Gazing across the Gulf of Mexico waters off Destin-Fort Walton Beach, you’ll see a striped pattern of green just off the shore – light, dark, then light and dark again. Light is where a sandbar is, and dark is where it drops off and the water deepens.

That there are two permanent sandbars is a bit unusual, something not seen at every beach in the world. A combination of waves is needed. Small waves create the first one, and large waves the second.That explains the lore about the “second sandbar,” a place with a siren’s call for snorkelers. It’s the place where the sand dollars and shells you see on lying the beach can be discovered in their natural habitat.

Instead of white, living sand dollars are a purplish-brown with little spines that help them move. In the clear water, you’ll see them easily, burrowed just under the surface of the sand, especially if you follow the lines of circular patterns they leave in their wake, like a slow-motion Roomba. Instead of empty, shells are filled with tiny creatures, some with string-like filaments from the ends. Plus, you’ll see the occasional starfish, and schools of small fish who’ve made this area their home, taking a break from the crashing waves.

Though the second sandbar’s location shifts depending on the weather and currents, it’s give or take about 500 feet from shore. To get there, it’s recommended you go by paddleboard, kayak – which takes just a few minutes -- or by booking a guided excursion. Paddleboards and gear can be purchased from local companies, such as BOTE Board. Or rent paddleboards or kayaks for several hours from places such as Island Watersports Company or Paddle Tribe Co. 

Excursions include a cruise on a catamaran with Cattywampus or sessions with Destin Snorkel. Whatever you choose, you’re likely to see dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, pelicans and other wildlife on the way.

Once you reach the second sandbar, the water is shallow and you can stand in some places. Don some goggles and a snorkeling tube and check out the underwater world.

If you decide to pick up sand dollars to get a better look out of the water, don’t do it for long. It’s harmless, but live sand dollars can leave a yellow stain on your hands or swimsuit, and can’t survive for very long outside their home. Also, since they play such an important part of our beautiful ecosystem by filtering the water and feeding creatures higher on the food chain, don’t take them as souvenirs.

A waterproof camera is the best way to remember – and share – your memories of standing in what seems like the middle of the water.