Retail & Tourism

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Special to the Daily News FORT WALTON BEACH — In an effort to spotlight the diverse capabilities that exist among the area’s technical businesses, the Economic Develop...

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Building For The Future Looking beyond beaches and the military to boost economic development BY LINDA KLEINDIENST ~ Article written by 850 Magazine   Okaloosa and Walton countie...

Retail Activities | Consumer Spending | Tourism | Recreational Opportunities | Historical Points of Interest | Cultural Events | Local Weather | Beach Safety

With an millions of people visiting the Emerald Coast annually Okaloosa enjoys its stable year-round consumer activity.


Although tourism peaks in the spring and summer, vacationers and part-time residents enjoy the mild fall and winter months. Add this population influx to the local population of 200,000 and that equates to a stable year-round retail environment. Every dollar spent in Okaloosa County from tourism goes through our local economy 1.8 times or more!

Okaloosa County has three main-street areas offering quaint downtown atmospheres for shopping, dining and family entertainment.

If you are a visitor seeking information about the beautiful Emerald Coast, please click here

If you are doing research on tourist development data, please click here to access the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department website. 

 Retail Activities

Grand Boulevard


The Town Center at Grand Boulevard at Sandestin offers a variety of exclusive shopping venues for a memorable and fun filled shopping experience. Grand Boulevard redefines shopping with a beautifully designed and landscaped environment where you can enjoy leisurely walks to your favorite stores, while appreciating the Town Center atmosphere. You’ll find amazing glass art at Fusion Art Glass Gallery, durable outdoor apparel for men and women at The Orvis Company, a tropical lifestyle at Tommy Bahama’s, clothing and accessories for golf or tennis outings at Brooks Brothers Country Club, beach lifestyle wear at J. Crew-at-the-beach and exclusive boutique shops. These shops are just a few of the many nationally recognized merchants available for your shopping enjoyment.Grand-Boulevard-Photo-(1).jpg

Destin Commons

Destin-Commons-Image.JPG Destin is becoming the South's most popular shopping destination!
The Destin Commons provides its own downtown atmosphere full of shopping with big name anchor stores and Florida-style dining. A children's play area provides relaxation for the whole family complete with an interactive water fountain, perfect for the kids on those hot summer days.

Santa Rosa Mall

The Santa Rosa Mall in the City of Mary Esther provides indoor, convenient and up-to-date one-stop shopping where you'll find an arcade of fun for all ages among numerous other popular stores for shoppers of all ages. This mall also features an old fashioned Carousel and Kid’s night every Tuesday. Playtime is anytime at Santa Rosa Mall. Bring your kids to the soft Play Land and watch them have fun at this special place while you take a break. The Mall welcomes area residents and visitors interested in walking in a temperature-controlled environment.

Silver Sands Premium Outlets

The Silver Sands Premium Outlets is the largest designer outlet mall in the nation with over 110 designer names. Conveniently located on U.S. Highway 98 just west of Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, access to Silver Sands Premium Outlets in Florida is available from the north across the Mid-Bay Bridge from State Road 20. This outlet center in Florida is conveniently located for all in the Southeast.

Uptown Station

Uptown Station Uptown Station is the town center of Fort Walton Beach and is the heartbeat of the Emerald Coast. The area’s premier shopping center with over 60 national and specialty stores plus superb dining choices. Always worth its own visit to Uptown Station is Central Park, comprised of a village green, water features with dancing fountains for the kids, and an amazing children’s playground. Take the Express Train from Central Park Station and tour all of Uptown Station!  Uptown Station features Family Movie Nights at Central Park on a huge 30 foot screen. Proudly flying the Stars and Stripes, Florida’s tallest flagpole, which watches over Uptown Station from 170 feet, is dedicated to all members of our Military, Law Enforcement and Fire Departments, and all first responders. On special days a giant 50’ x 80’ American flag is flown, as big as two tennis courts.

Dining is supreme!

Okaloosa County offers exquisite year-round fresh seafood and an outstanding cultural diversity in a vast number of restaurants. Everything from local to international cuisine, and beach-casual to five-star dining experiences can be enjoyed.



  • Tourism is the second largest economic contributor for Okaloosa County.
  • Northwest Florida Beaches are Open For Business
  • Tourism begets trade; trade begets investment; investment begets economic stability!
  • Although the primary attractions are the beautiful sugar-white beaches and the bountiful fishing, there are many other recreational activities to enjoy in Okaloosa County.
  • Although tourism peaks in the spring and summer, vacationers and part-time residents from the northern United States and Canada enjoy the mild fall and winter months.
  • Inviting resorts, scenic countryside, temperate climate, abounding arts and culture, and quaint downtown areas.
  • Okaloosa County is in the Top-Five Destinations for Auto Visitors;
  • We are a drive-to community.

