When I lived on the Florida panhandle, I unfairly dismissed Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, a vast resort between Destin and the 30-A beaches, as tourist territory. But when I took my family a few weeks ago to play tourist in my old hometown, I realized I was wrong. Dead wrong. And I see that now.
The resort: With several golf courses, shopping, restaurants, attractions, and lodging (hotel rooms, condos, rental houses) spread out over the beach side, bay side, and lake-dotted inland, Sandestin feels less like a resort than a place that needs its own zip code. I decided to give it a try when a colleague with very good taste shared the a-ha moment of his recent visit: "I looked around and everyone in my family was happy. All the time. That never happens."
The litmus test: I took my 69-year-old mother, 2-year-old son, and resort-averse husband, who would rather rappell off a 400-foot cliff with a 100-foot rope than be forced to sit still for hours on a beach chair on one of the prettiest beaches in the world. Our vacations generally take us way off the grid and involve activites that appear in corproate team-building sessions as hypothetical "situations." Could we handle the fruity umbrella drinks? The resort wear? The Jimmy Buffett cover bands?
The verdict: Yes! We get it now. The resort makes family trips fun and easy. Especially if you're trying to please a family with mixed interests and too much energy.
The perks: As a mom, I appreciated the Village of Baytowne Wharf, the resort's entertainment district (above). It's the kind of place where you can watch your kids bounce on a Euro-bungee trampoline and talk your acrophobic mother into braving a zipline, all while you sit back and sip an enjoy a chilled adult beverage. Later, when you've successfully worn them out, you can send them back to the condo for room service while you explore the district's restaurants, shops, wine bar, and clubs.
The details: Trite as it sounds, you can please everyone. My toddler enjoyed the swimming pools, the sugar-white sand (clean as ever during our early-July visit), and Le Grand Cirque, a sort of junior Cirque du Soleil starring rising acrobats, contortionists, and a girl who can operate about 84 hoola-hoops simultaneously. My mom enjoyed the shopping, both at Baytowne Wharf and the nearby Grand Boulevard brand stores. My husband and I loved the ease and convenience of our first real resort experience, which may go down in our family record as the least logistically complicated family trip we've ever taken.
The universal highlight: Exploring the calm, brackish waters of Choctawhatchee Bay on a stand-up paddleboard. This new and incredibly accessible sport delivers the soul of surfing without all those pesky waves. YOLO-Board founder Jeff Archer (whose Santa Rosa-based brand stands for You Only Live Once), had us all up and going after about 15 minutes of instruction.
The A-ha moment: Cruising along with my 2-year-old son at my feet, watching my 69-year-old mother (below) paddling like a natural, as my husband worked in his aerobic/core workout while chatting up my old friend, chef Phillip McDonald of Table Five, about what it's like to race these things. I suddenly understood what Phil and his wife Madra, both local ambassadors of the sport, had been telling me about for months.
Why go now: As I write this, the beaches are still clean, and Sandestin is gearing up for several events worth a trip:
- The Sandestin Music Festival: August 13-14. This weekend of FREE singer-songwriter performances will help support the Gulf Coast. Entry is free to the public with a printed ticket via sandestinmusicfestival.com. While there's no charge for admission, festival organizers are encouraging a donation to benefit the National Audobon Society's Gulf Coast efforts. You can make a text donation during the event or at the website above.
- The Art Festival at the Village of Baytowne Wharf: Labor Day weekend. Artists from around the region set up booths in the village to show and sell their wares. Live music and merchant specials. Admission is free to the public.
- Great fall specials: August 7-November 20. Buy two nights, get a third for free. Call 1-866-91-BEACH and reference code FREE3 or visit sandestin.com. (Note: some restrictions, see fine print here.)