Sandestin Florida was unseasonably warm for February. The week started off windy and cold, but by the weekend, my boys and I were in bathing suits playing a heated game of spikeball, on the fluffy white sand beach. Nearby, the emerald green water was lapping up the coast while shore birds scurried around looking for a meal. It was springtime weather, with winter time crowds.
Sandestin Florida: Absurdly Gorgeous Beaches, Epic Family Fun
Where is Sandestin Florida | The Hilton Sandestin | The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort | Favorite Sandestin Restaurants | 29+ Things to do in Sandestin, FL | Sandestin Resort Golf | Biking Sandestin | Kids Clubs in Sandestin
Where is Sandestin Florida?
Ready to hit those sugar white beaches you see in the dreamy ‘don’t you wish you were here ads,” and dip your toes in the emerald green water? Me too. And we just left.
By Land. Sandestin FL is located in South Walton County on Florida’s Northwest Panhandle. It’s about a 5 to 6 hour drive from downtown Atlanta out I-85 and then through some rural Alabama towns. I always like when a trip takes me through towns rather than just Interstate. For GPS purposes plug in Sandestin Beach Resort address 9300 Emerald Coast Parkway, Miramir Beach, FL.
By Air. If you’d rather fly, there are three airports that serve San destin, Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport.
Destin vs. Sandestin. It’s important to note that Sandestin Resort is not Destin, FL, nor is it Sand Destin (just one D). Sandestin is a development located in Miramar FL between Pensacola and Panama City Beach, about eight miles east of Destin.
Where to Stay in Sandestin Resort Florida
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, Mirimar Beach FL has the most variety of room types. If you’d like a family condo, this is where you want to stay. If you prefer one of the full service hotels in Sandestin FL, the Hilton Sandestin is the place. Plus the Hilton is one of a few Sandestin hotels on the beach.
No matter where you stay, chances are you’ll spend some time at the Village of Baytowne Wharf, the entertainment district of Sandestin, as well as relaxing on the beach looking out at the emerald waters of Northwest Florida.
The view from my room at the Hilton Sandestin
The Hilton Sandestin Beach Florida
The Hilton Sandestin is located right on the crystal white sand of the Sandestin beaches. Every room at the Sandestin Hilton has a full or partial ocean view. If you have kids, ask for the Emerald Tower, these large rooms also come with nautical themed bunk beds!
The Hilton Sandestin Resort hotel is a full service hotel that has been owned by the same group for it’s entire 30+ years of existence. A major renovation was done in 2013, but each year the hotel receives an upgrade of one kind or another. The rooms and all the facilities I viewed were modern and well-kept. In fact, all the awnings were being replaced for the upcoming high season starting in March.
We visited in an unseasonably warm February, but it was still a little chilly for the see-through blue water of the ocean. No matter, the Hilton Sandestin has three pools, one heated indoor pool, as well as two outdoor (one heated) and a hot tub. We were still able to enjoy the water, and the cooler beach time was perfect for that family game of spikeball. If it got too cold on the Hilton Sandestin beach, we could just walk up to the indoor pool. The Sandestin Hilton also has an in-house spa, fitness center, and four restaurants plus a coffee shop. More on the Serenity by the Sea Spa and restaurants later in this article.
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is more than just a building. In fact it is 2,400 acres, and more than 30 different neighborhoods located on both sides of US 98.
Whatever type of accommodations you want, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has them, condominiums, villas, town homes, or hotel. All have a pool accessible, and everything is connected by bike and walking paths, in addition to a resort wide tram system that is used by all Sandestin guests no matter where they stay.
The pool at the Luau Condos, part of the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
Where to Stay at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
So where should you stay if you opt for the Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort? That depends on what you want to do, and what type of accommodations fit your family.
Beachside. (which doesn’t necessarily mean you are “on the beach”) We stayed in Luau Beachside. This high-rise condo had hotel type rooms, as well as condos with full kitchens. It was a very short walk to the beach and the hotel pool was expansive (although too cold for our visit) with a waterfall, kiddie pool and hot tub.
