The water is clear and warm. The jewel-colored, exotic marine life is abundant. The natural underwater landscape, sunken ships, and man-made habitats are exhilarating to explore.
Destin-Fort Walton Beach is a popular spot for scuba divers, but you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the underwater wonders, from sea cucumbers and sea turtles to stingrays.
Here are some of the best places for beginners to get their fins wet:
Miss Louise Tug Boat
It’s certainly not the Titanic, but for novice divers who’ve never seen a sunken ship, there’s an eerie sense of awe floating up to the 85-foot Miss Louise, a.k.a. the Crystal Beach Tug. As shimmering schools of fish part, the crustacean-covered tugboat stands out starkly against the shell-dotted sand. Sent to the bottom in 1997 to be a dive training site and underwater habitat, it’s only about 50 feet down, making it one of the most popular Destin diving spots for shallow water exploring.
Over 900 tons of old concrete targets from Eglin Air Force Base were “deployed” in 2015 to create this underwater world teeming with Gulf of Mexico wildlife. Named in honor of scientist Charles H. “Mac” McClenahan, it’s about 3 miles Southwest of Destin’s East Pass.
Destin Bridge Rubble
Concrete from the old Destin bridge was turned into an artificial reef in 1977, providing lots of nooks and crannies to give lobsters, octopus, and other little water critters places to hunker down—and delight you when they venture out. It’s about a mile and a half from Holiday Isle and in 60 to 70 feet of water . Divers will find 15 feet of relief in some places.
Visit Destin Jetties at slack high tide when water when currents are calmer for diving. Find this highly popular diving and snorkeling spot at the gates of the East Pass where water depth is only 10 to 60 feet.
With a double cross shape marking the top, Barrel Barge is only 60 feet underwater. This 100-foot boat was sunken in 1992 to create an artificial reef. It’s part of what’s known as Wreck Alley, about two miles from the Okaloosa Pier.
Robert Bonezzi, Snorkel Reef Network
If you just want to swim to reefs—no boat required—then check out these eight artificial reefs that are new to the local diving party. Even though the most recent ones were just finished in 2021, they’re already hotspots for aquatic life attaching itself to and swimming around the cement and limestone modules/
For Okaloosa Island snorkeling, the reefs are in front of numbers 2, 4, and 6 beach accesses and at Beasley Park. In Destin, two are at opposite ends of Henderson Beach State Park, and the others are in front of the Pompano Street Beach access and James Lee Park. Reef signage can be found at each location.