The Top Rainy Day Museums and Educational Activities in Fort Walton Beach
For its clear green waters and white sand beaches, the Gulf Coast section of the Florida Panhandle is referred to as the Emerald Coast. This area, made up of Fort Walton Beach, Destin, and Okaloosa Island is a fun place to visit all year round. The winters are short and mild, staying above 45 degrees and lasting just three months, from January to March.
The summer season is the most popular time to visit the area. Summer lasts from June to September on the Emerald Coast and the temperature during this time averages in the high 80s with the gulf water temperatures remaining above 80 degrees as well during the summer season, making it a luxurious spot to swim in the water or rent a jet ski.
However the summer is also the rainy season and July sees the most precipitation with an average of eight inches of rain. So whether you happen to be visiting Fort Walton Beach in the winter when the temperatures aren’t ideal for swimming, or you catch yourself there on one of those rainy days in July, fear not, there’s plenty of family-friendly, affordable and educational experiences to be had in the Fort Walton Beach and Destin area.
Here are our favorite educational activities and museums in Fort Walton Beach for a rainy day:
1) The City of Fort Walton Beach Heritage Park and Cultural Center
Just a 5 minute drive from Crab Island Watersports, the Heritage Park and Cultural Center is located in the center of historic downtown Fort Walton Beach. This cultural hub includes the Indian Temple Mound Museum, Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum, Garnier Post Office Museum – all located just a minute walk from the base of the Fort Walton Mound, an archeological site also referred to as the Indian Temple Mound. At 12 feet high and 223 feet wide, this mound was constructed between 800-1400 CE with an estimated 200,000 basket loads of earth. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
The center operates under the mission of preserving and sharing the history and prehistory of the Fort Walton Beach community from 14,000 B.C. through to the mid 20th century. Its beginnings date back to 1962, when the Indian Temple Mound Museum opened as the first municipally owned and operated museum in Florida.
You can check out the Indian Temple Mound Museum first, where admission for all of the museums is taken. Here you’ll find exhibits chronicling 12,000 years of Native American occupation. Take your time exploring the thousands of artifacts on display, a particular highlight being the collection of prehistoric ceramics from the Southeastern US.
Not far from the Indian Temple Mound Museum, the first school building ever built in Fort Walton Beach now houses the Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum. In this museum you’ll learn about what local schooling was like in Fort Walton Beach from 1911 through the 1930s. Between 1918 and 1956 the county’s post office was located in what’s now the Garnier Post Office Museum, where you can examine artifacts from the era.
Just a hop, skip and jump away from Crab Island Watersports, the Fort Walton Heritage Park and Cultural center is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the long history of the region.
2) Destin History and Fishing Museum
If you’ve read our Fort Walton and Destin Fishing Guide you may recall that Destin is nicknamed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” due to the ease of fishing and the variety of fish that can be caught in the area. If you find yourself in Destin on a rainy day and can’t do the real thing, the Destin History and Fishing Museum is the next best thing for immersing yourself in the Emerald Coast’s fishing culture.
Whether you are a professional angler or a novice on their first fishing trip in the area, it’s worth checking out the Destin History and Fishing Museum. Not only are they praised for their friendly and knowledgeable staff, they are just a 15 minute drive from Crab Island Watersports. The museum may be small but you’ll learn everything you need to know about the fishing history of the area, the Destin Fishing Rodeo and much more at this quaint, history-filled spot.
3) Air Force Armament Museum
For another unique educational experience near Fort Walton Beach which you can enjoy while sheltering from the rain, hop on FL-85 N and head over to Eglin Air Force Base to see the only institution in the country dedicated to Air Force weapons and equipment. The Air Force Armament Museum is free and open to visitors Monday through Saturday, 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
The Air Force Armament Museum has over 29 different aircraft on display, this includes aircraft dating back from World War II all the way to the present. In addition to aircraft, you will find exhibitions with hundreds of pieces of armament such as guns, bombs and missiles.
As you enter the grounds of the Air Force Armament Museum by car, you’ll be greeted by the SR-71 Blackbird on display, aka the fastest plane ever built, as well as other notable aircrafts from the World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf War eras. In the indoor part of the museum there’s plenty to see including interactive exhibits that will excite kids and adults alike. The Air Force Armament Museum is free to visitors and open Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM. Whether you are an Air Force veteran or you have a kid who just loves planes, this is an awesome spot to visit in the Florida Panhandle.
4) Emerald Coast Science Center
We’ve shouted out the Emerald Coast Science Center in our previous post on Okaloosa Island & Destin Family Activities, but this indoor educational and family-friendly activity is worth mentioning again as it’s also perfect for a rainy day! The Emerald Coast Science Center is a nonprofit that has been providing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) programming to Northwest Florida residents and tourists since 1989.
At ECSC you can spend the day learning about scientific principles and natural phenomena in an 8,000 square foot indoor space through interactive, hands-on exhibits.
In addition to the Robotics exhibit and Space exhibit, there is the Color, Light and Sound exhibit. You’ll have the opportunity to create music using the light spectrum, try the Music Table to create your own beats and sounds, or make a giant bubble while you learn about its light and color properties.
Check out how airflow creates a vortex and experience the Hurricane Simulator in the Engineering, Physics, and Electricity exhibit. Track sea turtles in the Sea Turtle Sanctuary exhibit which includes an interactive sea floor and everything you need to know about sea turtle health and conservation in the region. If all of the former doesn’t entice you, they also have a giant, interactive, room-sized “sciPad” with science, language and arts lessons for the whole family (from ages 2 and up).
Check their website to see which exhibits are available the day of your visit. Your admission is valid for the whole day and with so much to offer, the Emerald Coast Science Center is some of the best family entertainment in Destin, Florida.
Although most people visit the Emerald Coast to take advantage of the temperate climate, beautiful coastline and clear warm waters, we do see the occasional cool or rainy day in Fort Walton Beach. For those days, when the weather doesn’t permit you to rent a pontoon and soak up the Florida sun, why not try one of the museums mentioned above and immerse yourself in the history, science and culture of this beautiful area.