We enjoyed having the beach a few hundred yards from the hotel, however, you’ll have to cross US 98 for other amenities like the marina, Baytowne Wharf, golf, tennis, playgrounds, etc. No need to worry about the traffic though, there is a pedestrian/bike tunnel under the highway (and the free tram system we mentioned will take you back and forth from beachside to bayside)
Baytowne Wharf. (the New Orleans style downtown) If you are visiting for one of the many Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort festivals, maybe staying in the Baytowne Wharf Sandestin area is a better bet. It’s still an easy bike ride or golf cart ride to the beach or golf courses.
Lakeside Townhomes and Cottages. (surrounding the Raven and Baytowne golf courses) These are villas close to the golf courses, tennis courts and Baytowne Wharf. You’ll have to cross 98 to get to the beach, but you can do that through the pedestrian/bike tunnel under the highway.
Bayside. (the original portion of the resort along the Links golf course) You’ll find villas and townhomes here that offer more space to spread out. Similar to Lakeside, these will be near the golf courses, tennis courts, and Baytowne Wharf activities. However, you’ll have to cross 98 for the beach.
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort FREE Amenities
No matter what you choose, you’ll get the famous Sandestin amenities: bike rental, fitness center, tennis court time, resort transportation, kayak, and boogie boards, all free with your reservation (there are time limits, so be sure you understand). Having those free amenities adds a lot to your visit. I mean lets be real, the kids really love to kayak and boogie board for about 15 minutes, then they’re done. With the free amenities, it can be a total ‘yes’ vacation, and I love it when I get to say ‘yes’ to my kids requests.
What you won’t get is free WIFI, that was $9.95 per device during our stay. In today’s day and age, that’s a strange thing not to include, and a bummer with device addicted teens (ok, and me).
All of these amenities listed are available to Hilton Sandestin guests for a fee, and can be set up through the concierge. However, we did have free wifi at the Hilton.
Favorite Sandestin Restaurants
My visit to Sandestin began with a familiarization trip to the Hilton Sandestin. Even if you don’t stay here, the restaurants are worth a visit. Here’s a bit more about them.
Sandcastle at the Hilton Sandestin Hotel
What surprised me most about the Hilton Sandestin was the food. I liked how they did the breakfast buffet at Sandcastle, guests select their omelet ingredients from an omelet bar then hand them to the chef to make a fluffy delicious creation. For kids, he’ll also make waffles, plain or chocolate chip. If you don’t have time for the buffet, there is also a coffee shop that serves pastries made in-house by the chef. My boys devoured the cinnamon roll, licking their fingers clean.
Breakfast was a good start, but it was the amazing dinners that really had our group of writers talking. Our last evening we sampled from the new Cajun influenced dinner menu at Sandcastles. The pork belly flat bread was our pick for a starter. Spinach pesto, goat cheese, scallions, roasted red peppers & arugula on a sliver of bread. The blackened filet topped with creole hollandaise, served with herb roasted fingerling potatoes, steamed asparagus and baby carrots was a favorite for many. For an all out Southern twist try the smoked gouda creamy Anson Mill grits topped with a meunière garlic sauce, served with baby green beans with caramelized shallots (they had me a gouda). Portions were big, and more than satisfying. The mocha chocolate tort with raspberry sorbet was a to die for ending – and I don’t even like coffee.
Hadashi Sushi Bar at the Hilton Sandestin
The Hilton Sandestin also has a sushi bar called Hadashi. I don’t normally eat sushi, so it’s hard for me to judge whether or not this was great sushi. I do know that I’d go back again for the combination seaweed salad. It was a wonderful mixture of flavors with a bit of a crunch.
Seagars at the Hilton Sandestin
The most elegant evening was at Seagars, Sandestin’s only AAA Four-Diamond Steakhouse in the area. As you would expect, the steaks were amazing, but our entire group was just as taken with the sides such as the kale and sprout petal salad. The honey lemon vinaigrette is the key I think.
