25 Best Things to Do on the Emerald Coast of Florida
By VacationIdea Staff on April 6, 2023 - Updated
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The Emerald Coast offers uninhibited access to the Gulf of Mexico along its roughly 100 mile stretch of coastline. Visitors will find a wide assortment of entertainment, restaurant, and high energy activities awaiting them no matter what time of year they visit. From rich history tracing back 14,000 years to modern day adventures like helicopter tours, the Emerald Coast has something in store for everyone.
1. Emerald Coast Science Center
© Emerald Coast Science Center
Designed and built in order to help grow a scientifically focused and active community, the Emerald Coast Science Center is a museum that allows hands on experiences for visitors of all ages. Many of the exhibits are interactive, and guests can enjoy the STEM Makerspace, various animal encounters, and learn basic scientific principles. The center features over 45 exhibits within their 8,000 square foot indoor space, as well as two more acres of property that contain live animals, robotics, and more. There are many programs and events throughout the year so guests are encouraged to check with the Center before visiting.
31 SW Memorial Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548, Phone: 850-664-1261
2. Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum
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Originally created in order to give visitors an idea of what authentic country style school was like in Northwest Florida, the Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum is open year round and has many exciting features. The museum is filled with actual, as well as replica, artifacts that will stimulate and assist in learning. These artifacts tell the story of what it was like when students received an authentic Okaloosa education, and in addition to the artifacts there are programs, events, historically accurate activities, and field trip opportunities year round. This museum is ADA compliant, available for group tours, and even has an onsite gift shop.
127 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548, Phone: 850-833-9595
3. Air Force Armament Museum
© Air Force Armament Museum
Considered to be the only museum in the entire world that is specifically dedicated to the collection, presentation, and preservation of artifacts related to Air Force Armament and its diverse platforms of delivery. The Air Force Armament Museum contains over 29 different aircrafts, including: AC-130, B-17, B-25, B-52, P-51, A-10, F-15, F-16, F-100, F-101, and more. Admittance to the museum is free of charge, and there are many rotating and permanent exhibits. Fans of Air Force Armament will be happy to know that there are special exhibits showcasing planes from the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, World War 1, World War 2, and select special operations aircrafts.
100 Museum Drive, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida 32542, Phone: 850-882-4062
4. Destin History & Fishing Museum
© Destin History & Fishing Museum
The Destin History and Fishing Museum is a Florida non profit and popular tourist destination in the Destin area. Containing the history of Destin, tracing from its humble roots as a small fishing village through its growth and eventual major tourist attraction status. The museum contains boats recreated in the style originally used by village settlers, a 5,500 square foot exhibit space that tells the story of early Native Americans and their impact on the village, more than 75 mounted locally caught fish, and more. Group tours are available, and there are many ways for visitors to experience the museum; self-guided tours, audio guided tours, scavenger hunts, and even a personalized tour using QR codes.
P.O. Box 548, Destin, Florida 32541, Phone: 850-837-6611
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5. Heritage Park and Cultural Center
© Heritage Park and Cultural Center
Being the home of many key regional museums, the Heritage Park and Cultural Center is a great stop for travellers who want to learn more about the local history in the Fort Walton Beach area. Between the collection of museums guests can learn about history stretching all the way back to 14,000 BC. Some of the highlighted history includes the Indian Temple Mound Museum, which features a wide range of artifacts, the archaeological site known as Fort Walton Temple Mound, the one room Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, the historic Garnier Post Office Museum, and an assortment of Civil War Exhibits. Hours vary depending on the time of year so be sure to call ahead or check out the website for the most up-to-date information.
139 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548, Phone: 850-833-9595
6. Destin Harbor Boardwalk, Emerald Coast of Florida
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Visiting the beach is a must when spending time in Florida’s Emerald Coast, and guests who find themselves able to spend time on the Destin Harbor Boardwalk are in for a real treat. The boardwalk stretches almost a full quarter of a mile and provides uninhibited access to the waterfront while preserving the harbor at the same time. For guests who are looking to spend time both on the water and near it the boardwalk is the gateway for activities, and everything from fishing to boat rentals, dolphin watching tours, and more can be accessed from the Destin Harbor Boardwalk.
