What is Crab Island?
You may have heard of it. Except, Crab Island isn’t much of an island if that is what you expected. Instead, it is more of a sandbar that is home to a variety of crabs.
Back in the 1960s, it was a small section of two sandbars adjacent to the Marler Bridge. The Army Corps of Engineers created this from the East Pass but it is now only a single sandbar and only visible when the tide goes out.
What happened to it?
In 1974, hurricane Eloise came in and devastated the previously larger island, reducing it to a single sand bar. Today, it has further been reduced due to further erosion but has evolved into an incredibly popular tourist and locals’ destination.
Where is Crab Island located and how do I get there?
Crab Island is located just north of the Destin Bridge at Choctawhatchee Bay. You can get there via boat, jet-ski, kayak, or even paddleboard. Swimming is not an option – it is simply too far from the shore to accomplish that safely. The current around there can get fierce and the water is extremely deep in some areas.
If you are looking to get there via boat and you don’t already have one, there are several options to choose from.
Boat is by far the most popular method of getting to Crab Island. It makes total sense! You can haul quite a few people with you and you have plenty of storage for all the stuff you need.
So what options are there?
Destin Boat Rentals has a great lineup of different boats to choose from – at a decent price! It all depends on what you are looking for and your price point.
Pontoons are popular and will be the best option for a large group of people. You can rent them for a half-day or a whole day. Some even include a kayak and paddleboard. There are also jet-ski options, these are awesome if you want to get out on the water once you arrive!
I can’t NOT mention the double-decker pontoon boats. These things come with two slides and a great view to boot. If you have a large group or have kids, you can’t go wrong with those options.
Destin Boat Rental’s double-decker pontoon boat
Crab Island Cruises
Renting a boat is all well-and-good, but what if you don’t feel like driving and navigating?
Well, just take a charter!
Located right on the harbor, at Crab Island Cruises, you can hire a Captain to do all the work for you. They will look for dolphins en-route to Crab Island and even supply most everything; lifejackets, water, coolers, water toys and floats, and even beer pong!
Just make sure you take essentials like sunscreen, sunglasses, non-slip shoes, snacks, and towels.
Also, check out Sunventure Cruises for another option. They offer cruises, dolphin cruises, and even fireworks cruises at the Destin Harbor. They depart from Destin harbor and Okaloosa Island, so you have an alternative option to getting to there if you don’t feel like driving down to Destin harbor.
Crab Island Water Taxi
There are quite a few things to do at Crab Island. Maybe you just want a quick ride over so you can participate in those activities?
Crab Island Water Taxi can get you there without the commitment of a chartered cruise. They have a secure parking lot right next to the Emerald Grande with about 60 parking spaces. Attendants and drivers are onsite, as well.
Need another way to get there? Check out Destin Boat Rentals’ glass-bottom boat excursion. This boat features a 2.5-hour excursion, with 2 of those hours at Crab Island. They supply the lifejackets and you get a 25 ft glass bottom viewing area to enjoy along the way. Make sure you bring snacks and various essentials since it is mainly a shuttle and not a charter.
Are there vendors at Crab Island?
Major Changes to Crab Island in 2020
As of June 2019, there are 26 vendors, including 9 large-tier floating structures. Some of these are food vendors and others are gear, supplies, and entertainment. You never know exactly what vendors will be operating every year and they aren’t legally allowed to anchor at Crab Island until 1 March. The end of the season and last day vendors can anchor is 31 Oct.
There is now a $1000 permit fee a month to operate at Crab Island by Okaloosa County and a $100 permit is required from the National Park Service. There will be additional fees for non-mobile vendors depending on the size of the float, as well.
If you are looking to purchase alcohol at a vendor, you will discover that it has been prohibited with a few exceptions. You can bring your own if you are on a private vessel or a chartered cruise but floating vendors are not allowed to sell it anymore, starting in November 2018.
There is also a designated entertainment area for floating vendors to conduct business. If you are looking to avoid the main crowd, ensure you anchor your boat on the edges of the red areas of this map.
Starting November 1 2019, all vendors will be required to anchor or moor at a private marina, private dock with permission from the property owner, or on private property with permission of the owner.
Shuttles are now no longer able to drop off customers at Crab Island. If you want to spend the entire day there, renting a boat will be your best option.
Expect more rules to be published by 2021 by the Gulf Island National Seashore.
On Tuesday, February 20, 2020, Oklaoosa County commissioners passed changes that directly impact floating vendors:
The five revisions were made to the floating structures ordinance:
1. Eliminated the ability for commercial floating structures to moor adjacent to residential property when leaving Crab Island and docking each night (as is now required by the ordinance).
2. Expanded the license requirement from floating structures to include all vessels engaged in commercial activity.
3. Eliminated quota restrictions for licenses and the payment of 3% of gross revenues but raised the base license fees.
4. Prohibited ferrying customers to crab island unless the vessel is going to stay on-site with the passengers and required toilet facilities for all commercial vessels over 21 feet in length.
