Visit the Emerald Coast

It’s Better Here …
Visit the Emerald Coast

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The Emerald Coast features 24 miles (38 km) of alluring sugar white sands and sparkling emerald green waters, making visitors proclaim: “IT’S BETTER HERE!” Encompassing the southern sea towns of Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, the Emerald Coast boasts the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches. These infamous beaches reign supreme this year after receiving the coveted ranking of “Best Beach Town” as ranked by Southern Living in the Best of the South Readers’ Choice Awards. Earning the title for 11 consecutive years, the destination has held the number one spot in this category since the Readers’ Choice Awards began in 1995. Every year, vacationers flock to the sparkling shores to enjoy spirited seaside celebrations, links of great championship golf and undeniably fresh seafood.

The easy pace of Destin • Fort Walton Beach • Okaloosa Island revolves like a slow ceiling fan, caressing visitors with a refreshing breeze and warm-hearted hospitality accented with a Southern character. This laid back slice of Florida’s upper Gulf coast is actually closer in distance to dear old Dixie than to its Southern Florida siblings. The Emerald Coast welcomes vacationers to enjoy the relaxing Central time zone while the rest of the state rushes to Eastern Standard deadlines. Likewise, its seasons are pure Deep South – sensational springs, warm summer days and cool winter evenings – for tempting temperatures year-round.

Although the preferred activity in Destin • Fort Walton Beach • Okaloosa Island is “relaxing and doing as little as possible,” visitors also enjoy teeing off on 1,080 challenging holes of famous golf, fishing from Florida’s largest charter boat fleet for the elusive big blue, sailing in the emerald-flecked surf and sun bronzing on white powdered shores.

Natural Wonders & Activities

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Many miracles of nature caress Destin • Fort Walton Beach • Okaloosa Island.  The underwater 100 Fathom Curve draws closer to Destin than to any other spot in Florida – creating the speediest deep-water access on the Gulf. This phenomenon makes the area the “Billfish Capital of the World” with a world record catch of 1,061 lbs. and an area of sensational seafood offering over four times more types of fresh fish per season.

Undoubtedly the most mesmerizing distraction on the Emerald Coast is the combination of sun-bleached, shocking white shores, stretching 24 miles like ribboning white satin, with rich, emerald-jeweled waters. Sprawling shores provide seating for performances by dancing dolphins and sandpipers, as well as postcard-perfect sunrises and sunsets over the Gulf – all compliments of Mother Nature. More than 60 percent of the area’s beaches will be preserved forever in sweeping, virgin purity. (Beware – the reflection of the white sands makes sunglasses and substantial sunscreen a must.)

Peering over a gentle rise of sand dunes and sparsely scattered sea oats, the area protects its “prima donna” pockets of seaside parks with pavilions, gazebos and American Disadvantaged-Accessible (ADA) wooden dune overwalks. The 208-acre (83 ha) Henderson Beach State Park, Wayside County Park, known locally as the “Boardwalk,” Beasley County Park, Marler Memorial County Park, a bay side water park and James Lee County Park, a salt-air bazaar with 300 feet (90 m) of waterfront, are all local parks along the Destin • Fort Walton Beach • Okaloosa Island beaches.

Active adventures begin at the beach. Although the sugary shores are swept bare, an aquarium of treasures from sea horses to cockles, clams and striped cowries are discovered about a mile out. Exceptional snorkeling and diving are possible close inshore – a rarity – due to the underwater 100 Fathom Curve. Reef clusters reveal four-foot basket sponges and purple sea whips while diving partners such as vibrant yellow angelfish, six-foot manta rays and protected 350-pound loggerhead sea turtles participate in discoveries. Pontooning, parasailing, waterskiing, sailing and windsurfing are additional Gulf and Choctawhatchee Bay water escapades.

Other outdoor pursuits are explored within two pristine wilderness preservations. Blackwater River State Forest and Eglin Reservation offer tubing and canoeing down crystal-clear rivers and camping and hiking amid acres of pine, hickory and maple.  Horseback riding also showcases 200 acres of lush landscape. Amusement parks are a popular source of family fun with dune buggy races, bumper boats, water parks and slides and putt-putt golf.

Activities & attractions

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A collection of area attractions celebrate simplicity with fun “flip-flop” museums and amusements from marine to military. Florida’s Gulfarium hosts everything from 600-pound gray seals to two-ounce clown fish in 14 intriguing exhibits. The crowd-pleasing “Dolphin Show” features Bottlenose Dolphins jumping 18 feet above the water’s surface. Patriotic pleasure is found at the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum. Although somewhat riddled with bombs, it is one of only three American museums dedicated to the display of Air Force weaponry. It spans four wars with 25 planes – including the reconnaissance SR-71 “Blackbird” Spy Plane – and 5,000 other items of interest.

The Indian Temple Mound Museum and Park – guarded by the largest ancient (1400 A.D.) mound by saltwater – journeys through 10,000 years of more than 6,000 ceramic artifacts from four prehistoric tribes (America’s most extensive collection). For more whimsical fun, the Emerald Coast Science Center is a child’s science fantasy, filled with interactive experiences and kid’s educational displays enjoyable for any age.

