Fort Walton Beach is a small beach town located on the Emerald Coast with beautiful silver sand beaches and emerald waters. It is a major tourist attraction and gets very busy during the summer months.
If you plan to visit during those busy months, you need to make your reservations months ahead of time.
The weather in the Emerald Coast is warm most of the year, with a few rare cold days during winter. The last time it snowed in this area was in 1977.
While talking about Walton Beach, I am including Okaloosa Island, Ocean City, and Niceville because they are all interconnected.
The try-city area is surrounded by several Bayous, the Gulf of Mexico, lakes, creeks, and inland forests. While staying in Fort Walton Beach, we enjoyed visits to the beach, parks, major attractions like the Gulfarium, hikes in the forest, and great dining experiences.
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Although it is not one of the largest aquariums, it still packs many exhibits and shows. It also overlooks the Gulf of Mexico, offering great views while wandering around the park or catching a show.
The aquarium is connected to the Boardwalk and Pier on Okaloosa Island. So you can split your fun day between the two places and have a meal at one of the boardwalk restaurants.
As you enter the aquarium, you are greeted with an underwater view of the dolphin tank. Several windows all around the tank give you a glimpse into the frolicking dolphins.
When you are done enjoying those playful creatures, head upstairs to the more exhibits indoor and outdoor.
Don't forget to check the schedules for the dolphin and the sea lion shows. Both shows are educational and entertaining, but I especially enjoyed the dolphin show. There are plenty of seats in each auditorium but get there early to pick the best seats.
Besides the two main attractions, you can visit tropical fish, penguins, sharks, alligators, and birds. If you time your visits correctly, you can witness animal feedings and interactions.
There is only one place to order snacks and drinks. The selection is limited, and the line is usually very long. Your best bet is to leave the park for lunch then come back for more fun.
The Boardwalk, Okaloosa Island
The boardwalk is a short wood planks walkway connecting to a long fishing pier – with access to a long strand of beach facing the gulf. It offers many shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.
You can have a sit-down meal at Rockin Tacos or the Crab Trap, grab a hamburger from Al's – or you can enjoy a treat at Pino Gelato.
If you prefer, you can bypass all those places, bring your own picnic, and head to the sand.
For great views of the whole area or for fishing, head to the long pier. You pay $2 to get in and $8 for fishing. Get a hand stamp to reenter the pier throughout the day.
During the summer months, on Wednesday nights, stick around for the fireworks show.
Hiking and Parks
The area in and around Fort Walton Beach has many back-to-nature opportunities. My favorite hiking trails were at Turkey Creek Park, Oak Tree Nature Preserve, and Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park.
For a stroll, a picnic, or a day at the beach, you can visit Garniers Beach Park, Ferry Park, or Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Turkey Creek Park
This 20-acre park offers a nature trail, viewing areas, swimming platforms & a picnic pavilion. Visitors can also go river-tubing.
The out and back hike on the elevated boardwalk is about 3 miles long and is mostly shaded. The shade is provided by tall cypress, sweetgum, red bay, and Atlantic white cedar trees.
Along the way, you will see many platforms where you can jump into the cool creek waters or launch your rafts.
A side trail will take you to a memorial and a quick place with benches.
The trail ends in a parking lot close to a highway bridge. If you continue under the bridge and head right, you will go through a floodplain and up to another trailhead.
Oak Tree Nature Preserve
This nature preserve is a heavily wooded nature park & preserve offering tranquil walking & hiking trails.
The hike is about 1.5 miles for a round trip with plenty of shade and a small creek. As you walk into this forest, the highway noise starts to dissipate while the temperature drops from all dense canopy.
If you are quiet enough, you will hear bird sounds and may be lucky enough to see a few small animals.
Garniers Beach Park
The small neighborhood beach is on Choctawhatchee Bay with a boat ramp, restrooms, playground equipment, and picnic tables.
The waters in the bay are warm, and the waves are gentle, making it a perfect beach for families with small children.
Okaloosa Island Beach Access Four
The city planner ran out of cute names for beaches so they just gave it a number. But despite the uninspiring name, it is probably the best beach in Fort Walton.
It is located between Waters Edge and The Nautilus on Okaloosa Island with boardwalks, restrooms, and white dunes.
Wild Willy's Adventure Zone
For the young and the young at heart, a visit to the adventure zone is a must. It is across the street from the boardwalk and the aquarium and full of activities for all ages.
You can race cars, play miniature golf, shoot your way through laser tag, or bump strangers on bumper boats. You can play VR games, arcade games, or watch a 4D movie.
The area has an abundance of dining options - we had a blast trying different cuisines—some places we picked mainly for the view, while others just for the food.
AJ's on the Bayou
We picked this place for our first dinner in Fort Walton Beach because of the location on the Cinco Bayou. The view did not disappoint. While enjoying our dinner, we admired the clear waters, boats, and jetski buzzing by.
The food was a bonus treat. We tried this fried fish basket and the crab cakes. They were both delicious.
Osan's Korean restaurant and Japanese Sushi
This restaurant was a hole-in-the-wall with no views, but the food was great. We went with the Korean menu and ordered Kimbop (Korean Sushi), Jajangmyeon (Noodles in Black Bean Sauce), and Tempura Udon.
I love Greek food, so when I found out there is a popular restaurant close by, I had to try it. The place was better than expected.
We started with Dolma for appetizers and tried their Spanakopita and Keftedes. For dessert, we had to taste their Baklava.
Everything tasted great and we had a lot of leftovers.
Chapala Authentic Mexican
If you crave authentic Mexican, then Chapala is your place. We started with the complimentary chips and salsa, and I had their top-shelf margarita.
For the main meal, we ordered a combo-plate and veggie quesadilla. For the finale, we had to try their Tres-leches. This was another feast, and we ended with more leftovers.
The Gulf on Okaloosa Island
We picked this place for the view. It is located on the Santa Rosa Sound side of the island. We were there for lunch, so we ordered light. We had the cheeseburger and the chicken sandwich.
This is an excellent place to visit after spending time at the aquarium or the adventure zone.