By Erin Igram and Bentley Caldwell
Since 1984, the philosophy of providing great live music, fresh seafood, raw oysters, cold beer and cool libations has truly made AJ’s a growing legend of food and fun. As of 2019 AJ’s now serves four locations along the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast: the original on the Destin Harbor, AJ’s on Okaloosa Island, AJ’s at the foot of the Cinco Bayou Bridge in Fort Walton Beach, and their newest addition in the heart of 30A, AJ’s Grayton Beach.
Many visitors to the shores of Florida’s Emerald Coast may remember the World Famous AJ’s Destin from way back in the day, when they shucked oysters off the deck behind a small trailer right on the Destin Harbor. That’s where it all began. Now, AJ’s has grown into what most people know today as a true growing legend of food, fun and so much more, and often serving multiple generations of those same families who discovered the great food and legendary atmosphere all those years ago.
AJ’s has continued to grow over the years, for many reasons, not which the least of those is simply giving their patrons what they want… even more than they want. Their customers requested a larger variety on their menu so they delivered. With two newly expanded kitchens, AJ’s is the perfect place to find a little something for everyone. Whether you’re just in the mood to snack on some fresh, ice cold Gulf Coast oysters while overlooking the Destin Harbor’s East Pass or bringing the whole family down for a seafood festival, they’re excited to have and welcome everyone with open arms.
Dining at AJ’s is a true experience for all the senses. A first-come, first-served establishment, reservations aren’t needed. Each location has plenty of both indoor and outdoor seating. Including open-air deck space. With three of the four locations overlooking a body of water – the Destin Harbor, Gulf of Mexico or the Bayou – you can also get there by boat… just cruise on down and tie-off at their docks.
You can find live music and entertainment at all four locations most days of the week and on weekends throughout the busy spring, summer and fall months. And when we say entertainment we mean all kinds of entertainment. Perhaps Beaches, Resorts & Parks Founder and Editor, Will Estell, said it best when he lamented this about the well-known Destin location, “I have been to my fair share of great restaurants and beach bars over my two decades of writing about various entities along the shores of Northwest Florida’s Gulf. I’ve seen everything from one man acoustic shows to couple duos to full out touring bands and national cover acts taking local stages, but I can’t think of another place anywhere, in any destination where I’ve watched live entertainment of such unique variety and talent that it keeps me coming back for twenty years. Somehow AJ’s has managed to keep their finger on that magical pulse of what so many people want to see, hear, and feel for longer than any single establishment I’ve personally visited. They’re just that good at what they do, and it’s why you will see people from 21 to 61 sharing in the unanimous fun almost any single evening or night you choose to visit.” Check out their online calendar of events or follow AJ’s on Facebook to keep up with everything they have going on at all their locations, and as a great side note, for those of you who love to indulge in a little nostalgia, be sure to check out AJ’s Destin’s great lineup of touring cover bands, sourced from the best of the best across the country, and appearing each Tuesday night all summer long.
Another popular AJ’s event is watching the charter boats roll in with their daily catch. This is especially true of their largest location right in the heart of Destin Harbor. You can even cook your catch at AJ’s. When you return from your fishing trip, the deckhands will usually fillet your catch and bag it for you. Bring it to AJ’s, let the hostess know you have your own fish, they’ll write your name on it and give it to the cooks. Choose from blackened, grilled or fried and they’ll serve it up with fries, coleslaw and hushpuppies. How many other places have you done that?
The culture of Destin is in its fishermen. A longstanding staple of “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” AJ’s has gone to painstaking efforts to preserve Destin’s fishing culture and the importance of what it stands for and how it feeds into making their success. The downstairs portion of the Destin restaurant is covered with buoys and paddles, and the upstairs has fish mounts from some of Destin’s most storied fishermen. AJ’s is also the site of the weigh-ins for the Destin Fishing Rodeo each year, which they are a longstanding and proud partner in making possible.
There’s a lot of hustle and bustle on the docks behind AJ’s, too. AJ’s also has its own daytime and sunset dolphin cruises, sunset cruises, sailing, snorkeling and more. Snorkeling in Destin is a must on your vacation and AJ’s makes it easy by providing all the snorkeling gear. Enjoy a thrilling ride on their 53-foot speedboat “Sea Quest” or sail the emerald waters on their 74-foot custom-built schooner “Daniel Webster Clements.” These adventurous boats are packed full of dolphin-loving, sun-loving fun. Every cruise comes with complimentary beer, wine, soda and water. They make it fun with good music and even allow kids to Captain. AJ’s cruises are perfect for all types of celebrations and a wonderful way to unwind after a day at the beach. If you’re looking for an exciting adventure on the water or a relaxing sunset cruise, you’ll be at the right place at AJ’s.
To read about AJ’s is one thing, to experience it is completely another. Check out any of the four locations to see for yourself why AJ’s continues to be the place to be on the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast for over 30 years. No matter how times and the area may change, it’s certain that AJ’s has a culture that isn’t going to diminish. After all, why would good times, good food, and big fun ever go out of style?