Okaloosa Island, easily accessed from both Fort Walton Beach and Destin via the Miracle Strip Parkway (Highway 98/30), is one of the Emerald Coast’s preeminent playgrounds, host to fine seaside recreation and some of the area’s top family attractions.
Despite its name, Okaloosa Island is actually just a roughly three-mile section of the much larger barrier island of Santa Rosa, which runs from East Pass—the connection between Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico at Destin—westward to Fort Pickens at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. The Okaloosa area makes up the east end of Santa Rosa Island, essentially “between” Destin and Fort Walton Beach.
Though it’s but a small piece of Santa Rosa Island proper, Okaloosa Island comes absolutely jampacked with things to do and things to see. First of all, there’s some of the Emerald Coast’s incomparable beachfront here, including at John Beasley Park, which offers picnic tables and pavilions alongside the beach access. Swimming, sunbathing, shelling, kite-flying, and watersports are all obvious choices for an Okaloosa Island visit, not to mention boat rentals or fishing charters to explore farther offshore.
Speaking of fishing, you don’t need a boat to enjoy some world-class angling opportunities: The 1,262-foot-long Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier provides the chance to reel in such beauties as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, redfish, bonito, pompano, bluefish, jack crevalle, cobia—even tarpon, sailfish, and tuna.
Even if you’re not of the fishing persuasion, the pier’s worth the small price of admission to stroll: You might well see a great blue heron or two, even a sea turtle or gang of dolphins.
On the subject of sealife, you’re guaranteed some awesome sightings over at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, established way back in 1955 and still one of Okaloosa Island’s best-loved destinations. Its waterpark shows and animal encounters feature an assortment of amazing marine (and freshwater) critters, including bottlenose dolphins, sharks, alligators, penguins, sea turtles, sea lions, and seals.
Another must-visit for families is Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone, where you can wile away the day in the arcade, the laser-tag arena, and the 4D movie theater, or out on the go-kart track, the mini-golf course, or up in the canopy experiencing the Tree Top Challenge.
Then there’s the Okaloosa Island Boardwalk, another of the area’s premier attractions. From beach shops to restaurants, this is a heck of a place to spend a few hours.
Over on the bay side of the island, check out Ross Marler Park, which includes boat ramps, pavilions, a playground, a roped-off swimming zone, and a walking trail.
In short, whether you’re looking to get out on the water, kick back on the beach, or relish a seafood feast or happy-hour beverage, Okaloosa Island beckons with a strong pull just a stone’s throw from Destin or Fort Walton Beach!
Don’t restrict your explorations of Santa Rosa Island to Okaloosa: Westward, past the barrier island’s Eglin Air Force Base acreage, lies Navarre Beach and the Gulf Islands National Seashore, culminating in the historic site and recreational hotspot of Fort Pickens. Why not make a day trip of it on a Destin or Fort Walton Beach getaway?