Rediscovering the Gulfarium: Okaloosa Island’s Marine Adventure Park

January 11, 2024

Nestled along the sun-kissed shores of Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach stands a timeless treasure – the Gulfarium Marine and Adventure Park. When its doors opened in 1955, the Gulfarium wasn’t just another attraction but a gateway to the marine life prevalent along the Emerald Coast. Back then, a visit required just a single dollar bill for adults and half that for children, and families eagerly waited in line for a glimpse into this mysterious underwater world. The tremendous growth in tourism over the years has seen the Gulfarium expand its offerings repeatedly, all while remaining dedicated to its core mission of marine education and conservation.

Recently renovated, the new and improved Gulfarium offers a fresh experience that’s a delightful blend of excitement, education, and a whole new level of marine adventure!

What is the Gulfarium on Okaloosa Island

A renowned marine park and aquarium, the Gulfarium on Okaloosa Island has been a staple in the community for years. In those early days, long before Fort Walton Beach became the vacation destination it is today, the Gulfarium was nestled on a lonely stretch of beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond rays and sea turtles, visitors were mesmerized by the Living Sea aquarium exhibit showcasing our very own bottlenose dolphins. A fun way for locals to spend an afternoon away from the beach, the Gulfarium offered a chance to learn about local marine life through fun exhibits and dolphin shows. 

Evolving over the years, the Gulfarium holds a lengthy list of firsts under its belt, from being one of the first to adopt SCUBA equipment for live shark feeding demonstrations in the 1950s to introducing the Porpoise College for training dolphins in the 1960s to developing a synthetic milk formula for bottlenose dolphins that’s still in use today. Adding additional habitats and exhibits to showcase otters, sea lions, seals, and more over the years, the facility now boasts interactive experiences, educational programs, and a host of exhibits, allowing guests to engage more intimately with marine life and the environment. Today, the facility offers captivating dolphin shows, interactive touch tanks, behind-the-scenes tours, and conservation-focused initiatives, making it an even more enriching experience for all visiting!

Things to Do at the Gulfarium

General admission at the Gulfarium includes entrance to all exhibits, dolphin and sea lion shows, and animal chats. Be sure to swing by the C.A.R.E. Center, a non-profit focused on sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and coastal conservation efforts, and the Expedition Trail, showcasing a delightful assortment of reptiles, including alligators, tortoises, and turtles. 

Animal Encounters are curated programs where guests can get up close and personal with the park’s resident animals under the guidance of trained professionals— a hit with kids and adults alike! Learn about the natural habitats, behaviors, and conservation efforts of dolphins, sting rays, turtles, penguins, and more through personal interaction with these amazing creatures. Those 13 and older can spend the morning as a VIP trainer, working side-by-side with trainers to learn more about what goes into taking care of the marine animal residents. And anyone who loves surprises will enjoy Mystery Adventure, which includes a chance to meet a mystery animal and a private, after-hours park tour!

What’s New at the Gulfarium

The Gulfarium’s latest edition, the Dolphin Oasis, is a sprawling complex comprised of three interconnected habitats, over a million gallons of saltwater, and split-level viewing to observe the dolphins above and below the water. Over a year in construction, this remarkable sanctuary is yet another evolution, seamlessly integrating into the Gulfarium footprint and signifying a leap forward in the park’s commitment to animal welfare. Replacing the original dolphin environment built over 65 years ago, Dolphin Oasis offers a modernized living space that supports the social nature of these intelligent, playful creatures.

The habitats in the new design mirror the dolphin’s natural environment. Varying in depth, each flows seamlessly into the next, encouraging the social groupings vital to their well-being. An additional suite serves as a nursery for mothers and calves, and distinct locations throughout provide staff and guests opportunities to interact with the dolphins. With seating for 480 visitors, the dynamic addition promises an engaging and educational experience for visitors of all ages

Whether visiting with your family, booking a private birthday party, or reserving space for a wedding, celebration, or special event, the Gulfarium promises a unique experience for any occasion!

Things to Do Near the Gulfarium

After a fun day at the Gulfarium on Okaloosa Island, you’ll find several places nearby for even more fun exploration! Take a short walk to the beach to the Okaloosa Island Pier, take in the incredible views of the Gulf, and see local anglers in action. Located next door to the Gulfarium, The Boardwalk is a fun place to explore, with waterfront restaurants serving fresh seafood and fun shops for browsing. Grab some coffee, hang out on the picnic tables, and take in the views of the Gulf of Mexico while the kids play in the sand!

Wild Willie’s Adventure Zone is just across the street and a great place to let the kids burn up some energy. With laser tag, bumper boats, go-karts, and more, it’s an ideal spot for plenty of family-friendly entertainment. Whether teeing up Okaloosa National Mini Golf and Ice Cream, browsing the shops in downtown Fort Walton Beach, or booking an excursion in the nearby Destin harbor, you can hit it all in one seamless trip!

Of course, if you book with Scenic Stays, you can be within walking distance of the Gulfarium and near all the action on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach. Start planning your getaway today for a fun-filled, sun-filled vacation the kids will remember for years!

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