Fort Walton Beach, Florida
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Fort Walton Beach Vacation Information

A Civil War encampment, eighteenth-century pirates, and Indian civilizations dating to prehistoric times – Fort Walton Beach visitors can still see reminders of them all. But the attractions that keep people coming back to this Northwest Florida city today are the pure-white beaches and the glittering waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Part of the famed Emerald Coast, which enjoys an average of 343 sunny days per year, Fort Walton Beach is a popular vacation destination year-round. And that means there are plenty of things to do, even for those whose vacation expectations go beyond lounging on the beach and wallowing in the surf. Swimming, fishing, diving, snorkeling, and sailing are all popular pastimes with Fort Walton Beach visitors.

Golfers have a choice of more than 1,080 holes on courses whose natural beauty can actually be a distraction to the game. Other land-based activities include shopping, skating, biking, bungee jumping, and miniature golf.

Fort Walton Beach is also home to Florida’s Gulfarium, a marine park with exhibits sure to fascinate visitors of all ages. And its Heritage Park and Cultural Center, a museum complex documenting local history, received national attention when it was featured in Smithsonian magazine.

An annual event, the Billy Bowlegs Festival, commemorates the city’s piratical past. And there’s a Mardi Gras celebration on Okaloosa Island, the barrier island that separates the city from the Gulf of Mexico. Other special events – concerts, arts and crafts shows, seafood festivals, and more – keep visitors entertained throughout the year.


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Fort Walton Beach Florida Restaurants

Restaurants

Not surprisingly, fresh seafood from local waters tops the menu at many Fort Walton Beach eateries. Preparation ranges from plain to fancy – battered, fried, and served with sides of hush puppies and coleslaw to broiled and served with lemon-butter sauce, angel hair pasta, and freshly baked bread.

Meat-and-potato lovers will find plenty of choices as well, everything from burgers and fries to prime rib and filet mignon. Ethnic choices include Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and Thai cuisine.

Open-air dining is a favorite with visitors and locals alike, with many eateries featuring decks or patios overlooking the water. The atmosphere at most places, even the most upscale, tends to be casual, and some are extra family- friendly, offering special menus and outdoor play areas for the kids.

Discover the delicious side of Fort Walton Beach by choosing from our list of restaurants.
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Fort Walton Beach Florida Golf

Golf

Golfers based at Fort Walton Beach will find themselves just a short drive from more than 1,080 holes on courses boasting beach views, tree-lined fairways, crystal lakes, and marshes and grasslands teeming with wildlife. Cooling sea breezes make playing a pleasure, even during summer’s height.

The facilities, many designed by such well-known golf-course architects as Robert C. Walker, Robert Cupp, Earl Stone, Fred Couples, and Gene Bates, provide challenges for players of all skill levels.

Many of the courses also offer accommodations, restaurants, bars, and pro shops, and plenty of package deals are available.

Our list of golf courses and resorts will help you plan your Fort Walton Beach golfing vacation.
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Fort Walton Beach Florida Fishing

Fishing

At least 20 species of fish – more than four times the number found at most destinations – are available any time of year in area waters, making Fort Walton Beach a dream destination for anglers. And it’s just a short drive to neighboring Destin, widely known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” because the 100-Fathom Curve, the fastest path to deep water in the Gulf of Mexico – and the big, deep-water fish – is closer to land there than anywhere else in Florida.

Depending on the season, deep-water fishermen can expect to catch triggerfish, grouper, cobia, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, yellowfin tuna, red snapper, amberjack, sailfish, marlin, wahoo, bluefish, and tarpon.

Fishing from the piers is good year-round as well, yielding catches of pompano, whiting, channel bass, sheepshead, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cobia, and bonito. The pier at Okaloosa Island, which is lighted for night fishing, has also been known to shelter 100-pound tarpons.

Also depending on the season, bay and bayou fishing yields catches of pompano, whiting, channel bass, sheepshead, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cobia, and bonito.

Nearby freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds are ideal spots to fish for bass, bream, and catfish.

For more about Fort Walton Beach fishing, and to charter a boat, check out our list of Fort Walton Beach fishing charters.
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Fort Walton Beach Florida Shopping

Shopping

Whether you need to buy souvenirs for the folks back home or just want a little retail therapy, you’ll find plenty of places to shop in Fort Walton Beach. Local establishments range from home-owned antiques shops and art galleries to discount outlets and department stores. A conveniently located shopping center includes a grocery store as well as clothing stores, specialty shops, and restaurants. And more shopping choices are available in Destin, which is just a short drive away.

Our list of stores, malls, and outlet centers will help you plan your Fort Walton Beach shopping excursion.
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Fort Walton Beach Florida Events

Events

One of the highlights of the year in Fort Walton Beach is the Billy Bowlegs Festival. Held in early June, this annual uprising of local “pirates” commemorates the life of pirate William Augustus Bowles, who prowled the area during the eighteenth century. Events include a mock battle, live bands, food, arts and crafts, a torchlight parade, children’s activities, and fireworks.

Okaloosa Island hosts an annual Mardi Gras celebration that includes a Friday evening ball and a Saturday parade. Music, food, costumes, and children’s activities add to the fun.

Throughout the year, the area hosts live theater performances, concerts, art shows, fishing tournaments, and a host of other special events. Check out our calendar of events for an up-to-date list of what’s going on while you’re in town.
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Things to do in Fort Walton Beach Florida

Other Things To Do

A natural reef system of limestone rock ledges covered with corals and sponges and populated with all kinds of fish makes the waters off the Emerald Coast popular with divers. There are also wrecks that attract grouper, cobia, snapper, flounder, amberjack, and other sea creatures. And the west end of Okaloosa Island is an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling.

Even if you’re not much of swimmer, you can still get up close and personal with dolphins and other sea life with a cruise on a glass-bottom boat. Local charter captains offer both daytime and sunset cruises, and some will even let the kids take a turn at “steering” the boat.

Facilities for fishing, sailing, and just about any other sport that involves the water are all available.

The whole family with enjoy spending a few hours at Florida’s Gulfarium. Opened in 1955, it’s the second-oldest marine park in the country. Attractions include the Living Sea exhibit, which has special windows for viewing undersea life, as well as regular 25-minute shows featuring dolphins, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, and other underwater creatures.

For another entertaining outing that’s also educational, try the Emerald Coast Science Center, which features exhibits on topics ranging from the human senses to electricity to color and light.

Another popular attraction is the Heritage Park and Cultural Center. This multi-site complex includes the Fort Walton Temple Mound (A.D. 1200 to 1500), once a ceremonial center for the region’s prehistoric Native American people. The Indian Temple Mound Museum holds the largest collection of prehistoric Southeastern Indian ceramics in the world – more that 6,000 pieces. The nearby Camp Walton Schoolhouse and Garnier Post Office museums teach visitors about rural life in Northwest Florida in the early 20th century.

Other fun and family-friendly facilities include miniature golf courses, water parks, and a 9,000-square-foot skate park.

For more options, and for diving/snorkeling and boat charter information, check out our list of area businesses.
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