Emerald Coast Fun: Your Complete Family Vacation Guide


Just a few weeks ago, I was hosted on a trip to Florida’s Emerald Coast to check out the activities, food, beaches, some lodging and more. It was a quick weekend trip that was packed full of good food and good fun.

Emerald Coast Fun | Your Complete Family Vacation Guide

Fun Vacation Activities to do at Florida’s Emerald Coast

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

We started our morning at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park 
with a tour through the facility. From the front, it doesn’t seem all that big, but once inside, you see jus how large it is. It spans very deep and is actually on the Gulf!

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is dedicated to educating, entertaining, and inspiring our guests to respect and preserve wildlife by providing unique and memorable experiences for visitors of all ages to connect with marine life.

gulfarium fort walton beach florida emerald coast

They have dolphin shows (both of whom happened to be pregnant at the time). They had more mild shows because of this, but they were very educational. Did you know that a dolphin comes out tail first when it’s born and it’s fin is all floppy and hardens as the dolphin is born? This was very surprising to me. Oh, and they have belly buttons, too!

gulfarium fort walton beach florida emerald coast

In addition to shows, there are exhibits where you can see other gulf/sea animals that are in need of rehabilitation or can’t be released back into the wild. I’m still convinced this little guy was trying to eat me.

gulfarium fort walton beach florida emerald coast

From the observation deck, even on a cloudy day, you can see just how white the sand is and how green the water appears to be.

gulfarium fort walton beach florida emerald coast

One of favorites is “Floater” a sea turtle that was injured with by a boat. When her shell grew back, a bubble formed and she is unable to submerge. Because of her inability to get away from predators as well as boats, she now calls the Gulfarium her permanent home.

The sea lions put on quite the amusing show as well with dancing and handstands. And they finished off the show with a great skill they had been practicing for many months.

gulfarium fort walton beach florida emerald coast

There are a ton of animals and sea life to be seen at the Gulfarium making it a great stop for adults and kids alike.

Paddle Boarding

 took us on a Paddle Board or Bote board trip in the harbor. It was great talking with the owner and founder of the Paddleboard company as well as paddling around the harbor and getting some exercise. I was able to put some of my old water skiing skills to use, but they definitely aren’t necessary.

paddle boarding fort walton beach florida emerald coast

You can sit, kneel or stand on the board while paddling to find your comfort zone. And, believe it or not, we all managed to stay on our boards and nobody fell in the water. We went on a 2 mile trip and it took us about 1 hour to complete. It was nice to be out on the calm water, getting exercise and getting familiar with the harbor area. There are a ton of good restaurants all within a very short distance of each other.

While Bote doesn’t do paddle boarding trips for the public, many of the rental companies use Bote boards for their rentals at the Emerald Coast and even in many surrounding areas. And, yes, they have life jackets if you want to wear them, bring them and/or use them.


After the workout we got paddle boarding, it was time to head to the spa for a massage. The Spa Emerald Grande Spa was a great place to relax, get a massage or facial or other skin treatment or even a manicure and pedicure. When it was over, they had spacious showers and a sauna to fully relax and get cleaned up to head out to a nice dinner. Of course, they also had nice squishy robes and smoothies to enjoy while patiently waiting for our turns.


Dolphin Cruise

Before the day was over, we had one more outing planned; a sunset cruise with Southern Star Dolphin Cruise. The weather was a little wet and overcast, but our voyage still went on. We found the playful dolphins in the choppy water where the harbor met the bay and the gulf.

Dophin Sunset Cruise

photo via: momspotted

Apparently, dolphins like to play in the rough waters, but it’s not so nice on the boat and the people on the boat. We were able to see plenty of dolphins while riding around in the water. However, for somebody that gets motion sickness, I’d recommend taking something first to combat it. I guess I’m more a fan of watching the dolphins at the Gulfarium, however, there were plenty of people that were having a great time on the boat. I imagine on a sunny day the sunset would be spectacular, too.

Once you’ve had fun and worked up an appetite, check out these great places to eat at the Emerald Coast.

Delicious dining at Florida’s Emerald Coast

Of course, there was fresh fish to be found at every corner at the Emerald Coast, but we tried some great places!

Crap Trap

We started Friday night at the Crap Trap at the Boardwalk. This is in the middle of a great complex of restaurants and stores so it’s definitely a prime location. In addition to indoor seating they have a huge patio overlooking the beach that can accommodate large and small parties. They also have a play scape for kids to climb around if you have to wait for your table or food. It was pretty dark so I wasn’t able to get a picture, but the food was delicious, fresh and served very quickly. They were also very accommodating to my gluten and dairy intolerances!

