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.