Road Trip with Kids: Austin, TX to Destin, FL


Lafayette, LA

Lafayette is a funky little Cajun town with a lively food and music scene about 6.5 hours due east of Austin. We rented a house through Airbnb in the Freetown area within walking distance to downtown. I picked this house for its location and it did not disappoint. Taco Sisters (for fresh juice, coffee and lunch) was right across the street and very tasty. We walked to Agave for Mexican food one night and ordered in upscale Italian from Antoni's the other night. We were able to walk to the downtown splash pad, several restaurants, the Children's Museum and the Science Center from the house. The  Children's Museum was small but the kids enjoyed it. Before leaving town, we spent the morning at Girard Park, which was beautiful and had tons of creative play equipment for the kids and a long jogging path and pond. 

 

This particular neighborhood had a little grit to it - some trash, the occasional rundown house, a person that perhaps lived on his bicycle and some adults who seemed to skate board all day. While everything was fine, I will admit that as a mom alone with the kids I felt on alert, constantly looking over my shoulder just in case there was trouble. So even though I loved being able to walk to everything from this house, I would recommend staying closer to Girard Park if you want the neighborhood to feel pristine.

 

There are a few things that are better when it isn't the height of summer like take a Cajun Food Tour; do a living history day at Vermilionville; and do a swamp tour with Cajun Country SwampTours.


This was my first time renting on Airbnb and I didn't like it as much as renting through VRBO. It felt much more like I was a guest in someone's home and we needed to be on our best behavior. The owners of both houses we stayed in left detailed clean up instructions for us before our departure. Consequently, I got the feeling that the homes were not frequently cleaned professionally. I have never had that experience with a VRBO rental.  Has anyone else had this experience or impression? On the flip side, it is easier to book an Airbnb rental since you don't have to go back and forth with the owners as much and the cancellation policy is more standardized.

 

Road Trip Tip: While rest areas are great for clean bathrooms and walking around a bit, outlet malls are also a nice stop for a quick walk under a shaded walkway and offer a variety of food choices that are slightly healthier than fast food, and they usually have a playground and clean bathrooms.


Ocean Springs, MS

In the past, we have stopped at the Infinity Science Center just over the Mississippi border from Louisiana and it is well worth a visit! This time, we kept going until we got to Ocean Springs, MS. This is SUCH a cute southern town right on the Biloxi Bay, leading out to the Gulf of Mexico. The small downtown has streets lined with art galleries, restaurants and huge oak trees. I really enjoyed walking around the neighborhood the house was in and looking at the amazing houses that overlook the bay; it was about a half mile walk down to the water but further to the waterfront splash pad and playground. The beach was sandy and clean, but the water is completely opaque brown, so my advice is wait until you reach Florida before getting in the water. Tato-Nut and Buzzy's Breakfast Joint are good for breakfast and Government Street Grocery is good for dinner.


Destin, FL

The next morning we headed out for our final destination: Destin, Florida. I have gone to Destin every summer for as long as I can remember and it is hands down the prettiest beach I have ever seen. The water is a crystal clear green or blue depending on the sun and the sand could not be any whiter. In fact, when I read about other beaches and people say the sand is white, I always look at a picture closely because it seems that people have a different definition of soft, white sand than I do if they have never been to the beaches on the panhandle of Florida.

Destin has grown and changed a lot over the last 25 years and I can understand why someone wouldn't fall in love with the town of Destin itself, with touristy chain restaurants and cheap beach gear shops lining the main drag and high rises on parts of the beach. Yet, somehow, even that says fun, silly vacation to me and it all fades away when you are sitting on that sand looking out over the ocean. The beach stays beautiful for a full 35 miles east of Destin, an area commonly known as "30A". There are small beach towns all along this coast with a little more beach-y charm than Destin and less traffic and smaller crowds. So if you don't need a lot of hubbub, one of those towns might be right for you.

Where to Eat Now, I wouldn't blame you if you sat all day every day at the beach on your trip to Destin! However, if you do want to get out and about, there are plenty of things to do. I have been to all of these places countless times and recommend them all. We always make sure to eat at The Back Porch (for the view), Harbor Docks (for the amazing sushi), Hog's Breath Saloon (for the pork ribs and the memories - they catered our wedding in Key West) and The Donut Hole (well, for the donuts of course). They are all great local places and very kid friendly, although you should expect major crowds during peak summer season. Luckily, our family is happy to eat dinner at 5pm! I generally don't recommend the chain restaurants and I can confirm that the food at FudPucker's is terrible but the gators are fun. Head there when you want to see the 100+ live alligators and maybe have a drink, but eat elsewhere.

Things to Do We always seem to hit the Destin Commons at least once on our visit either for fudge, shopping, seeing a movie, running in the fountains or seeing the big fish in the Bass Pro Shop. This is an especially nice place to go if you have babies or toddlers that need to get out and play but can't last at the beach all day. When my son was a baby we would go every day, which looking back seems crazy, but when you can only do things in 30 minute increments, weird things happen!

 

We usually get out on a boat and take the kids for putt-putt golf and go-karts at The Track as well. As for boat rentals, we have rented a pontoon boat with a tube and gone parasailing with Boogie's, chartered a little catamaran with Captain Bryan through Sail Away, ridden the Southern Star for dolphin watching, done the glass bottom boat rides and gone for a snail and snorkel cruise on the Daniel Webster schooner through AJ's Sailing. My favorite is the catamaran, which is of course the most expensive option! My next favorite is the schooner, which really is almost as good as the private catamaran and WAY more affordable because you share the ride with several other families while you have the catamaran all to yourself. I would not recommend the glass bottom boats, the glass was cloudy and the viewing part of the boat is cramped and dark and very loud. I really don't think AJ's Sea Blaster looks like much fun at all either, it is way too crowded and ridiculously loud. You will almost always see dolphins up close when you go out on any boat here and they are magnificent!

 

Another place I always take the kids is The Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach. You can easily spend a day here watching the animal shows and wandering around all of the exhibits. You can even book special interactions with the animals for a hefty price tag. We haven't done that yet, as we have been waiting for the kids to be at a more "once in a lifetime" appropriate age.

 

Harborwalk Village is fun if you want to walk around and people watch. They have fireworks every Thursday night in the summer. You can see the fisherman unload their catch in the evening and there are tons of restaurants and a zip-line, trampolines, hamster balls and family entertainment events.


Lake Charles, LA

We only took one night to get back to Austin from Destin, so we spent the night in Lake Charles, LA. I don't think Lake Charles merits a visit on its own, but if you happen to be passing through I did manage to find a great playground and a good restaurant. We ate at Luna Bar and Grill, which is right on the one block of "downtown" Lake Charles and seemed to be a popular place with a nice vibe and good food. We took an evening walk on the promenade around the lake. The kids played at the playground and splash pad at Bord du Lac Park (also called Millennium Park), which has a huge play structure. If you want to explore a little bit, there is a beautiful stretch of houses on the opposite side of the lake from I-10 on Shell Beach Drive. We also stopped at the Visitor's Center just off of I-10 immediately after you go over the Crossed-Pistol Bridge and enjoyed a nice walk along the water there as well.