There are more activities than you can count in the Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa Island, and Destin area. But even if you only have a few days, you can gratify your sandy soul.
Footprints in the Sand
It’s named the Emerald Coast for its clear, emerald-green water, but this part of Florida’s upper Gulf shoreline could just as well be called the “Sugar Coast” for its soft, sugar-white sands.
You will find free beach access along Okaloosa Island and Destin with tin-roofed picnic shelters and boardwalks stretching across swooping dunes. In Destin, Henderson Beach State Park offers campgrounds, a playground and a nature trail.
Between Okaloosa Island and Destin, the surreal sweep of dunescape known as Gulf Island National Seashore has limited public access and parking, but makes for a breathtaking drive.
Baby Steps off the Beach
Time to get out of the sun? On Okaloosa Island, you don’t have to go far for shade, refreshment and entertainment. At the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier Beach, the boardwalk connects picnic pavilions, surf stores, ice cream shops, restaurants and bars.
Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island eateries are close to the beach and out to impress one thing...the taste buds. From rackety-shack oyster bars and salt-air cafes to upscale eateries, restaurants celebrate local seafood superstars with simple zest.
Another short walk delivers you to the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park , where dolphins, sea lions, penguins and other marine animals show off. It reopens in June 2012 after undergoing a $4 million renovation.
A Short Drive Away
Further afield, head to Fort Walton Beach, where kids fascinated by flying machines will drop their jaw at the Air Force Armament Museum’s outdoor “aircraft garden.” Indoors, they can climb into the cockpit of a fighter plane trainer and explore local military heritage.
The vibrant, little downtown presents shopping opportunities and intriguing, kid-friendly museums such as Emerald Coast Science Center, where they can strum a stringless harp or build a car’s dashboard, or Heritage Park & Cultural Center, a collection of an Indian Temple Mound and Museum, Schoolhouse Museum and historic post office.
In Destin, kids of all ages can do everything from race go-karts to shoot down water slides. At the Destin Fishing & History Museum, they’ll get wide-eyed at the collection of preserved game fish and sharks.
Summer + Family = Emerald Coast
With water sports from kayaking and snorkeling to offshore fishing, plus family-style hotels and swashbuckling events, such as the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival starting in late May or the Mattie Kelly's Concerts in the Park thursday nights in May and June, the Emerald Coast is the best solution to keeping every beach-loving family happy. No wonder it wins so many accolades, including Good Morning America’s "10 Most Beautiful Places in America" and Southern Living’s "Top Three Family Vacation Destinations."
This article was brought to you by the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. To plan your trip to the Emerald Coast, visit www.emeraldcoastfl.com.