Located on the West coast of Florida – or the Florida Panhandle in Okaloosa County – about 640 miles from Miami, Fort Walton Beach has a host of activities for all the family that can make your time here both educational and fun.
Linked to the rest of Florida by major State Highways 98, 189, and 145, Fort Walton Beach has a population of around 20,000 according to the latest census figures. Like many areas of Florida, it receives a significant increase in tourism during the warm summer months, when it experiences temperatures between 101- 107 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here is our list of the top 15 things to do in Fort Walton beach.
1. Emerald Coast Science Center
Based on Memorial Parkway, the Emerald Coast Science Center is the best place for kids and adults alike to come and learn about all things science. There are exhibits on everything from robotics, engineering (ever wondered how planes stay in the air?), and rainbow glasses that can help you understand more about how colors are formed.
The Emerald Coast Science Center is also renowned for the number of talks that it puts on. Experts and volunteers are only too keen to donate their time to help you see the difference between two different species of animal or the science behind the world.
2. Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum
The Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum gives visitors an insight into the history of schooling in Florida. The building was initially used as a school from 1911/12 until 1936, and the replica inside shows visitors what it was like to go to school in the early 20th century, complete with desks and a model classroom.
Camp Walton was a neighborhood for those in the military, and the school was designed to educate soliders’ children. After the closure of the school, the building has had a long and varied history and has been moved several times. Today, it is part of Heritage Park and can be accessed by Highway 98, close to the Indian Temple Mound Museum.
3. Liza Jackson Park
This park near Miracle Strip Parkway has great picnic areas and is also great for walking your dog. Not only is it by the beach, it is also opposite the Gulf Island National Seashore. There are over 100 car parking spaces, meaning there should always be space for you to bring your own set of wheels.
There is a fishing pier and a place to launch your boat if you want to get out on the water, though fees do apply in both cases. You can swim in the water but be aware there are no lifeguards. Kids will enjoy the playground, and families will appreciate the picnic area. Whether you simply want to enjoy a stroll in the park by yourself or want a place to take you and the family, this is an excellent spot for a relaxed day out.
4. Indian Temple Mound Museum
This museum is on the same site as the Schoolhouse Museum, so it is possible to visit both in one day if you want to. Florida, like much of present-day America, has been settled by native Indians for thousands of years. This museum gives a flavor of some the diverse tribes and ethnic groups that lived in the local area.
It also gives visitors a chance to explore the Temple Mound itself. This archeological site was first uncovered in the 1930s. It is believed to have been built around 850AD and operated as a religious mound for important ceremonies.
The first museum opened in 1972 and contains many objects from the time before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic.
5. Downtown Fort Walton Beach Farmers Market
If you’re looking for something to do each month to make new friends and improve your health, why not try out the local farmers market. Taking place on the second and fourth Saturday of every month from 8 am–1 pm, this is the perfect place to start the weekend.
Here you can find fresh produce from local farmers, as well as freshly cooked street-style food for you to try. There are even artists and craftspeople selling their own handmade goods.
The beauty of a place like this is you never know what you might find. Perhaps one week you might come upon perfectly ripe fruit or a rare spice you were looking for to do some home-cooking, and the next month you might unearth a delicious pot of jam you can take away with you once your Florida adventure comes to an end.
6. Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone
This adventure fun-land is perfect for the kids. It has an Island Grand Prix, bumper boats, T-Rex adventure golf, and even a 4D movie experience. This is the ideal place to come for a change of scenery on a cooler day, when you need a break from the beach.
If your child has a birthday coming up, there is even the option of booking a party at Wild Willy’s, which includes food, a private room, and a host of other extras that can make their day extra special.
7. John Beasley Park
This beach is a bit more secluded and slightly less crowded than some of the other in Fort Walton Beach. It has all the facilities you need for a relaxed day in the sun, including free parking, toilets, and outdoor showers.
There is a lifeguard on patrol here and some wooden gazebos for you to sit under to escape the heat of the sun.
8. Garnier Post Office Museum
Located in the same heritage park as the Indian Temple Mound and the Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, the Post Office Museum offers visitors a chance to see how the mail was delivered in the Fort Walton area in the first half of the 20th century.
Visitors can see the interior of the post office, but can also handle some of the post from the day, making this a child-friendly, interactive museum. It’s a great day out combined with the other museums located close by.
9. Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Center
This is the perfect place to come to familiarize yourself with Fort Walton Beach. As well as the site to get advice about what to do in the local area and where to stay if you haven’t booked accommodation, it is also a convention center.
As it is a venue that can be hired out, the exhibitors change regularly, but it is not unusual to see trade shows or specialist conventions. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a bride and groom and their guests, as the venue is also hired out for weddings.
10. Goofy Golf
If Golf is more of your thing, be sure to check out this two-course extravaganza. Designed in a fun and friendly way, the 17-hole courses are a perfect evening or mid-morning event for a large group. The 18th hole is the infamous ‘snake’s mouth.’ If you make it that far, this hole is shared by both courses.
There are always events going on here; if you want, you can even buy the Goofy Golf t-shirt available in a variety of different colors.
11. Brooks Bridge
This bridge offers spectacular views over the bay between Okaloosa Island and Fort Walton Beach, connecting the two.
If you’re into your local history, be sure to take time to visit, as the bridge has historical significance: it is named for John Thomas Brooks, who purchased the land which is today the downtown area of Fort Walton Beach. Be sure to take your car out for a drive over the bridge if you have time, especially if you are visiting Okaloosa Island.
12. Buddhist Temple
Wat Mongkolratanaram is an impressive Buddhist temple in Fort Walton Beach. Even if you are not religious, it is well worth going for a visit to this temple to see the golden statues of Buddha in the grounds. In a moment, you can be transported from the United States to Thailand.
Be sure to speak to the locals and attend if you are in town for the Thai festival to try some delicious Thai treats like coconut cakes.
13. Sandcastle Lessons on the Beach
Ever wondered how to make the perfect sandcastle? If you haven’t, I bet your children or grandchildren have. Now, rather than having to experiment on their own, there is a workshop that teaches them how to make beautiful sculptures out of sand that rise 3 ½ feet into the air.
The lessons last for around two hours and are good for the whole family, who can watch and join in too. The lesson can take place at a beach of your choice.
14. Fort Walton Beach Landing Park
This is a lovely, relaxed public park, and the place to come on a Friday night for concerts and movie nights, with the stars above for a backdrop. Twice a month, the Landing also plays host to the Saturday Farmers market.
If you’re looking to make friends or are at a loose end, be sure to head down to see what’s going on – there seems to always be something happening here.
15. Emerald Coast Church Assembly of God
It’s always good to know where you can attend Sunday service if you are religious; it can be hard to find a good church, particularly if you are just visiting for a short period.
This church is an intrinsic part of the local community in Fort Walton Beach, so if you are looking to reach out, then attending the Sunday service might be a nice idea.
There are also regular family events if you want to meet other families with children in the area – perhaps an excellent way for your children to make some new playmates.