Merely thinking about a Florida vacation conjures images of sun, sand, sea and major amusement park destinations. In the Fort Walton Beach area there are so many snazzy vacation rentals, beaches, thrill rides, historical sites and family fun things to do. You can take nature tours to look for exotic wildlife or feed giraffes at a zoo. It is considered proper to eat with your fingers at all-you-can-eat crab leg buffets or dress up and use utensils for fine dining. While you contemplate the possibilities, here is a list of 11 of the best Fort Walton Beach vacation rental locations. Bathing suits and plenty of sunscreens are essentials to remember when you pack.

1. Fort Walton Beach, Florida

barbecue

Before you even reach the coastline, downtown Fort Walton Beach draws you in to prowl through a huge variety of antique stores, collectibles shops, and restaurants ranging from casual to upscale. The uptown shopping district features over 60 stores and restaurants to add to your shopping pleasure. You can take the kids to see the Indian mound and the museum to learn about the prehistoric Mound Builders who first populated the area. There’s no better way to top off a great day than with a cookout in the backyard of your vacation rental home.

2. Ocean City, Florida

robot

If you stay in Ocean City, you don’t have to worry about those vacation days when rain threatens to ruin your plans and keep the family bored and sitting inside. Any day is a good day to take a break from the beach and visit the Emerald Coast Science Center. Big and small visitors alike enjoy the hands-on exhibits, especially several interactive robots that respond with speech and movements.

3. Shalimar, Florida

parasail

The charming little town of Shalimar helps you create your version of a vacation paradise. The adrenaline junkies in your family can fly up there with the seagulls when you book a parasailing adventure. For another kind of flying, Elgin Air Force Base is home to a museum that houses historic warbirds and missiles.

4. Gulf Breeze, Florida

sea dolphin

Gulf Breeze is a great place to give your kids the opportunity to look for land and sea mammals, including foxes, beavers, armadillos and bottlenose dolphins. If you get a chance to visit Perdido Key Beach, you can to look for the endangered Perdido Key Beach Mouse, which is found nowhere else in the world.

5. Santa Rosa Island, Florida

white sand

Vacation is when you get a chance to drop out for awhile; out of the hustle and bustle and mad rush of the daily grind with a vacation rental on Santa Rosa Island. It’s a laid-back place where you can kick off your shoes and let your eccentric, inner artsy self show in the unique artist colony that’s located just a few steps from the sugar-white sandy beach. Visitors and locals enjoy lunch at the sidewalk cafe with views of the beach and the water. If you love nature, you can take advantage of any of the several entrances to the state Forest, a 15,000-acre nature preserve.

6. Destin, Florida

scuba diving

Your kids already know you are a cool parent, and you can prove it by booking your vacation in Destin where boating, swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and looking for seashells comes as naturally as breathing. For some rip-roaring fun, you can take the family to Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone where 4-D movies combine 3-D technology with seats that bump, thump, tickle, shake, and move in all directions to complement movie scenes. There’s also an arcade and some outdoor theme park rides, including little-kid rides and a roller coaster.

7. Navarre, Florida

navarre

You’ve reached Nirvana in Navarre where solitude and simplicity transcend time and space to take you to your ultimate relaxation experience. There are so many ways to enjoy the beach: basking in the sun while the kids play in the turquoise waters and build sand castles, enjoying a quiet picnic, or going sightseeing on a lovely bike trail. If you need a place to soothe jangled nerves, this is it.

8. Lake Lorraine, Florida

lake lorraine

Lake Lorraine invites you to let your hair down and hang your hat in a comfy vacation rental house. Between hanging out on the beach, surfing, boating, and swimming, you can let the kids try out their mad go-cart skills or challenge them to a bumper car adventure. There is little to compare with seeing the beauty of a sunset over the water from atop a Ferris Wheel, and savoring the sight of the sun melting into the emerald waters below. To change the pace, you can join a jet ski dolphin tour to look for bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

9. Freeport, Florida

Florida

When you book your vacation rental a few miles inland in Freeport, you’re just minutes from the beaches and Choctawhatchee Bay with options for salt-water and fresh-water fishing. Can you picture the excitement of your little angler pulling his first fish out of the bay? If you bring the golf clubs, Freeport’s golf course is nearby.

10. DeFuniak Springs, Florida

vacation

It’s like taking a step back in time when you stay in DeFuniak Springs, home to the oldest library in Florida and many historic store buildings that remain to remind visitors of old Florida. Quaint vacation rentals and the elegant Victorian homes that encircle the almost perfectly-symmetrical Lake DeFuniak help immerse your family in the local culture. The lake is one of only two naturally circular bodies of water in the world.

11. Milton, Florida

canoe

If canoeing is your passion, you will enjoy Milton, the Canoe Capital of the state. Pensacola is just 23 miles southeast of Milton, where shopping and dining opportunities offer something for every taste. You can visit the Naval Museum, the hands-on art center, and Fort Pickens for educational adventures and fun.