Friday, May 10, 2024

A Family Vacation in Fort Walton Beach, Florida: Read our tips for the inside scoop!

Fort Walton Beach, located along the stunning Emerald Coast of Florida, offers a perfect blend of sun, sand, and Southern hospitality. The coast gets its name from the amazing emerald color waters that are crystal clear. We visited just a few weeks ago and have some tips and recommendations for making the most of your visit to this picturesque coastal destination. Let's dive into the essentials to ensure a memorable experience in Fort Walton Beach.

fort walton beach inside scoop

What is the best time of year to visit Fort Walton Beach? 
If you like to bask in the sun without melting like a popsicle on a hot sidewalk, the best time to visit Fort Walton Beach is during the spring and fall. The weather is just right for beach bumming and outdoor adventures, with mild temperatures and fewer chances of rain ruining your sandcastle-building plans. If you don't mind the heat and wish to visit in the summer, be prepared for jostling for that perfect beach spot. If you can pick any time to go, we recommend April and early May for a more relaxed vibe and less competition for the best sunset-watching spot.

Family Vacation Fort Walton Beach

What should I pack for a trip to Fort Walton Beach?
Beach Essentials are crucial. Don't forget your swimsuit, beach towel, and flip-flops when heading to Fort Walton Beach. Sun protection products are a must. Shield yourself from the sun's rays with sunscreen, sunglasses (be sure to bring some for even your smallest kiddo), beach tent or umbrella, and a wide-brimmed hat. We found that we needed to reapply sunscreen liberally. Even then, we still missed spots and ended up burnt in strange places! For the kids, take lots of beach toys and a kite or two to fly on the beach. We had 4 with us for each kid, but found 2 would have sufficed because they wanted to take turns.

While the sun is hot, the breeze and evenings are still cool in the spring. Bring layers. I found myself putting a sweater on and taking it off again regularly depending on if the sun was out or if it was hiding behind the clouds.

Visit Fort Walton Beach

Where to Stay in Fort Walton Beach
Looking for a home away from home? There are so many hotel, condo and Airbnb options in Fort Walton to choose from. For the ultimate beach experience, consider staying in one of Fort Walton Beach’s beachfront resorts or hotels. Waking up to the sound of crashing waves and panoramic ocean views? Yes, please. We choose to go inland a bit and rented a vacation home on Airbnb during our stay in Fort Walton Beach. It was less than a year old, so all of the amenities were nearly new. It looked just like the pictures and was very lovely. We were right around the corner from Walmart and depending on traffic a 15–25 minute drive to the beach. It was a great location and mostly quiet. We highly recommend staying here and when we make it back to Fort Walton Beach, we will stay there again.

How to get around in Fort Walton Beach?
We found that driving our car was the best way to get around for our family in Fort Walton Beach. Since we weren't right on the beach, we needed wheels for transport. If you are flying in and staying on the beach and plan to do activities right by wherever you are renting, check out a shuttle services from the airport. Renting a bike or walking would be ideal for you while there. If you are flying and want to get around to places in addition to the beach, you may want to rent a car. 

waves at Fort Walton Beach

Where to eat in Fort Walton Beach?
When in Fort Walton Beach, seafood is a must-try! Indulge in fresh-from-the-sea delicacies at local seafood restaurants, where the shrimp is so good it’ll make you question why you ever ate frozen shrimp cocktail. Beyond the seafood scene, Fort Walton Beach boasts a diverse culinary landscape. Explore local cuisine and foodie hotspots to tantalize your taste buds with flavors that will have you planning your next meal before you’ve even finished your current one. There are waterfront dining options and rooftop restaurants for dining with a view. We opted to do some shopping at the grocery store and cook our meals at our Airbnb. (If your AIP, see how to take a 5-day vacation and stick to AIP elimination phase.)

What are some popular outdoor activities and must-visit attractions to enjoy in Fort Walton Beach?
Fort Walton Beach offers plenty of family-friendly attractions, from amusement parks to wildlife encounters that will keep the little ones entertained and create memories that will have them begging for a return trip. On sunny days, the water is crystal clear and a beautiful emerald green to aqua blue and on foggy, cloudy days a tempestuous gray. Every mood of the Emerald Coast is quite a sight to behold.

Whether you’re a beach lounger or a wave rider, Fort Walton Beach has you covered. Dive into the crystal-clear waters for snorkeling adventures or simply soak up some vitamin D on the soft, cool sands. Be sure to follow the beach rules, as there are some parts of the beach you aren't allowed to visit because of the military base. 

