Situated on Florida’s Emerald Coast, Fort Walton Beach is known for its pristine snow-white-sand beaches and, yep, emerald-green waters. But listen to the locals for five minutes and you’ll learn that this seaside town has a lot more to offer than just perfect shores (as if you needed anything else).
According to Mayor Mike, as he’s known by his constituents, there’s no better place for a picnic than the Fort Walton Landing . “There’s a boardwalk along the water, picnic tables, a covered gazebo, a fishing pier, and a playground,” Anderson says. The site of many festivals, the Landing is also “within walking distance of a lot of great restaurants -- Thai, fusion, Italian, bistro, and deli,” he says. “Get some takeout, bring a blanket, and lie on the grass.”
Darrel C. Jones
President and CEO of the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau
“Golfers need to try the Fort Walton Beach Golf Club , which has two 18-hole championship courses in excellent condition,” Jones says. “Handicaps run between the upper 80s and mid-90s; you don’t have to be a pro to play it.” Après golf, Jones recommends eating at Floyd’s Shrimp House  on Okaloosa Island: “They have the best shrimp! Plus hush puppies, french fries, and coleslaw.”
Executive director, Coastal Vision 3000
“If you like chicken wings, go to Buffalo’s Reef ,” Ponder says. “They’ve been there for years, in the heart of Fort Walton Beach. They have a multitude of flavors.” Indeed, the menu includes wings in honey barbecue, teriyaki, honey mustard, and hot ‘n’ spicy barbecue -- spiced from mild to super hot. “My mouth is watering just thinking about it,” he says.
General manager, Florida’s Gulfarium
“My family and I like to go to the Eglin Reservation ,” Abrams says. “It’s immense -- several thousand acres. It’s a wonderful place to spend time. Take a two- or four-wheel drive, or ride bikes, and take a picnic. It’s open to the public, though you need to get a permit.” Abrams also recently discovered the restaurant Makong Thai  in the heart of downtown and says, “It’s authentic Thai food.”
“Fort Walton Beach has character,” Hussey says. “It’s the great undiscovered part of the Emerald Coast -- a hybrid of beach and the Old South.” She suggests getting off Highway 98 and “walking downtown.” Also, for less crowded beaches just “five minutes from town,” Hussey recommends checking out the long stretches of sand and surf on Okaloosa Island .
Owner, Magnolia Grill
“Old Florida always had entertainment like putt-putt. Here, we have Goofy Golf,” Rice says. Describing it as “the kind of Florida that was Florida when [he] was a kid,” Rice often recommends Goofy Golf to families who dine in his restaurant, although people of all ages enjoy the course. “There’s a dragon with a big mouth, a snake, and a windmill. It’s great fun and inexpensive,” he says.
Col. Bruce McClintock
96th Air Base Wing commander, Eglin Air Force Base
Col. McClintock encourages visitors to tour the Air Force Armament Museum, saying it’s “an educational experience found nowhere else.” The museum is free and is a popular attraction on the Emerald Coast. “It is currently the only museum in the world dedicated to the development of conventional munitions. You will leave with the knowledge of why Eglin’s armament development is important to our nation’s national security,” he says.
Partner; Carr, Riggs, & Ingram
Riggs enjoys the blackened grouper at Anglers Beachside Grill, a locally owned seafood restaurant. “Anglers is on Okaloosa Island, right by the pier,” he says. “You can see the Gulf of Mexico and fishermen fishing. A lot of locals go there — it’s a fun place. The fish [you get there were] swimming in the gulf the day before.”
Todd Eric Allen
Artistic director and CEO, Northwest Florida Ballet
Between rehearsals and teaching at the ballet, Allen often heads to Big City American Bistro in the downtown district. “It’s American food with a twist. And they have nice wines,” says Allen. “Also, there’s great barbecue at Daddy’s the Place for Ribs. You can’t go wrong. It’s Southern barbecue, along with Thai food.”
If You Go
Air Force Armament Museum
Eglin Air Force Base
100 Museum Drive
Anglers Beachside Grill
1030 Miracle Strip Parkway South
Big City American Bistro
171 Brooks Street Southeast
116 North Eglin Parkway
Daddy’s the Place for Ribs
140 East Miracle Strip Parkway
Mary Esther, Florida
Eglin Air Force Base Natural Resources Division
Jackson Guard Office
107 Highway 85 North
Recreation permit ($10) includes map and regulations.
1010 Miracle Strip Parkway Southeast
Floyd’s Shrimp House
1450 Miracle Strip Parkway Southeast
Fort Walton Beach Golf Club
1955 Lewis Turner Boulevard
(850) 833-9664 (choose option #4)
Fort Walton Landing
139 Brooks Street Southeast
401 Eglin Parkway Northeast
157 Brooks Street Southeast
196 Miracle Strip Parkway Southeast