Fort Walton Beach or Destin for a Vacation? An Honest Comparison to Help You Choose!

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Are you considering a family vacation, a spring break getaway, or a romantic getaway to the Emerald Coast? If you are, I’m sure you have the most perplexing question about vacationing on the Emerald Coast: “Fort Walton Beach or Destin?” “Where should I go?”

Fort Walton Beach and Destin are two of the most popular beach vacation spots on Florida’s Emerald Coast. Both are easily accessible from major towns and have exquisite white-sand beaches and a variety of activities on and off the beach.

So, which is best for you- Fort Walton Beach or Destin?

Fort Walton Beach is a great beach vacation destination if you desire a laid-back island beach vacation with plenty of activities on and off the beach for adults as well as families. If you are a true fishing enthusiast who enjoys a lively party environment, great seafood, dynamic beaches, and a variety of exciting activities for you and your family, then Destin is “the Destination” for you.

ParametersFort Walton BeachDestin
Cost of a
7-day Trip💵
$3765 (For a couple)$3517 (For a couple)
Known for👍Unspoilt fine sandy beach, Air Force Base, Fishing Pier, Gulfarium adventure parkSoft-sandy beaches, World’s luckiest fishing village, Fishing festivals, adventure parks, Spectacular Golf courses
Beaches🏖Less commercialized unspoilt beaches with old-Florida vibes and true natural beautyHighly commercialized beaches with amenities and plenty of family-friendly activities like surfing, paddleboarding, parasailing and much more
Activities🏄🏼‍♂️Snorkeling, Surfing, Scuba diving, Kayaking, Swimming, Cultural and Eco tours, Air Force historyFishing, surfing, parasailing, paddleboarding, parasailing, private boat tours, Pontoon boat rides, Eco & science tours
Popular Tourist Attractions🏛Gulfarium Marine Adventure park, The Boardwalk, Okaloosa island fishing pier, Air Force Armaments museum100-fathom curve, Crab island, Harbor Walk Village, Village of Baytowne Wharf, Morrison springs
Best Place to Stay🏨Okaloosa islandDowntown Destin

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Fort Walton Beach or Destin for Vacation? Which Beach City is your Cloud Nine?

What is Destin known for?

Destin boaters
Boaters in Destin, Florida

Destin, Florida’s Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico, is also known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” due to its proximity to deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is known for fine soft white sandy beaches, annual fishing festivals, fantastic golf courses, and an endless list of activities to enjoy with family.

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What is Fort Walton Beach known for?

Fort Walton Beach - Fort Walton Beach or Destin for vacation

Fort Walton Beach, located on north Florida’s gorgeous Gulf Coast between Pensacola and Panama City, is one of the Emerald Coast’s best-kept secrets. FWB is well-known for its beautiful white sand beaches, breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico, an Air Force training base, and the renowned Gulfarium Marine Adventure park.

What is the best time to visit Fort Walton Beach?

The greatest time to visit Fort Walton Beach is all year, but April through May is when the weather is optimum, with temps ranging from the low to mid 70’s, ideal for family time on the beach.

Winters are ideal for enjoying some quiet leisurely beach time because there are less visitors and hotel expenses are at their lowest.

What is the best time to visit Destin?

Destin is at its best in April and May, when the weather is nice, the sea is warm, and the sun shines (expect highs in the mid-70s and 80s).

Arriving early may result in cooler temperatures and ice-cold water. A summer vacation will place you right in the middle of the crowds and at the pinnacle of the season’s prices.

Is Fort Walton Beach cheaper than Destin?

Generally speaking, Fort Walton Beach is slightly cheaper than Destin — but it also has fewer attractions and entertainment options compared to its bigger neighbor. However, that same factor makes it perfect for those desiring a more laid-back beach atmosphere.

So why not choose whoever offers the best combination of amenities at a price that suits you? A quick search might just reveal that fort Walton Beach has what it takes to make a great beach getaway from the ground up!

Fort Walton Beach or Destin for a family vacation?

If you’re looking for a vibrant beach vacation where you can relax on soft white sand beaches, participate in on- and off-beach activities, go fishing, explore marine life, and treat yourself to souvenir shopping, Destin is the best place for a family vacation.

Families who want to spend their holiday away from the rush and bustle of commercialized beaches and enjoy the beauty of unspoiled beaches with plenty of sightseeing opportunities, history, and eco touring activities will love their time in FWB.

Whether you go with FWB or Destin, you can’t go wrong with either. Both of these sites offer enough sun, sand and seaside bliss to ensure you have a great time on your holiday. It all depends on whether you want a livelier or laid-back beach vacation.

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Who has the best beaches, FWB or Destin? 🏖

Fort Walton Beach and Destin both boast some of the Emerald Coast’s most beautiful sugary soft beaches with brilliant blue-green waters. Despite the fact that they are only five miles apart, they offer a quite distinct beach experience.

