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Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, Florida

Southern Charm Meets the Gulf of Mexico at the Sandestin Resort
by Chantal Perreault

Sandestin's Elephant Walk Restaurant, fashioned after the plantation owner's home in the 1954 Elizabeth Taylor film of the same name, overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. The menu features creative cuisine specializing in fresh local seafood with an exotic flair.
photo: © Sandestin.

Located in Northwest Florida between Pensacola and Panama City is the highly impressive 2,400-acre Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. The resort, located just off the Gulf of Mexico's sugar-sand beaches, creates the perfect backdrop for a luxurious Southern retreat.

Sandestin first opened in 1973 and exchanged ownership hands several times before the Vancouver-based Intrawest Corporation purchased the resort in 1998. Intrawest, better known for such famous ski resorts as Tremblant and Whistler Blackcomb, launched a $400 million development program to revitalize the property. Progress to date has included the addition of the world-class Raven Golf Club in March 2000 and the 28-acre Village of Baytown Wharf, which introduced its first phase in 2002.

To coincide with Sandestin's 30-year anniversary, the resort opened the elegant Grand Sandestin hotel and adjoining Baytown Conference Center in Fall 2003. Both are designed with Southern sophistication and perfectly demonstrating this is the conference center's Magnolia Ballroom, the largest ballroom on northwest Florida's Gulf Coast.

With the Grand Sandestin and nearly thirty additional types of accommodations throughout the resort, you're certain to find something that suits both your budget and taste -- from spacious villas and cottage-style town homes to beachfront condos.

The Grand Sandestin is a 168-unit Southern plantation-style estate featuring a sweeping two-story veranda offering picturesque views of the Bay and lush formal gardens.
Photo: © Sandestin.

As a guest at the resort, I stayed in the beautiful Grand Sandestin, an upscale, 168-unit luxury condominium hotel offering one-, two-, and three bedroom suites. First glance at the hotel evoked a sense of Southern grandeur with formal gardens and architecture reminiscent of a lavish Savannah estate. The lobby features large white pillars and gleaming marble floors with a full service wet bar, seating area and a piano mechanically playing relaxing classical notes.


Inside my room, I was greeted with sunny, warm tones of blues and yellows while sepia-toned artwork graced the walls, creating a sense of tranquility. The one-bedroom condo was fresh and airy, and had all the necessary amenities from a washer and dryer to wine glasses and a corkscrew. Directly off the kitchen was a spacious dining and living area with television and DVD player. A glass door opened up to a large wraparound balcony and patio set overlooking the gardens, and was perfect for enjoying a cup of complimentary Italian coffee. The bathroom featured double sinks, a deep soaker tub, fluffy white towels and specialty items such as lavender body soap and almond moisturizing lotion.

The clean design continued into the bedroom with a comfortable king-size bed and additional television for cozy, late-night viewing. I found my bed turned down each night with a bar of chocolate welcoming me to The Village of Baytowne Wharf.

Steps from The Grand Sandestin is The Village of Baytowne Wharf, located directly on the Choctawhatchee Bay. Reminiscent of an old world fishing village with a New Orleans flavor, Baytowne Wharf sits as though it naturally evolved around a fishing port. The Village offers eclectic dining and shopping, and an animated nightlife.

While in the Village, enjoy a loose leaf tea in the traditional Magnolia and Ivy Tea Room or browse Bark Avenue, a boutique that caters to the spoiled pet population with bejeweled collars, costumes and gourmet treats for Fifi.

The Village of Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin.
Photo: © Sandestin.

Other carefully chosen boutiques in the Village include everything from upscale ladies wear and jewelry to fine wines and home decor. And if that's not enough, take a shuttle to The Market Shops at Sandestin or the local Silver Sands Outlet. The Market Shops present nearly thirty stores to discover that perfect souvenir while the Silver Sands outlet offers more than a hundred designer stores from Jones New York and DKNY to Waterford Wedgwood and Zales. For the serious shopper, it doesn't get better than this.

After an exhausting day shopping, what better way to relax than with a visit to the full service Sandestin Salon and Day Spa. The spa itself was clean and spacious, and offered a mix of beauty and bath products. Though not yet updated to match the sophistication of the rest of the resort, plans are slated for completion of a stand alone European-style spa facility in 2005.

Regardless, the customized facial was heavenly. A series of exfoliation processes and treatment masks along with a massage and soothing rosewater eye treatment left me feeling renewed and my skin luminous. Besides six different types of facials, the spa offers a full range of other services including hair care, nail design and body treatments. Or truly indulge yourself with not just one service, but an entire spa package such as Beach Bliss or Travelers Retreat.

