too expensive budget. We will point you in a direction to help you get started for a great Destin vacation.

When budgeting for a trip to Destin in the middle of summer there is a lot to consider. Accommodation, food, travel, entertainment, and miscellaneous all have to be included in the budget.

For any budget size, however, there are always two things you want to do:

1) Make sure your budget has an emergency fund. This is a fund for emergencies only and your goal is to return home with the full amount. 

2) Make sure you have money to live on once you return from your vacation. So many people want to visit Destin, so badly, that they forget about living once they return home. Please be a responsible planner.

We are giving you budget ideas for 2 different months: July and after Labor Day as the time of year can have a big difference on the cost of your vacation.

We know you will be surprised at the difference in prices from hotel/motels to condos and rental homes.

The Small Budget

Accommodations Budget:

Upon researching hotels, we found the cheapest rates are for Sunday to Friday. That is checking in on Sunday and checking out on Friday. Friday and Saturday nights are the most expensive.

Hotels that are not right on the beach are more budget-friendly. The great thing about Destin is, even if you aren’t beachfront, you are never far from one of its beautiful, public beaches.

Also, don’t forget, your hotel will probably have a great pool and kids LOVE night swimming… and it’s free!

When looking for the budget accommodations in Destin, here are some we recommend.

Food Budget:

If you are on a shoestring budget there are lots of ways to cut down this expense.

One way is to look for a hotel that includes daily breakfast in their rates. If they do not, check to see if they provide a refrigerator and microwave in your room.

For breakfast, a gallon of milk, a box of cereal, and some juice will fit right in and get everyone’s day started right.

Lunch is super easy. Just do what everyone else does at the beach, take a cooler. Make your sandwiches in the room. Throw them in the cooler with water bottles, chips, and fruit. Your day on the beach is set!

When supper time rolls around, look for restaurants that have kids’ menus or offer free kids’ meals. Click here to see our picks of restaurants that help keep you on budget.

Another consideration is to make some meals at home to bring and warm up. Sloppy Joes, spaghetti, and jambalaya warm up well. After a day in the sun, all you have to do is go back to the hotel room, put the kids in the bath, and warm up supper. No crowds to fight. No horrendous wait times at restaurants. Just a quick homemade meal. Doesn’t get much easier and tastier than that.

If you have a microwave, consider getting a box of microwave popcorn. It’s a cheap, satisfying snack. Pudding packs are another inexpensive snack option that you don’t have to keep in the fridge and everybody loves them (kids and grown-ups!).

Entertainment Budget:

Destin has so much to offer for free. Destin has 5 public beaches. 4 of them are free. The only beach that you pay to visit is Henderson Beach, State Park. There’s a nominal fee to visit for the day. Destin’s beaches are clean and beautiful. There are beach access points throughout Destin. Visitors can access the beach to walk and explore.

If you and the little ones get tired of the beach, why not try one of the several Destin City Parks?  One of the best parks is the Captain Leonard Destin Park located on the bay. It has a splash pad, a beach area, a dock, and a very cool Heron rookery!

Next, there is HarborWalk Village. It is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for something to do off of the beach.

Fireworks, concerts, dance parties, and more are scheduled throughout the summer months. Take a walk up and down the docks. Check out all the 120 + fishing boats. Around mid-afternoon, the fishing charters head back to the harbor. This is a great time to see everyone’s catch of the day and watch them clean the fish.

The Harborwalk also has shops (big and little), restaurants, snacks, and ice cream. Of course, there are “pay to play” activities for the kids to do as well.

Now For the Numbers:

As we mentioned before, we’ll give you July and after Labor Day budgets.

Budget type: Small

2 adults/2 children

Check-in: Sunday

Check-out: Friday

4 full days/5 nights

Late JulyAfter Labor DayWhat’s includedNotes
Accommodation$1,400$500Hotel (not beachfront)4 full days/5 nights
Food$360 $360$300 Eat Out 
$50 Sandwiches (lunch at the beach)
$10 Breakfast items (cereal, milk)
Lunch meats, bread, mayo, mustard, cheese, pb&j, chips, water bottles, popcorn, grapes & baggies 
Entertainment$100$100Ice cream, Harbor Walk, souvenirsEat before you go to Harbor Walk. Grab an ice cream at most. 
Emergency$300$300Just in case. (Goal is to bring it home.) Any unforeseen problems that may arise. 