Fort Walton Beach emerald water

Beach access is free and parking is available at the various parks or in the numbered beach lots. We visited John Beasley Park, which was nice. But we preferred the numbered access points. At the beach, we did some swimming, walked along the shore, played football, and flew kites. There is actually a kite festival in April. 

Flying kites at Fort Walton Beach

There are lots of opportunities for water sports and adventures as well. You can rent boats, go jet skiing, paddleboarding, kiteboarding, parasailing, kayaking, or take a guided tour or a fishing charter. 

We rented a pontoon boat (from Crab Island Watersports-Our pontoon was practically new and in excellent condition!) and headed out to Crab Island, a submerged sandbar, and the Choctawhatchee Bay for an all-day boating adventure. Dolphins swam alongside the boat as we drove under the Destin Bridge into Destin Harbor. Crab Island is a little oasis all to itself. The later in spring the warmer the water. We all got in the water at some point, but it was still icy for early spring. Just be sure you don't go out to the East Pass to the Gulf. It isn't safe there and you aren't permitted to boat that way. There are police boats that patrol the area to be sure all are maintaining safety.

Pontoon ride to Crab Island

If you would like to fish with a little more solidity under your feet, you can fish from the Island Pier for a fee of $5-$8 (which includes the license) or like us pay for a walking pass ($2) and observe the fishing. We could see schools of fish from the pier and jellyfish swimming below the water. There was a crane standing guard on the pier as well.

Crane on the Island pier at Fort Walton Beach

Next up, you can unleash your inner history nerd at Fort Walton Beach’s historical sites and museums. From ancient Native American artifacts to military history, there’s something for every history buff to geek out over.

One of the places, we visited was the Indian Temple Mound Museum. In addition to the museum, there are several small historical buildings here including the Fort Walton Temple Mound to visit. You'll find the Camp Walton Schoolhouse, Garnier Post Office Museum, and Civil War Exhibits. The museum price covers all of the buildings. It's $3-5 per ticket and we were able to come back as often as we wanted on our trip with our receipt. Hours vary. We called ahead to confirm when they would be open. They are also in the process of building a second floor with pirate history. Can't wait to see what it will hold!

Historical sites at Fort Walton Beach

Another museum site we visited was the Air Force Armament Museum. Admission to enter is free. There are exhibits inside and outside. They are open daily from 9:30-5:00. The museum has lots of aircraft and munitions displays. It is actually outside of Fort Walton (about a 15-minute drive), but close enough that we decided to make the trip. 

Air Force Armament Museum

We took a stroll around the Women Veterans Monuments at Veterans Park close to Marler Park. (Park your vehicle behind the Fort Walton-Destin Convention Center. The path is on the left.)

There are Hiking and Nature Trails for those craving a more grounded adventure. You can check out Fort Walton Beach's scenic hiking trails. Explore the beauty of the area's nature reserves and discover hidden gems along the way.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park was another stop we made. There were lots of presentations and chats to check out as well as exhibits. The chats are like a lot of the zoo talks we've attended. The presentations are more like shows with tricks. We recommend hitting as many as you are able as time allows. We watched a harbor seal presentation and a dolphin presentation. We listened to a few chats on penguins, otters, sharks, and snakes. 

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

For a typical vacation activity, you can also try your hand at a little putt-putt. We tried one of the courses. Everyone got at least one hole-in-one, a first-time record for us. We don't usually do the putt-putt and ice cream thing, but thought we'd go for it on this trip with a little bit of extra time. 

Mini-golf hole

Where can I shop in Fort Walton Beach?
There are local markets and boutiques for unique souvenirs and gifts. You can support local artisans and bring a piece of Fort Walton Beach back home with you. We didn't do much shopping on our trip this time. We wanted to soak up as much sun as we could and then head back to the airbnb for some relaxation.

As you plan your visit to Fort Walton Beach, keep these tips in mind to enhance your vacation experience and create lasting memories in this beautiful coastal paradise. Whether you're lounging on the beach, exploring historical sites, or savoring fresh seafood, Fort Walton Beach offers a diverse range of attractions and activities for every type of traveler. So pack your bags, soak up the sun, and immerse yourself in the charm of Fort Walton Beach – a destination that truly captures the essence of Florida's Gulf Coast.

Sunset at Fort Walton Beach

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