The panhandle of Florida has some of the most beautiful beaches and has several military installations. About an hour and a half east of Pensacola, you’ll find Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base. Eglin is home to a variety of units, including Army Special Forces 7th Group and 6th Ranger Training Battalion, Navy EOD School, 20th Space Control Squadron, and the 919th Special Operations Wing. Nearby Hurlburt Field (they’re located about 12 miles apart) hosts the 1st Special Operations Group.
Where to Live
Installation housing at both Eglin AFB and Hulburt Field are operated by Corvias. With housing available in duplex and single-family homes, the usual positives of installation housing are included. As with most installation housing, being close to amenities like the commissary, the Exchange, and a short commute make base housing appealing. Since these installations are so close, families can choose to live at either location. Corvias is working to bring more amenities to their residents, including a new fitness center, resort pool, and computer lab.
For families interested in areas off the installation, nearby towns like Crestview (about 20 minutes north of Eglin) and Niceville/Valparaiso, which are closer to the gates top the list. Destin and Fort Walton Beach are options, though they are very touristy and the traffic heading towards the beach will make commutes a bit more frustrating. The drive from Crestview to the installations isn’t too tedious, but for those looking for restaurants and things to do, living farther away from the center of it all may prove tiresome.
Schools are always top of the list of questions for incoming families with children, and luckily this area has some great options. This area has some of the top schools in Florida, and as a whole Okaloosa County Schools are some of the best in the state. Those who are living on Eglin are zoned for Eglin Elementary School, which is located on the installation.
The Sunshine State is hot, and this area is no exception. For the most part, hurricanes aren’t a huge problem in the Florida Panhandle, but storms that come into the Gulf of Mexico almost always produce rain locally. Recently, Hurricane Nate, a minor storm, sent rain, gusty wind, and tornado warnings to the area.
The average temperatures in the winter months may get as low as the high 40s, but the daytime high is still in the low 60s. Rain is pretty consistent year-round with the wettest months being July and August. Humidity, however, is greatly reduced when you’re on the beach!
You really have to experience seafood when living so close to the water in Florida. Old Bay Steamer, Floyd’s, and Gillian’s are favorites among the locals and the military community in the area. While they may be crowded, the view at Floyd’s, Gilligan’s, and Pompano Joe’s are definitely worth the wait.
For anyone with food allergies or on a gluten-free eating plan, LuLu’s in Destin is really aware of the risks of cross-contamination and has some great food! Another highly recommended and fun restaurant is the Osaka Japanese Hibachi Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, where you can enjoy dinner and a show. For those living in Crestview, there are some good restaurants to choose from, including The Wild Olive and Azteca Mexican.
Things to Do
Families moving to the area during the hot summer months may have a hard time getting involved, but the Emerald Coast Science Center and its extensive list of activities can help with that. They have a Storytime, preschool lab, and $5 admission every Friday. They also have a homeschool workshop monthly. Homeschooling in Florida is slightly more complicated than in states like Texas but is still very popular.
Okaloosa Island, a barrier island between Fort Walton Beach and Destin, has gorgeous beaches, great restaurants, and lots of family fun. Fishing off the pier or just sitting on the end enjoying the view is a favorite among visitors.
Air Force Armament Museum – Located on Eglin Air Force Base, this museum shows the history of aviation warfare starting with the early 1900s, and World War I. Admission is free and includes the fastest plane ever built (SR-71 Blackbird) as well as bombs, missiles, and rockets. Interactive displays keep children and adults entertained, which also makes it a great option for the hot summer or a rainy day.
Animals are always fun to watch, and at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, education and fun go hand in hand. Since 1955, Gulfarium has served the people of Fort Walton Beach as an aquarium, a tourist attraction, and a scientific research center.
Another classic place to visit in Fort Walton Beach is the Indian Temple Mound Museum, in the heart of downtown. This museum is just one part of the museums available (all for one ticket!) and features exhibits showing the Native American lifestyle.
The Eglin/Hurlburt area is a great duty station, with just enough to keep you busy without being overwhelming. Good food, family fun, and year-round good weather.
If you currently live in the Fort Walton Beach/Niceville/Destin area or have been stationed there recently, please tell other military and veteran families what you liked and maybe didn’t like about the area in a PCSgrades housing or neighborhood review.
Author: Rebecca Alwine is a PCSgrades’ Blogger Affiliate, freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Over the past 10 years, she’s discovered she enjoys coffee, running, lifting weights, and most of the menial tasks of motherhood. Her writing experience includes military family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com or on Twitter (@rebecca_alwine) and Instagram (@rebecca_alwine).