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A Family Adventure Awaits in Destin-Fort Walton Beach

On a quest for Caribbean-like water and sand that looks like white sugar,

but don’t want to leave the country? If the answer is yes, and it’s a family vacation you’re after, look no further than the Florida Panhandle, specifically Destin-Fort Walton Beach. Encompassing 24 miles along the Gulf of Mexico, the area is affectionately known as the Emerald Coast, thanks to its green-blue water and pristine beaches. It’s also chock full of eco-friendly activity options tailor made for a memorable
family adventure.


From snorkeling and paddle boarding to dolphin watching and exploring tide pools, families seeking some fun in the outdoors will have countless options available when they visit Destin-Fort Walton Beach. However, while having a lot of activities to choose from certainly isn’t a bad thing, it can also feel overwhelming for busy parents who may find planning a vacation stressful. 


In order to make travel planning easier, the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Visitor Center created a special program called Little Adventures, which provides a variety of activity options based on age, length of activity and price point. And when you begin a live chat on their website, a local mom will weigh in with the best activity ideas based on your kids’ ages and interests (they can even offer restaurant suggestions!). And if planning in advance isn’t your thing, not to worry. There are Little Adventures signs with QR codes around town that offer a chance to plan activities on the fly once you arrive. 


“Destin-Fort Walton Beach’s goal is to provide parents with the tools to find an adventure that is the perfect fit for their family,” said Jennifer Adams, the city’s Tourism Director. 


During a recent stay on the Emerald Coast, my daughters and I were invited to take part in all the city has to offer. We arrived home exhausted — but in the best possible way. A few highlights:



A snorkeling adventure is a must during your stay in Destin-Fort Walton Beach. We ventured out on a pontoon boat with Island Watersports Company and made three stops at a series of remote beaches so we could check out some creatures under the sea. They loved every minute of this excursion, though one highlight happened while we were onboard — a manatee swam underneath our boat and hung around a little bit to say “Hi!”. The connection you’ll feel with nature is absolutely a highlight of this area.


A beginners’ lesson in fishing taught by a local charter fishing guide was another hit. After arriving at Adventures Outpost #1 at Crystal Beach, the kids got all set up to reel in a big one (and much to their relief, every caught fish is safely returned to the ocean). 


The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Pick up free red filtered flashlights during turtle season (March through October) at locations around town and hit the beach to see what creatures you can find hiding in the sand. My kids found several hermit crabs, much to their delight. 



We stayed right on the beach at The Island Resort at Fort Walton Beach, which offers two pools, a snack bar, lawn games, live music and a gorgeous oceanfront view from their recently renovated hotel rooms (their swim-up grotto bar is an added bonus for the over 21 crowd). And if you’re lucky, kids may get a peek at Misty, the resort’s resident mermaid.



Start your day with a delicious piece of avocado toast and an iced coffee at East Pass Coffee Co., or if a sweet treat sounds good, the freshly made confections at Parlor Doughnuts can’t be beat. 


In downtown Fort Walton Beach, fresh acai bowls, Cuban sandwiches and smoothies at family-owned Fresh Culture were a hit with our crew. The welcoming outdoor space, which features four food trucks, is in the parking lot of a converted car wash turned lounge area (two of the car wash stalls are still in operation!). Coffee beans are even ground on-site for one of the food trucks, aptly named Coffee Ave.


And at LuLu’s (owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy) parents can enjoy live music and a fruity beverage while their kids go on an instructional paddle boarding or kayaking adventure with Destin Paddle Company. LuLu’s offers delicious coastal fare for everyone (including those with allergy issues), and afterwards, the kids can try their luck at their Beach Arcade.


Destin-Fort Walton Beach offers an abundance of fun for the whole family — and with a small yet bustling airport and U.S. Route 98, Interstates 85 and 75 in close proximity, it’s easy to find, too. The biggest dilemma you’ll have upon arrival is figuring out how to extend your vacation.

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