As you can see, there is a $900 dollar difference in visiting months. Of course, this is a general budget to give you an idea of what to expect.  We want you to know that it’s not impossible on a small budget. Please do your own research, though. Also note, gas and travel were not figured into this budget.

The Medium Budget

Budgeting for a moderate stay also has its challenges. When booking a condo that is Gulf Side or Gulf Front, the prices go up and so do the terms of the stay. Most condo rentals are a Saturday to Saturday commitment. Sometimes in the “off-season” on VRBO, you can find a shorter stay; however, it is rare.

Accommodation Budget:

A moderate budget is a bit easier to manage but you still have to be vigilant about what you spend. The condos that are in this budget will offer a pool, bbq grills, and sometimes a workout facility. Some places include beach setups in their price, some do not. So make sure to read the fine print and ask when booking.

Two adults and two small children could easily stay in a 1 bedroom/1 bath unit. If you want to be more comfortable, a 3 bedroom 3 bath unit is really nice, too. These condos come with a full kitchen, living room, and dining area. Some units even have a laundry room. Each condominium building has its own layout. When searching for the perfect rental, make sure you understand what the view will be. Please see our blog post regarding location terms. This will give you a clear understanding of what your view will be. Also, always check with your rental company to confirm.

Food Budget:

The full kitchen in these rental properties makes life so much easier when it comes to meals. Honestly, the way to go is to plan your meals.  You do not have to eat out every day. The meals you do eat out do not have to be dinner (the most expensive meal). There are a ton of great breakfast and lunch places around Destin, not to be missed.  They will save you money and it’s sometimes easier to get a seat.

Back to meal planning!

Breakfast on the balcony. It doesn’t matter if it’s full-out bacon, eggs, toast, and grits, or just cereal or pancakes. It’ll save you money and the kids might even get to see dolphins off of the balcony while they eat. You won’t see that at the Donut Hole!

Lunch (sandwiches, chips, fruit, etc) in a cooler, at the beach, or back at the room. Those will be the best sandwiches you’ve ever had! 

Supper time, pick 3 nights to go out. Then, plan a pizza & game night. Bring that deck of Uno cards from home and have an early night in midweek. Cook burgers out on the grill, eat by the pool, and then ghost-crabbing on the beach.  Go to one of the seafood markets and have them make you a seafood steamer and eat on the balcony! Best view and the best seat in the house!

Other ideas are to cook ahead of time and bring the crockpot. Sloppy Joes, gumbo, jambalaya, spaghetti, tacos… so many options.  It will save you time, money, and stress once you are in paradise.

For the nights you have planned for supper out, check out our picks for the best Destin restaurants. Great Food. Fantastic View. Awesome Atmosphere.

Destin has Target, Walmart,  Publix,  Winn Dixie, and  Whole Foods. Shopping may be hectic on Saturdays and Sundays but there are plenty of places to shop

Entertainment Budget:

Please make sure to read about all the events, parks, and fun that can be had for free under  Small’s “Entertainment Budget”. That’s a universal win! However, if you are looking to do a little more, spend a little more there are a ton of activities to choose from.

Parasailing, snorkeling, dolphin, glass-bottom boat tours are all very popular. There are many great companies to use. Make sure to book this well in advance, especially if you are going in the peak summer season. Book. Confirm. Reconfirm.

The number one experience that every first-time visitor to Destin wants to do is Crab Island. But to get to Crab Island you need a mode of transportation.  HarborWalk has several businesses to rent Wave Runners or pontoon boats from. There are also companies that will take you out there. None of these options are inexpensive.  In fact it may blow the whole entertainment budget in one go.

Whatever you do, choose wisely young padawan. And remember, Destin sand gets in your soul. You’ll be back!

Now For the Numbers:

Budget type: Moderate

2 adults/2 children

Check-in: Saturday

Check-out: Saturday

Late JulyAfter Labor DayWhat’s IncludedNotes
AccommodationStarting @ $5,000Starting @ $2,7002 Bed/2 Bath
Gulf Front
7 Days/ 7 Nights
Food$700 +  $700 +Groceries $300
Eating Out: $400
3 Dinners out 
Entertainment$500$500Prices will vary with activity. Walmart Boogie Boards are cheaper than WaveRunners!
Emergency$1,000$1,000Emergencies OnlyFor emergencies only

Please be aware that these are budgets we have researched and used. Budgets may vary but this is a very good baseline start. Click here to see suggested properties.

