Beyond the Beach

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Think sun and sand are all Florida has to offer?  Take a trip to Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, and think again!

This may come as a shock, but there’s more to Northwest Florida than the great beaches!  From inland bays and preserved nature areas to world-class sport and recreation facilities, families can experience all this beautiful area has to offer at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, located just a few miles east of Destin.  What makes Sandestin special is its all-inclusiveness: guests have their own beach, marina and bay to play in, along with miles of biking/walking trails, four swimming pools and countless places to sit, relax and enjoy the view. 

Free shuttle service and bike rental throughout the 2,400-acre resort – which is really its own little town filled with dozens of shops, restaurants, attractions and even an island – mean you can park your car when you arrive and not get in it again until it’s time to go home.  A wide variety of activities and nearly 30 different places to stay – from beachside hotels to bayside houses – makes it easy to see why this upscale resort is a popular year-round family destination.

The Village of Baytowne Wharf

During our visit, we stayed at the new Village of Baytowne Wharf, a pretty, pedestrians-only condo, restaurant and shopping complex on Choctawhatchee Bay.  Though the shopping and dining area is open to the community, parking’s never an issue because local visitors arrive via shuttle from the resort gate.  The Village’s eclectic architecture combines the styles of New Orleans, Charleston and the traditional Florida fishing village to create a relaxed, friendly setting perfect for hanging out or shopping – and when tummies start rumbling, everything from homemade candy to Cajun cuisine is right there.  Of course, children cannot live on candy alone, so having our own kitchen gave the picky eaters another option. 

Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay

It’s a short, scenic walk from the Village to Baytowne Marina via a peaceful, forested nature trail.  We swung into Captain Joe Lee’s Tree House along the way, then sat on the porch of the marina watching the boats come in.  This is where you pick up your complimentary bikes, canoes and kayaks, so it’s a great jumping-off point for a day of exploration.  We rode bikes to Jolee Island, a beautiful nature preserve on the bay where kids can learn more about the area’s ecosystem, play on the pirate ship playground or swing on a porch swing at the water’s edge.  The bay is a great place to do a little catch-and-release fishing, too, especially since kids’ licenses are free.  Many of the ponds throughout the resort are stocked as well.

But What About the Ocean?

After lunch, we hopped on the shuttle and headed to the “beachside” area of the resort.  In addition to the obvious – sparkling sea, soft sand, bright blue sky and tons of sun – this is where you can try out The Dunes, an elaborately landscaped 18-hole putting course, or get some real excitement going at the Lagoons, Sandestin’s new water park slated to open this summer.  If your children would rather swim, play games and make crafts than watch you get a massage at the day spa, register them for a morning at KidsZone, located right on the beach.  Treasure hunts, contests and other fun activities take place throughout the summer, as well as Friday and Saturday Children’s Evening Out, featuring movies, pizza and games.

Also located beachside, The Market Shops at Sandestin sell everything from fine wine to toys, and special events like the “Picnics in Paradise” concert series give you something cool to do after a long day of playing in the sun.

Learn a New Skill!

Even though it’s in the name – Sandestin GOLF and Beach Resort – you don’t have to lay eyes on a golf ball unless you want to.  But if you or the young ones are interested, the resort’s golf courses are nationally recognized, as is the tennis center.  Don’t know how to play?  Kids and adults alike can take classes in golf, tennis and sailing.

As we packed up our suitcases and said goodbye to our rooms – and goodbye to the Village, goodbye to the trees, goodbye to the bay, goodbye to the beach – I realized that this must be what people with summer homes feel like.  For the brief time we were there, Sandestin belonged to us; it was our own personal retreat.  We can’t wait to go back!

Special Family Packages

Sandestin’s Family Fun Package includes accommodations at the Bayside Inn for two adults and two children as well as a family breakfast buffet for a daily rate of $130 (spring), $154 (summer), $130 (fall) and $95 (winter).  For information about this and other packages, visit www.sandestin.com.

Ashley Crownover is a freelance writer for this publication.

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