Any place that claims to have the perfect spot for family reunion travel should be thoroughly investigated. After all, anyone who has tried to reconcile one family member’s love of deep-sea fishing with another’s drop-of-the-hat seasickness tendencies knows that finding one a single place that matches everyone’s taste is hard to do.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine took her family (complete with young kids and teenagers) to Florida’s Emerald Coast. And came back raving about it. A few months later, a group of older adults pronounced it the perfect vacation destination. And why not? The Emerald Coast has white sands and the warm turquoise-tinged waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s home to what USA Today calls one of the top beaches in the US, but also hosts cultural activities that range from painting classes to live symphonies. And the dining scene is second to none – even if you’re not one for fresh seafood.
How Do I Get to the Emerald Coast?
Roughly speaking, the Emerald Coast covers about 100 miles of northwestern Florida’s Gulf coastline. While there’s certainly plenty to enjoy along the journey, no doubt your group will want to get to their destination as quickly as possible. That’s not difficult, no matter how you’re planning on arriving. If you’re flying in, you can choose from Pensacola International Airport in the north, Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Airport near the center, or – at the southern end of the area – Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City Beach.
If you’re driving in, Destin, the heart of Emerald Coast, is about midway between Mobile and Tallahassee, just off US 10.
What Can My Fellow Reunion Travelers Do in the Emerald Coast?
It might be faster to tell you what they can’t do: winter sports are pretty much right out. Anything that requires sunshine and warm air, on the other hand, is a definite possibility. And while you might not want to overlook the area’s five parks and 12 beaches, your group could happily spend a good bit of time on dry land.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re captaining an active bunch that loves nothing better than some friendly competition on the links. The Emerald Coast has enough golf courses to keep everyone happy, including Blackstone Golf Course, which uses rolling terrain to provide a fun experience for all skill levels. If your group prefers a challenge, they can choose from the two championship-level courses that the City of Fort Walton Beach provides at Fort Walton Beach Golf Club.
If golfing isn’t your thing, than by all means head out to the water and create some adrenaline-fueled memories. You can do everything from jet ski to parasailing, including surfing, waterskiing and stand-up paddle boarding. Or charter a boat for a fishing experience in the Gulf of Mexico, the area’s bayous, or the calm lakes. Don’t fish, but love the water? Schedule a pirate cruise or a dolphin-watching expedition instead! (By the way, if you plan on fishing, you’ll need to get an inexpensive temporary license to do so.)
And don’t forget about the shopping. From art galleries to malls, you’ll be able to find your preferred shopping experience in the Emerald Coast. Destin Commons hosts a huge selection of name-brand stores, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Bass Pro Shop, Gymboree, Guess, Pandora and Williams-Sonoma. Destin’s HarborWalk Village, another popular shopping spot, combines eateries and shops with the chance to do some of the watersports we’ve already discusses – a true one-stop shop.
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What Will My Hungry Group Eat in the Emerald Coast?
Speaking of food, nobody likes to get hungry. Being around a group of hungry fellow travelers is even less fun. Fortunately, that doesn’t need to happen to your fellow reunioners when you visit Florida’s Emerald Coast.
Naturally, you’d expect a place with “Coast” in the title to produce some top-notch seafood restaurants, and they do. But that’s not all they do, by a long shot. Got a craving for wood-fired pizzas or some really great Asian food? No problem. Are you up for sampling the local take on Creole or down-home Southern fare? You’ll enjoy it. And if your taste buds want a simple old-fashioned hamburger and fries, that’s available too.
What Lodgings are Reunion-Travel Friendly in the Emerald Coast?
After all the fun, your group needs one more thing – a place to chill and recharge. There’s no shortage of lodging in the Emerald Coast; your options are more likely to be influenced by your reunion group’s size and budget than by what the area can or cannot provide. Want to rent a beach house with a view or feel right at home in a bed and breakfast? Or does your group have more of an RV and campground vibe going on? Do you prefer the luxury of a beachfront condo or a brilliant hotel? They’re all available.
Florida’s Emerald Coast has a reputation that takes a lot of living up to – but this place has the amenities that can do it. When you’re planning your next reunion travel, be sure to check out this slice of white-sand paradise.
Have you visited Florida’s Emerald Coast recently? Tell us about it in the comments section below!