Crab Island is one of the most talked about attractions in Destin, Florida. If you’ve ever visited the Destin area, chances are you’ve heard some mention of the popular sandbar. Indeed, Crab Island is one of our area’s top summertime destinations. It has been photographed and aired on national networks and shows such as HGTV and Good Morning America, published in various travel magazines, and featured in publications across the globe. I would venture to say that Crab Island is the main reason Boating Magazine named Destin one of the ‘Top 10 Places to Live and Boat’ in the United States in 2020. One look at this video, and it’s pretty clear what makes Crab Island so unique:
What is Crab Island?
The name ‘Crab Island’ is a bit of a misnomer because it makes you assume that it’s an actual island. Actually at one time it WAS an island, created by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s when they dredged the Destin Pass and created the Jetties to stabilize the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. The sand from the dredging project was deposited into the Choctawhatchee Bay and formed the small island that eventually came to be known as Crab Island, pictured here:
As time went on, drifting sands from the Gulf of Mexico, with the help of the occasional hurricane, began to erode the spoil island. It eventually became what it is today: an underwater sandbar and popular place to anchor your boat (rented or personal) for some fun in the sun. Although there is no actual land at Crab Island anymore, the water is very shallow and at high tide is blue-green and crystal clear. The sandbar ranges from 1-4 feet deep in most places. On an average day in the summer, Crab Island looks like this:
Where is Crab Island?
Crab Island is located on the north side of the Destin Bridge (also known as the Marler Bridge) at the southern entrance of the Choctawhatchee Bay, inside Destin’s East Pass. The official GPS coordinates are listed as N 30°23.918, W 86°31.236, although the sandbar is quite large and doesn’t consist of just one point on a map.
Its location is particularly unique because it is open to the tidal inflow and outflow of the crystal clear, emerald green water from the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, yet it is protected from the surf and waves that you would typically experience along the beach. Because it is located in the middle of a body of water, Crab Island is only accessible by boat.
Why is Crab Island so popular?
Sandbar hangouts aren’t unusual across the world. Seems like any time you mix boaters and shallow water, you have a recipe for a good time. Crab Island is a little more than your average sandbar hangout spot, though…although that is how its popularity began. The shallow water is the perfect depth for wading or floating next to your boat while enjoying the tropical atmosphere. And the influx of Destin-area visitors looking to enjoy the area’s unparalleled beauty combined with the local businesses who set up to provide something unique to do create a tourist attraction like no other.
As mentioned above, Crab Island is only accessible by boat (or other watercraft) due to the distance from shore and the strong tidal currents and boat traffic that surround it. You can rent (or bring) your own boat and be your own captain or do an excursion and let someone else take you there. You can also kayak or paddleboard out to the sandbar if you are strong and in the mood for a good workout, or tour the sandbar by jet ski. (Keep in mind that rental jet skis do not have anchors, so you won’t be able to stop at Crab Island and get off the jet ski and walk around.)
Pontoon boat rentals are the most popular way to get there, and Destin is referred to by some as the “Pontoon Capital of the World”. You can rent a boat from one of the boat rental companies in Destin or on nearby Okaloosa Island. The sandbar is just a short 5 minute boat ride from the Destin Harbor to Crab Island, and 10-15 minutes from Okaloosa Island. If you are new to boating, don’t worry! Pontoon boats are the most popular type of rental boat for a reason. They are easy to drive, offer comfortable seating for up to 12 passengers, and your rental company can generally get you comfortable with the boat in 10-15 minutes, provided you have experience driving a car. Not a fan of pontoon boats? Experienced boaters can rent other types of boats as well, like center consoles or power boats.
Is there a shuttle to Crab Island?
You can now take a shuttle from the Destin Harbor to Crab Island! The Crab Island Shuttle Boat is a 32′ glass bottom tour boat that offers affordable 2.5 or 3 hour Crab Island excursions, complete with a captain and crew member, who stay with you for the duration of the tour (as required by law), for those who don’t want to worry about, or be responsible for, driving a boat. Pack a cooler, some cash for the floating vendors at Crab Island, and a floatie and see for yourself what Crab Island is all about. You’ll want to book early, as space is limited. Adult tickets start at just $40. Click here for shuttle information.
What is there to do at Crab Island?
Crab Island encompasses a huge area (approximately 4 acres) and is large enough for people of all ages to enjoy. There is always plenty to do and see when you get there, but the main point of going to Crab Island is just to relax and enjoy the atmosphere! Some of the more popular activities include:
- relaxing on your boat while soaking up some sun
- paddling around the sandbar by kayak or paddleboard
- joining in a game of water volleyball
- enjoying tasty food from mobile food boats and floating restaurants
- playing on the giant inflatable obstacle courses
- listening to music played by bands on a floating stage
- enjoying a cold beverage while floating on an inflatable
- snorkeling around your boat
- watching for dolphins and other marine life
- tossing a football or frisbee and diving into the water to catch it
- making new friends & people watching!
Is Crab Island Family-Friendly?
We get this question quite often. Do a Google search for Crab Island and you might find pictures of a drunken and scantily-clad party crowd. And parts of Crab Island can be like that…sometimes. The good news is the real-life daily image is much different, and those party pictures are more of the exception than the rule. If you’re with your family and you want to avoid the party scene, you can. Just anchor your boat away from the party crowd (if you’re not sure where the party crowd is, just stay clear of the floating stage that sets up on the weekends) and take part in more family friendly activities (like snorkeling, tossing a football or frisbee, floating on a raft, or playing on the inflatable obstacle course). My kids are 7, 9, and 12 and we have always been able to successfully visit the popular sandbar without them seeing anything that we wouldn’t want them to see. In fact, visiting Crab Island is one of our favorite family activities. If you want to be extra careful to avoid the party scene, plan your visit on a weekday (Mondays and Fridays tend to be the least crowded) and avoid major holidays.
When is the best time to go?
Crab Island is a seasonal destination. Although it is a sandbar and is technically open year round, the floating vendors are typically only open from March/April through October. That being said, the best time to go to Crab Island depends on what you want to do when you get there. If you want to party, bring your boat and drop anchor on a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day in the summer. If you want a relaxing getaway, plan to go on a weekday during the summer or any time during the rest of the year, with the most relaxed and quiet days being Mondays and Fridays. As far as time of day, what I CAN tell you, is that my absolute favorite time of day to go is during high tide. The water at high tide is unbelievably clear and aqua green. I’ve lived here my entire life and even I can’t believe how beautiful it is sometimes. So, find a tide chart or weather app (we use Magic Seaweed), or ask your boat rental company/guide/etc and plan to be there at high tide!
What should I pack for my visit to Crab Island?
You can bring a cooler with food and drinks (Alcohol cannot be sold at Crab Island, but you can bring your own if you like-just make sure you have a designated driver), cash for the Crab Island vendors (if you choose), and your rafts and floaties; otherwise, just pack like you would for a day at the beach (minus the chairs and umbrellas). For a more extensive list, check out our packing guide here.
If you’d like to spend a day on the water in Destin to visit Crab Island, contact us at (850) 650-2628 to reserve your boat rental or Crab Island excursion. We offer a full selection of fishing, pontoon, and power boat rentals -as well as the Crab Island Shuttle Boat – to get you out to Destin’s most popular hangout for some fun in the sun!