4200 Indian Bayou Trail, Destin, FL 32541, Phone: 850-837-4242
7. Indian Temple Mound Museum
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When it originally opened in 1962, the Indian Temple Mound Museum was the first municipally owned and operated museum in the entire State of Florida. The museum houses many exhibits, some depicting the history of Native Americans as far back as 12,000 years ago. There are over 1,000 authentic artifacts for visitors to peruse, made of stone, bone, clay, and shell, as well as a large ceramics collection from prehistoric times. The museum does have an entrance fee, but there are group rates, free days, and discounts available if guests contact the museum directly.
139 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548, Phone: 850-833-9595
8. Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier
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Offering both summer and winter hours, the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier is a must visit for any fishing enthusiast spending time in the area. Loved by locals and tourists alike, the fishing pier is open every day and offers fishing reports that are updated frequently. Located at the fishing pier are beverage and snack options, bait and tackle for sale, pole rentals, and more. Fishers do not need a fishing license to fish from the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, and visitors that catch a fish are invited to share their catch with the community through the Okaloosa Island Pier website.
1030 Miracle Strip Parkway East, Fort Walton Beach, Fl 32548, Phone: 850-244-1023
9. Oak Tree Nature Preserve
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The Oak Tree Nature Preserve is best visited by hiking the trail that runs through the preserve. Although this is considered to be a short trail, measuring in at less than a mile and a half, the Oak Tree Nature Preserve trail will help guests experience the diverse ecosystem contained within the preserve. The Oak Tree Nature Preserve contains about 25 acres of land and is home to hundreds of animals, plants, and birds. In addition to the modern nature it contains, this preserve is also home to a key regional archeological site that once harbored the remains of pottery, bone, shell, and stone tools that are now protected.
210 Hollywood Blvd, Mary Esther, FL 32569
10. HarborWalk Village Mining Company
© HarborWalk Village Mining Company
The HarborWalk Village Mining Company offers an experience unlike any other, and is the perfect destination for families looking to spend a fun time together while learning new things in the process. The experience is simple in theory, but offers a blast of fun for kids and adults alike. The first step is to buy a bucket of dirt, after this the guests receive special mining equipment that allows them to expertly sift through the dirt and find all sorts of items: gemstones, fossils, and other treasures. Of course visitors get to keep whatever they find, and can ask the staff about the history of any items they find.
10 Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541, Phone: 850-424-0600
11. Educational Beach Walks
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Lovers of nature, the ocean, or spending time outdoors will definitely want to check out the Educational Beach Walks held in Emerald Coast. The walks do not take place during the winter, as the main highlighted feature of the walks is sea turtle nesting season, which runs from June through October. The walks take place on certain days, are free and open to the public, and contain a short orientation before the walk to help guests become associated with the area and the things they will be seeing. For more information, or to register, guests are encouraged to email ECTurtleWatch@gmail.com, contact the Visitors Bureau by telephone, or visit their website.
1540 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Ft. Walton Beach FL 32548, Phone: 800-322-3319
12. The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge
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The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge was created to protect all of the animals in the area, to offer them a home when they are sick and injured, as well as to help educate the public on proper ways of interacting with these animals in their natural habitats. The wildlife refuge is supported through donations and volunteer efforts, and visitors to the refuge can expect an variety of educational resources, tours, and information at their disposal. Depending on the desire of the visitors, different types of programs can be arranged ahead of time, so it is best to contact the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge ahead of time.