"Best Beach in the South" (14 straight years) - Southern Living Magazine
Top 10 "Most Popular Beaches in the United States" - Yahoo! Travel
"Best Family Vacation Destination, 3 years in a row" - Nashville Parent Magazine
"Best Family Beach" - Travel Channel
Emerald Coast Convention Center was voted "Best Meeting Site in the South" - Convention South Magazine 

2016 Emerald Coast Accommodations
Type Total Units
Condominium Group 6,202
Hotel/Motel 3,341
Single Family Dwelling 737
Other 927
Totals 11,207
Source: Okaloosa County Tax Collector, As of October 2016

Bed Tax

Bed tax revenues are a valuable indicator for measurement of the number of tourists. Okaloosa's bed tax is 5% on accommodations.

Okaloosa County Tourist Development Tax - 2% Tax Revenue Comparison : FY13 to Current  
Month FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017
October $609,091 $680,331 $886,981 $1,068,987 $1,199,607
November $259,607 $273,038 $313,442 $356,655  
December $288,498 $291,672 $320,916 $390,078  
January $298,995 $332,036 $410,853 $436,047  
February $395,790 $430,183 $492,951 $554,344  
March $1,118,616 $1,009,474 $1,033,763 $1,276,174  
April $905,964 $1,038,269 $1,248,990 $1,313,571  
May $1,265,607 $1,441,156 $1,628,069 $1,744,277  
June $2,797,226 $2,909,099 $3,247,331 $3,354,266  
July $2,897,647 $3,330,612 $3,688,645 $4,127,134  
August $1,588,763 $1,907,946 $2,009,054 $1,901,099  
September $1,098,415 $1,143,073 $1,434,557 $1,559,595  
Total $13,253,220 $1,4786,891 $16,715,554 $18,082,228  
Source: Okaloosa County Tax Collector, Updated February 2017  

Recreational Opportunities

The Gulf of Mexico offers sugar-white beaches, bountiful fresh seafood, chartered boat cruises, and personal watercraft sports.

Family Recreation

There is a variety of water and adventure parks for family entertainment and all day fun. The more adventurous can enjoy the go-carts, bungee-jumping, and sky-flying. Children friendly arcade centers, miniature golf courses, and animal and marine-life parks also offer fun for the whole family. During the summer there are numerous Kids' Days with an art camp and movie series. There is also a children's theatre and science center.


Destin is the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village."There are over 100 charter and party boats with deep-sea bottom-fishing as one of the specialties of the Destin Fleet, the largest in the world! There is offshore and inshore fishing opportunities with multiple fishing piers available. Freshwater fishing can be enjoyed in the Blackwater, Shoal and Yellow rivers.


Okaloosa offers world-premier golf courses with country club class. Golfers can play championship courses throughout the county that have been designed by distinguished golf architects.
  • Over half a dozen private clubs
  • One dozen semi-private courses
  • Over one dozen public courses
  • Numerous miniature golf courses
Annual golf tournaments are conducted around the county throughout the year.


The Okaloosa County Park System offers recreational facilities from coastal to heavily shaded parks. Visitors can enjoy covered pavilions, picnic tables, playground equipment and rest rooms. The northern county area offers miles of river rafting, canoeing and kayaking with picnic facilities. Camping and hiking can be enjoyed in the wilderness preservations of Blackwater River State Park and the Eglin Reservation.

Centrally located in Okaloosa County you will find Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. Rocky Bayou, the main feature of the park, is the trailing arm of Choctawhatchee Bay and is popular for boating and fishing. A double-lane boat ramp makes this one of the best boat launching locations on the bay, where both freshwater and saltwater fish are found. Other opportunities for fun include hiking, bicycling, picnicking and wildlife viewing. Puddin Head Lake, at the center of the park, is a great spot for freshwater fishing and canoeing. A well shaded campground is available for full-facility camping.

Shopping and Dining

Shopping and dining are additional past-time favorites where Okaloosa sells itself! Destin is becoming the South's most popular shopping destination!

There is a magnitude of international cuisine to be enjoyed from beach casual to 5-star dinning. Outdoor dinning is an enjoyed past-time with the year-round moderate climate. Savory pastas, juicy steaks, sushi bars, and fresh local seafood are yours to enjoy. Tempt your palate while you are benefiting from what Okaloosa County offers you during your play-days!