Asiago’s Skillet

Saturday was a long day, so we had to start with a hearty breakfast. I feel like we went off the beaten path when we went to Asiagos Skillet. From the front, it’s not a very big place, but you walk in and there are a ton of tables. The menu is huge and it took us all a long time to figure out what we wanted to eat (word is they have a great bloody mary bar, too, but we didn’t try that out).

asiago skillet

Of course, they have skillets and traditional breakfast items, but they also incorporate seafood in many of them and there is their fan favorite banana’s foster french toast (which looked amazing!) I decided on a steak and potato breakfast that was amazing. The steak was so tender. None of us left disappointed. Of note, we were there at or a little before 8am and it wasn’t too crowded. When we left about it hour later, it was starting to get packed. So, inquire about reservations or get there early! It’s delicious! They were also very accommodating of food concerns!

asiago skillet


Lunch was at Jackacudas.


They also have a large patio overlooking the harbor. If you are lucky, you can actually see fishermen and women bring in their catches!


Confession time. I hadn’t tried raw tuna until this trip. But I was being adventurous. And as soon as I tried the Tuna Poke, I wondered why I had been so scared. It was amazing.


They also have other amazing appetizers and the freshest of fresh food. Of course there is a special of the day and fresh catch which I was able to sample and were amazing. At the front of the restaurant, they also prepare fresh sushi to order.

My lunch was amazing, fresh and so flavorful. Once again they were very patient and helpful with my gluten and dairy-free requests.



After our sunset dolphin cruise, we headed to Brotoula’s for dinner. Their main feature is freshly steamed seafood. They also feature local food caught by locals. Some of the fish even come with a tag with a QR code that allows you to see exactly who and where your fish was caught! Even more amazing, they have a dedicated gluten-free fryer, so I was able to have fried shrimp! I haven’t had anything fried in ages! And, it was so good, I forgot to take a picture! But, highly recommended!

I’m fairly certain there are a ton of other good places to grab a great meal on the Emerald Coast. So, let me know! Have you tried any of these before? Have one to suggest should I make it down there again?

Affordable Beach Access Hotel with Water View at Florida’s Emerald Coast

When we take a vacation or a trip, I think the location and the hotel you stay in play a huge role. You want to be close to the destinations you have planned as well as having a comfortable place to stay and a free breakfast with all of our mouths to feed definitely helps. (An added bonus for me is free wifi).

Fairfield Inn and Suites Ft. Walton Beach

The Fairfield Inn and Suites in Ft. Walton Beach had all of that and more. It has a great lobby with an area with complimentary breakfast featuring eggs, sausage, oatmeal, yogurt, fresh fruit and more.

Fairfield Inn and Suites Ft. Walton Beach

With a modern flair and decor and a lot of space, the lobby also features a mini store should you forget something or want to grab a snack.

Fairfield Inn and Suites Ft. Walton Beach

The rooms have plenty of space and very comfortable beds and pillows. I slept so well here, but it could have helped that I was actually on the beach. At night, when the AC turned off, I could hear the crash of the waves on the beach. I do wish there was a balcony with a sliding door or window that I could open so I could better hear the beach.

Fairfield Inn and Suites Ft. Walton Beach

And check out my waterfront view. This is one of four rooms on the end of the building with a perfect and unobstructed view of the beach and water. So, when requesting a room, I would definitely request a clear waterfront view on the end of the building. But, all rooms at the hotel have walk up beach access (you can see the path pictured below just past the heated pool.)

Fairfield Inn and Suites Ft. Walton Beach

So, of course as soon as I dropped everything off in my room, I had to head down to check out the Emerald Coast’s finest water. It was so clear and bright even on an overcast day.

Fairfield Inn and Suites Ft. Walton Beach

The location is prime, too. You can experience Florida and the beauty of Fort Walton Beach and the Emerald Coast from the hotel’s comfortable beachfront location. We were just off the main road and only a few minutes from so many delicious restaurants and gulf to table food choices as well as entertainment for adults or the whole family.

Fairfield Inn and Suites in Ft. Walton Beach 540 Santa Rosa Blvd, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548 Phone: (850) 244-5555


Have to been to Florida’s Emerald Coast? What was your favorite activity?

This article was made possible by the Okaloosa County CVB and the Emerald Coast (Destin and Ft Walton). Thank you to the businesses that allowed us to get to know know the Emerald Coast better. The trip was complimentary as part of press and all opinions above are mine alone.

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  1. Lindsay @ Let Me Give You Some Advice says:

    I love hearing about more things to do in this area! We just discovered the 30A area of the Emerald Coast last fall and are already making plans to go back. Some of the best beaches I’ve ever seen! We’ll have to add a few of these ideas to our next trip. In case you plan to head back, here’s my review of our trip to the Seaside area.

  2. Stephanie m says:

    Oh what a great place.

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