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Emerald Coast home to white beaches, emerald-green waterscomment (0)

April 12, 2007

By Linda Holloway

Encompassing Florida’s Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Okaloosa Island, the Emerald Coast boasts 24 miles of alluring sugar-white sands and sparkling emerald-green waters. The three destinations are actually one long strip of islands and beaches connected by a couple of bridges that offers visitors a variety of vacation options. Along with beach fun, golfers can tee up for an incredible 1,080 holes of golf. You may want to bring your camping gear and enjoy a state park or view some spotted dolphins. There are also museums that are fun and informative.

The Emerald Coast is known as a diving and snorkeling paradise where you will find waters with clarity to depths of 80–100 feet. The reefs run in short ledges where the variety of marine life can be observed in a single dive. You can even snorkel right off the beach to experience the underwater sights or go out deeper for an exciting adventure. Local dive shops and snorkeling boats can provide you with equipment, instructions and transportation.

Destin was named Best Beach Town and one of the Best Family Vacations by Southern Living in its 2006 Best of the South Readers’ Choice Awards. Along with the beach, it boasts such golf courses as the 18-hole Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club — the area’s only Audubon-registered course. This course is punctuated by heavily wooded interiors, mazed marshes and alternating rolling and flat terrain. One of the newest golf courses in Destin is the creation of Fred Couples and Gene Bates. The 7,099-yard Kelly Plantation Golf Club is situated on the southern shores of Choctawhatchee Bay.

Emerald Bay Golf Club is a 6,802-yard course designed by nationally recognized architect Robert Cupp. Acclaimed by Golfweek as one of the 50 Most Distinctive Development Courses in the Southeast, the course boasts a tough slope rating of 135 from the championship tees.

If you like camping, Henderson Beach State Park provides 60 campsites that include water and electric hookups and access to bathhouse facilities. A separate beach access boardwalk with outdoor showers and a playground are accessible from the campground.

The park meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and beach wheelchairs are available.

While Okaloosa Island shares Fort Walton Beach’s ZIP code, it boasts attractions that are uniquely its own. The island is where you will find Florida’s Gulfarium. According to its Web site, the Gulfarium is the world’s oldest continuously operated marine show aquarium. The original trainer for Flipper, the famous dolphin with its own television show, was also the dolphin trainer at the Gulfarium. Visitors can see spotted dolphins as well as sea lion shows.

You will also want to visit the island’s Newman C. Brackin Wayside Park, also known as "the Boardwalk," which offers covered picnic areas, volleyball nets, public rest rooms and outdoor showers. Also located at the Boardwalk are unique shops, seafood restaurants and a variety of other eateries.

After you have enjoyed the beaches, you can cool off in two unique museums in the Fort Walton Beach area. The Indian Temple Mound Museum is located at the Heritage Park and Cultural Center. This 6,000-piece exhibit showcases America’s largest collection of Southeastern American Indian ceramic artifacts and journeys through 10,000 years of four prehistoric tribes. The largest American Indian mound discovered along saltwater, which was built in about 1400, is located beside the museum.

Just north of Fort Walton, history buffs can visit the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum. This museum is one of only three U.S. museums dedicated to the display of Air Force armament. Here, there are 25 reconnaissance, fighter and bomber planes, such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and the SR-71 Blackbird Spy Plane.

Children will enjoy the Emerald Coast Science Center where they can view the reflecting Castle of Mirrors, "adult-sized" bubble makers and a literally hair-raising Van de Graaff generator.

For Emerald Coast information, call 1-800-322-3319 or visit www.destin-fwb.com.

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