by Michael C. Lowe | September 01, 2014
Why Here?
Picturesque venues abound along Florida's Gulf Coast, from intimate beachside cottages in South Walton (above) to upgraded meeting and event space at major facilities such as the Emerald Coast Convention Center in Fort Walton Beach.

Pensacola Update 
The 127-room Hyatt Place Pensacola Airport opened in April 2013 with 1,070 square feet of meeting space, a café, an indoor lap pool, an outdoor patio with fire pit, a 24-hour fitness center and free Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the hotel.

Last August, the Springhill Suites by Marriott Pensacola opened with 106 suites, a 595-square-foot meeting room, a fitness center, an outdoor saltwater pool and complimentary breakfast.

Lotion Up
The 320-room Boardwalk Beach Resort in Panama City Beach has more than 40,000 square feet of function space, including a 15,000-square-foot ballroom. The city is known for its 27-mile shoreline of white sand.

Blessedly Off the Grid
Shell Island, an undeveloped 700-acre barrier island, offers groups a chance to unplug and unwind. The Shell Island Shuttle provides transportation, as well as kayaks and snorkel gear, from nearby St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach.

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Local Update

The Emerald Coast Convention Center opened a new 30,000-square-foot outdoor event space called Bayview Plaza this past June. The concrete pad can be tented in case of rain and is equipped with power and water. The convention center also offers 35,000 square feet of indoor function space, including a 21,000-square-foot ballroom and 12 additional meeting rooms.

The 152-room Holiday Inn Fort Walton Beach Resort opened in May with beach access along the Gulf of Mexico. The property features 2,500 square feet of function space, a fitness center, a pool with a lazy river and a hot tub, a poolside tiki bar and all manner of watersports.

In Destin, the Destin Commons open-air shopping center completed a 105,000-square-foot expansion this past July that added enough space to accommodate up to 21 new restaurant and retail vendors. The complex now spans 523,000 square feet.

Meeting Hotels: For a full list of Northern Florida properties, and to find and compare hotels and send RFPs, visit

Convention Center: Emerald Coast Convention Center (Fort Walton Beach); exhibit space, approximately 35,000 square feet indoors and 30,000 square feet outdoors; number of meeting rooms, 12; (850) 609-3800

Airport Transit: Northwest Florida Regional Airport, 19 miles from Destin and 10 miles from Fort Walton Beach. Transfer cost by taxi, about $45 to Destin and about $30 to Fort Walton Beach

Taxes: Okaloosa County: bed tax, 5%; sales tax, 6%; total tax on hotel rooms, 11%

Group Venue: In Fort Walton Beach, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park features the Living Sea event space spanning 1,900 square feet and featuring a full wall of 8-foot-high aquarium windows displaying wildly beautiful tropical fish. The space, available for private functions after 6 p.m., can accommodate up to 112 people seated. By day, the venue also offers a variety of dolphin and sea lion shows. (850) 243-9046

Contact: Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, (850) 651-7131