If you want a laid-back beach feel with an old Florida backdrop, a great boardwalk, maritime heritage, and a fishing pier where you can enjoy the sun, sand, and seaside happiness, then the beaches in FWB are for you.

Those who enjoy the exuberant vibes of busy and packed beaches, as well as a terrific fishing experience and plenty of family-friendly activities on and off the beach, will enjoy their time in Destin.

Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach beaches

When the lovely island of Okaloosa was incorporated in 1941, Fort Walton Beach was developed as the “Beach” to attract tourism in the early 1950s.

By nature, the majority of Fort Walton is a military town, with the majority of the region serving as housing for nearby Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base.

FWB is far smaller and more enclosed, with a quiet and laid-back attitude, and the majority of the beaches are less developed and commercialized, with fewer lodging options.

Due to the absence of extensive commercialization, the beaches in FWB are pristine and have retained their true natural charm, making them an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts.


Destin beaches

Destin is the most visited city on the Emerald Coast with good reason. To put it another way, Destin is a true paradise, thanks to its magnificent white sand beaches and crystal-clear green waters, as well as its mini-golf courses, adventure parks, exquisite eating alternatives, and world-class retail centers.

Apart from sunbathing and scuba diving on many of Destin’s beaches, there are other activities both on and off the beaches that will ensure that you enjoy every minute of your time in Destin.

A significant disadvantage of Destin’s beaches is that, as the most visited city on the Emerald Coast, the beaches are frequently crowded, and it can be difficult to locate a peaceful space to relax.

🏖 Related post: Destin Harbor Boardwalk: The Ultimate Guide to Make the Most of Your Visit!

Accommodation options 🏨

Both Fort Walton Beach and Destin provide a variety of lodging alternatives near to the pristine beaches and seaside enjoyment.

When it comes to the variety of lodging possibilities, Destin certainly wins by a mile because it is considerably more spread out and greater in size than FWB.

Destin has you covered whether you’re seeking for low-cost condos, family-friendly flats, or a luxury suite for an intimate romantic time with your love.

What FWB lacks in hotel choice, it makes up for with excellent oceanfront housing alternatives (which Destin lacks) that allow convenient access to the pristine beaches for families or couples on a honeymoon.

Okaloosa Island is far less walkable than Destin. Having said that, neither of these locations has lodging alternatives within walking distance of restaurants and stores.

In Destin, you’d be more likely to locate a restaurant or a shop within walking distance of your apartment than in FWB. However, lodging on Okaloosa Island (FWB) is less expensive than in Destin.

The table below shows the average cost of lodging per person in Destin and Panama City Beach.

Accommodation typeDestinFort Walton Beach
The average cost of a 7-day trip for a family of 467500$(including other activities)6852$(including other activities)

Is it better to stay in Destin or Fort Walton Beach?

Choosing between Destin and Fort Walton Beach is like picking between two delicious desserts – it all depends on personal preference. For some, the vibrant nightlife and emerald waters of Destin make it their go-to choice. Others might prefer the quiet affordability and charming historic buildings of Fort Walton Beach.

Whichever destination you choose, there’s no shortage of entertainment options to enjoy, from watching dolphins jump in the waves to exploring lighthouses, historic forts, beaches, parks and nature trails. Of course, at either spot you’ll also find plenty of great shops, restaurants and more to take advantage of!

Nightlife in FWB vs Destin 🍻

When the sun sets on the immaculate white sand beaches beyond the turquoise blue-green oceans that paint the horizon in brilliant hues, both of these beach destinations come alive with live music, intoxicating cocktails, and great dining to conclude the night on a high note.

If live music, DJs, discos, and dancing, as well as infinite fine dining options, are your style, Destin has a nightlife that will keep you entertained until the early hours of the morning.

If you’re looking for a laid-back nightlife where you can sip your cocktails beneath the stars on the beach while taking in the panoramic views, you’re going to love your nights in FWB.

Best spots in Destin to enjoy Nightlife

  1. HarborWalk Village– The busy port in HarborWalk village with the largest fishing fleet along the sea form a perfect backdrop for a night out with your family.
  2. Village of Baytowne Wharf– Located along the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay and is home to Drunken Goat Saloon, Fat Tuesday Daiquiri Bar and Hammerhead sharks.

Best spots in Fort Walton Beach to enjoy Nightlife

  1. The Gulf– A beautifully built restaurant destination with indoor and outdoor seating that serves locally sourced fare and beverages in a stunning waterfront setting. The Gulf is all about relaxing with friends and family, discovering the shop’s one-of-a-kind items, and listening to the well curated record library.
  2. FUBAR-Enjoy a lively night with a round of beer over a game of pool and a scorching hot slice of excellent pizza in your palm at this military-themed sports pub.

Best Things to do in Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach may be smaller and more enclosed than its neighbor Destin, but it packs several wonderful family-friendly attractions, shopping complexes, Air Force history, and historical landmarks within a few minutes of each other.

