Destin is known for its sugar-white sand beaches, but dive a little deeper and you’ll discover an underwater landscape rich with spiny lobster, crabs, sea turtles, natural limestone reefs, sunken ships and other artificial reefs, as well as many species of fish!
“The waters of Destin-Fort Walton Beach have massive quantities of fish,” Captain Charles Stone, from Blue Water Escape Fishing and Diving Charters, explained. “For a scuba diver, if you want to see a bunch of fish, you want to go scuba diving in Destin. I’ve dived all over and have never seen the quantity of fish we have here.”
Lionfish are a beautiful but invasive species that can be found along dive spots in Destin-Fort Walton Beach. Lionfish eat everything, have few natural predators, and produce, on average, more than two million eggs per year. Adding spearfishing to your dive plans would be a great way to help the local ecosystem.
Here are the best places to scuba dive in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, FL.
Wreck Alley and Artificial Reefs
The Miss Louise wreck is a great ship to explore for scuba diving beginners. It’s located about a half mile off the coast of Destin. Divers need an open water certification, but advanced training isn't necessary since this is a relatively shallow, 55-foot dive. Miss Louise is an 85-foot-long tugboat that was sunk in 1997 to provide underwater habitat. Divers have seen goliath grouper, Spanish mackerel, and even whale sharks here.
Wreck Alley, which begins about two miles south of Okaloosa Pier, includes diving spots that are part of an artificial reef program that spans the coastline about 16 miles with 25 large vessels, and two more additions planned in 2021. Part of Wreck Alley is the 100-foot long Barrel Barge, another sunken ship that is excellent for newer divers. The top of Barrel Barge is approximately 60-feet deep. Amberjack, flounder, and spadefish are plentiful.
Given the military history of Destin-Fort Walton Beach, it might not be a surprise to find several sunken M60 battle tanks deployed among the Wreck Alley sites. These submerged defenders now attract a variety of fish, stingrays, and sea turtles.
Near the M60 battle tanks and Barrel Barge south of Okaloosa Island Pier are the Pole Spot, which includes concrete rubble from the old Okaloosa Island Pier.
For those new to diving or who don’t want to venture too deep or too far offshore, the artificial reefs around Destin-Fort Walton Beach provide places for training dives and exploration of marine life. The Destin Bridge Rubble, just one and a half miles from Holiday Isle, has three distinct sections of rubble from the old Destin Bridge— Main Stack, East Stack, and North Stack.
Other artificial reefs include the Urchin and Sand Flea reef complexes which are in 50-60 feet of water, about a mile south of Henderson Beach State Park. Both Urchin and Sand Flea reef complexes are made up of one hundred 12' high concrete and steel pyramids.
Natural Reef Scuba Diving
Divers with advanced certification will enjoy exploring the natural limestone reefs of Destin-Fort Walton Beach, which start at depths of 80-feet.
“These reefs you have to find yourself,” Stone said. “Our area is full of them. I have several that I’ve found and named myself, but some of the more commonly known limestone reefs are Airplane Rock, Triplets and the Timber Holes.”
The Triplets is about four-feet tall and is home to frog fish, tropical fish, and shovelnose lobster. Plus, it’s a good spot for macro photography.
But Captain Stone’s favorite dive site is the Timber Holes. Since it’s about 20 miles offshore and is deeper than 120 feet, this is a great reef for advanced divers.
The Timber Holes gets its name from the deep holes found in the limestone. It’s thought that ancient trees used to grow here, rotted away and left the large, trunk-sized holes that now dot this popular fishing spot. Red snapper, sponges and sea squirts are plentiful.
“One of the best things about SCUBA diving in Destin-Fort Walton Beach is you never know what you’ll find. It’s that diverse,” Stone said.
Take a Scuba Charter
Perhaps the best bet to find the top scuba diving spots in Destin-Fort Walton Beach is to take a scuba diving charter. Learn from Captain Stone or a member of his team by diving with Blue Water Escape Fishing and Diving Charters.
For a variety of dives including deeper (80-87 feet), natural reefs such as White Hill Reef, Amberjack Rocks, Shoreline Reef, and Long Reef, which are four to six (4-6) miles south of Destin’s East Pass, go with ScubaTech diving trips.
Emerald Coast Scuba has knowledgeable divers who can lead you to the best diving areas in our waters based on your skill level and experience. SCUBA equipment is available to rent, and they offer guided trips. You may even want to hire divemasters who will do all the planning, navigating, and coordination on the diving charter to ensure you reach excellent spots for underwater exploration.
Take your underwater camera and share your dive with the world! #DestinFWB