EXPLORE DESTIN, FORT WALTON BEACH, OKALOOSA ISLAND
By Sean Davies
Known for emerald-green waters, white sandy beaches and beautiful blue skies, Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Okaloosa Island make up the Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast, a family-friendly vacation destination where visitors of all ages can soak up the sun and enjoy the fun. Delicious restaurants, interactive exhibits and entertaining events provide visitors with ample opportunities for excitement and entertainment on and off the water.
Adventures abound in the Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast. The deep waters attract a wide variety of marine life which make Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa Island an optimal destination for underwater exploration. Destin Snorkel offers lessons for ages 8 and up and lets guests go shelling, snorkeling and even SNUBA, the perfect combination of snorkeling and scuba diving, allowing less-experienced divers the opportunity to go even deeper into the ocean to experience the marine life up close.
There are also ways to enjoy the ocean on top of the water, thanks to charter services, fishing trips and paddleboard and kayak rentals. The Henderson Beach Resort in Destin has stand-up paddleboarding classes, offering basic lessons and even paddleboarding yoga classes. Lulu’s in Destin also has classes, as well as sunrise and sunset tours. The sunrise excursion is perfect for spotting dolphins; they may even swim up alongside lucky paddlers!
The Emerald Coast is one of the closest destinations to the 100-fathom curve, a steep underwater shelf in the Gulf of Mexico, which gives Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa Island unprecedented access to deep-sea fishing. The Destin Harbor is also home to the largest fishing fleet in the country, meaning it’s never been easier to charter a boat for a day of deep-sea fishing. Skilled anglers can hook amberjack, red snapper and an assortment of other highly prized catches and have them prepared on board or at one of the many restaurants that specialize in cooking fresh-catches.
Of course, there are also educational tours where guests can learn about the diverse ecosystem beneath the waves. In addition to renting out jet-skis and pontoon boats, Boogie’s Watersports has a Glass Bottom Boat Dolphin Cruise, which takes curious travelers aboard a glass
bottom boat for a two-hour narrated cruise where they will explore the bay and harbor and see the vast array of ocean life.
Even on land, the adventure doesn’t stop. Museums like the Emerald Coast Science Center on Fort Walton Beach feature interactive exhibits that encourage the young and young-at-heart to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics in fun and exciting ways.
It’s also home to an assortment of creatures, which guests can get up-close-and-personal with at their interactive Creature Features.
Even more of the area’s wildlife can be viewed at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, which allows guests to snorkel with stingrays, get splashed by dolphins, pet penguins and seals and above all, learn about how to preserve and protect the diverse aquatic life that call the area home.
After all the adventure, visitors may want to take a moment to enjoy one of the many Gulf-to-Table restaurants, where fresh seafood is prepared the same day it’s caught. Shopping is also a draw, as visitors are always invited to take a leisurely stroll along the Okaloosa Island Boardwalk for food, fun and plenty of stores to peruse. There’s no shortage of activities, events and engagements in the Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast, making it the perfect place to explore, engage and even relax along the white sand beaches and tranquil Gulf waters.