Stayed at a 5-month new hostel which was on a parkway (read: pseudo-highway) near the beach (if you like to drive). No amount of bike/ped friendliness here, and I did indeed drive 20 miles to cycle 32 one day. Fort Walton seems to be the dumping ground for beach wannabees from Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and such who are paying high rent & making low pay to freeze through the winter anyway!
Loved the library! and the local bike shop guys but even the Thai food I ate was less than mediocre. Where's the peanut sauce? I did take the "Miracle Strip" one day east to the beach and indeed the short stretch of Okaloosa Island that is national seashore is lovely --- the water is emerald green and the sand is pure white. I learned that it is not sand at all, however, but ground quartz crystal from the Appalachian mountain range. How about that?
Have you heard the name Destin? So had I and let me tell you it was NOT what I imagined. While there is a lovely 4-5 mile beachfront area, most of Destin is a parkway (see above) filled with every possible retail nightmare imaginable. As you come to the end of the national seashore, there is a retail/hotel monstrosity the likes of Paradise Island, Bahamas and that's just the beginning. It goes on from here with man-made crap. I do not wonder why Mother Nature is so angry and it's time for her to clean house here!
I did enjoy Topsail Hill State Park and if the nights weren't so cold, I would have been happy to be camping there. This is in Santa Rosa Beach which was the loveliest area where I enjoyed a multi-use path for cycling. It's also where there are houses @$500k and up so I guess the rich people don't like being hit by 4,000 lb cars either. Make note: there is not a single photo available!
I will not assume this is representative of the entire panhandle but if I never visit this area again, I won't care! I'm feeling better now.