The beaches of the Florida Panhandle, and Destin specifically, beckon families for summer vacations. For Florida kids, though, the beach can get boring after a day or two.
In Destin, there are plenty of activities beyond boogieboarding and building sand cities. Tuck this list away in case you find yourself up that way with the family this summer.
See dolphins on a sunset cruise: The two-hour dolphin cruise on the Southern Star features a narrated tour of Destin harbor, bird feeding and dolphin watching in the Gulf of Mexico. The boat has an inside cabin and 18 benches on the top level for those who want a breezy ride. Eight glass panels in the bottom of the boat provide an intriguing view when the water is clear.
Big hits with the kids: dolphin watching and having a chance to steer the boat in the captain's chair wearing Captain Cliff's hat. Each child gets a turn and a "Junior Captain Award" certificate. Kids get a toy from the treasure chest at cruise's end.
Tickets are $27 for adults (there's a coupon for $2 off), $20 for seniors, $13.50 for ages 4 through 12 and free for younger than 4. Contact: (850) 837-7741; www.dolphin-sstar.com. Park at the Lucky Snapper off U.S. 98 E, a quarter-mile east of Destin bridge.
Shop, eat and play at Destin Commons: Billed as an "outdoor lifestyle center," Destin Commons has more than 56 acres of stores, restaurants and a 14-screen movie theater. Running through the fountain is free, as is the kids' playground.
Take the free trolley ride or pay $3 per person to ride the Little Choo Choo. Expect lots of traffic around the center (corner of U.S. 98 and Mid Bay Bridge Road). Contact: www.destincommons.com.
Drive go-karts at the Track: The family recreation center also has bumper cars, minigolf, bungee jumping and rides for little kids. We bought 24 tickets for $60.65 (10 percent discount online) and blew through $30 in half an hour. Best bets: bumper boats (you get wet) at two tickets a ride; kids driving go-karts by themselves on the family track at two tickets a ride; and kids riding go-karts with dad driving on the three-story wooden track at three tickets a ride.
Check age, height and weight restrictions at www.destintrack.com. Hours change by season. The center is at 1125 U.S. 98 E. Contact: (850) 654-4668.
Play at Big Kahuna's: From kids' slides, fountains and shallow pools to speed slides and river rides, Big Kahuna's Water and Adventure Park has something for every age and adrenaline buzz. In the water park, check out the Hammerhead slides that take off from atop the Temple of Doom and the Maui Pipeline speed slide. New is the Honolulu Half Pipe, where you can body board on one continuous wave that moves 36,000 gallons of water a minute. At the adventure park, try the minigolf, speed raceway and sky coaster.
The water park opens at 10 a.m. daily from May 24 through Aug. 17. The adventure park opens at 2 p.m. daily May 26 through Sept. 1. Both parks are open weekends only during months outside those dates.
All-day water park tickets are $35.99 (plus tax) for adults and those 48 inches and taller; $29.99 for children shorter than 48 inches and seniors. Order online and save $2 each. A combo ticket for water and adventure parks is $47.99. The parks are at 1007 U.S. 98 E. Contact: (850) 837-8319; www.bigkahunas.com.
Drive dune buggies: Destin Raceways has dune buggies ($25 for 25 laps, 30 laps for safe drivers) and go-karts ($10 for 25 laps, 30 laps for safe drivers). Riding with Dad in a dune buggy on a dirt track is bumpy and fun. But the track is small, and 25 laps go by fast. Destin Raceways is at 26000 Emerald Coast Parkway (U.S. 98). Contact: (850) 269-2999.
Bowl at Hurricane Lanes: Even with 26 lanes, the place can be crowded on a rainy day. Pictures of celebrity bowlers such as Jayne Mansfield decorate the walls. Cost is $3.50 per person, per game, and $1.50 for shoe rental. Bumpers and 6-pound balls are only for kids 7 and younger. Hurricane Bowl (9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $4.25) features loud music and black-light bowling. The pool tables and tabletop games are worn. Hours vary. Hurricane Lanes is at 34876 Emerald Coast Parkway (U.S. 98). Contact: (850) 654-5251.
Go deep-sea fishing: Among the many charter boats, we like the American Spirit (three-tenths of a mile east of the Destin bridge). A morning half-day trip is just the right amount of time. Deckhands will fillet your catch, likely white and red snapper. (They work hard, so tip well.) Trips are four to eight hours and cost $40 to $65 (half price for 12 and younger). Contact: (850) 837-1293; www.newfloridagirl.com.