To mix it up a little bit, our hosts paired the courses with specialty cocktails. In addition to a 600-label wine list with 3,700 bottles of wine on site, (they pour an estimated 5,000 bottles of wine each year), Seagars has an extensive cocktail menu. During our hosted dinner, we sampled several different cocktails. The one I went ahead and finished (ok, and a little bit of someone else’s too) was the El Calor Naranja: Reposado Tequila, Aperol, Fresh Orange Juice and Lime Juices, Serrano Pepper, served on the rocks.
This is definitely the place in Sandestin for a great meal without the kids.
Recommended Baytowne Wharf Restaurants
Another Broken Egg. A great place for a hearty breakfast. They have good biscuits too.
Bijoux. Bijoux is the perfect place in Baytowne Wharf for a nice dinner.
Graffiti and the Funky Blues Shack. This place is fun for music and a casual experience.
Rum Runners. A Dueling Piano Bar. Go early and it’s fun for the whole family.
More Places to Eat in Sandestin
There are lots of places to eat in Sandestin, and if you don’t mind driving a bit, there are awesome places both east and west of the resort. The following suggestions are places we visited, as well as reader favorites. There’s no way to mention them all, but if we forgot one of your favorites, let us know what it is and why it should be included.
Hurricane Oyster Bar. This is in nearby Grayton Beach. My boys went here without me and said it was a good balance of price and quality. My husband loved the peanuts at the table to enjoy before dinner, and my son was raving about the lobster tacos the next day.
Stewies. If you want to venture into Destin FL, we enjoyed Stewies seafood. Although they have a drive thru, this is not fast food. It is delicious lightly fried shrimp at non-resort prices. Can’t comment on any other menu items as we all enjoyed the shrimp. This is about 40 minutes from Sandestin though, and although it was very good, personally I would not make that drive again, but I would go again if I were staying closer to Destin Fl.
McGuire’s Irish Pub. Sometimes all that seafood can be too much. This million-dollar bar (literally million dollar as they have dollar bills hanging from the walls) has an amazing handmade hamburger. The icing on the bun – we even received a thank you note after we ate there! McGuires is also a little drive from Sandestin in Destin, FL but it’s a bit closer than Stewies.
The Donut Hole. This was about three miles from our Luau Condo. We went here twice in two days. Four words – Red Velvet Cake Donut.
Great Southern Café. This is in Seaside. Owner Chef Jim Shirley mixes international cuisines with local ingredients.
Perfect Pig. Located on 30A. Enjoy half-priced entrees between 4 and 6.
Cowgirl Kitchen. Fantastic lunch/brunch spot in Seacreast.
Chanticleer. A perfect casual eatery in Grayton Beach that also welcomes fur babies on the patio.
Charlies Donut Truck. The truck is in Alys Beach, but there is also a stand in Seagrove.
29 Things to do in Sandestin, FL
The first half of my visit to Sandestin was with a group of girls on a girl’s weekend familiarization tour. The second leg of the trip was a family weekend with the boys. It was a great way to experience two different sides of Sandestin. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Sandestin (with and without kids).
Things to do within Sandestin Resort, FL
Sandestin App. Everyone has an app, and now so does Sandestin. Find the tram stops, and more importantly, how close is the tram to your stop. See what events are coming up. Find local places to eat. It’s all there. Desktop, just go to sandestin.com
The Sandestin Tram. Regardless of where you are staying in Sandestin, the tram is the way to get from beachside to Baytowne Wharf, golf and tennis. Just show your key card. Here is a tram map of Sandestin.
The Sandestin Beach Florida. It goes without saying the Sandestin beaches are a major draw. Couple of things to know, if you are staying at the Hilton Sandestin, you are right on the beach. If not, there is a public rest room in-between the Hilton and the Beach House restaurant (formerly Finz I believe) There is also a bike rack there, so if you are biking from one of the Bayside condos, this is a good place to park.
Bonfires on the Beach. There is just something special about cozying up to a fire with the waves in the background. If you are staying at the Hilton Sandestin, just ask the concierge about doing a bonfire on the beach with your family. If you are at the Sandestin Beach Resort, book your bonfire by going to email@example.com.
