Sunset on Fort Walton Beach

There’s never a bad sunset in Fort Walton Beach. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Visit the White-Sand Shores of Fort Walton Beach, Florida

The Florida Panhandle area that’s now Fort Walton traces its roots back 12,000 years to when it was home to the Indigenous Lakota, Sioux, Cherokee and Iroquois people. Later, the city served as a fort during the Seminole Wars and Civil War, and today, it’s an upscale beach community famed for its emerald green waters and crushed quartz sand.

The 24-mile stretch of coastline offers plenty of space to play in the waves, while fascinating museums and cultural centers provide a wonderful respite from the Florida sun.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Visit the Cultural Sites of Fort Walton Beach

Begin your trip to Fort Walton Beach by trying some of the best breakfast treats in town at Parlor Doughnuts. Enjoy seasonal flavors such as Key lime, honey lavender, strawberry shortcake and cranberry walnut cheesecake with a cup of specialty drip coffee or an iced matcha latte.

Then take a leisurely stroll to the nearby Heritage Park & Cultural Center. The site often hosts interactive programming, from film screenings to lectures on the destination’s history.

The Indian Temple Mound Museum sheds light on the area’s Indigenous roots and Native American history, which extends back nearly 12,000 years.

Browse through more than 1,000 artifacts once used by the Sioux, Cherokee and Iroquois people, from shells and bone to clay and stone. The mound itself is a protected archaeological site and National Historic Landmark. It served as the foundation of the temple and the home of the chief — and leaders were buried in layers atop the mound when they passed.

You can also see how the first homesteaders in the area educated their youth at the historic two-room Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum and how mail once traveled in the early 1900s at the Garnier Post Office Museum.

For lunch try the Tijuana wings and fish tacos at Tijuana Flats, which is known for its extensive hot sauce bar and colorful decor. Then it’s a five-minute drive to an old-fashioned slice of Americana, Goofy Golf. The attraction has a fun course filled with giant dinosaurs, kangaroos and more.

Charcuterie board with bread meat and cheese
Wind down the day with tapas. (Photo: Marriott International)

Next, venture back to the waterfront for dinner. Opt for a meal at the convivial Taste Tapas & Wine Bar. Over a bottle of wine, enjoy a Mediterranean-style charcuterie board with marinated Greek olives, feta cheese, pita and hummus, and more decadent dishes like sweet potato truffle fries and goat cheese empanadas.

When you’re ready for a change of scenery, stroll over to the Landing, the city’s downtown park. Enjoy live music and views of the Santa Rosa Sound beneath a canopy of mossy oak trees.

Saturday: Get on the Water

Begin your morning at the Maas Coffee Roasters in downtown Fort Walton Beach. Browse the café’s chalkboard menu, which features everything from a creamy espresso float to a golden milk latte, as well as bagels and pastries.

Once you’re properly fueled, stroll across the boardwalk to Okaloosa Island, technically part of Fort Walton Beach. Here you’ll find many public beach access points with glassy waters that make for great stand-up paddleboarding conditions.

Three dolphins in the ocean
Just a few friendly locals. (Photo: Getty Images)

Rent gear from one of the local shops and paddle out in search of pelicans, bottlenose dolphins and a variety of shorebirds. After your arms get tired, grab some lunch at Rockin’ Tacos, known for their (you guessed it) tacos with ocean views.

Then visit the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park to watch a trained dolphin show. Want a closer look? Choose from various immersive, hands-on experiences, including a stingray snorkel, a penguin feeding, a sea lion training and a play session with the resident cetaceans.

Head back to town to enjoy an afternoon at the Landing’s weekly farmers market, where you can shop specialty items sold by regional food vendors and artists. If you’re renting a home, this is an especially nice stop, as the market offers locally sourced staples like organic eggs, honey and baked goods.

In the evening, stroll the walkway lining Santa Rosa Sound before tucking into a dinner at the Sound Café, which offers around-the-clock breakfast and savory paninis. Check the venue’s schedule, as it often hosts live music and open-mic nights for an after-dinner treat.

Sunday: Explore Family-Friendly Science or Military History

Three colorful açaí bowls
Start the day with a hearty meal. (Photo: Marriott International)

Ease into your last morning by visiting Fresh Culture, which serves as a food truck round-up. Founded with a mission to offer healthy fare to the Fort Walton Beach community, this is where you can enjoy açai bowls and mango smoothies at Sunset Bowls; cold-pressed juice and homemade crepes at Juice Box; and iced strawberry matcha and nitro cold brew at Coffee Ave.

Next up is the Emerald Coast Science Center. The facility offers interactive indoor-outdoor workshops geared toward children. Be sure to try the marine exhibit, where children can discover how a ship’s radio system allows communication with the mainland and how vessels stay afloat in the water. There’s also robotics and dinosaur exhibits, as well as a sea turtle sanctuary.

If military history is more up your alley, visit the Air Force Armament Museum. Located on Eglin Air Force Base, visitors can explore a variety of rockets, missiles, bombs and aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built (it can reach speeds of nearly 2,500 miles per hour).

Then it’s time to fuel up on a barbecue lunch at the rustic Parson’s Son BBQ. Pick up a pulled-pork sandwich with a choice of sauce to go and drive five minutes to Garniers Beach Park for one last afternoon along the shore. Have your picnic at one of the tables along the 240-foot-long swimming beach.

In the evening, head back to town for dinner at the family-owned waterfront restaurant the Shack. Enjoy fried green tomatoes and smoked-tuna dip before diving in to one of the eatery’s seafood platters, featuring some combination of crab, shrimp, mussels and smoked sausage.

After sunset, enjoy a friendly game of shuffleboard at the sports bar the Salty Duck or take your turn throwing an ax at the Ratchet Hatchet Axe Throwing Range.