Pro Tip:  If possible, bring what you can from home. Seasonings, detergent, suntan lotion, aloe, beach toys, shampoo/conditioner, bath soap, extra toilet paper, extra paper towel, dishwashing liquid, dishwasher tablet, cooler, flashlights (Ghost crabbing), crockpot, make-ahead meals, etc…

Now, if you are one of the lucky ones that don’t have a budget, this one’s for you!

The Sky’s The Limit Budget

This is the “Go Big or Go Home” vacation. It was fun to plan out this one, as it isn’t something any of us at EmeraldDestin.com have been lucky enough to experience. These are some of the best of the best. Best vacation homes, best restaurants, and best entertainment. Call this everyone’s dream vacation!


With a wide-open budget, go straight for the Gulf Front vacation homes. We’ve seen 4 bedroom/ 5 bath homes starting at around $12,000 for the week. We’ve also seen 7 bedrooms/ 11 baths (11???) for $50,000 for a week!!  What does one even do with 11 bathrooms?? Pool, hot tub, bicycles, and golf cart seem to be pretty standard with each rental.  And they all have “to die for” gulf views, balconies on every level, and their own private beach. Oh… did we mention elevators??


Ok, so some of the rentals list ‘your own private chef’ and you and your family will not have to worry about mealtimes. But, in the unfortunate event that your rental doesn’t include one, there are private chefs that hire out for special in-home meals.  For you and 15 of your closest friends and family or just a romantic couples night.

One of the first restaurants you will want to make reservations at is Primrose at the Henderson. It is the hotel’s signature restaurant. They specialize in seafood, steaks,  chops, and sushi. Chef Gary Palm’s menu is always changing to bring diners the freshest and healthiest Gulf to Table seafood. See their menu here.

Primrose offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Private dining for small, intimate gatherings is also available.

The other reservation you want to make is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. The name is synonymous with fine dining. Maybe this is the night you arrange in-home care for the little ones and book the Wine Room for private dining for 2. The Wine Room can only be booked over the phone: 850-837-7884.

Both are Destin fine dining at its best.

Click here to book a table.


So much to see and do!! First things first. Book a beach photographer for those beautiful family sunset pictures. There are tons of them to choose from. We have compiled a list to make it easier to find the perfect photographer. Click here to see the list.

Next, you’ll want to find a great fishing charter.

O Sea D Fishing Charters has fantastic reviews on both Google and Trip Advisor. They specialize in Deep Sea Fishing and Shark Fishing. Click here for boats and rates.

Also, please don’t forget to tip your deckhands!

Need more time out on the waters? Of course, you do! Why not hit up Destin Aquatic Adventures. They will take your family (up to 6 people) snorkeling, out to Crab Island, or to look for dolphins.

Of course, you’ll want to book a sunset dolphin cruise or a fireworks cruise, and just enjoy the incredible digs you’ve rented for the week.

Safe to say, this one is wide open and there is really no way to put a price tag on how much fun can be had if the sky was the limit.

Late July After Labor DayWhat’s IncludedNotes
AccommodationStarting @
Starting @ $12,0004 Bed/5 Bath
Gulf Front
7 Days/ 7 Nights ($1,700 per night)
Food$2500 +  $2500 +Groceries $500
Eating Out: $2000+
7 Dinners Out
Entertainment$5000$5000Prices will vary with activity. Private charter, fishing charter, jet skis, dolphin cruise
Emergency$5000$5,000Emergencies OnlyFor emergencies only

In Summary:

As you can see, Destin can be wildly expensive. But for 99% of Destin visitors, the “Sky’s The Limit Budget” isn’t a reality, and that’s ok! As long as you save and are careful, it can be done.

Remember these are all suggestions. Please do your own research to make sure it fits your wants and needs. Check company ratings yourself. Make sure you are dealing with companies with reputable websites. Do not make deals with people through Facebook Messenger. People have gotten burned.

We hope this helped you get started planning. Let us know if you found this helpful or if you have other money-saving tips and strategies to share. 

We hope to see you soon on the beaches at Destin!


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