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Fort Walton Beach

Community Guide: Fort Walton Beach

Known for white sandy beaches, warm Gulf waters, and outdoor recreation year-round, Fort Walton Beach is a family-friendly community packed with fun activities. Boasting excellent restaurants and exciting attractions, the “Treasure of the Emerald Coast” is big on adventure, with plenty of small-town charm. For visitors and residents alike, life is spent in, on, or near the water, whether it be the Choctawhatchee Bay, the Santa Rosa Sound, the Gulf of Mexico, or the many bayous scattered throughout this historic area. 

We’re happy to welcome you to our beautiful community, whether you’re just passing through, settling down permanently, or purchasing a second home to enjoy the Emerald Coast seasonally. Our community guide is a great resource for more information on how to spend your time in Fort Walton Beach.

Where is Fort Walton Beach?

Located between Pensacola and Panama City in the Florida panhandle, Fort Walton Beach’s closest neighbors are Navarre, 20 miles to the east, and Destin, eight miles to the west. Less than two hours from Dothan, four hours from New Orleans, and five hours from Jacksonville, Fort Walton Beach sees visitors returning annually to enjoy our stunning white beaches.

The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport is 20 minutes away and serviced by several carriers, including Southwest, American, United, and Delta. Other nearby airports include the Pensacola International Airport, about an hour away, and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, in Panama City, which will have you on our sandy shores in about an hour and a half. 

Where to Stay

If you want to be near everything, there’s no place better than Okaloosa Island, a three-mile barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay. Much less crowded than other areas along the Coast, Okaloosa Island is a popular area for all things fun. “The island” is packed with family-friendly activities, and visitors can find a wide selection of Destin vacation homes and condos just up the road. If you’re interested in making your stay permanent, purchasing a second home, or buying investment properties, talk with one of our agents today about our wide selection of Fort Walton Beach homes and condos. You’re bound to find something that appeals to you, many with additional amenities, including community and private pools, boat slips, and waterfront views.

Adventures Outside 

Fort Walton Beach is an outdoor community boasting gorgeous weather all year. Launch a kayak and explore the many waterways, bike along Santa Rosa Island, or snorkel in the Gulf of Mexico, and that’s just the beginning. You’ll find a host of other activities, whether hanging out at the Boardwalk, fishing at the pier, enjoying the beach at John Beasley Park, or listening to live music at the Fort Walton Beach Landing. You can do everything from golfing and fishing to paddleboarding and parasailing in our lovely community! 

Excellent Restaurants

Fort Walton Beach boasts a wide selection of seafood, but you’ll find an array of cuisine sure to please everyone in your crew. Many fabulous restaurants are located on Okaloosa Island, easily accessible and a short walk from the island’s many beautiful homes and condos. For an even more authentic experience, travel into the heart of the city and dine where the locals do. 

  • Old Bay Steamer – serving up raw, baked, and steamed oysters for starters with seafood platters, steaks, and ribs, rounding out a diverse menu.
  • Al’s Beach Club Burger Bar – tasty burgers for you, shakes for the kids, and live entertainment for all at this ocean-front hangout featuring craft beer and live music.
  • Stewby’s – start with the gumbo, then pick from an assortment of fresh shrimp, oysters, and fish and have it all steamed, fried, or grilled, along with some refreshing sweet tea.
  • Clemenza’s – featuring authentic Italian favorites, including wood-fired pizza, calzones, and delicious pasta served alongside an impressive wine menu.
  • Rockin Tacos – for Mexican fusion cuisine featuring tacos, tequila, and tortillas with handcrafted margaritas and excellent Gulf-front views. 
  • The Gulf – showcasing locally sourced, seasonal menus, live music, and outdoor seating, it’s a fun place for a cold beer, grouper sandwich, and a magnificent sunset. 
  • The Magnolia Grill – a historic restaurant brimming with Southern charm and boasting a diverse menu of seafood, steaks, and Italian dishes. 
  • Rick’s on the Island – a fun outdoor restaurant overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay serving up seafood, burgers, po’boys, and an extensive pizza menu sure to delight.
  • Bay Cafe – nestled under Brooks bridge and overlooking the Santa Rosa Sound, this local favorite features French cuisine, including steaks, duck, sweetbreads, and veal.

Downtown Fort Walton Beach

Just over the Brooks Bridge and minutes from Okaloosa Island lies historic downtown Fort Walton Beach. Popular with all who come to our charming town, “the strip” is a walkable mix of restaurants, bars, and locally owned shops. The Landing, a beautiful park overlooking the Santa Rosa Sound, hosts an array of events, including movies in the park, concerts, holiday fireworks, and a seasonal farmer’s market that the whole family will enjoy.

Family-Friendly Attractions

One of the great things about Fort Walton Beach is that everything is close and within minutes of Okaloosa Island. Take the kids to Wild Willie’s Village Adventure Zone for an afternoon they won’t soon forget. A ropes course, bumper boats, and laser tag are only part of the fun. Challenge each other on go-karts, then catch a 4D movie before getting in a round of miniature golf.

The Gulfarium Marine and Adventure Park offer dolphin, penguin, and sea lion shows dedicated to educating visitors about marine life. Book an animal encounter and interact with stingrays and harbor seals or take a deep dive and learn more about turtles and penguins. Enjoy a day on the water on a dolphin or snorkel cruise on the Cattywampus Catamaran, or take in a quick game and a sweet treat at Okaloosa National Mini Golf and Ice Cream.

Whether learning about aviation history at the Air Force Armament Museum or examining artifacts from Fort Walton Beach’s earliest settlers at the Indian Temple Mound Museum, every day is an opportunity for discovery in our beautiful community.

Annual Events

Fort Walton Beach celebrates its outdoor lifestyle with a host of events each season, and new happenings crop up yearly. Each spring, the community comes alive with warmer temperatures, a flurry of activity, and the Kite Festival, featuring giant stunt kites flying over the beach at the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island. The Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival honors a local legend in this long-standing tradition filled with lots of family fun. This five-day festival kicks off in May with a treasure hunt, downtown pub crawl, battle reenactment, and pirate parade. Aside from the pirate-themed activities, enjoy concerts in the park, fireworks, live music, and more! 

The Emerald Coast Poker Run is one of the largest charity poker runs in the United States. Each August, participants travel by boat from Sandestin to Pensacola Beach, collecting cards at each stop. The boat with the best hand at the end wins, and a Captain’s party, live music, and a silent auction round out this fun two-day event. We can’t think of a better way to bring in the New Year than with the Pelican Plunge. Join in the fun and take a refreshing, albeit chilly, dip in the Gulf of Mexico at the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island each January 1st. 

Seasonal Temperatures

Summer is the most popular month in Fort Walton Beach, with daytime temperatures averaging in the mid-80s. Spring and fall generally see mild and pleasant conditions, with averages ranging from the low 50s at night to the mid-70s each day. Although winter is usually cooler, it rarely dips below 40 degrees, making outdoor activities pleasant year-round.

Helpful Information for New Residents

We look forward to sharing our vibrant community with you and hope you enjoy your time here. If you’re considering purchasing a Fort Walton Beach home or condo, either for personal use or as a seasonal rental, here are a few resources that might be helpful.

City of Fort Walton Beach

Recreation and Culture

Chamber of Commerce

City Parks

Places of Worship

Scenic Stays Community Guides

Which Northwest Florida beach community is right for you? Browse our real estate community guides to learn more about these unique coastal markets.