The northwest corner of the Sunshine State is known for its sugar-white sands and emerald waters. Groups are drawn here not only for the beaches, superb fishing, natural beauty, charming small-town feel and laid-back vibe, but also for its fine meeting facilities and broad range of event venues.
Let groups enjoy the great outdoors via a picnic or cookout at one of the following.
• John Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island is marked by several scenic sand dunes leading to the Gulf of Mexico. Two large pavilions can be reserved for group use.
• The six-acre Fort Walton Landing offers a walking path, soccer fields and the Emerald Coast Science Center.
Visitors can get an up-close view of the delightful mammals at play within the dolphin-breeding grounds of the shallows along Santa Rosa Sound, Destin Harbor and Okaloosa Island.
• 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. This transformation came on the heels of a $5.5 million project that revamped the resort's 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
• The 30,000-square-foot Bayview Plaza opened in August 2014 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center in Fort Walton Beach. The expansive new outdoor space essentially is a large concrete pad equipped with electricity and water, providing space for boat, automotive and RV shows, trade shows and exhibitions.
• The 152-room Holiday Inn Resort Fort Walton Beach Hotel has opened on the beach, facing the Gulf of Mexico. The property features 2,500 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space for groups of up to 220, including a beachside pool deck able to host 170. The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park and Boardwalk Okaloosa Island are within walking distance.
Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which opened in 2010 in Panama City, is getting busier. United Airlines began twice-daily flights from George Bush Intercontinental in Houston this year, while Silver Airlines has commenced service from both Orlando International and Tampa International airports.
Meeting Hotels: For a full list of Northern Florida properties, and to find/compare hotels and send RFPs, visit mcvenues.com.
Convention Center: 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
Baytowne Conference Center (Sandestin); exhibit space, approximately 23,350 square feet; number of meeting rooms, eight. (800) 277-0803
Airport Transit: Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, 33 miles from South Walton. Transfer cost by taxi, about $80
Taxes: South Walton and Sandestin: county bed tax, 4.5%; sales tax, 7.5%; total tax on hotel rooms, 12%
Okaloosa County: bed tax, 5%; sales tax, 6%; total tax on hotel rooms, 11%
Group Venue: Angler's Beachside Bar and Grill, at the entrance of the Okaloosa Island Pier in Fort Walton Beach, serves freshly caught fish and seafood in a relaxed setting overlooking the Gulf (try the fried grouper Reuben). In addition to dozens of seafood options, diners can dig into steak and pasta. Private groups of up to 250 people are accommodated. (850) 796-0260
Contact: Visit South Walton, (800) 822-6877
Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, (850) 651-7131