Beach Chairs and Cabanas. Whether you are staying at the Sandestin Hilton or in the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, you can rent chairs or cabanas on the beach if you don’t want to bring your own. Know that in-season these can be in high demand. I spoke with the rental folks and they said during the summer, the umbrellas can be five deep on the beach. If you know you want a beach chair, I would go ahead and rent it the evening before.
Sunrise and Sunset. I was so glad we did sunrise yoga one day, because it made me get up the next day to walk on the beach and view the sunrise again. It’s the perfect time for a beach walk. In the evenings, you’ll see people head to the beach specifically for the sunset. Not into the beach scene? Enjoy sunset at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort Marina where they will blow the canon and ring the bell to celebrate another great day.
Spikeball on the Beach. So we brought this with us, but I had to include it because the fluffy sand is perfect for this game. It was hard to get my boys to leave the beach or do anything else. My youngest was covered head-to-toe from diving for the ball. Don’t know about Spikeball? They bill it as a cross between foursquare and volleyball. Here’s where you can get it. And here are the rules.
Serenity by the Sea Spa. Whether you linger on a girl’s getaway, or escape for a few hours while hubby takes the kids, the Serenity Spa at the Hilton Sandestin was a real treat. We soaked in the whirlpool, took a steam and floated in the zero-gravity lounge chairs. But of course the show-stopper was a 50-minute massage that included aromatherapy, hot stones and warm towels. Ahhhhh.
Sandestin Resort Spa. Need more relaxation? The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort Spa is also available. I have not experienced this one, so if you have, let me know what you think in the comments.
Baytowne Wharf, Sandestin FL. The Village of Baytowne Wharf Sandestin is modeled after Bourbon Street in New Orleans, albeit with a family flair. There are plenty of free options for entertainment, a huge playground, giant checkers, and family programming includes performers and outdoor movies. No doubt your kids will want to partake in some of the “attractions” and there are lots to choose from including: a zipline, ropes course, a carousel, and for those rainy days, Blast Arcade and Laser Maze. Throughout the year are various festivals.
Festivals at Baytowne Wharf. I love a good festival. We happened to visit during the Sandestin Gumbo Festival. I was amazed all the people for a weekend in February. Many folks I talked to have been coming for years too. It was a fun, family-friendly afternoon with music, some good gumbo. Harry T’s and Dewey Destin’s won the professional categories, while Crab Island Cantina won the people’s choice. There were so many choices I completely lost track, so I can’t really tell you who was my favorite.
Wine Festival at Sandestin. Personally, I’d like to come back for the wine festival in April. Visit Sandestin.com to see what special events are happening during your visit.
Mini-Golf. In addition to four 18-hole golf courses, the Sandestin Golf Resort has their own mini-golf course located on the beach side, because what beach vacation would be complete without mini-golf.
Basketball. Bring a basketball, or rent one. There are basketball courts for the use of the Sandestin Resorts on the ocean side near mini-golf.
Jolee Island. This fun escape reminds me of Treasure Island or maybe Robinson Crusoe. Get to the island via kayak or Yolo board. You get an hour free each day when staying at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, and you can pick them up at the marina, just a short jaunt from the island. If you’d rather go by land, there is a sign for Jolee Island along Baytowne Drive. Park your car and walk across the bridge.
Davidson Nature Preserve. Across the street from Jolee Island is a non-descript sign that reads Davidson Nature Preserve. Go through the arbor for a stroll along the wooden walkway to discover Davidson Fort, a fun kids playground with a blockhouse and slide.
The Treehouse. Between Baytowne Wharf and the Baytowne Wharf Marina is a walkway through the woods. Take a pitstop in the shade and climb the treehouse.
Yolo or Stand Up Paddleboarding. This is another amenity that comes with your Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort rental. You can rent a YOLO or Kayak for an hour a day during your stay. If you are staying at the Hilton Sandestin Resort, ask the concierge about renting. If you’ve never paddleboarded before, read this hilarious summary from my colleague Paul Eisenberg of TravelingDad.