105 Santa Rosa Blvd, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548, Phone: 850-650-1880
13. Okaloosa County Geocache Trail
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Geocaching, the practice of seeking out hidden objects using GPS in cities, nature, and everywhere between, is a fun way to spend time outdoors with an objective. Okaloosa County has decided, in an effort to create more family friendly outdoor activities, to create official geocaches themselves that are hidden around in several of the counties public parks. These parks can all be accessed on the same trail, so for an exciting day spent scavenger hunting all guests need are a working GPS. The coordinates can be found on the Okaloosa County Geocache Trail website, as well as answers to any questions and resources through email.
302 N. Wilson St. - Suite 302, Crestview, FL 32536, Phone: 850-689-5050
14. Gulf Breeze Zoo
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The Gulf Breeze Zoo is filled with attractions, activities, wild animals, and the chance for everyone to learn something new. A visit to the farm enables guests to feed the animals, while a trip to the Budgiery Adventure Aviary will have imaginations soaring high on the wings of the diverse bird collection. Seeing the zoo a different way is possible by taking a ride on the Safari Express Train Ride, which is accessible with strollers and wheelchairs as well, and even runs in the rain. Guests who have tons of questions about animals may want to check out a Meet a Keeper Animal Talks, and those who want to see animals up and close will want to book a Behind the Scenes Animal Tour.
5701 Gulf Breeze Pkwy, Gulf Breeze Fl 32563, Phone: 850-932-2229
15. Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park
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Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park is open 365 days a year from 8 AM until sundown, costs $5 per vehicle, and is the former training grounds for soldiers during World War 2. What was once a place meant to train soldiers for war has since been reverted back to its natural beauty; century old longleaf pine trees, rugged landscapes, and the main park feature of Rocky Bayou in Choctawhatchee Bay. Throughout the year there are many special events, so guests may want to check the calendar of events located on the park’s website to ensure they will fully enjoy their visit.
4281 S.R.20, Niceville FL 32578, Phone: 850-833-9144
16. Gulf Island National Seashore, Emerald Coast of Florida
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Considered to be the largest seashore in North America, Gulf Island National Seashore National Park spans over 160 miles of not only mainland, but islands as well. Depending on the season, hours of operation and entrance fees may vary, so contacting the National Seashore directly is advised before visiting. The Seashore is filled with history, both natural and humankind, as well as rich culture and wildlife. There are often Ranger Programs being held in the various parks, covering different topics, and always open to the public. From swimming to bird watching, boating, learning, and more, the Gulf Island National Seashore is a must see when spending time in Florida.
1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze, FL 32563, Phone: 850-934-2600
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17. Destin Snorkel
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When it comes to snorkeling in the warm waters off of Florida’s coast, Destin Snorkel is one of the most comprehensive snorkeling companies in the Destin area. The key to their success is the large assortment of different snorkeling tours, ensuring that every guest receives the experience they are seeking. For instance, the Two Stop Snorkeling Tour covers two very different locations, while the SNUBA Adventures allows guests to dive deeper using connected airlines. The Shelling Tour focuses on families and small children, staying in shallow water and searching for shells and crabs, while their Dolphin Cruises takes guests into deeper waters to see these majestic animals in their natural habitat.
10 Harbor Blvd, Destin, FL 32541, Phone: 850-269-2329
18. Destin Parasailing
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Parasailing offers guests a chance to see the ocean and coast in a way they may have never before experienced, with a cool breeze keeping them comfortable as they glide behind a boat high above the ocean. Destin Parasailing offers more than just parasailing, however, and also takes guests on chartered fishing trips and dolphin tours. If guests seek a more independent trip they can rent pontoon boats and jet skis in order to explore the ocean at their own leisure. Parasailing often books up fast, so guests are heavily encouraged to contact Destin Parasailing as soon as they have their trip planned to guarantee a spot on the tours.
