13 Things to Do in Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach's panhandle charm offers outdoor and indoor fun for everyone.
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Written by Lee Huffman
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Florida is a popular destination for beaches, theme parks, rocket launches and more. However, one of the more underrated destinations in this state is Fort Walton Beach. Let’s take a look at how to get there, the best things to do in Fort Walton Beach and where to stay once you arrive.

The best things to do in Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach offers many things to do for every type of traveler. Whether you’re visiting as a family, with friends or on a couple’s getaway, you’ll find plenty of attractions, cultural experiences and outdoor adventures to fit your budget.

1. Paddleboard along the coast

Fort Walton Beach offers calm, clear waters in its bays, which is perfect for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). This activity is one the best things to do in Fort Walton Beach whether you're an expert or a beginner.

Some of the locals’ favorite spots include Norriego Point, Okaloosa Island Beach and Gulf Islands National Seashore. If you don't have your own equipment, local businesses rent boards to visitors wanting to enjoy the sun and water.

2. Visit the Air Force Armament Museum

For the AV geek or military buff in your family, the Air Force Armament Museum is a must. This military museum features over 29 different aircraft ranging in age from the War II-era to present day. Inside, you'll also find exhibits featuring hundreds of pieces of armament, including bombs and missiles.

It's a good option for budget-conscious travelers because admission is free. It's open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., including most federal holidays.

3. Learn local history at Fort Walton Beach Heritage Park and Cultural Center

The Fort Walton Beach Heritage Park and Cultural Center is the place to be for visitors wanting to learn about local history. This museum showcases the area’s history from 12,000 B.C. through the 1950s.

The park includes numerous attractions, such as Indian Temple Mound Museum, Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, Garnier Post Office Museum, Fort Walton Temple Mound and the Civil War Exhibit Building.

Purchase your admission inside the Indian Temple Mound Museum for $5 per person. One ticket includes admission to all of the attractions listed above. The museums open at 10 a.m. and close by 3 p.m. (or earlier). It is closed on Sundays, Mondays and all major holidays.

4. Step into the Norriego Point tide pools

The Norriego Point tide pools offer a shallow water experience for visitors of all ages. The tide pools are cordoned off from open waters to provide a safe space for small children and inexperienced swimmers.

In the tide pools, you'll discover numerous types of fish, hermit crabs and more. Learn about the local sea life up close. These also offer a unique vantage point to watch the boats coming into the harbor.

There is no cost to visit the Norriego Point tide pools. However, parking is limited, so consider parking at nearby O'steen Beach or on the local streets.

5. Feed an alligator at Gator Beach

Another activity at Fort Walton Beach is seeing the alligators at Gator Beach. There is no admission fee, and its considered the largest alligator park on the Emerald Coast.

This attraction features hundreds of alligators; for a small fee, visitors can feed the gators. If you’re brave enough, you can even take a picture while holding a live alligator. There are also multiple shows and tours throughout the day to learn about this local species.

6. Experiment at the Emerald Coast Science Center

The Emerald Coast Science Center in Fort Walton Beach is one of many attractions for families with young children.

This interactive, hands-on museum features numerous exhibits for guests, including dinosaur fossils, robotics, chemistry demonstrations and a handful of outdoor exhibits. Plus, there are additional areas with live birds, mammals and reptiles to round out your science adventure.

The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $12 per person, and children two and under are free.

7. Camp at Henderson Beach State Park

While many travelers prefer a nice hotel, others are looking for a more rustic experience. Camping at Henderson Beach State Park allows visitors to immerse themselves in the outdoors and enjoy 30-foot sand dunes and warm Gulf Coast waters.

The state park offers 60 campsites, fishing opportunities and a nature trail. It’s adjacent to the beach, and campers can access the water using the boardwalk.

Visitors can make reservations up to 10 months in advance (11 months for Florida residents). Campsite prices range from $16 to $42 per night and cabins are $30 to $160 a night. Florida State Parks also charges a nonrefundable fee of $6.70 per reservation. You can book your stay online or over the phone at 800-326-3521.

8. Become a mermaid at Reefs & Wrecks Remembered

If you or your child has ever dreamed of becoming a mermaid, this dream can become reality at Reefs and Wrecks. This PADI-certified company offers three different types of mermaid experiences for different levels of swimmers.

