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by Michael C. Lowe | August 01, 2013
Why Here?
Scenic, historic Northern Florida has plenty of group appeal. Both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts offer beaches (like at Ponte Vedra, above), museums and delicious seafood. Farther inland are forests, nature preserves and caverns to explore. Best of all, the area's temperate climate should please attendees.

F.Y.I.
• The Apalachicola River, which runs through the middle of Florida's panhandle, was the border between the British colonies of West Florida and East Florida.
• The city of Destin dates back to the mid-1800s. It was founded by Leonard Destin, a fishing captain from New London, Conn., who was the first non-Native American to settle in the area.
• The Alabama state legisla­ture has tried to annex part of Northwest Florida on two occasions -- in 1858 and again in 1901. Both attempts, of course, failed.
• Crooner Pat Boone was born in Jacksonville on June 1, 1934.

Be Forewarned
In Destin, specific laws make it illegal to distribute free ducklings in front of stores, sell ice cream in cemeteries or explode torpedoes anywhere in town.

To-Do List
For nature hikes, bike tours and more in the area, visit naturalnorthflorida.com

The Old(set) Homestead
St. Augustine is the site of Florida's oldest house, now a museum. The Gonzáles-Alvarez House was built between 1702 and 1727, but archaeologists have found evidence of a dwelling on-site dating to the 1600s.
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Local Update
The 598-room Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa spent $5.5 million on renovating its meeting space last year. The resort also expanded its outdoor pool deck and added a new hot tub. Both the spa and the 200-room Spa Tower will be revamped this year. The property offers more than 32,000 square feet for meetings, including the 9,504-square-foot Emerald and 5,600-square-foot Coral ballrooms.

The 354-room Omni Jacksonville is renovating its in-house restaurant, Juliette's Bistro. The hotel has 14,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach added new carpeting, beds and more to its 250 guest rooms last year. The property's more than 30,000 square feet of flexible event space can host groups of up to 450 people.

Also in Ponte Vedra, the 510-room Saw­grass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa will debut a revamp of its 50,000 square feet of meeting space, pool clubhouse, golf villas, restaurants and more in October.

Meeting Hotels
In Destin are the 2,700-room Resort­Quest, 598-room Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, 435-room Pelican Beach Resorts and Conference Center, 233-room Destin Sand Beach Resort, 167-room Courtyard by Marriott Sandestin at Grand Boulevard and 155-room Embassy Suites Destin at Miramar Beach.

Jacksonville hotels include the 963-room Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, 354-room Omni Jacksonville, 277-room Embassy Suites Jacksonville-Baymeadows, 255-room Jacksonville Marriott, 159-room Sher­aton Jack­sonville and 137-room Aloft Jacksonville Tapestry Park.

In Ponte Vedra are the 510-room Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, 250-room Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and 66-room Lodge & Club at Ponte Vedra.

Convention Centers
Baytowne Conference Center (San­des­tin); exhibit space, 21,900 square feet; number of meeting rooms, eight; (800) 277-0803; sandestin.com

Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (Jacksonville); exhibit space, 78,500 square feet; number of meeting rooms, 22; (904) 630-4000; jaxevents.com/primeosborn.php

Airport Transit
Northwest Florida Regional Airport, 15 miles from Destin. Transfer cost by taxi, $30

Jacksonville International Airport, approximately 12 miles from downtown Jacksonville. Transfer cost by taxi, $28-$35; by shuttle, $20. The airport is about 34 miles from Ponte Vedra. Transfer cost by taxi, $70

Taxes
Destin: Room tax, 7%, sales tax, 4%; total tax on hotel rooms, 11%

Jacksonville: Room tax, 6%, sales tax, 7%; total tax on hotel rooms, 13%

Ponte Vedra: room tax, 6%; sales tax, 4%; total tax on hotel rooms, 10%

Contact
Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, (850) 651-7647; myemeraldcoastevent.com 

St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau; (904) 209-4432; myfloridameetings.com

Visit Jacksonville, (904) 798-9111; visitjacksonville.com