Golf Escapes

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Acclaimed for its sporting collection of great golf escapes, the area touts an incredible 1,080 holes. The courses, created by such world-renowned architects as Finger, Dye and Fazio, utilize surrounding waters – bay, bayou, gulf and sound – and natural contrasts of woods and wetlands for scenic, yet challenging oppositions. To tantalize tennis tastes, 104 courts are dotted throughout the area.

Fishing

From grown men channeling Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” to wide-eyed children reeling in a first fish, the Emerald Coast is the ideal location to exchange favorite fish tales. Known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” the Emerald Coast offers a fish-filled experience complete with deep-sea and inshore fishing excursions, lessons from old salts who know the Gulf waters like the back of their hands and cooking tips from seasoned chefs at authentic seafood joints. Whether a father and son or a group of lifelong friends, male bonding amidst the open ocean encourages the creation of long-lasting tales.

Harboring the largest and most elaborately equipped charter boat fleet in Florida, more billfish are caught each year on the Northern Gulf than all other Gulf ports combined. The game fish are also of the widest variety on the Gulf, from cobia and tarpon to triggerfish and king mackerel. Whether it’s for a fishing first-timer or a seasoned “old salt,” numerous deep sea excursions – offshore, bottom, inshore and others – are available for as little as $35 a half-day. Catches can be cooked up for free at certain “fish-friendly” restaurants. Freshwater fishing throughout the area is plentiful, reeling in catfish, bass and bream.

Dining

Dining diversions spotlight some of the freshest seafood in Florida. It’s a justified claim as there is always a variety of tasty types of fish, from amberjack and red snapper to yellow-fin tuna available straight off the docks. Required “dress code” is flip-flops and beach tops as more than 400 culinary characters – cedar seafood shacks, boardwalk oyster bars, gracious antebellum estates and Gulf-air cafes – shrug off sophistication and showcase local seafood celebrities with pure unbridled zest. True to its Southern heritage, popular specialties include dishes such as Louisiana Cajun crawfish gumbo, beer-battered fried mullet and cornbread hush puppies. 

Accommodations

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Surprisingly, Destin • Fort Walton Beach • Okaloosa Island accommodations provide priceless beach vacations without the price. More than 18,000 Gulf-edged rooms are available including popular hotels, spacious condominiums, a bed and breakfast inn, beach cottages and five-bedroom bungalows. Seaside savings are year-round with exceptional bargains September through February.

Getting Here

The Okaloosa Regional Airport offers continuous service by six major airlines. Ground travel is easy along primary feeders: Highway 98, Highways 331 and 85, and Interstate 10. 

Additional visitor information is available by calling the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. at (800) 322-3319 or (850) 651-7131 or by visiting www.destin-fwb.com or writing:  P.O. Box 609, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549-0609.

Events on the Emerald Coast

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With peg-legged, patch-eyed pirates and kaleidoscope-colored sailing regattas and scrumptious seaside seafood fests, Native American celebrations and awesome angling adventures in the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” more than 400 annual special events guarantee a continuous calendar of fun.  Beach town bashes range from the Billy Bowlegs Festival and Mardi Gras celebration to the month-long October Destin Fishing Rodeo and Emerald Coast Boat Week, including the famous Poker Run.

First Friday Concert Series

Enjoy a free concert at Destin Commons Center Plaza, 6pm – 10pm. Event includes a Back-to-School Fall Fashion Show featuring Destin Commons retailers, food tastings from Destin Commons restaurants, face painting and more. Lawn chairs and blankets welcome, no coolers please. 850.337.8700.

9/11 Memorial Run

Memorial 5K Race in honor of the victims of the 911 events and support for the Okaloosa County Trauma Intervention Program. All proceeds from the race will go to support the TIP program. Race begins at the Fort Walton Beach Landing September 9 at 8 a.m. Call Ken Wolfe, 850.864.5259.

21st Destin Deep Water Shark Tournament

The Destin History and Fishing Museum will host this tournament September 13-17 that the Destin Harbor. Call 850.837.6611 for
information.

Round the Island Race

The traditional 100 mile race around Santa Rosa Island brings sailors from around the country to compete in the event on September 16. Kickoff dinner is Friday night at Fort Walton Beach Yacht Club. Race begins at 7a.m.  on the Choctawhatchee Bay, through Destin’s East Pass, the Gulf of Mexico and back down the Intra-coastal Waterway. Awards will be presented on Sunday. Phyllis Seaton, 850.651.0105.28th Annual Destin Seafood Festival
Enjoy a weekend event on October 6 with more than 100 arts and crafts vendors, a taste of Destin’s finest cuisine, Tadpole Town where kids can play and live entertainment featuring classic rock musician Dave Mason, legendary band Kansas, Louisiana blues artist Tab Benoit, and Nashville singer/songwriter Matt Woods. Held at Morgan Sports Complex in Destin, 850.837.6241.

Festa Italiana

Sponsored by the Sons of Italy at the Emerald Coast Conference Center on Okaloosa Island on October 7 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Enjoy live entertainment and authentic Italian food, arts & crafts, silent auction. Sons of Italy cookbooks available for purchase. Joe Salazar, 850.897.6486.

Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival

Annual festival serves up all types of food, including the celebrated fish. Arts and crafts vendors, kid’s activities, local entertainment and nationally known music headliners round out this event. Held in Niceville, October 20 -23, 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. 850.729.4008.

For more information on other great events on Florida’s Emerald Coast visit www.destin-fwb.com and click on the Event Schedule. 

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