Burnt Pine Golf Club's hole #14 is the signature hole of this Rees Jones' designed course.
Photo: © Sandestin.

For the more athletic-minded traveler, the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort features championship golf courses and award-winning tennis. Four distinctly different golf courses offer varying challenges and spectacular views. For old and new players alike, the Hank Johnson School of Golf helps students of every skill set improve their game from the swing to the shot to the score. If you're still feeling apprehensive, you may have better luck at The Dunes Putting Course, a miniature golf course with 18 fun and challenging putting holes.

If golf isn't necessarily your strong suit, try your hand at a little tennis. Sandestin is the ideal place to learn and to perfect your game on either clay, hard or natural grass court surfaces. As a guest at Sandestin, you receive a complimentary hour of tennis court time daily. The resort also offers a new Tennis Package which includes one-night accommodations; breakfast buffet for two adults and two hours court time per day. Prices for two adults range from $103 to $159 depending on the season.

The full service 98-slip Baytowne Marina also hosts a variety of recreational activities and rentals including kayaks, canoes, pontoons and boogie boards. With some trepidation, I chose the Yamaha XL 700 waverunner as my mode of transportation to explore the waters. Chris Miller, Director of Marina Services, did a great job easing my concerns and making me feel more comfortable with the waverunner. It was the perfect opportunity for me to absorb the breathtaking surroundings, and a chance to meet close-up with dolphins home to the area. Ecotour Excursions are also available if you would rather not venture out on your own.

Sailing lessons and sunset cruises provide another opportunity to experience the coastline. Whether it be on the magnificent 70-foot Jennifer Marie with a large group of people or the 60-foot Island Belle enjoying a drink on the deck, a beautiful tour of the Emerald Coast will be a memorable one.

As the sun starts to set, you're feeling sun-kissed, pampered and have slipped into that little black number you purchased on your shopping excursion. The Village of Baytowne Wharf hosts an array of dining choices that will perfectly complete your day. Located right on the Choctawhatchee Bay overlooking the Baytowne Marina is Poppy's Seafood Factory, serving up steamed seafood and the house specialty, blackened lobster, which is a sight to feast your eyes on. Owner AJ Tusa does his best to ensure that each and every guest enjoys their dining experience. Other delicious dining options in the area include the Marlin Grill, specializing in wood grilled steaks and Bistro Bijoux, an upscale bistro featuring a mouth-watering flourless chocolate cake. You'll still be talking about it days later.

Learn how to prepare delicious Cajun specialties and other gourmet delights at Gerard’s Cookery and Cajun Market. Photo: © Sandestin.

For a unique dining option, visit Gerard's Cookery & Cajun Market. Learn a few tricks of the trade with chef Patty Hay as she guides you through an informal cooking class with such specialties as lobster bisque, crab cakes and my favorite, white chocolate macadamia nut key lime pie.

After indulging in a gourmet meal, put on your dancing shoes and explore the nightlife within the Village. The recent addition of Rum Runners Dueling Piano Bar & Grill provides an upbeat atmosphere with, of course, dueling piano players on baby grands playing a mix of hits from both the past and present. Audience participation is highly encouraged with sing-a-longs and dance routines led by the staff.

Or head over to John Wehner's Famous Door Nightclub. The Famous Door is host to both tourists and locals looking to have a good time. Following in the footsteps of the original club out of the New Orleans French Quarter where celebrities like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joe Dimaggio and Walt Disney visited, the Famous Door offers up fantastic happy hours and energetic live entertainment.

At this point in the night, my cozy, king-sized bed was calling my name, and with a satisfied smile fit for a Southern belle I was willing to give in. A warm breeze was in the air as I stroll back to my room through the shell-paved corridors of the village and past the charming boutiques, giving me just enough time to pose the question, "What's in store for me tomorrow at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort?"

Spoil yourself with Southern hospitality and plan an unforgettable trip to the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. You will find everything you need to know at in order to arrange the perfect getaway. (...BACK)

  • Land at the Okaloosa Regional Airport (VPS). Located on the Elgin Air Force Base and roughly 25 miles from the resort.

  • Book ahead of time for the Bayside Airport Shuttle to transport you from the airport to the resort. The service is clean, reliable and the drivers are friendly and helpful in providing background information about the area. The price is reasonable as well.

  • Check out the various travel packages Sandestin has to offer including the Mardi Gras Package, Luxury Beachside Package, Sandestin Spa Package and the Sandestin Romance Package, perfect for that overdue snuggle session.

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