The entry level course is the Discover Mermaid experience in a shallow pool. For experienced divers, the Advanced Mermaid course includes two sessions in open water where you can test out your mermaid skills. Prices start at $145 and go up to $450, depending on the course selected.

9. Go fishing at The Island Pier

Throw out a line or just enjoy the views from The Island Pier. This pier stretches 1,262 into the Gulf of Mexico, so it offers unparalleled views of the beach and water.

Local marine life includes dolphins, sea turtles, herons and pelicans. Visitors can purchase a daily fishing license, buy lures and tackle or rent equipment from shops on the pier.

If you're unable to catch anything, don't worry about going hungry. The pier's shop serves sandwiches, ice cream, snacks and drinks.

10. Stroll the Okaloosa Island Boardwalk

Along the Okaloosa Island Boardwalk, you'll find a variety of dining options, gift shops and activities. There are numerous restaurants to choose from based on your budget and appetite.

Plus, visitors can enjoy the children’s playground, splash pad and sand volleyball courts. During the summer, stick around after dark for the fireworks show on Wednesday evenings.

11. Shop local at the Downtown Fort Walton Beach Farmers Market

Support local farmers, artisans and crafters by shopping at the Downtown Fort Walton Beach Farmers Market. The market is open year-round on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. It operates from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., so arrive early for the best selection.

The Okaloosa Farmers Market is another option where you can buy local goods. It operates on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

12. Go snorkeling at Stingray Bay

The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is a unique experience for travelers. The park offers numerous animal encounters, including dolphins, harbor seals, penguins and stingrays.

Ticket prices are $30 or less, depending on your age. Florida residents receive a discount.

One of the experiences available is to snorkel in Stingray Bay. For an additional $59, you'll get 30 minutes to snorkel and interact with cownose rays, small sharks, groupers and numerous fish species.

13. Experience the fun at Crab Island

One of the top things to do in Fort Walton Beach is Crab Island, which takes advantage of the shallow waters and raised sandbars along the Gulf Coast.

In most places, the water is only one to four feet deep, so it's safe even if you don't know how to swim. Visitors will find obstacle courses, floating bars and more for fun in the sun.

Only accessible by boat, many people rent one or bring their own to visit Crab Island. Some arrive on pontoon boats so they have a place to rest and relax during the day. There are also tour and water taxi options.

While there is food available from floating food vendors and restaurants, you cannot purchase alcohol on Crab Island. You'll have to bring your own if you want to enjoy an adult beverage.

Where is Fort Walton Beach, Florida?

Fort Walton Beach is located on the Florida panhandle, across the Choctawhatchee Bay from Destin. The city is about two hours east of Mobile, Alabama, and about an hour west of Panama City Beach, Florida.

How to get to Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Fort Walton Beach is a popular road trip destination for travelers in the South. However, the local Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport is also an option for those who wish to fly. The airport is serviced by Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.

There are numerous nonstop flights from airports across the country, including Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Washington-National.

Where to stay in Fort Walton Beach

Travelers have a variety of lodging options when booking their vacation to Fort Walton Beach. Here are a few from several major hotel chains, along with how many points are needed to book a room there in 2024.

  • Tru by Hilton Fort Walton Beach: Redemptions from 22,000 to 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

  • Holiday Inn Express Fort Walton Beach Central: Redemptions from 14,000 to 43,000 IHG One Rewards points per night.

  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Fort Walton Beach-West Destin: Redemptions from 32,000 to 48,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

You can earn a large sum of points quickly by getting the sign-up bonus for new hotel and travel credit cards. Generally speaking, to earn a bonus, you need to spend a certain amount within a specific time frame after signing up for the card.

Top hotel credit cards
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card
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on Chase's website

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card
IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee




Sign-up bonus

Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card!

Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points plus a Free Night Reward after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card in the first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Ends 7/31/2024. Terms apply.

Earn 5 Free Nights, valued up to 300,000 Points, after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

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Once you reach that threshold, you’ll earn a bulk sum of points or miles that can be used toward award redemptions.

Other accommodations in Fort Walton Beach can be booked through Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo using OneKey Rewards.

Things to do in Fort Walton Beach recapped

Beach vacationers should consider visiting Fort Walton Beach in the Florida panhandle. There are many fun things to do for adults and kids alike. Learn about the city’s history, make new friends with local wildlife, go fishing and enjoy a variety of water activities.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

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