Just before you get to Pensacola traveling west in the Florida Panhandle you come to a great little town called Fort Walton Beach. If you're from the nearby states of Alabama, Georgia or Mississippi you may have spent a spring break or two in the area. Fort Walton Beach is famous for its white sand beaches, both commercial and recreational fishing fleets, and anything you can think of to do on the water. As with many Panhandle destinations, the busiest time of the year is no doubt spring break, however the fishing is great year 'round and the beautiful beach resorts are always welcoming, they also have weekly or monthly rentals for bigger groups and longer stays. There are many golf courses, tennis courts, miniature golf courses and beachside parks for families to enjoy.
One such place is the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island, it overlooks a beautiful white sand beach with crystal clear water; they have a covered picnic area right there where you can enjoy the view of the beach while you enjoy your lunch. There are also several great little restaurants there like the Crab Trap that has a great deck where you can get a tropical drink and a delicious fish sandwich and watch all the action on the beach. While you're watching the beach it's not unusual to see a kite surfer or even a dolphin go by.
Kite surfing is a very popular sport on Florida, some say one day soon it'll even be more popular than surfing but I doubt it. Kite surfing is exactly what you're thinking it is. A kite surfing board is a board that you stand on, like a snowboard, but with a huge slingshot like kite attached to it. It takes a few hours to learn but a lifetime to master. An experienced kite boarder can go flying through the water, catch massive air, do a flip or two and then land in the waves and keep going. It's a thrill to watch and I'd love to try it.
The boardwalk is centrally located, close to many hotels and resorts on the island, which means it's within walking distance in many cases. The beach itself is a great place to lay around soaking up the sun, build a sandcastle or play volleyball; they even provide the nets for you. Something I really liked was the fact that after you've gotten all hot, sweaty and hungry playing volleyball, they have showers there so you can clean up a little bit and get the sand off before you head up to the boardwalk for some lunch or shopping.
Okaloosa Island also has a great fishing pier, which is another popular pastime in Fort Walton Beach, as it is all over Florida. It's a huge pier, when it was first built in 1972 it was 962 ft long; then in 1998, it was lengthened to nearly a 1/4 mile at 1262 feet. The Okaloosa Island Pier is all about catching the 'big' one, and some huge fish have been caught off the pier, a Tarpon that weighed over 100 pounds and a 42 pound King Mackerel are just two on record, you can also catch Cobia, Redfish, Pompano, Ladyfish and Bluefish. The end of the pier is shaped like an octagon which allows for the maximum fish fighting room. There is a bait and tackle shop on the pier and they even make their own rigs for kids that have no hooks in them, safety first. If you get hungry while trying to land the big one you can buy snacks, sodas and other beverages, and if you don't have a rod of your own, you can rent one there. When you're ready for a little nibble yourself and you want something a little more substantial you too can get a bite at Anglers, which is conveniently at the beach end of the pier. I also found out that they do beach weddings at the Angler which I thought was very romantic. They serve a lot of fresh seafood, as you'd imagine, but have a few steak and chicken dishes too.
Fort Walton Beach has been around for years and is rich with history, I was surprised to learn that they've found archaeological evidence, like pottery, of Indians living here between 600-1650 A.D..Then from around 1500-1800 came the pirates, the most infamous being Billy Bowlegs. If you don't recognize that name here's one I'll bet you'll know, especially if you're a football fan, Danny Wuerffel. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1996 when he was the quarterback of the University of Florida Gators; he attended Fort Walton Beach High School, they're real proud of that.
Fort Walton Beach is a great little panhandle town that is a wonderful place to spend a few days no matter what time of year you choose to come so we'll see you soon.
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