By Gabriele Walkow
Perfectly situated in the center of Northwest Florida’s panhandle on the dazzling Gulf of Mexico, the charming Emerald Coast is a fun family destination home to blissful beaches and abundant activities. Allegiant travelers heading to the Destin/Fort Walton area can go wild at these three world-class attractions!
EMERALD COAST WILDLIFE REFUGE ZOOLOGICAL PARK
Opened in June of 2013, this is one of Northwest Florida’s must-see attractions! Spanning 10 acres, this unique zoo serves as a sanctuary and lifelong home for native wildlife and exotic animals that have been abandoned or abused. Currently it is home to over 130 animals of 35 different species, including tigers, lemurs, monkeys, wolves, birds and some endangered species from six continents. Interesting and informative animal presentations by expert zookeepers are offered daily. Located just outside of Crestview, this tranquil animal park is a short trip from Destin and South Walton area beaches. ecwrzoo.com
GULFARIUM MARINE ADVENTURE PARK
Snorkel with stingrays and sharks, feed penguins and watch otters play at this marine park in Fort Walton Beach on Okaloosa Island overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Featuring dolphin and sea lion shows, the Gulfarium is also home to seals, turtles, alligators, harbor seals and more. Enjoy general admission and create your very own learning experience, sign up for an up-close experience in an animal program or become a VIP trainer and work side-by-side with the staff to learn what it takes to train and care for marine mammals. These unforgettable animal encounters will be a vacation highlight! gulfarium.com
GULF BREEZE ZOO
This lush 30-acre zoo in Gulf Breeze, approximately a 30-minute drive from Fort Walton Beach, is wild family fun at its finest! Watch roaming herds of antelope, deer, zebra and rhino and enjoy a great view of the gorillas on their island habitats from the boardwalk. Hop on the renovated locomotive for a 15-minute narrated train ride and view gorillas and huge Nile hippos. Then, join zookeepers at the interaction station and meet some new furry, scaly or feathery friends. Hands-on encounters let you get up close and personal with some of your favorite animals! Behind-the-scenes tours, feeding a giraffe and the popular farmyard petting zoo add to the memorable moments. gbzoo.com.