Sandwiched between Destin, the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” and Pensacola, the westernmost city in the Panhandle, you’ll find the friendly beach-loving town of Fort Walton Beach, FWB to the locals. This little seaside town is known for its beautiful beaches, Emerald green water, and a robust menu of activities. Our Legacy Vacations rentals are conveniently located around Fort Walton Beach’s shores, near the best attractions for family vacations, romantic getaways, or lively trips with friends.
Here’s what travelers can do in Northwest Florida’s Fort Walton Beach on their next visit.
1. Take a Day Trip to the Infamous Crab Island
BYO boat and head out to the shallow submerged sand bar of Crab Island for a day of fun in the sun. You can join a group tour for a quick 3-hour visit at high tide or rent yourself a pontoon boat and spend the whole day splashing around in the Florida sun.
2. Explore the Best Beaches of the Emerald Coast
The blindingly white soft sands of Destin and Fort Walton Beach area are made from Appalachian quartz tumbled and ground into fine dust over the last few thousand years. Not only has it created stunningly scenic stretches of sand, but some of the very best barefoot beaches in all of the United States.
Before you take a dip in the clear cool waters though be sure to check the flags to be sure it’s advisable due to the currents.
James Lee Park
This Destin Beach access point has free parking, snow-white sand, emerald waters, and lots of picnic benches.
Henderson Beach State Park
Yet another public access point with ample parking, pavilions, stunning stretches of sand, and picnic and BBQ services. Since this is a state park the parking is paid and because of this, the beach is often less crowded.
This “end of the line” beach faces the Destin Bridge and is a haven for snorkelers and divers as well as jetskiers and those just looking for a scenic stretch of sand to lay out on. Here, you’ll find the waters to be calmer than most of the other beaches in the area. At low tide, you can also explore tide pools and spot hermit crabs and fish.
John Beasley Park
Swimming, fishing, and strolling the sand for shells can all be done here on this lovely Okaloosa Island Beach. Framed by grasses and emerald waters, this beach is a favorite with sunbathers looking for a little peace and quiet. Just don’t forget to bring your umbrella if you’re hoping for some sun protection.
Tip: Right next door to the beach you’ll find the Emerald Coast Visitor Center. Here, you can get additional ideas about what to do in this lovely region of Florida.
It’s not just the lovely beaches here that make this island a noteworthy stop for any visitor. Here you can also walk the boardwalk, and visit the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Okaloosa Island Pier, and Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone.
3. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
This marine park does it all. Here you’ll learn about the local flora and fauna of Northwestern Florida and have the opportunity to get up-close, and sometimes hands-on encounters, with the on-site animals. The Gulfarium hosts dolphin and sea lion shows and has a massive gulf Sea Turtle rehabilitation program that has been responsible for releasing hundreds of healthy sea turtle babies into the ocean since 2015.
If your family is filled with animal lovers, then you should also pay a visit to the Emerald Coast Zoo, just a 45-min drive inland from FWB.
4. Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone
Every small town in America worth its salt has one of these classic kid-friendly amusement parks. Here you’ll find mini-golf alongside go-karts, bumper boats, a ropes course, and a 4d movie theatre. If you have young children, Wild Willy’s is a must-visit. Oh, and did we mention everything is Dinosaur-themed?
5. Okaloosa Island Pier
Stretching out more than 1,200 feet over the Gulf of Mexico, this skinny fishing pier is perfect for an afternoon walk or to spot marine life with the kids. It’s a local’s favorite destination around sunset or sunrise when you can watch the anglers reel in their catch of the day. Keep in mind, there is a small $2 fee to walk the pier.
6. Go Shopping at Downtown Fort Walton Beach
Nicknamed the Miracle Strip Parkway, scenic highway 98 cuts through Downtown Fort Walton Beach and offers shopaholics lots of options to snag some souvenirs. You can even walk to the shops from the nearby historical museums.
Two Saturdays a month, you can also stroll the local farmers’ market in downtown FWB.
7. Visit One of the Dog-Friendly Parks and Restaurants
There are a handful of furry-friendly eateries and activities in Fort Walton Beach, so if you are traveling with your pup, be sure to hit Liza Jackson Park to play some fetch. Or just pay the park a visit to people-watch and pet other people’s dog-friends. After the park, grab some lunch at The Cowhead, where dogs are more than welcome.
8. Throw Some Axes at The Ratchet Hatchet
Unleash your inner Viking and sling some axes at The Ratchet Hatchet’s state-of-the-art lanes and targets. You (and your dog) are welcome, and beer is available on-site.
9. Partake in Some Water Sports
Floridians love their on-the-water activities. Whether it’s pontoon boat rentals, parasailing rentals, kite-boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, or jet skis, there is no shortage of things to do in the green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the most popular gear rentals is the clear-bottomed kayak to spot colorful marine life in the vibrant waters.
10. Snorkel Our Incredible Reefs
The reefs can be found on Okaloosa Island at Beasley Park and Beach Access 2, 4, and 6, as well as Henderson Beach West, Henderson Beach East, and James Lee Park in Destin.
