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If you’re looking for uncrowded beaches with bright white sands and clear turquoise water, you’ll love Okaloosa Island on the Gulf of Mexico.
This island is a hidden gem in the panhandle of Florida. It sits in between the cities of Fort Walton Beach and Destin. Many tourists flock to Destin each year, but Okaloosa is less known and less crowded.
I recently took my daughter there on a road trip from North Carolina to Florida on I-85 to celebrate her 18th birthday. Beaches are not always at the top of my list to visit, but let me tell you, I fell in love with this spot – so much so that I came home and hunted for real estate there.
(What can I say? I love real estate! I own a successful lakehouse rental in North Carolina.)
Here is all the information you need to know to have a fantastic vacation on Okaloosa Island, including fantastic places to stay, eat, and play.
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Where To Stay On Okaloosa Island, Florida
El Matador Condos on Okaloosa Island, Florida
El Matador is a charming beachfront resort with two large outdoor heated pools, an indoor sauna, Jacuzzi, and an exercise room.
Several outdoor grills and tables can be found for the perfect cook-out with friends and family.
Our two-bedroom, two-bath condo came with a full kitchen and view of the ocean, and even beach chairs and water toys.
Pro-tip: There are many buildings at El Matador. Be sure to check what the view will be and how close it is to the ocean. We didn’t mind the 5-minute walk, but if you want a really short walk, read the room details or call them. They have great customer service.
Each condo is individually owned, and so each has its own unique decor and furnishings.
One of the most stunning things about the condo was the view of the white sand. Trust me; this picture doesn’t do it justice. The sand is so bright it’s almost blinding.
As you can see, there are no condos West of this property.
Don’t you love the view?
Pro-Tip: If you think you might arrive early, call the office and ask for early check-in. They will try to get your room ready, and they will contact you when it’s available. We were able to check in several hours early.
Pro-Tip: They will let you in the gate any time during the day of check-in. So if you get there before your room is ready, you’ll be able to head to the beach, pool, or jacuzzi.
How To Book Your Stay On Okaloosa Island
Hotels.com – We found our wonderful condo at El Matador through Hotels.com. They also have several other choices like this 2 Bedroom Oceanfront Condo. Our condo was room #268. We had a 5-minute walk to the beach, but we loved that we could see the ocean from our balcony as well as the bright white sand dunes from the front door of our condo. Click here to book the room we stayed in at El Matador.
VRBO – Has several choices at El Matador and the surrounding area like this 2 Bedroom 2 Bath Penthouse with fantastic views or this 1 Bedroom Oceanfront Condo with killer decor. If El Matador is booked, Seacrest Condos and Island Surf Condos are nearby. Click here to see the best VRBO accommodations in the area.
Airbnb – Similar to VRBO, you can find several fantastic condo and hotel choices. Airbnb is unique because you can sometimes find a single room in a home to rent for cheap. Click here to see the best Airbnbs in the area.
The box below should give you an excellent overview of the hotels and condos on the island.
Things To Do On Okaloosa Island
Visit The Beach!
Once you get to Okaloosa Island, you’ll want to spend most of your time playing in the clear, emerald waters.
Here are some fun things to do at the beach:
Sunbath – Bring your own beach chairs and umbrella or rent them from Sunset Beach Service. They set up chairs and umbrellas early in the morning. Call ahead to reserve or walk down to the beach and find them. Other condos might use a different beach service. Check with your hotel or condo to see if this service is available. If not, Sunset Beach Service will most likely deliver to your area.
Kayak or paddle-board – Since the ocean is so calm here, it’s fairly easy to kayak and paddle-board depending on the day. You can rent them from Sunset Beach Service.
Snorkel – Take advantage of the clear water and bring your snorkeling gear to look for fish and sea turtles. There are also several man-made snorkeling spots in the Destin area. You can purchase snorkeling gear at one of the many beach shops in the area, but I’d suggest bringing a quality one like this full-face snorkel mask.
Fly a kite or play frisbee – Stop by Kitty Hawk Kites to shop for kites and other toys or check out one of the local beach shops. If you’d prefer to bring your own kite, REI offers this 140-speed parafoil kite that comes in a small pouch. It’s a great kite for beginners to advanced flyers.
The Boardwalk On Okaloosa Island
The Boardwalk offers beachy shops and casual dining right on the oceanfront. They don’t even care if you come with sandy feet!
