North Florida's Emerald Coast (pictured) -- Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island -- comprises 24 miles of powdery, white-sand beaches and gem-hued waters. Meeting groups flock here for superb fishing, kayaking, hiking and biking, not to mention the mouthwatering Gulf-to-table cuisine.
DINING IN DESTIN
The beach party never ends at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Destin. This Northwest Florida outpost of the laid-back tropical chain offers spectacular views of the marina, along with tropical drinks, salads, burgers and more.
Harry T's, named for a famed trapeze artist and steeped in circus nostalgia, is in the lighthouse at HarborWalk Village. American fare and fresh seafood are the specialties.
DOLPHINS AND MORE
Catch a cruise aboard one of the many vessels that track the charming mammals that frolic off the Emerald Coast. AJ's Water Adventures runs day and sunset sailings.
Learn about the protected sea turtles that nest in the area on an evening eco walk conducted by the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau/Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council.
Take a tranquil walk along the nature trail at Henderson State Park in Destin. The path weaves through sand pine, sand live oak, saw palmettos, cacti and wildflowers. The park also is a paradise for birders as well as anglers, who can try their luck catching red fish, flounder, catfish, cobia, whiting and pompano.
• The Ramada Plaza Beach Resort is now the 335-room Island by Hotel RL, and the first resort destination for Red Lion's upscale boutique brand. The Okaloosa Island property, built in 1966, has renovated its public spaces; newly designed guest rooms will debut in 2019. The hotel has 14,000 square feet of event space, including a penthouse ballroom, plus two pools, a grotto with a swim-up bar, and a beach-side coffee truck. This summer the property unveiled its signature restaurant, Nineteen66 Southern Grill & Tap House, and launched the poolside Living Stage, which gives local musicians, poets and artists a community platform.
• The 178-room Hilton Garden Inn Fort Walton Beach recently opened with a large pool and deck with fire pits that overlook the Gulf. For meetings and events, the hotel has a 5,000-square-foot banquet room with sea views.
• The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, debuted recently in Destin. The resort has approximately 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, including the 5,221-square-foot Crystal Ballroom, the Grand Lawn and the Sunset Vista Terrace. Other features include the Primrose restaurant, the Horizons Bar, the Sea Level grill, an adult pool with cabanas, a fitness room and the Salamander Spa with 11 treatment rooms. The property also provides on-site kayak and bike rentals.
MEETING HOTELS: Among Okaloosa County hotels with meeting facilities are the 335-room Island by Hotel RL, 216-room Four Points by Sheraton Destin--Fort Walton Beach, 195-room Wyndham Garden Fort Walton Beach, 170-room The Henderson and 155-room Embassy Suites Destin at Miramar Beach.
To find and compare hotels, and to send RFPs, visit mcvenues.com.
CONVENTION CENTER: Emerald Coast Convention Center; exhibit space, 65,000 square feet; number of meeting rooms, 12; (850) 609-3800 or (877) 574-5123; bit.ly/2LxEWAR
AIRPORT TRANSIT: Destin--Fort Walton Beach Airport, 16 miles from Destin. Transfer cost by taxi to Destin, $50
TAXES: Room tax, 5%; sales tax, 7%; total tax on hotel rooms, 12%
GROUP VENUES: Bring out the "kid" in attendees of all ages by spending a fun-filled afternoon (or evening) at Wild Willy's Adventure Zone in Fort Walton Beach. The venue, which bills itself as Northwest Florida's largest family-entertainment center, includes a 17,000-square-foot arcade, a 4-D movie theater, a laser maze, two dinosaur-themed mini golf courses, a 60-foot-long ropes course, a spinning roller coaster and a reverse bungee trampoline. Dining and catering are provided by Salvati's Pizza Factory and YogoMogo's Creamy Cool Creations. Groups of up to 200 people are accommodated. (850) 400-3300
Host a one-of-a-kind dinner at the Living Sea event space at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach. The space is surrounded by a stunning eight-foot-high aquarium filled with rainbow-hued tropical fish, giving it an ethereal underwater vibe. Groups of up 112 guests can be hosted. (850) 243-9046
Celebrate Destin's fascinating fishing heritage at the Destin History and Fishing Museum. Indoor exhibits highlight the village's origins and showcase the variety of denizens populating the local waters. The outdoor Museum Historic Park Complex displays several old-style fishing boats as well as Destin's original post office building. The museum has a large meeting space that accommodates up to 50 people; group tours of the facility are accommodated. (850) 837-6611
CONTACT:Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, (850) 651-7647 or (800) 322-3319