Sand Dialed In: Destin and South Walton, Florida

With a relaxed coastal vibe, ultrawhite-sand beaches, and activities and attractions that embrace the Gulf waters, the Florida destinations of Destin and South Walton have long been popular. With new hotels and resorts, expanded and updated conference facilities, and one-of-a-kind experiences to offer, the Emerald Coast is proving to be a polished gem.

Rooms With a View

The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, offers delegates firsthand knowledge of the new standard of luxury in Florida’s northwest coast. With the feel and grandeur of a seaside manor, the 170-room property is located on a 1.5-mile stretch of secluded white-sand beach and adjacent to a nature preserve. The Henderson, which hosts Connect Florida this November, has 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space catering to corporate and incentive gatherings. Outdoors, two beachside greens for receptions of up to 150 guests each, a grand lawn for larger groups, and rooftop and poolside settings offer outstanding Gulf of Mexico and sunset views. Indoors, The Henderson has two ballrooms, a boardroom and a private dining space. On-site activities include water sports, nature walks, a fitness center and beach bicycles. The Salamander Spa also offers 11 treatment rooms as well as discreet outdoor and pool spaces for post-treatment relaxation. The nearby Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort celebrates Southern charm in a welcoming setting with four golf courses, beach access, plentiful pools, fitness and spa centers, and an entire retail and entertainment area all accessible via complimentary tram. Sandestin includes a range of accommodations and meeting spaces to suit groups of up to 1,600. With more than 65,000 square feet of event space, the resort is home to a 13,500-sq.-ft. ballroom—the largest in the region—in Baytowne Conference Center. In January, the property completed a $2.7 million upgrade to its Linkside Conference Center, meant for groups ranging in size from 10 to 1,200. This fall, Sandestin will break ground on a second, 250-room hotel adjacent to Baytowne Conference Center, adding 20,000 square feet of meeting space to the property by June 2020.

Other properties in the region include Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, with more than 60,000 square feet of function space, including three ballrooms, a 106-seat tiered theater, a boardroom and expansive outdoor space for receptions, poolside galas and fully catered nighttime fire pit gatherings. The property also includes junior suites fitted with bunk beds for group gatherings that encourage delegates to bring the whole family. For smaller meetings, Embassy Suites by Hilton Destin Miramar Beach is within walking distance of the beach and includes a 5,600-sq.-ft. ballroom and two boardrooms, while Courtyard Sandestin at Grand Boulevard, with its boutique feel, has four meeting rooms and is adjacent to some of the area’s best shopping and dining options. Recent property openings include The Pointe, a swank boutique hotel-style resort with rooftop and poolside function space in Rosemary Beach. In October, Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard will open, offering 1,600 square feet of meeting space. The singular Emerald Coast Convention Center recently completed interior and technology upgrades to the 35,000-sq.-ft. facility.

Waterful Fun

While Destin are dubbed the “luckiest fishing village in the world,” it’s not just the fish that are jumping. At HarborWalk Village, groups can gather for boat and fishing excursions, or check out the day’s catch as boats come into the Destin Marina. At Baytowne Wharf, boutique shops and waterside restaurants dot a small harbor village with zip lines, a ropes course, a trampoline and other challenges. For a one-of-a-kind teambuilding experience, Beach Sand Sculptures offers groups of up to 60 inside tips on building a better sandcastle. The company also creates sand-sculpted corporate logos for special events. Another teambuilding option is an educational meet and greet with dolphins at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. In addition to water sport activities such as paddleboarding and kayaking, adventurous and art-minded scuba and free divers will enjoy the Underwater Museum of Art that opened this summer. Located off the shores of Grayton Beach State Park, this is the first institution of its kind and is dedicated to preserving local marine life through the placement of underwater sculptures.

For Landlubbers

For those who don’t want to get sand between their toes, retail therapy options include Silver Sands Premium Outlets with deals at outlet shops by Ann Taylor, Coach and Nike, among others. Other shopping opportunities include Destin Commons and the newer Grand Boulevard at Sandestin, with top brand shopping and relaxed dining in spots like the recently opened Emeril’s Coastal Italian. Other land options include group cycling and horseback riding, brewery tours and wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and art gallery gatherings, as well as some of the country’s highest-rated golf courses and tennis facilities.