They have a fireworks show every Wednesday night in the summer at 9 P.M. (and on some holidays). You can watch it from the beach or your restaurant if you’re dining.
Crab Island Sandbar
Crab Island is one of the most popular things to do in Destin, Florida. It’s an underwater sandbar that you can only access by boat. Once you get there, you’ll find floating restaurants, kayak rentals, concerts, or you can chill on your float in the waste-deep emerald water.
There are several ways to get to Crab Island. Here are some of my favorites:
Double Decker Pontoon w/ Slide – Rent this luxury boat, and the crew will take up to 6 passengers to Crab Island, snorkeling, dolphin-watching, a fresh-water lagoon, and then to the Gulf outdoor restaurant. Click here to rent a luxury pontoon boat.
Sunset Dolphin Cruise – Board this 14-passenger speed boat to view the gorgeous sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico while you look out for dolphins playing in the wake of the boat. Click here to book a sunset dolphin cruise.
The Boardwalk – As mentioned before, The Boardwalk is one of the best places to get your shopping fix in the area. It’s right on the beach and has a laid-back vibe. Stores here include Islander’s Coastal Outfitters, Kitty Hawk Kites, and Tropical Trends.
Harborwalk Village – Has 29 restaurants, cafes, and stores, including Aloha Surf Company, Fish Heads Bar, Funnel Cakes, and Heir Airbrush & Henna Art Co. Harborwalk Village is part of a large resort with hotel, kayak rental, jet ski rental, and many more activities.
Destin Commons – A bright and spacious outdoor mall with over 95 stores and restaurants. Evidently, it is one of the best shopping centers in the panhandle.
Little Sparrow Gallery – This quaint, little artsy shop offers unique gifts, including kitchenware, cards, jewelry, and candles.
Deep Sea Fishing Charter
Deep-Sea Fishing Charter in Destin, FL – Spend 4 hours with your buddies catching snapper, grouper, mahi-mahi, sharks, amberjack, and triggerfish. Up to 4 people will be able to fish at the same time. Book your deep sea fishing tour here.
Fireworks on Fort Walton Beach
We were lucky enough to visit Okaloosa Island on the 4th of July and were able to see several fireworks shows from our condo.
But guess what? The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island has a fireworks show every Wednesday night from Memorial Day Weekend through August 12th, with extra shows on Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
You can enjoy the fireworks shows from the beach in front of the Boardwalk or anywhere nearby.
The nearby town of Destin has fireworks shows every Thursday night in the summer. You can even take a sunset cruise out to watch them from the harbor. Check out this link to book this fun tour.
Okaloosa Island Restaurants
There are many wonderful restaurants on the island, from fresh seafood to burger joints. Here are my top places to eat on Okaloosa Island.
The Gulf Restaurant
One of the highlights of our trip was eating at The Gulf Restaurant. It features a large, laid-back outdoor dining area right on the waterfront.
We enjoyed it so much we arrived at dinner-time and stayed well after dark.
The food was delicious. We ordered the Fish Tacos and loved them!
My daughter and her friend enjoyed taking pictures in front of the water. You’ll notice in the background that it’s a fun spot for kids to swim too. They jump right in while waiting for dinner to come.
The Boardwalk sits right on the oceanfront and is a fun place to shop, eat, and play. Restaurants here include Rockin’ Tacos, The Crab Trap (see below), Floyd’s Shrimp House, and Al’s Beach Club Burger Bar.
Dine in the restaurant or take your food outside for a picnic while you watch some beach volleyball. Sandy feet are welcome in the restaurants!
If you’re looking for the best seafood, check out The Crab Trap on Fort Walton Beach. You’ll enjoy the outdoor patio with oceanfront dining.
Popular dishes here include The Ultimate Crab Combo for 2, the Fried Scallops, and Shrimp Poboy.
Go to The Shack for the best shrimp in town. You can get 12 huge hand-breaded shrimp, 2 sides of your choice, and hushpuppies for a reasonable price. Other favorites are the Jumbalaya Pasta, Smoked Wings, and Crab Dip.
Okaloosa Island is certainly a lesser-known gem on the Gulf Of Mexico and it is now one of my favorite vacation spots. There’s so much to do there, especially if you visit the nearby town of Destin.
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