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.
Read More – 25 Fun Places To Stop Along I-85 From North Carolina to Florida
Read More – The Ultimate Beach Packing List – Don’t Forget These Items
Live webcam of Okaloosa Island / Fort Walton Beach
Where To Stay On Okaloosa Island, Florida
El Matador Condos on Okaloosa Island, Florida
We hit the jackpot when we found El Matador Condos. They sit at the furthest end of beachfront property on the island. (The further west you go, the less crowded it gets.)
We stayed in Room 268, which we booked through Hotels.com.
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.
Search Hotels.com for more places to stay on Okaloosa Island, FL.
Search VRBO.com for more places to stay on Okaloosa Island, FL.
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:
Crab Island Tiki Adventure – Hop aboard a floating tiki bar-themed vessel and ride to Crab Island. They provide a cooler to keep your drinks chilled. Click here to book a Tiki Adventure.
Private Pontoon Boat Rental – Cruise to Crab Island on your own. Get your own pontoon boat for up to 8 hours. You’ll be able to take 12 passengers along. Click here to rent a pontoon boat.
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.
Dolphin-Watching Cruise – Hop aboard a small boat for an hour tour to look for dolphins, stingrays, and more. Click here to book your tour.
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.
Inshore Fishing & Dolphin Tour
Inshore Fishing Adventure & Dolphin Tour in Destin, FL – Spend 4 hours with your family and friends trolling for gulf fish as well as spotting playful pods of dolphins. Fishing equipment and bait are provided. Boat is air-conditioned and tour is private. Book your inshore fishing & dolphin tour here.
Read More – 82 Things To Do In Atlantic Beach, NC
Read More – The Ultimate Packing List For The Beach
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 lights on the waterfront were gorgeous as the sun went down. We ended up staying for hours enjoying the scenery.
Read more about The Gulf Restaurant here.
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.
Okaloosa Donuts offers some of the best donuts you’ll ever try. They offer tempting flavors like Key Lime Pie and Banana Cream.
Kids will love the shark and mermaid donuts!
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.
If you liked this post, please pin it!
I love the look of this beach.
With such a breath-taking view from the front door of the condo, anyone will easily get ready to pay anything for an accommodation. I will stop at El Matador when I visit Okaloosa Island, Florida.
It is an amazing view. I hope you do get a chance to visit. It’s lovely!
This beach is really a hidden gem. With so many things to do and great accommodation facility, a vacation in Florida will be a good thing. I will definitely plan one for this Christmas.
Okaloosa Island is a great place for a family.
What a great hidden gem!
I dream of going back to Okaloosa Island all the time…
I love Florida and beaches! This definitely looks like a place to check out!
I can’t wait to get back there and check out more of their beaches!
Looks fantastic! I took lots of notes, as I visit FL often (my sister and my niece both live there). The seafood and the beach look amazing! Thanks for the info!!
I hope you get a chance to visit sometime!
This looks like a great hidden gem!
We are currently on our way to Florida. Will have to stop by Okaloosa. It sounds fabulous.
We are currently heading to Florida. Will have to check out Okaloosa.
Let me know what you think if you get a chance to stop by.
I’ve never heard of Okaloosa Island! It looks so amazing.
It’s so lovely!
There is something about the ocean that calms and relaxes me! I played that ocean video throughout reading this post. The Beaches of Okaloosa sounds like a serene beautiful place to be.
I love that webcam of Okaloosa Island. I check it out frequently and dream about going back. 🙂
Ooooohh! I haven’t heard of this place before, but it looks lovely! The food looks delicious too… sorry… hungry all of a sudden! LOL
It’s kind of a hidden gem. And the restaurant was so lovely!
This so looks like my kind of a vacation!! Crab Island looks like so much fun. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be pinning this.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’re able to go someday.
We have been to Crab Island and loved it! This has us wanting to explore more and definitely visit Okaloosa Island.
It’s such a beautiful area!
Okaloosa Island sounds absolutely perfect! I’ve been looking for a great destination for a deep-sea fishing excursion! I’ll definitely check this out!
I think you’d love the area.
The name alone is appealing to me. I will certainly be looking into Okaloosa Island. Thanks for sharing!🌸
Interestingly enough, Okaloosa is a Choctaw word meaning “black water”, but the water there is actually a beautiful emerald color.
Our family has looked into staying in the area but haven’t heard of Okaloosa Island. It sounds great. I even signed up for the 5 day itinerary! I’m interested in finding a place to stay for a larger group too.
I hope you like the itinerary. I really love Okaloosa. The locals told me about it. If you need something larger than a condo, I would suggest looking for an Airbnb or vrbo rental. Maybe you can find a home.
What a great find!! We always go to Destin but have started to get dissatisfied in dealing with all the crowds. We will be definitely checking out this place. Thanks for all the great info!
I can’t wait to go back. It was such a lovely place. I hope you get a chance to visit.
Looks like a beautiful place. I have never heard of it before.
It’s lesser-known, which is why I love it.
I was born and raised about 15 minutes away from Okaloosa Island! The boardwalk and Crab Island are two of my favorite places to go when I go back home and I swear the sand will never be better anywhere else! If you travel back there again, I HIGHLY recommend you try Old Bay Steamer! They have the best seafood!
I’m so glad you recommended Old Bay Steamer. I really hope to go back.
Omg.. what a fun place to visit! Looks like some amazing food and really fun experiences! Thank you for sharing!
Looks like a great place to go!! Thanks
Thanks for reading!
Thanks to your blog post I now have another amazing destination added to my travel musts list! Looks absolutely amazing and like a little slice of heaven!
I’m so glad you liked it. It really is a slice of heaven.
This looks like such a beautiful, peaceful place. Never heard of the island but definitely looks worth the trip – thank you Kristen for sharing!
Thanks for reading!
It’s one of my favorite spots.
The sandbar restaurants look incredible. I want to go. We love going to places that are not overcrowded as well. Hence we take a trip to Topsail Island every other summer. It is so peaceful and wonderful there. The prices to stay here look reasonable. It sounds like you guys had a great time.
Topsail is one of our favorite destinations as well.
I’ve never heard of Okaloosa Island, but it looks like a perfect vacation spot. I could just listen to your ocean video on repeat all day…so calming! I’m really craving some seafood now after seeing that picture from The Crab Trap. Holy Yum, that looks good!
I like to go on the webcam just to listen to the ocean and visualize being there again. haha!
Wow, this looks like an amazing beach vacation. The food is incredible! I love to be there right now!
Restaurants on the beach are the best.
Never heard of Okaloosa Island, and I do prefer the less crowded everything! Plus there seems to be some great places to stay!
Everyone is looking for less-crowded right now so this is the perfect spot!
This place looks great! I am all for less crowded beaches! We visit my son in Largo several times a year but I have never heard of this place? I will definitely check it out next time. Thanks for all the great detailed information!
I’ve never been to Largo, but really hope to go sometime soon.
I’m all about uncrowded beaches and Okaloosa Island looks and sounds perfect! And also love that there’s such a variety of fun and diverse things to do nearby.
I really love the paddle-boarding, dolphins, and places to eat. Just sitting at the beach is all you really need, though. 🙂
This beach looks amazing. I love the Emerald Coast. The water is amazing!
It was my first trip to the Emerald Coast and I loved it. I can’t wait to go back.
Okaloosa Island looks amazing! I’ve never been but would love to go.
If you love beaches, I think you would love it. The water is so clear and pretty.