You came to the beach expecting clear, sunny skies, but you woke up to clouds and drizzle. Now what? While it’s true that Florida’s weather can completely change before you down that first cup of coffee, there are days along the Emerald Coast when the rain sets in and you have to find other things to do.
Here’s our top 10 for when the weather is a total zero.
1. Hit the Gulf(arium)
No, we aren’t suggesting you get in the water if there’s a lightning show going on. Rather, make the trek to the Gulfarium Marine and Adventure Park on Okaloosa Island, where you can still feel like you’re experiencing the outdoors without being in it. The Gulfarium is home to dolphin shows whether it’s sunny or raining. Inside, you can take in exhibits ranging from tropical fish and turtles to stingrays and sea lions.
2. Get a Little Nerdy
We know what you’re thinking: You’re on vacation. Who wants to spend time learning? We promise the experiences you’ll have at these attractions will be so fun, you’ll forget you’re actually getting smarter as a result. A trip to the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Destin History & Fishing Museum, where you can check out an original reel that belonged to Ernest Hemingway. The Emerald Coast Science Center is another worthy stop, with hands-on activities such as feeling the wind power of a Category 5 hurricane and using your hand as a battery. Explore the Fort Walton Beach Indian Temple Mound, one of Florida’s most famous archeological sites. Or, head off to Panama City Beach’s Man in the Sea Museum, where you can check out life underwater and learn more about diving. The U.S. Air Force Armament Museum is also right down the road at Eglin Air Force Base or you could contact Flight Line Tours for a guided trip through the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, even if you don’t have an ID from the Department of Defense.
3. Embrace the Arts
There’s no shortage of art experiences at the beach. From art lessons at Abrakadoodle at Destin Commons to painting your own pottery at Santa Rosa Pottery, it’s easy to insert some culture into your visit. While you’re in Seaside, take a stroll through Sundog Books and check out a family-owned collection of literature, puzzles and old-school records.
4. Blow Off Some Steam
You might not be able to play volleyball on the beach or tackle some waves, but you can still blow off steam with a few physical activities. Scale a wall at Rock Out Climbing Gym, bounce around at Surge Trampoline Park or Urban Air Adventure Park, or navigate the laser maze at Blast Arcade at Baytowne Wharf.
5. Bowl Them Over
Don’t forget the premier indoor activity of all time: Bowling. Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill is one option, with its island-themed restaurant and bowling alley at Destin Commons. Hurricane Lanes in Destin has 26 lanes in addition to pool tables and an indoor arcade.
6. Try on A Vintage Favorite
Indoor arcades aren’t as cheap as they used to be, but they’re still plenty of fun. Fat Daddy’s Arcade has 120 games including the interactive “Jurassic Park” and “The Fast and the Furious.” There’s also a kid-friendly menu here so you can eat and keep playing. Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone is another arcade option with a dinosaur theme. Its 16,000-sq.-ft. arcade has nearly 70 games including a flight simulator and favorites like Skee-Ball. As an added bonus, you can check out its included miniature golf course. You can also hit up an 18-hole course at Rain Forest Black Light Golf and Arcade in Miramar Beach.
7. Make a Break for PCB
Regardless of where you’re vacationing, you won’t regret making the trek to Panama City Beach to take in some of its tourist attractions. Pier Park is a popular stop for everything from playing games at Dave & Buster’s to capturing the booty at Pirate’s Quest Laser Tag. Not too far away, you’ll find the upside-down WonderWorks Indoor Amusement Center with 35,000-sq.-ft. of entertainment and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium.
8. Shop ‘Til You Drop
The kids may not necessarily enjoy this one, but there’s plenty to keep them occupied. Destin Commons is a popular hotspot for everything from grabbing a bite to eat to shopping to taking in a flick. Grand Boulevard at Sandestin is worthy of a stop for upscale shopping and sophisticated dining options. Between the two, be sure to stop at Silver Sands Premium Outlets for a taste of everything from Old Navy and Nike to Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th and Tory Burch.
9. Go For a Drive
We see you, parents with babies who can’t miss naptime. This is about as low-key of an “inside” activity as you can get, but it might give you some ideas for later. The 24-mile drive down Scenic Highway 30A, which starts near the Walmart in Santa Rosa Beach and concludes just beyond Rosemary Beach should definitely be on your Emerald Coast bucket list. Travel through state parks and colorful communities to enjoy both the beautiful natural scenery and the architectural wonder.
10. Have Some Grown-Up Fun
If you’re traveling alone or you’ve got a break from the kids, take advantage of the time to pamper yourself. There are dozens of salons, spas, nail salons and massage therapy locations for you to choose from on a rainy day. Float Brothers Float Spa, located just off Commons Drive, will have you thinking you’re relaxing in the gulf. The Ratchet Hatchet is a great way to blow off some steam by throwing some axes around (safely, please!). Or, go on a treasure hunt by checking out some local flea markets, such as De’France Antiques or Smith’s Antique Mall. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, check out Gulf Coast Escape Room or Escape Zone 60.
Due to varying restrictions and precautions because of COVID-19, some of these facilities may be temporarily closed or operating on limited hours. Visit their websites or call ahead.