You’ll want to catch up with them, but the official paddleboard record speed is 9 mph. Most people go about 4 mph. Dolphins can swim 20 mph. Instead, just keep gliding across the crystal clear Gulf water and wait for the next awe-inspiring sighting. It shouldn’t take long at the best places to see dolphins while paddleboarding in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, FL.

About 10,000 bottlenose dolphins live in the Gulf of Mexico, and they like to hang out in this seafood-rich area year-round. The best times to see them are at daybreak, 10 a.m. to noon, and 2 p.m. until sunset.

Watch for groups, known as “pods,” of dolphins surfacing, which they do two to three times per minute to breathe through their blowholes. Above the waves, look for dorsal fins breaking the surface, and their iconic shapes jumping in arcs against the beauty of sparkling water, especially at sunrise and sunset.

While they may get close to you, remember that it is illegal to feed or touch a wild dolphin. It’s not good for them, and the stiff fine is not good for your wallet. 

Gulf Island National Seashore

Shallow, calmer waters make this dolphin hotspot on the bayside of Okaloosa Island a favorite among novice and experienced paddleboarders alike. You’re less likely to fall off, and if you do, it’s easier to get back on. The colorful windsurfing sails above add to the festive dolphin party atmosphere.

Spectre Island

Another shallow area is Spectre Island in the Santa Rosa Sound. Boats can’t go here, so there are no wakes and fewer people. Take advantage of the more tranquil waters where dolphins like to congregate.

Destin Harbor

Dolphins love a good fish, crab, or shrimp snack, meaning the cove by the East Jetty protecting Destin Harbor is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for them and a prime area to catch a glimpse.

The harbor itself is bustling with boat traffic in the summer, but when that starts to taper off, you’ll be more likely to see them hanging out. One of the best places year-round is where the harbor ends in Sandpiper Cove.

The Beach

Choose a beach, any local beach, then start your day off with a smooth, meditative paddle into the Gulf. Early morning is best to see dolphins joyfully searching for their breakfast. Pro tip: look for ripples in the water that are actually schools of fish, typically dolphins will not be far behind! 

The Bay by Lulu’s

Paddle up to Lulu’s Destin, a popular restaurant off Choctawhatchee Bay, or paddle out after renting a board from the on-site Destin Paddle Company. The thrill of encountering dolphins builds up an appetite for their menu full of seafood catches of the day.

If paddleboarding isn’t for you, take a Fort Walton Beach dolphin tour to their playgrounds farther out in the water. If you want to get really up close and personal, swim with and touch captive dolphins alongside a trainer by booking the “dolphin splash encounter” at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach.