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10 Things To Do in Fort Walton Beach, Florida

by Chris Chatelain on September 30th, 2015
Gulf-front condos, emerald waters, and white sands at Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Photo courtesy of Okaloosa County Beach Safety.

There’s no doubt that a stay in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, can be great for recharging the batteries. However, while spending a few days relaxing in a beach chair with the world-famous sugar-white sands between your toes is a great way to pass your time, there are many other family-friendly and couples’ activities to be found here. The Fort Walton area is full of culture, history, and family fun.

Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival

Sword-armed pirates "duel" for the crowd at Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival in Fort Walton Beach.

Pirates “invade” Fort Walton Beach every year during the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival.

If your travels land you in Fort Walton in early June, then you are in for a treat, because the city puts on what is perhaps the best pirate-themed festival in the country. Taking over the waterways and banks of downtown FWB the first full weekend in June each year, the Billy Bowlegs Festival  has something for everyone. With pub crawls, live concerts and entertainment, shopping specials, parades, pirate revelry, and fireworks, there’s sure to be something going on that each member of the family will enjoy. Festivities usually start on Thursday and are spread out through the entire weekend.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

A trio of curious dolphins and a penguin eye each other at Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach.

A curious penguin and trio of dolphins eye each other at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.

Watching coastal animals from afar is cool, but seeing them up close and touching them is even better! Featuring dolphin shows as well as hands-on activities such as feeding penguins and swimming with stingrays, the Gulfarium is a true gem. Part educational and full-time fun, this park even allows visitors to serve as “VIP trainers” and work alongside staff for adventures that may or may not include getting a wet kiss from a harbor seal.

Air Force Armament Museum

Military history buffs will feel as though they have hit the jackpot with this trip down memory lane. Located near the main gate of Eglin Air Force Base, the Air Force Armament Museum features a dazzling display of some 30 reconnaissance planes, fighter jets, and bombers outside the building. Inside, you can feast your eyes upon hundreds of artifacts from periods ranging from World War I to today’s combat zones. An onsite fighter cockpit simulator provides an interactive experience. The armament museum is the only place in the country dedicated to displaying Air Force armaments publicly. Be sure you also check out the fastest plane ever built — the SR-71 Blackbird Spy Plane, on display at the museum — before you jet away.

Emerald Coast Science Center

Designed to make science fun for kids, this awesome hangout on Southwest Memorial Parkway boasts interactive exhibits and activities that allow kids and family members to do everything from flying models in a wind tunnel to getting an up-close look at tarantulas and other creepy-crawlies, or playing with electricity gadgets that make your hair stand straight up. The Emerald Coast Science Center is like a field trip without the schools or long lines. Come for the science, then stay for a picnic. The center’s location next door to a neighborhood park near Santa Rosa Sound will inspire just as much as the hands-on approach to science inside will spark the imagination.

Heritage Park and Cultural Center/Indian Temple Mound Museum

Putting the past proudly on display is the mission of this educational center, a kind of living time capsule where visitors can glimpse history of this area dating from about 14,000 B.C. through the 1950s. The Indian Temple Mound Museum houses one of the largest collections of Native American artifacts in the Southeastern United States (more than 1,000 pieces of stone, clay, bone, ceramics, and shell) and is on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark. Telling the story of the beginning of the modern community of Fort Walton, the Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum and Garnier Post Office Museum hold an eclectic display of photographs, documents, and other items from early 1900s Okaloosa County, when it was mainly a rural area.

Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone

When the family is split over having a beach day or having an amusement park day, this park can act as the perfect compromise. Located on Okaloosa Island, directly across the street from the Boardwalk and the world-famous sugar-white beaches, Wild Willy’s offers an impressive array of fun with a 16,000-square-foot arcade, two miniature golf courses, a rope course, a Laser Maze, and an Inflatable Zone. In other words, it’s a kids’ dream and parents’ lifeboat. After working up an appetite, fill their bellies at the onsite pizza and yogurt shops. With its location adjacent to several Fort Walton Beach vacation rentals and resorts, Wild Willy’s is the perfect spot to enjoy relaxation on one side of the street and family adventure on the other — without ever having to get in the car!

Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier

Change your vantage point with the views from this pier, which extends out into the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico for nearly a quarter of a mile. Whether you just want to take in the breathtaking views of the sparkling Emerald Coast waters up close, or if you are really itching to try your hand at catching your own dinner, this pier will serve you well. Extending more than 1,200 feet from shore to the octagon at the end, the pier offers fishing that is often just as great as a chartered boating trip costing you hundreds of dollars or more. From the pier, anglers can expect to catch tarpon, tuna, pompano, king mackerel, cobia, and several other species. Don’t worry, there are shops where you can buy bait and rent fishing tackle, so just bring your sense of adventure and be ready to create some fish tales.

Gulf waves lap the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier in Fort Walton Beach

Photo courtesy of the Boardwalk.

Nightlife and Restaurants at the Boardwalk

So you’ve spent an entire day of relaxing on the beach, and come nighttime you are ready to fill up on succulent seafood fresh from the Gulf and then cut loose a little. The Boardwalk at Okaloosa Island offers several options where you can show off your moves on the dance floor or catch a live rock concert at The Swamp. Hungry? With Angler’s, The Crab Trap, The Black Pearl, Floyd’s Shrimp House, and Rockin Tacos, there is something to accommodate any and every craving. So while days might be great for sunbathing, nights on Okaloosa Island will have you dining and dancing in the moonlight.

For a nightlife alternative that is not on the island, go into town and check out The Block, which is a club that features three different experiences all under one roof. This club features a country music room with a mechanical bull, a sports/karaoke bar room, and a “cell block” room featuring a DJ and high-energy music.  

Spend a Day Out on the Water

Rent a pontoon boat and find that perfect spot to anchor and enjoy a day away from the beaches. These boats are equipped with great sound systems, so you can put on your favorite tunes and take a swim or take a nap. Fishing charters are perfect for the adventurous anglers who are itching to try out what is considered to be some of the best sport fishing in the world. These deep-sea excursions will not only yield spectacular views, but will also net triggerfish, grouper, cobia, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, yellowfin tuna, red snapper, amberjack, sailfish, marlin, wahoo, bluefish, and tarpon (depending on the season). Plus, you’ll have the help and guidance of an experienced captain, so those fish won’t stand a chance against you and your crew.

Three sandcastle towers by beachsandsculptures.comCreate Spectacular Sandcastles and Collect Seashells

The pristine beaches are what attract most to book a vacation to Fort Walton. So naturally there will be an urge to build the most elaborate sandcastle ever seen. It’s just human nature. If you really want to deliver on this promise, there is a unique business that can help you take your sand sculptures to the next level and perhaps even into Facebook or YouTube sensation status. Beach Sandsculptures offers several packages, including a two-hour session of professional sand-sculpting tips and techniques that will have the entire family working together to create a masterpiece. All tools and equipment are provided, so you need only to bring your imagination and get ready for some family fun in the sun. Not looking for pro lessons? This area is ripe with fresh new seashells each time the tide rolls in and out, so why not have a competition to see who in the family can collect the most colorful and unique shells, sand dollars, and other treasures? Save the best ones and bring them back to your Fort Walton Beach condo and create vivid crafts like seashell necklaces, wreaths, picture frames, and more with them. Hey, it doesn’t cost a thing, and it gets you out enjoying the sun, sea, and tropical breezes.

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