15 Best Things to Do in Crestview (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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The seat of Okaloosa County, Crestview lies in the pine-covered sandy hills in the very heart of Florida’s panhandle.

As a nexus point for long-distance transport networks, including the Florida Gulf and Atlantic Railroad, Crestview has the nickname Hub City.  

I’m a real fan of the downtown here, which has been given a lot of love in the last few years. A modern zoo has also recently opened on the city’s eastern outskirts.

Meanwhile, if you head a few miles west you’ll arrive at the magnificent Blackwater River. Made for paddling trips, this watercourse is adored for its clear and shallow waters, and white sandy shores.

1. Downtown Crestview

Throughout the 2010s, Crestview invested a lot into its downtown area. One of the finishing touches was a welcome sign spanning Main Street close to the Okaloosa County Courthouse.

For several blocks, Main Street is fronted by a line of locally owned shops, restaurants and other services.

You can shop local here, especially if you’re hunting for antiques. Most of all, I think of downtown Crestview as a place to eat local. Among the options there’s Southern country cooking, pizza, Thai, BBQ, Coney dogs, ice cream, baked treats, Korean, and Tacos. 

A hopping events calendar brings an almost constant buzz to Main Street. In that vein, look out for Alice on Main in August, and the Downtown Fall Festival in late October.

2. Emerald Coast Zoo

This small but highly-rated zoo had only been open for a few years when I compiled this article. 

East of Crestivew, Emerald Coast Zoo is the brainchild of Rick the Reptile Guy, known for the A&E show, “Wild Transport”.

Rick and his family actually live on the zoo’s grounds, and moved to the area from Cocoa Beach in 2017.

To me, Emerald Coast Zoo stands out for the breadth of special encounters available. For example, you can feed honey to a black bear, pet a sloth, feed a giraffe, or meet a 600 lb giant tortoise.

3. Twin Hills Park

Twin Hills ParkSource: Twin Hills Park / Facebook
Twin Hills Park

Covering more than 20 acres, Twin Hills Park is a superb community park right next to the downtown area. First off, the many sports amenities, from a football stadium to basketball courts, make this park a hub for several of the Recreation Department’s competitive leagues. 

On the more serene side of things, there’s surrounded by mature trees, paths, barbecue grills, and covered picnic areas. You can see a lot of fish and turtles in the water, while big flocks of ducks and geese patrol the shores. 

Finally, the awesome Children’s Park is a dedicated play area for the little ones with a much-loved splash pad.

4. Blackwater River State Park

A short drive west of Crestview is the 600-acre Blackwater River State Park. Along with the much larger Blackwater River State Forest, this park is on the course of a river with extremely pure waters.

Tannins from the vegetation lining the river give the clear water a peculiar light-brown tint. This is enhanced by the pristine white sands on the river bottom and shoreline reflecting the sunlight. 

I can’t get enough of this spot, with trails through the sandy longleaf pine woods, passing oxbow lakes and arriving at beaches along the banks.

On hot days you can cool off, swimming in these crystalline waters or tubing downstream (more below). 

Couched in the longleaf pine woods is a campground with 30 sites, complete with electricity, water, sewer, picnic tables, and a playground.

5. Blackwater Canoe Rental

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Blackwater River has some of the best paddling in Florida. 

There are quite a few ingredients—you’ve got a shallow depth, gentle currents, clear waters, and soaring pines for shade.

Best of all for me are the many places to take a break. There are dozens of pure white sandy beaches on the riverbanks, perfect for picnics.

A third generation business, Blackwater Canoe Rental has been on the scene since 1981. With pick-up and drop-off provided, you can spend anything from a couple of hours to a whole day exploring the river.

The company also offers tube trips, and you can rent a cooler to float in luxury for half a day.

6. Casbah Coffee Company

Casbah Coffee CompanySource: Casbah Coffee Company / Facebook
Casbah Coffee Company

No matter where I find myself, I can be sure that my coffee dependence will catch up to me. Fortunately, Casbah Coffee Company is a high-quality coffee roaster, right in the heart of Crestview. 

Like everything downtown, this is not a chain, most of what you spend will stay in the area.In addition to their tasty drinks, they offer a variety of fresh baked goods as well as soups, sandwiches, and salads. 

If you happen to be on a cheat day, the cinnamon buns are especially delicious. Luckily, every day is a cheat day for me.

7. Crestview History Museum

A repository for local history in Crestview and north Okaloosa County, this attraction had just opened when I was in town.

The setting is the Lorenza Bush House, dating back to the mid-1920s. Bush was a supervisor for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and moved to Crestview in 1910.

His two-story home, built from hard-wearing heart pine, was restored in the early 2020s. Tuesday through Friday, and on the second Saturday of the month you can come to check out a variety of exhibits.

These touch on subjects like local Native American history, the timber industry, Eglin Field, and businesses in downtown Crestview.

8. Blackwater Golf Club

Formerly part of Foxwood Country Club this 18-hole course had become a public facility when I visited. As far as I’m concerned Blackwater Golf Club is up there with the best public courses on the panhandle. 

