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 the Destin 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 worldwide. 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 photo, 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, forming a small island, called a ‘spoil island’, that eventually came to be known as Crab Island:
As the years went by, drifting sands from the Gulf of Mexico, with the help of the occasional hurricane, began to erode the spoil island. Eventually, it 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.
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 spans multiple acres, and doesn’t consist of just one point on a map.
The sandbar’s 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 in Destin. 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 hangout spots 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 reminiscent of the Caribbean. 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.
In the “good old days” of 2009-2018, Crab Island was home to massive floating restaurants and bars, mobile food vendors, inflatable water parks, and more. The local government got involved and put a bunch of restrictions on the Crab Island businesses. Size limitations were put in place, as well as a ban on the sale of alcohol. These new regulations ultimately shut down some of the largest floating restaurants and the big inflatable waterpark. But that hasn’t stopped it from being one of Destin’s most beautiful and popular attractions.
Hundreds of boats gather daily during the warm summer months to enjoy the scenery and relax. Mobile food boats and smaller floating restaurants continue to populate the sandbar, offering everything from ice cream and BBQ to fresh coconuts. Also, the closure of the Crab Island Water Park made way for the start of new experiences, like the Crab Island Adventure Tour, which includes an inflatable water park. A visit to Crab Island is still an experience unlike any 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, Okaloosa Island, or nearby Fort Walton Beach. The sandbar is just a short 5-7 minute boat ride from the Destin Harbor to Crab Island, 10-15 minutes from Okaloosa Island, and 20-30 minutes from Fort Walton Beach.
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.
You can now take a shuttle from the Destin Harbor to Crab Island! The most affordable way to get to the sandbar, the Crab Island Shuttle Boat is a 33′ tour boat that offers 2.5 or 3 hour excursions, complete with a captain and crew member, who stay with you for the duration of the tour (as required by law). This is a great option for those who don’t want to worry about, or be responsible for, driving a boat. Pack a cooler and a floatie – or your favorite water toys – and see for yourself what the fuss is all about. You’ll want to book early, as space is limited. Adult tickets start at just $45.
Crab Island encompasses a huge area within Destin waterways (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 and natural beauty of the area!
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 a cold beverage (alcohol is allowed but BYOB as alcohol can no longer be sold on the water) while floating on an inflatable
sampling local fare from a floating restaurant or mobile food boat
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!
There are also Crab Island excursions available that include additional activities like a stop at the nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore- where they have an inflatable water park that is only open to guests on the excursion, kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkeling- as well as a separate visit to the sandbar- as part of the experience. If you’re looking to be entertained with a bunch of different activities on the water, you’ll want to book your seats on the Crab Island Adventure Tour in 2021.
There are a variety of vendors at the sandbar from March through October, selling everything from BBQ sandwiches to ice cream and t-shirts. There has been a lot of buzz in recent years about vendors getting shut down by the local government, but rest assured, in 2021 at least, you can still find vendors at Crab Island.
Current approved vendors include Reef Burger, Crab Island Boiled Peanuts, Crab Island Grill, Frickin’ Ridiculous BBQ, Sea Cow Ice Cream and Smoothies, Tollie’s Floating Weiner & Pizza, Jimmy’s Ice Cream & T-Shirts, The Crab Island General Store, Wild Coconuts, Gulf Coast Gelato, A Bite of Paradise, and the Crab Island Shuttle Boat and Adventure Tour. Please note that vendors are independently owned and operated businesses, so there is no way to know which ones will be open and at the sandbar on any given day.
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 the underwater playground 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 and take part in more family friendly activities (like snorkeling, tossing a football or frisbee, floating on a raft, or enjoying a leisurely lunch on your boat). 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 the sandbar 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, it is busiest during the warmer months from March/April through mid to late October. That being said, the best time to go 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 the sandbar, but you can bring your own. Make sure you have a designated driver as drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced.), and your rafts, sunscreen 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 visiting Destin’s most popular attraction, 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 and Adventure Tour – to get you out for some fun in the sun!
Hi, I’m Heather Thomas. As a Destin area native, mom to 3 boys, and all-around adventure lover, I love to share my passion for my hometown with others. Join me as I explore the Emerald Coast and show you how to add a SPLASH of fun and a BOAT-load of adventure to your Destin vacation!