Fort Walton Beach's "neighbor" lies on the other side of the strait connecting Choctawhatchee Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. The drive on Okaloosa Island between Fort Walton Beach and Destin is unique. The skinny island is largely undeveloped, so you'll get a great sense of the original coastline, with water views peeking through the massive dune line on one side and the estuarine waters of Choctawhatchee Bay on the other. Destin takes its name from its founder, Leonard A. Destin, a Connecticut sea captain who settled his family here sometime in the 1830s. For the next 100 years, Destin remained a sleepy little fishing village until the strait, or East Pass, was bridged in 1935. Then recreational anglers discovered its white sands, blue-green waters, and abundance of some of the most sought-after sport fish in the world. More billfish are hauled in around Destin each year than from all other Gulf ports combined, giving credence to its nickname, the World's Luckiest Fishing Village.
But you don't have to be the rod-and-reel type to love Destin. There's plenty to entertain everyone, from the sand-pail set to senior citizens, and there are many nice restaurants, which you'll have an easier time finding if you remember that the main drag through town is referred to as both U.S. 98 and Emerald Coast Parkway. The name makes sense, but part of what makes the Gulf look so emerald in these parts is the contrasting whiteness of the sand on the beach. Actually, it's pure, powder-soft Appalachian quartz, dropped off by a glacier a few thousand years back. Since quartz doesn't compress (and crews clean and rake the beach each evening), your feet get the sole-satisfying benefit of soft, sugary "sand" so pure it squeaks.