Like the countryside around Crestview, this is in a rolling landscape, with plentiful water, and fairways framed by lofty pines. 

Another big draw is the driving range, which was recently turned into a TopTracer range. The 14 hitting bays have luxury seating, and technology that can turn driving into an interactive video game.

9. Panhandle Opry

For a dose of rural culture in the panhandle countryside, there’s a traditional opry in the rolling sandy hills east of Crestview.

Established in 1979, the Panhandle Opry moved around a few venues before settling at 657 Deshazo Rd in 1982. 

Remarkably this venue was designed and built from scratch by the opry’s members. For a time in the early 1990s the band featured Lamar Morris, Hank Williams Jr’s former guitar player. 

Performances take place on the first and third Saturday of the month at 7:00 PM.

10. Timber Creek Distillery

Founded in 2014, this craft distillery is out in the countryside to the northeast of Crestview. Timber Creek produces a range of spirits, including single malt, whiskey, black rye, vodka, rum, and gin.

I love how everything is steeped in the Florida Panhandle. For instance, none of the wheat, corn, rye, or molasses have to travel far to get here. 

The distillery is also planning to use locally grown fruit, from peaches to blueberries, as flavorings. 

You can come to the distillery for a choice of tours, all of which have a tasting component. There are brick-oven pizzas on Saturdays, and the property also has an 18-hole disc golf course, cornhole and axe throwing.

11. Desi’s Downtown Restaurant

Desi’s Downtown RestaurantSource: Desi's Downtown Restaurant / Facebook
Desi’s Downtown Restaurant

All about Southern country cooking  Desi’s is just the place for those looking to fill up on traditional, downhome fare.

I like to think of this buffet as something like a visit to grandma’s. Along those lines, Desi’s is a favorite for its comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere, attentive staff, and no-frills presentation.

Entrees tend to be dishes like pot roast, fried chicken, and grilled sausage with peppers, potatoes, and onions.

There’s a big choice of sides, from fried okra to mac & cheese, and banana pudding, which is a real specialty.

12. Florida Trail (State Road 85 Trailhead)

I have to admit, I had never even heard of the Florida Trail. Designated a National Scenic Trail, this path spans the state, from Big Cypress National Preserve to the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

First drawn up in the early 1960s, the trail is marked with orange blazes painted on trees. Despite being listed as a Florida National Scenic Trail Gateway Community, Crestview hasn’t really advertised that the trail passes right through the south side of the city.

You can get onto it at a trailhead along SR 85. From here you hike east or west, through a sandy pine-covered landscape with saw palmettos by the path.

13. Henderson Beach State Park

Henderson Beach State ParkSource: lunamarina / shutterstock
Henderson Beach State Park

For a different kind of beachtime, Henderson Beach State Park has over a mile of shoreline by the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, the sugar-white sand beaches and warm waters are the park’s big draws. Still, there’s a nature trail, playgrounds, and covered pavilions with built-in grills.

I really enjoyed exploring the nature trail, which traverses a wonderful dune ecosystem, with peaks rising to 30 feet. 

Anyone heading home after a long day will appreciate the ample showers at the beach. Meanwhile, for those who’d like to spend a night or two under the stars, campsites are available.

14. The Air Force Armament Museum

Air Force Armament MuseumSource: RaksyBH / shutterstock
Air Force Armament Museum

Opened in 1935 and greatly expanded since then, the Eglin Air Force base takes up an absolutely vast swath of land between Crestview and the Gulf of Mexico. 

The museum on the base has been around since 1975, and showcases the many different bombs, rockets, and missiles used by the USAF. 

I was blown away—not literally—by this display of armaments and weapons systems. There’s an AMRAAM air-to-air missile, a GBU-28 bunker-buster, a Tomahawk, and a GBU-43 MOAB (Mother of All Bombs).

Added to that are more than 30 aircraft. Some of my picks are the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-52 Stratofortress, and the legendary Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

15. Marquis Cinema 10

Just off SR 85 on the north side of Crestview you’ve got the only movie theater for many miles. What you get at Marquis Cinema 10 is a no-frills moviegoing experience, at an affordable price point. 

So while you’re not going to find power recliners, Dolby sound or IMAX screens, you’ll still have a great time. 

All of the auditoriums have stadium seating, as well as up-to-date digital projection and sound. The Marquis Cinema 10 is also a one-off independent theater, so there’s more of a personal touch.

15 Best Things to Do in Crestview (FL):

  • Downtown Crestview
  • Emerald Coast Zoo
  • Twin Hills Park
  • Blackwater River State Park
  • Blackwater Canoe Rental
  • Casbah Coffee Company
  • Crestview History Museum
  • Blackwater Golf Club
  • Panhandle Opry
  • Timber Creek Distillery
  • Desi’s Downtown Restaurant
  • Florida Trail (State Road 85 Trailhead)
  • Henderson Beach State Park
  • The Air Force Armament Museum
  • Marquis Cinema 10