11. Pay a Visit to One of the Fort Walton Beach Museums
Like much of the East Coast, history plays a huge part in the local culture in Florida. Museums are plentiful here but these first four are located right in the heart of downtown Fort Walton Beach and can all be visited on a leisurely walk with the family.
Located in downtown Fort Walton Beach, this historic building holds artifacts from the 1910s-50s postal era and is now a part of the Fort Walton Beach Heritage Park and Cultural Center.
Before the days of Fort Walton Beach, the town of Camp Walton existed. This two-room structure was the schoolhouse.
While this space isn’t technically a museum, it is within the museum grounds and bears an important historical significance to the people of Fort Walton Beach. Here, you’ll find a 12-foot by 223-foot mound created by the Mound Builder Culture back in 800-1400 C.E. It’s the largest of its kind and was likely used as a ceremonial and political center for the prehistoric people.
This is arguably the most important museum on this list. (It’s also where you’ll pay an entrance fee for all the above-listed museums in the Heritage Park and Cultural Center. Here, you and your family can admire 12,000 years of Native American history on display with artifacts made of clay, bone, and shell, as well as a massive collection of prehistoric ceramics.
A handful of Civil War exhibits are strewn about the grounds of the Heritage Park and Cultural Center.
Air Force Armament Museum
Unlike the other museums on this list, the Air Force Armament Museum is located about 7 miles North of FWB rather than downtown in the Heritage Park and Cultural Center. Here you’ll find many early aviation warfare pieces, including some of the world’s fastest planes. This is a great place for history buffs and WW2 enthusiasts and admission is free.
12. Enjoy Some Family Fun at the Emerald Coast Science Center
This hands-on, kid-friendly center of learning has been around since the 80s. If you want your vacation to border on educational for your child, this is a great way to spend a rainy or too-humid kind of day indoors.
13. Play A Round of Golf
There is no shortage of golf courses in the Florida panhandle area. Just within Destin and FWB, there are around 20 golf courses within 20 miles of one another. The most highly rated are:
- Regatta Bay Golf and Yacht Club
- Kelly Plantation Golf Course
- Emerald Bay Golf Club
- Fort Walton Beach Golf Club
14. Take Surf Lessons
Thanks to the placid water of the Gulf, Fort Walton Beach is the PERFECT place to try your feet at surfing for the very first time. With soft, sandy seashore and no rollers, it’s bound to be a tranquil experience rather than an adventurous one. Check out the Gulf Coast Surf School for more information.
15. Experience Sea Turtle Nesting and Release Season
If you time your visit to Destin and FWB perfectly, you could spot some Loggerhead, Green, Kemp’s Ridley, and Leatherback sea turtles with the family. See them at the reefs, off the Okaloosa Island Pier, or during nesting season between May and October when they lay their eggs on the white sandy beaches.
16. Hop Through Our Local Breweries
If you’re a beer enthusiast you’re in luck. FWB has no shortage of taprooms and breweries. A few of our local favorites include:
- World of Beer
- Destin Brewery
- Props Brewery and Taproom
- Bevadoor Room
- KC’s Sandbar
- Papa Joe’s Hideaway
- The Boardroom
17. Savor Our Best Seafood Selections
Destin and FWB are known for their Mahi, Snapper, calamari, basically anything that can be pulled out of the sea. Stewby’s Seafood Shanty is the #1 place in the FWB area to score some fresh seafood, but foodies will be delighted to find that most restaurants in the area are above average when it comes to beach eats.
18. Take a Sunset Cruise or Dolphin Tour
Companies like Sunshine Destin offer sunset sailings to spot dolphins in the Gulf, as well as daytime trips to locate the speedy undersea mammals. Romantic scenic sunset cruises are also available for a more intimate tour of Fort Walton’s shoreline.
19. Hire a Fishing Charter and Try Your Hand at the Deep
Fishing is a classic Floridian pastime, and from Fort Walton Beach you can charter a fishing boat and hit the ocean for your very own chance to reel in a big one. This is great for a family vacation or a bachelor getaway. Check in with Sunshine Fishing Charters or Blue Water Escape Charters for opportunities to catch all different types of fish depending on the season.
20. Drive the Scenic Highway 98 Along the Gulf of Mexico
Cutting right through the heart of Fort Walton Beach, this scenic roadway is framed by ocean and sand. You can’t miss it. Another exceptionally scenic drive in the area is Highway 399 along the hair-thin island of Santa Rosa. Framed by white sand beaches on both sides and the stunning calm clear waters of the bay, this alone makes the drive to Pensacola worthwhile.
Come See What FWB Has to Offer!
Fort Walton Beach is the crown jewel of the Emerald Coast. From driving the Miracle Strip Pkwy to the stunning beaches or the animal encounters, this town is just fun for the whole family. Sleep soundly at one of our comfortable vacation rental properties in the heart of downtown or along the beach.