Here are 7 best things to do in Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach things to do
Enjoy fishing on the Okaloosa island Fishing Pier 

The Okaloosa Island fishing pier spans 1262 linear feet from the shore into the brilliant blue-green waters of the Gulf, making it one of the Gulf of Mexico’s longest wharfs.

The Pier is the finest area to spend a relaxing day fishing for the abundant Pompano, Spanish Mackerel, Bluefish, and Redfish.

The Pier is also a terrific area to take a leisurely stroll with your family or partner and take in the breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico.

Ticket fare for fishing: Full day: Adults= $8, Seniors= $7, Children upto 12 years old= $5, Kids under five= Free

Ticket fare to stroll down pier: $2

Explore Air Force history at Air Force Armaments museum

The Air Force Museum is dedicated to conserving Air Force Armaments relics and memorabilia.

The museum houses some of the most iconic aircrafts from WWII to the present day, including an AC-130, B-17, B-25, B-52, P-51, A-10, F-15, F-16, F-100, F-101, and many others.

The Air Force Museum is one of the most fascinating destinations in FWB, appreciated by both children and adults.

Learn about marine life at the amazing Gulfarium Marine Adventure park

A visit to FWB would be completed without a stop at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. This one-of-a-kind marine park in the world cannot be missed.

The Gulfarium park is home to the world’s longest-running exhibition of its kind, with the goal of educating people of all ages about the persistence of marine life by giving the most enjoyable tours and activities for connecting with marine species.

A dolphin show, a fun and participatory California sea lion display, and a show where the cute and fuzzy otters just enjoy their time in the water are among the shows available.

To top it all off, for an extra cost, visitors may interact with dolphins, stingrays, turtles, penguins, and baby alligators up close.

The Boardwalk

Tired and hungry after a fun day at the beach? Don’t worry, just head to the stunning boardwalk, which is peppered with distinctive seafood diners, restaurants, bars, and pubs, and indulge in some of the best specialties.

Indian Temple Mound Museum

The Indian Temple Mound and Museum is unquestionably one of the most underappreciated attractions in FWB. The mound and its adjacent museum transport you hundreds of years back in time to the lives of the region’s earliest residents, the Native Americans.

The mound is 12 feet tall, has a wooden roof, and is made up of around 100,000 cubic feet of shells, dirt, and sand.

The museum houses over 1000 objects that depict the detailed history of the region from 800 BC to the advent of the first European settlers.

Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival

The Billy Bowlegs Pirate Celebration is the largest festival on the Emerald Coast, attracting visitors of all ages from all across the country.

With fireworks, pirates, live music, and a parade, the local mythology comes to life.

Wat Buddhist Temple

The Wat Buddhist Temple, located in the midst of a residential area, is an intriguing stop on your way to FWB. The ancient Buddhist architecture, golden Buddha statues and pillars placed against the temple’s red vivid interiors make it an ideal location for some Insta-worthy photos.

Best Things to do in Destin

Destin is an adventurer’s paradise. Destin has it all: theme and water parks, opulent resorts with private beaches, fishing fleets, well-manicured golf courses, outdoor festivals, museums, diving locations, and hiking trails.

Because of its gorgeous coasts and abundance of marine life, Destin attracts thousands of fishing enthusiasts each year.

It’s no wonder that Destin’s primary events focus around fishing, given that it’s recognized as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

The ‘Destin Fishing Rodeo‘ and the Destin Seafood Festival draw thousands of fishermen and seafood lovers from all over the United States.

Here are 7 best things to do in Destin

destin water sports
100 Fathom curve

For fishing enthusiasts, the 100-fathom curve is the ideal location to be lucky with fishing. The curve is full of sea life with fish species like Cobia, Tuna, Grouper and Flounder in plenty, which is why this spot has been so popular amongst fishermen for centuries.

Enjoy a round of Golf

For golfing enthusiasts, Destin boasts of many well-manicured golf courses with contoured greens and strategically placed hazards that blend beautifully with the spectacular views of the bay.

Some of the best Golf courses are-

Kelly Plantation Golf Course

Regatta Bay Golf Club

Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club

The Links Golf Club

Emerald bay golf Club

The Destin fishing and History Museum

There is a reason why Destin has earned the title of “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village ” and there is a deep and rich history behind it.

Harbor Walk Village

Watch the largest charter fishing fleet in the country in action.

Village of Baytowne Wharf 

Enjoy Destin’s outdoor festivals and special events.

Thrills Laser Tag and Arcade

If you enjoy indoor games and entertainment, then it is the best place to be with your kids.

Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park

One of the best and most unique adventure parks in the US with activities for every age group.

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About the author
James Williams
James has been travel lover since childhood. Reading and traveling have been spiritual experiences for him. Learning about new places, cultures, and ways of life and sharing his own experiences and learnings has always been his passion.

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