5. Required propeller cages for all vessels under 20 feet in length engaged in commercial activities.
Some of these changes were made to prevent vendors from docking in residential areas adjacent to Crab Island.
Crab Island’s designated ‘Entertainment Area’ where vendors are allowed to operate
Things to do at Crab Island
Finally, we have arrived… so, what’s there to do?
- Crab Island Water Park
- Dolphin Cruise and Snorkel Tour
- Paddleboard and kayak
- Grab some food at various vendors
*It is important to note that these activities are subject to change because of new vendor operating rules and regulations*
Crab Island Water Park
*The new anchoring restrictions may inhibit Crab Island Water Park’s ability to set up and properly scale out, resulting in a smaller setup. Stay tuned for updates as we get closer to summer*
If you brought the kids along, one of the best activities has to be the water park. More than just a water park, it is an obstacle course on the water where kids can go wild! There is even a smaller area called the ‘Guppy Pond’ where smaller children can play without worrying about larger kids. Kids under 8 will be provided a life jacket and must be accompanied by an adult, always.
Dolphin Cruise and Snorkel Tour
Looking for something else to do with the family? Why not check out a Dolphin tour?
Crab Island Dolphin Tours is a great way to explore Crab Island and also get to check out some dolphins! The cruises leave from the Destin harbor, navigate through the East Pass, and end up at Crab Island, spanning 4 hours of fun. They have fireworks tours every Thursday during the summer (Harborwalk Village begins their Fireworks Celebration on 27 May this year). If you want to enjoy the sunset, the sunset cruise takes you over Crab Island at a much quieter and relaxing time of day.
Wanting to snorkel? The waters are shallow enough in several areas so bring some snorkel gear or buy some at one of the vendors.
If you are looking for a private snorkel excursion, Destin Snorkel is a great way to experience this. They travel to the bay and to the Destin Jetties which are great spots for discovering fish and various vegetation. The trip is around 3 hours and even offers free kayaks for use during the excursion! Crab Island is not part of the trip but it is definitely worth mentioning if you want a richer snorkeling experience.
Snorkeling around the Destin Jetties
Paddle Board and Kayak
Paddleboarding and kayaking are highly popular and a great way to enjoy Crab Island and get some exercise at the same time. You can even find many dogs hanging out on paddleboards with their owners!
Besides bringing your own, there are various places to rent paddleboards and kayaks at and around Crab Island.
- S.E.A. Chase Watersports
- Destin Vacation Boat Rentals
- Destin Kayak Rentals
- Blue Crab Watersports
- Gusu Paddlesports
Food and Drinks
There are various vendors serving food and drinks – things like hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza, and ice cream!
One such example is Chomp-N-Chill, a floating food stand serving burgers, nachos, chili cheese fries, and a variety of drinks. And they are yet another vendor that rents paddleboards. Isn’t it convenient that most of the vendors serve food AND rent equipment?
As previously mentioned, Crab Island Waterpark also serves food! Feel free to grab a bite whilst enjoying the activities available.
If you are a frequent visitor or just looking for information, you may have heard about Waterworld. Unfortunately, it is not currently selling food or drinks right now due to having its commercial license revoked. I will update this post if there are any changes to the situation.
What else is there to do?
I don’t know about you, but anchoring a boat and relaxing in the sun is my favorite thing about Crab Island! The water is gorgeous and the views are spectacular. If you bring some nets, try catching some crabs if you can. Just make sure you let them go when you are done, please!
Oh, and plenty of floating vendors sell toys and apparel so feel free to stock up if you want. Make sure you bring some cash!
If you are leaving from the Destin Harbor for an excursion, why not explore Harborwalk Village? Check out my complete guide.
What should I bring with me | Safety Considerations
Definitely bring food and water – during the summer it gets extremely hot and you absolutely need to make sure you stay hydrated. A first aid kit is advised and life jackets should be mandatory. Even without kids, the risk of drowning is always there as the current can get extremely strong and carry you away.
Make sure you bring a phone with you in case of an emergency. If you are driving a boat, be cognizant of those around you. Anchoring in the middle of the vendor area can get quite congested and sometimes the current can knock you around. Inexperienced boaters should try to stick to the edge of the area to reduce the risk of an accident.
Also, please do not drink alcohol and operate motor vehicles, kayaks, or paddleboards while visiting. The water should never be underestimated because people have drowned.
There have been numerous reports of flesh-eating bacteria in the area around Crab Island in the summer months but nothing really conclusive. The best advice I can give is to make sure that you don’t have any cuts or open wounds on your body prior to entering the water. If you are immune-compromised, be very careful if you should decide to swim as the risk of infection is much greater.
I hope that this guide helps you in planning your visit to Crab Island. What is your favorite thing to do there? Let me know in the comments!