214 Harbor Blvd., Destin, Florida 32541, Phone: 866-359-3114
19. Henderson Beach State Park
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Henderson Beach State Park is most well known for its large sand dunes and warm gulf waters, but guests who visit the park will discover there is far more to do than just sunbathe on the beach. Camping is one of the parks less known highlights, and the park has over 60 sites that can accommodate either tents or RVs, with accompanying water, electricity, picnic tables, ground grills, and even clothesline posts. For guests that want to spend time on the beach in a relaxing yet active way, Destin is well known for its fishing and Henderson Beach State Park helps the case with miles of scenic coast to fish from.
17000 Emerald Coast Pkwy., Destin FL 32541, Phone: 850-837-7550
20. Crab Island Cruises
© Crab Island Cruises
Crab Island Cruises was founded in 2011 under the principle that guests should be able to rent not only a pontoon boat, but a captain to go along with it. At Crab Island Cruises the motto is simple, guests should be able to choose where they want to go and when, but shouldn’t have to do the driving themselves. Crab Island is known as one of the hottest destinations in Florida, especially during the warmer months when the bay is filled with boats anchored in the shallow waters and hundreds, if not thousands, of people are mingling on the shallow sandbar. Crab Island Cruises is an easy way to experience all that Florida waters have to offer without having to do any of the work.
770 Harbor Blvd., Destin, Fl 32541, Phone: 850-450-3307
21. Mobile Sports Banana Boat Rides
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Mobile Sports Banana Boat Rides puts a huge emphasis on family engagement, and even though their primary attraction is a banana boat ride, the company also offers other water based sports for guests to enjoy. Families and groups can book a ride on the banana boat for up to six people, or if they want something a bit more active they can book time on a fly board: a water propelled hoverboard. There are sunset tour times available, as well as dolphin tours and the options to have a package of high quality photos taken during the excitement.
314 Harbor Blvd., Destin Florida 32541, Phone: 850-687-1626
22. Big Kahuna's Water & Adventure Park
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Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park is considered to be one of the largest water parks on the entire Emerald Coast. There are over 40 different water play areas, rides, slides, and pools for adults, kids, and families to enjoy together. On site lodging makes it super easy to enjoy the fun without a commute, and multiple day passes are available for parties that want the fun to keep on going. What better way to cool off in the hot summer sun than to try out surfing on the Honolulu Half Pipe or take a ride down the Jumanji slide.
1007 US Highway 98 East, Destin, Florida 32541, Phone: 850-837-8319
23. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
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The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is part amusement park and part aquarium, seamlessly blending the best of both worlds in one action packed destination. On the animal encounter side, Gulfarium has much to offer: dolphins, stingrays, gators, penguins, harbor seals, sea lions, and more. While on the amusement park side guests can enjoy live animal shows, snorkeling excursions, and a learning center filled with interactive objects and exhibits. For the most up to date information on events and live shows, contact the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park through their website, telephone, or email.
1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548, Phone: 850-243-9045
24. Destin Helicopter Tours
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Helicopter tours in Destin are organized by Timberview Choppers, INC, a national company who has success giving engaging and well reviewed tours in many cities. Helicopter tours offer a spectacular way to see an area from a fresh perspective, in this case, from up in the sky while a trained tour guide pilot gives information about everything being observed. Aside from offering helicopter tours, guests can sign up for training courses if they want to try their hand at navigating the helicopter. No matter what guests choose, viewing Destin and the Emerald Coast from the sky is sure to make memories that will last a lifetime.
1001 Airport Rd., Destin, FL 32541, Phone: 850-774-0991
25. Ft. Walton Beach Golf Club
© Ft. Walton Beach Golf Club
The City of Fort Walton has two 18 hole Championship Golf Courses available, each with its own respective traits that make it unique. The Pines course presents a challenging circumstance that takes golfers through an upland pine forest, this course covers over 6,800 yards of playing space. The Oaks course, on the other hand, specializes in narrow, oak bordered fairways in conjunction with tricky water hazards. No matter which course is chosen, however, golfers will still have access to the Edwin Watts Golf Shop and the Two Trees Restaurant, both of which operate at the two locations.
1955 Lewis Turner Blvd., Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547, Phone: 850-833-9500