Tennis enthusiasts are offered over 100 courts throughout the area. March hosts the annual international women's tournament at the Tennis Center in the heart of the City of Fort Walton Beach.

Water Sports

Complementing the area's superb fishing are endless water sports to include snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, tubing, and windsurfing, not to mention all types of boating. The Blackwater River State Forest offers canoeing, kayaking, and tubing in clear-water rivers. Bodies of water such as the Choctawahatchee Bay, Intercoastal Waterway, multiple bayous and the Gulf of Mexico offer ample opportunities for boating and personal watercraft sports. Multiple yacht clubs offer cruises, rentals and lessons. Dolphin cruises are high on the list for kids of all ages!

Historical Points of Interest

Museums & Galleries

Okaloosa County is a cultural center with many museums, art galleries, and historical sites. Local museums exhibit Okaloosa's heritage such as the Camp Walton Schoolhouse, Carver-Hill Museum, Destin History & Fishing Museum, Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida, and the Indian Temple Mound Museum & Park. There are also a range of art galleries and a science center.

With the county housing the largest Air Force Base in the world, the Air Force Armament Museum is centrally located outside of Eglin AFB in the Town of Shalimar. The Armament Museum's Air Armament Institute sponsors the Engineers for America (EFA).

Cultural Events

The Arts Center

Music, art and the theater are yours to enjoy from a relaxing outdoor concert, to an enjoyable community theater, to a state of the art facility. The Mattie Kelly Arts Center is a performing arts and educational complex that encompasses a 1,650 seat Mainstage threater, 195 seat flexible Sprint theater, an art wing with wo fine art galleries, a music wing, a visual arts building and the beautiful NWF State College amphitheater. The main theater is the home of the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra, and also the site for performances by the New York City Opera, Broadway show troupes, and renowned entertainers. 

The local Stagecrafters provide theatre performances throughout the year at different locations.

The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation owns and operates the Dugas Pavilion & Village Green, a 6.7 acre event lawn, at the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village in Destin.  Signature events include Concerts in the Village and the Festival of the Arts.  


There are two amphitheaters; the Mattie Kelly Arts Center located at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville and the other in Destin at the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village, managed and operated by the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, where summer concerts are performed. 

Arts and Crafts Festivals

From Spring to Fall there are numerous festivals around the county offering safe and fun activities for adults and children. There is the Saint Mary's Spring Fling offering creative crafts; the Billy Bowlegs Festival full of adventure; BBQ & Bluegrass festivals with music and best-eats; the Destin Seafood and Arts Festival with world famous seafood; the Boggy-Bayou Mullet Festival with its infamous fried mullet, crafts and nightly entertainment; and the Mardi Gras Parade and Jester's Ball. Crafts, food, art and activities for the whole family to enjoy.

Convention Center

The Emerald Coast Convention Center offers 35,000 square feet of meeting space with equipment, service and catering. The Center can host groups of 15 or 2,000 in rooms ranging from 450 to 1,800 square feet as well as a 21,500 square foot ballroom. The Conference Center offers accommodations from banquets to concerts and trade shows to weddings.

Northwest Florida Ballet Academy

The Northwest Florida Ballet Academy is located in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

Local Weather

Okaloosa's year-round pleasant weather contributes to the value of our diverse piece-of-paradise on the beautiful Emerald Coast!

The moderate year-round climate draws tourists throughout the year and delights our local residents, both young and young-at-heart. Our mild fall and winter months allows for many outdoor activities.

The Gulf of Mexico moderates the weather throughout the year, tempering the cold northers of winter, and causing cool, refreshing breezes during the summer.

Fort Walton Beach Regional Count
Month Temperature   Precipitation  
  High Low Chance Average
January 71 44 20% .12"
February 65 40 20% .18"
March 67 48 % .51"
April 77 59 % 2.03"
May 86 61 % 4.75"
June 91 68 % 0.0"
July 93 72 % .61"
August 92 73 % .71"
September 90 70 % 1.87"
October 73 65 % .42"
November 75 53 % 1.4"
December 67 41 % 0.0"
Source: EAFB

Annual Precipitation: 53 inches | Average Annual Rain Days: 110

Beach Safety

As a coastal community, the weather affects the waters of our beautiful sugar-white beaches. As such, the State of Florida together with federal organizations developed a flag warning system. Information/warning flags are posted at public beaches reflecting the current tidal conditions. For your enjoyment, and safety, please observe the warning flags flown at beaches. The absence of a flag does not mean waters are safe.

Visit the Okaloosa County website for in-depth pubic safety information: http://www.co.okaloosa.fl.us/dept_ps.html


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