Published February 2009
By Jahna Jacobson
Walton County’s bountiful natural attractions, world famous fishing and upscale shopping sites draw a diverse crowd of residents from across the world – especially retirees.
“Nobody is really from here. Everyone moved here from somewhere else,” said Michelle Tommey, vice president of the Walton County Chamber of Commerce. “We have a lot of retired people here – the community is definitely an older crowd.”
The high population of retirees means there is a lot of social activity for seniors, said Tommey. Groups range from the seasonal snowbirds to the Emerald Coast Parrot Heads, who bond over their love of Jimmy Buffett.
Each beach community strikes a unique balance between ongoing development and careful preservation of the environment. Growth is managed to fit, rather than intrude, into the coastal environment respecting the delicate balance with nature. The development plan for Walton County even includes strict building codes that ban buildings over four stories high, preserving the view of the coastline.
The county is home to several state parks and has a diverse population of wildlife, which can be seen along its miles of hiking and biking trails. Eden State Gardens in historic Point Washington, on the shore of Tucker Bayou, is a beautiful turn–of-the-century mansion surrounded by azaleas, camellias and towering Spanish moss-draped live oaks.
But Walton County is also home to attractions you may not expect, such as the Chautauqua Vineyards in DeFuniak Springs.
The summer months are filled with evening concerts and theatrical performances, while fall brings the annual Autumn Tides series celebrating the history and culture of Walton County.
The population of Walton County is 52,000 people. About 15 percent, or 7,700 are 65 and older.
Real Estate Affordability
Walton County offers a variety of housing options, from townhomes and single-family ranches to Gulf-view condominiums and million-dollar waterfront mansions. Prices vary greatly depending on the community and proximity to the water.
Health Care Options
Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast opened five years ago and quickly became an integral part of the community.
Sales tax in Walton County is 6 percent.
Golf and fishing are the two big recreational draws in Walton County.
“We have beautiful golf courses,” said Tommey. “The Boeing Senior PGA tournament was held here two years ago at The Raven.”
Charter fishing is the way to go if you want to catch the big ones.
“Destin is known as ‘the luckiest little fishing village,’” said Tommey. “There is a huge harbor with thousands of charter fishing fleets. There is a lot of good fishing out there.”
More than 40 percent of Walton County is preserved through state parks, creating a variety of diverse ecological communities, including beach dunes, mesic flatwoods, scrub, depression marshes and coastal dune lakes. The area’s 17 coastal dune lakes are so rare that they are only found in Beaches of South Walton and remote portions of Africa and Australia.
Beaches of South Walton boast a one of the largest concentrations of award-winning restaurants and classically trained chefs along the Gulf Coast.
Northwest Florida State College has its main campus is in Niceville and is close to finishing its south Walton campus.
“There are always plenty of volunteer opportunities here, from helping with events to putting together relocation packages at the chamber,” said Tommey. Sacred Heart Hospital has a large group of volunteers that goes out and helps wherever needed in the community, she added.
Walton County has a diverse arts scene, with a Cultural Arts Association, the Mattie Kelly Arts Center, and many other arts groups in various disciplines. Each beach community is home to a variety of galleries that showcase colorful art, unique sculpture and fascinating furniture, such as Artists at Gulf Place in Santa Rosa Beach
“We have a beautiful performing arts center in Niceville, and the Northwest Florida orchestra,” said Tommey. “Throughout the year we have all kinds of performances and festivals related to the arts.”
It is also home to the Flutterby Festival, the Seafood Festival, and numerous others year round. Other regular activities include evening film screenings such as “Moonlight and Movies” in Rosemary Beach or “Friday Nite Flicks” in Sandestin. Families will also enjoy outdoor performances by the Seaside Repertory Theatre.
Walton County is a shopping destination for the entire Gulf Coast.
“We’ve got the Silver Sands Factory Stores, which is the largest center of its kind in the country,” said Tommey. “Destin Commons is an upscale retail outlet, and we have Grand Boulevard, with very upscale shopping and restaurants. Then there is the Village of Baytowne Wharf, the Market Shops at San Destin – we really have endless shopping opportunities.”
Sense of place
The best of Florida’s natural environment, a rich cultural community, and some of the state’s top shopping spots make Walton County a great place for retirees who want to get involved, socialize and stay active.