Given that we would spend our summer this year in the US, we preferred to make a road trip from Dallas, TX to somewhere with crystal waters. We have a heard a few options: Padre Island, Galveston, Orange Beach and Destin. We decided to hit two birds with one stone and decided to drive to Destin, FL via New Orleans, giving us the opportunity to make both a cultural and abeach vacation.
New Orleans is 8 hours drive from Dallas. As we have kids, we stopped at the aquapark in Tyler for 2 hours for kids to have fun. Tired kids mean sleeping kids. We prefered to stay overnight near the plantations which are 1 hour away from New Orleans, in Alexandria. If you have a little more time, you can drive and stay in Baton Rouge, where we stopped next day to eat ‘beignets’. Coffee Call in Baton Rouge is a great stop for that.
Our next destination Oak Alley Plantation is 1 hour to Baton Rouge. Although there are other plantations near Mississippi River, Oak Alley is the biggest and most famous. The buildings where slaves lived and stayed in the past are now part of a museum. It is impressive to go back in time and imagine that era. The path in the front of the building surrounded by old trees is spectacular. You can tour inside the building with a guide, but we suggest that you do it a bit early in the morning.
After the plantation visit, we drove another hour to New Orleans. After settling down at our hotel in French Quarter, Provincial, we had a quick walk around the town. Looking forward to tasting the cajun cuisine, we ate our first meal at New Orleans Creole Cookery. Our waiter was talkative and told a lot about the menu. Baked oysters with various sauces tasted great. Cajun Creole did not only influence Louisiana but other surrounding states as we had very similar tastes in Destin. After the dinner, we walked around Jackson Square, and window shopped in French Market. Don’t forget to try pralines !
Although New Orleans had great architecture, streets, balconies, food, music on the streets; the city is very dirty and stinky especially in a summer day. City is trying their best to clean as much as possible, but puddles of urine can easily be observed around. From that perspective, it was not the best place to visit with small kids. The weather was very humid, sometimes rainy. It is a city you can walk around but if you want to see places other than in French Quarter; you can either drive or use the tram.
Our 2nd day began by a breakfast at Stanley followed by a visit to Mardi Gras museum. This is the museum where artists create and store their Mardi Gras celebration vehicles. The museum is a great way to monetize the Mardi Gras in the other months. After the museum, we walked through the streets of Garden District. I think the best part of our visit was this day. After an hour of walk, our tour ended in Lafayette Cemetery, which is interesting because the graves are not under the ground but over. Rum House was great for lunch.
After lunch, we drove by Bywater neighborhood by car, there were a lot of colorful houses. Dinner was at Sylvain in French Quarters, delicious food and a seating area on the outdoor yard. After the dinner, we walked around the Bourbon Street, which hosts the bars, night clubs and shops along with street musicians and shows.
Next day breakfast was at Croissant d’Or Patisserie. Tiny but historical venue where you can have delicious croissants. This was followed but a tour with a real steam boat Natchez on Missisipi. The tour lasts around 2 hours, and offers open buffet with live jazz music. Dinner was in Oceana Grill, which at first glance looks like a simple bar but upstairs was enjoyable.
After a breakfast at Cafe Beignet, we said goodbye to New Orleans and began our drive to Destin via Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. Another option is to take the ferry from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan (we were told that it requires advance booking). In Gulf Shores, we rested in Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe.
Orange Beach had a good beach but the water was green like in a lake. We were glad to have not chosen Orange Beach for our beach vacation. After arriving at Destin, we settled in our condo at Pelican Beach Resort for our week long stay. We impressed to see those white sand and crystal color water next day. There are so many accommodation options in the area from hotels to vacation rentals but Pelican Beach Resort gave us a lot of amenities including pools and beach, great views from our condo.
The weather and sea conditions were varying in Destin. Mostly it was sunny and hot, but also rained for a while. Gulf was wavy. We also tried different beaches nearby such as Henderson Beach Park. We also tried a beach in Okaloosa Island but there was too much of algae. The view around Destin bridge was spectacular.
Next day we rented pontoon boat from the harbor. You can rent those with your car driver’s license and be your own captain for a few hours. It was great to swim around the Crab Island and Destin Bridge. For the afternoon, we went to Topsail Hill State Park. Bicycle rental shop closes at 5pm but we rented our bikes just before that and you can return after they close. It is a great park to ride your bicycle near the beach. There is also a lake in it to visit. The park is also an RV park, I am sure that would be a great experience next time. !
Other than those, there are various activities in Destin: Sea World with giant aquariums and dolphin shows, zoo, gokart, amusement and aquaparks. We wanted to spend more to on the beach though. Our evening ritual was to watch the sunset and then have a nice dinner. Our condo on 17th floor had a perfect sunset as well as Destin and Baytowne Marinas, Topsail Hill State Park.