Crab Island is a submerged sandbar that has become famous for it’s incredible beauty and unique atmosphere. In this article, we’re sharing with you the need to know information on what Crab Island is, why you’d want to go, and how to get there.
Signup for Our Newsletter
Get exclusive info, news, and deals all about Destin.
What is it?
Crab Island was actually formed initially by the dumping of sand as the Army Corps of Engineers dredged out the Destin East Pass to allow for a much wide passageway into the Gulf Of Mexico. During the mid 20th century, two mounded islands were formed as seagrass, wildlife, and other vegetation began to take root and stabilize the sandy island so that changing tides wouldn’t disrupt the man made island.
This area was truly an island as the name suggests and you might see in old photos of the area, but Hurricane Eloise battered Crab Island in 1974 and took with it a huge portion of the sand that stayed above the waterline. What remained is actually what we now know as Crab Island, which is technically a submerged sandbar that varies from about one to four feet deep as the tides change on any given day.
Crab Island is located just to the Northwest of the Destin Bridge and is only accessible by boat, which we’ll touch on more later. If you’re looking to spend a day in an incredibly gorgeous and unique spot, this is the place to be.
What Makes It “Emerald Coast” green?
The gorgeous colors of the water we’ve all seen in photos comes from the changing of the tides as water rushes in and out of the Gulf of Mexico, through the Destin East Pass, into the Choctawhatchee Bay. During high tide is when the fluorescent water makes it way into the Bay and will remain there for many hours.
The actual timing of the tides does change so sometimes it will be gorgeous Emerald in the early morning and recede back out early in the afternoon and sometimes it happens later. Check one of the many great tide charts online to see when the ideal time to go is.
While the water is still gorgeous even when it’s not exactly in the middle of high-tide, that’s when the most impressive colors come out and that’s when we’d encourage you to try to be out there.
How Do I Get There?
Crab Island is only accessible by watercraft and is not at all safe to try to access without one. The tides can change swiftly and are extremely dangerous, even life threatening, if you get caught in one. A day out on the water in the middle of summer is very tiring and not having a means to safely return to dry land just simply isn’t smart.
We definitely recommend looking into one of the many boat rentals places that launch from the Destin Harbor boardwalk called HarborWalk. These companies all offer pontoon boats which are perfect for larger groups because they have multiple seats, lots of storage, and a bimini top (a little roof) that will give shade through most of the day.
Jet skis are offered by many of these companies as well and are another popular way to get to Crab Island because of how nimble they are and their cost savings as compared to a pontoon boat, with obvious drawbacks. Not having much storage space or passenger count means you can really only bring yourself and two others with you and jet skis are generally rented by the hour as compared to half and full day rentals like pontoon boats.
Many people take kayaks or paddleboards out to Crab Island because they’re the cheapest option if you rent them, but do keep in mind that trying to fight the current can be tiring so definitely be prepared for something a bit more physical than the simple, calming ride you’ll experience aboard a pontoon boat.
There is also a Crab Island water taxi service that can take you out and provide a covered area to enjoy the day, but keep in mind you’ll be sharing these areas with other families and vacationers, so the more private option is definitely to rent a boat.
What Marine Life Do I Have to Worry About?
Your most-common sightings will be of bottlenose dolphins. They can be spotted when you’re entering the bay by boat and while you’re enjoying the day on the boat. They’re considered social animals with no cause for concern and in fact are a threat to sharks.
Jellyfish are present sometimes depending on the tide conditions and water quality of the day. We don’t generally have any life-threatening jellyfish in our waters, but their stings hurt nonetheless and can certainly hamper the kids fun if they get stung. Bring meat tenderizer or other home remedies just in case you or your loved ones happen to get stung.
Larger species like sharks and other dangerous marine life are not generally present at Crab Island, although there has certainly been sighting that normally always make the news. Because of the high levels of activity and the density of people and boats, generally the sharks don’t bother with Crab Island unless it’s dawn or dusk (their feedings times).
What’s It Like to Be Out There?
If you’re looking for a place to spend the day with a boat full of your family and friends, Crab Island offers everyone the chance to join in on the adventure. In recent times, the City of Destin and Okaloosa County have cracked down on regulation violations and tried to quell some of the more “lawless” activity that was taking place in terms of partying and vendors without licenses.
Nowadays, it’s more back to how it was in recent years where it’s more than welcoming for families of all ages to come join in the activities.
The depth is shallow enough for all types of watercraft; boats, jet skis, paddle boards and kayaks will all make their way out there and anchor up in the shallow water. Because it doesn’t generally get above 4ft deep, kids can be in the water and play safely while you enjoy your cooler full of adult beverages on the boat deck, soaking up the sun.
Just imagine a refreshing, backyard pool with the most pristine water you’ve ever seen and has no end in sight, surrounded by other local and visitors alike enjoy the day. Doesn’t get much better than that!
Is it kid friendly?
Absolutely! Crab Island is a huge hit with the kids because there’s plenty of attractions floating in the water for them to partake in, namely the Crab Island Waterpark. It’s a giant, inflatable obstacle course with numerous tall slides that you can take down into the water, trampolines, and enjoy MXC style challenges and obstacles perfect for all the kids.
For a more simple day at Crab Island, just bring your own balls, toys, and things to do aboard your boat. Because the water is so shallow, you can play frisbee or throw a ball and dive for throws and passes like never before, since you just splash down into the water! As we mentioned earlier, the water varies between 1 – 4 feet deep, so kids of most any age can enjoy the water. Realistically, if they can swim, they can enjoy crab island. Definitely keep the provided life jackets from your rental company on them at all times, though, just to be safe.
Avoiding major holidays and weekends is really the only thing you have to worry about as far as family friendly concerns go. On these days, it tends to be the most busy and it’s a bit unpredictable as to who might show up. That’s not to say that Crab Island is a party zone, but there’s no guarantee as to who might be anchored next to you.
Waterworld is Crab Island’s most distinct floating establishment offering mexican entrees and drinks, seafood sandwiches and poboys, and other options with a deck to enjoy the food on. This is a great option if you run out of supplies or want a little something more hearty.
This restaurant also offers live music and a DJ with a floating dance floor so if you’re ready to get groovy, be sure to check out Waterworld.
Like most of Destin, Waterworld and most of the other floating establishments out here are seasonal and are open Mid March to the later part of October.
Suggestions on What to Bring
Without a doubt, bring a cooler packed to the brim full of drinks, adult beverages, snacks, and food. Many of the pontoon rental companies will help you load your heavy coolers and often times families bring two big coolers aboard the boats, if not more.
Because the boats are generally rented in 4 or 8 hour increments (except for holidays which are rented only in 8 hour increments), you’ll want to make sure you are stocked to the max. Bring lots of water, gatorade, adult drinks, sandwiches, snacks, etc and avoid glass bottles.
Bring a ton of sunscreen and re-apply every hour! Sunburns ruin otherwise incredible vacations here in Destin and it’s absolutely miserable to be burned, especially as the day goes on and you can feel the burn kicking in.
If you don’t have one, buy a cheap snorkel and mask set so that you can explore the water and the seabed near your boat. You’ll be amazed at how clear the water is and the quantity of little fishes that swim right by you.
Cash, Card, and ID for the floating restaurants are bars are a must. Along the lines of licenses as well, you must keep your supplied boaters license with you at all times, and if you plan to try fishing you must have an active fishing license.
Towels are a must, and bring extra. They’ll get wet multiple times throughout the day and as you’re headed back into the dock and back to your condo, there’s nothing worse than being wet.
We hope you enjoy your time on Crab Island and found this info useful! Have a great trip and we’ll see you in Destin again next year.