Everybody likes their “home waters.” But facts are facts: Some places are nicer than others. Maybe it’s the water or the land that contains it. Perhaps it’s the people, or maybe the lack of them! Easy access? That can be nice, but “hard to reach” sometimes means “hard to beat.” And some places are just plain boaty. Over the decades, our editors have boated hundreds of idyllic waters in the United States. We’ve tapped our experiences, chatted up other boaters and even checked in with web surfers to help us refine this list of our 10 favorite boater-friendly spots in the Lower 48. We considered livability, public access, convenience and also relaxing getaways that should please anyone looking for a primary or secondary boating home.
Gulf of Mexico
Destin is perfectly situated to celebrate in style the aquatic wonder known as the Gulf of Mexico.
Located on Florida’s Panhandle midway between Pensacola and Panama City, Destin offers snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, light-tackle fishing, trolling and deep-sea bottom-fishing. Sugar-sand beaches and barrier islands are as abundant as dining, shopping and golfing.
Boaters find the bay and Intracoastal Waterway beginner-friendly; the active east Pass into the Gulf of Mexico, with its tides, currents and swells, calls for a more experienced hand.
To celebrate water with friends new and old, visit Crab Island, an “underwater island,” for boating and partying on the north side of the Destin bridge. In summer, a barge and boat vendors sell burgers, ice cream, steamed shrimp and other culinary treats.
Plentiful vacation rentals include home and condo rentals. Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa is a luxury hotel with a AAA four-diamond restaurant, seven miles of beach and bayfront, four championship golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, kids’ programs and more.
Sandestin’s 98-slip, open-to-the-public Baytowne Marina welcomes boats up to 140 feet. The marina staff provides personal concierge services — arranging tee times, restaurant reservations and tram service. Other marinas dot the coastline.
Need to Know
Dream Boat: Cobalt A25 — lavish day-boat comfort for fun in the sun-dappled Gulf waters.
Fun Fact: The nearby beaches of South Walton boast 17 coastal dune lakes. Separating them by sand from the Gulf, their dune barriers are breached several times a year to mix fresh and salt water.