Northern Florida

Why Here?
Up north, Florida's East Coast includes historic St. Augustine (above) and the golfing paradise of Ponte Vedra, while over on the West Coast, emerald waters and powder-white beaches beckon. The whole region offers a balmy climate and lots of charm to entice meeting and incentive groups alike.

Colonial Roots
Founded in 1565 by Spain's Pedro Menendez de Aviles, St. Augustine has the distinction of being the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent. Among the landmarks from the Spanish Colonial period that remain today are the Castillo de San Marcos fortress and the original city gates.

Northwest News
• The 30,000-square-foot Bayview Plaza opened last summer at the Emerald Coast Convention Center in Fort Walton Beach. The outdoor space was added to accommodate the center's boat, automobile and RV shows.

• The 152-room Holiday Inn Resort Fort Walton Beach Hotel recently debuted with 2,500 square feet of event space, including a pool deck that accommodates up to 170 guests.

Up Your Game
Two PGA Tour Academies devoted to improving the skills of players are located in Northeast Florida: One at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach and the other at World Golf Village in St. Augustine. For details: pgatour.com

Sandcastle Showcase
Head to a local beach for a sandcastle-building challenge. The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa (hiltonsandestin.com) can organize the contest, complete with shovels, buckets and snacks.

St. Augustine

• The 84-room Quality Inn St. Augustine, now managed by Magnuson Hotels, has been renamed the Magnuson Hotel Historic St. Augustine. The downtown hotel overlooks the San Sebastian River.

• The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel St. Augustine Historic District opened last fall. The 97-room property has 3,100 square feet of meeting space and offers complimentary Wi-Fi throughout.

Meeting Hotels: In St. Augustine proper are the 301-room Renaissance World Golf Village Resort and 138-room Casa Monica.

Ponte Vedra has the 511-room Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, 250-room Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and 66-room The Lodge & Club.

For a full listing of area properties, and to compare hotels and send RFPs, visit mcvenues.com.

Convention Center: St. John's County Convention Center; exhibit space, approximately 33,000 square feet; number of meeting rooms, five; (904) 940-8632; worldgolfrenaissance.com

Airport Transit: Jacksonville International Airport, 52 miles (50 minutes driving time) north of St. Augustine. Transfer cost by taxi, $102-$112

Daytona International Airport, 56 miles south of St. Augustine. Transfer cost by taxi, about $148

Taxes: Room tax, 4%; sales tax, 6%; total tax on hotel rooms, 10%

Group Venue: Cap's on the Water, between Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine, features a large outdoor deck and adjoining dock offering breathtaking views of the Intracoastal Waterway and the majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss that line it shores. The eatery is know for its oyster roasts and catch-of-the day seafood. Groups of up to 300 people are accommodated. (904) 819-8190; capsonthewater.com

Contact: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau, (800) 418-7529; myfloridameetings.com.Northwest Florida

• The 602-room Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa has completed a $13 million renovation that included the guest rooms in the Spa Tower, the lobby and other public spaces; Sandcastles Restaurant and Lounge; the Hadashi Sushi Bar, and the spa. The work follow a $5.5 million project that revamped the resort's 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

• The region's main airport, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, is getting more flights. United Airlines launched twice-daily service from George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, and Silver Airlines has started service from both Orlando International and Tampa International airports.

Meeting Hotels: For a full list of Northwest Florida properties, and to find/compare hotels and send RFPs, visit mcvenues.com.

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

Baytowne Conference Center (Sandestin); exhibit space, approximately 23,350 square feet; number of meeting rooms, eight; (800) 277-0803; bit.ly/1AS9WMnx

Airport Transit: Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, 33 miles from South Walton. Transfer cost by taxi, about $80

Taxes: South Walton and San­destin: room tax, 4.5%; sales tax, 7.5%; total tax on hotel rooms, 12%

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

Group Venue: At the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, treat attendees to a Dolphin Splash Encounter and then an "underwater" dinner (for up to 112) in the Living Sea event space, with its wallsize aquarium filled with tropical fish. (850) 243-9046; gulfarium.com

Contact: Visit South Walton, (850) 267-1216 or (800) 822-6877; visitsouthwalton.com

Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, (850) 651-7131; emeraldcoastfl.com