Sunrise Yoga. The fitness center at the Hilton Sandestin has free weights, machines, and fitness classes. For an added fee, you can take one of the scheduled classes, or if you have four or more in your group, schedule your own. We did sunrise yoga on the deck. It was a nice way to start the day, and it was so pretty that I got up again the next day to walk to the beach at sunrise.
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort also has a fitness center that is complimentary with your stay.
Dock Fishing. Most of the lakes in Sandestin are stocked catch and release. You don’t need a fishing license to fish in these lakes, and you can get a rod and bait at the marina if you don’t bring your own.
Boat Fishing. In addition to dock fishing, there are numerous charters that can take you out on the water. In fact, Baytowne Wharf is the only full service marina in Walton County. The marina has a 113 slip marina too – so if you’d rather bring your own yacht up to 140 feet, that’s doable too.
Visit with Macaw Mary Ann. Whenever we visit St. Simons Island, we have to see Mr. Bird, a grey Macaw at the bait shop. The resident bird in Sandestin is a macaw named Mary Ann. You can visit with her at the marina. Years ago during a trip to Sandestin, I was even able to hold her.
Tennis. One of the great things about Sandestin for tennis players is there is a large year-round community. That means there are established round robins you can drop into, and a wide range of levels for pick-up games. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has 15 tennis courts. 12 hydrogrid clay and three hard courts. Included in Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort rental is an hour of tennis each day.
Things to do Near Sandestin Resort, FL
The Silver Sands Premium Outlet. So let me say at the onset, I’m not a shopper. But what made this experience different was Kim, of Closets by Kimberly. Kim is a stylist for the outlet mall. At first I thought, whattt?, but when I left I thought “maybe I should get her to come to my house.” She talked about where to spend, and where to go cheap (hint – get t-shirts at Target and replace each year. Spend on jeans – especially if you keep them for years like I do. The fabric and shape are different in the pricer brands.)
Shard Art. Again, I was skeptical about this paint your own pottery type craft experience, but was turned into a believer. Shard Art uses broken glass to create art, similar to 2014 Artist of the Year for Walton County Mary Hong. In fact, Mary’s studio is right next-door, so you can view her pieces for inspiration. I was so excited about my piece I couldn’t wait to get it back the next day.
Meet the Locals. Save some time after your crafting experience to view the other shotgun style pastel shops along this dead end street in Grayton Beach. We met artist Andy Saczynski who works in mixed media in his studio. I have my eye on his flower paintings.
Local Artists. In addition to Mary Hong and Andy Saczynski, there are more than 60 artists that call South Walton home. That makes for quite a robust art community, and a fun way to spend an afternoon seeking out their shops.
Topsail State Park. Did you know there ar eight state parks in Walton County Florida? Five in the South Walton beaches area. Me either. Right next to Sandestin is Topsal State Park If you walk the beach one-way, it’s high rises; the other way is the undisturbed dunes of Topsail. The entrance to Topsl is on 30A. Other parks in South Walton include: Grayton Beach, Deer Lake, Point Washington and Eden Gardens.
Eden Gardens State Park. We visited this bayside park during the girls weekend portion of the Sandestin trip. There is a historic house, as well as beautiful manicured grounds. Go into the gift shop and get a brochure that includes 18 stops around the grounds to identify different plants. Bring a picnic too. There are tables by the water, or a large lawn, perfect for a feast on a blanket and maybe a little football afterwards.
Big Kahuna. This came highly recommended by reader Jane Christian. Big Kahuna is a water park in Destin, FL with a mini golf course, thrill coasters, as well as a lazy river.
Sandestin Resort Golf
Golf for Adults. There are four 18-hole Sandestin golf courses, the Links Golf Course, Raven Golf Club, Burnt Pine Golf Club and Baytowne Golf Club. Guests of any resort properties can play the Sandestin Golf Club courses; you just need a tee time. I’m not a golfer, so I had my husband play the Baytowne Course. He said greens were in good shape and it was a nice layout, with lots of water and sand. There are no forced carries over sand, except on the 18th hole, and there is water on the 9th, but it wasn’t forced. In addition, there are five sets of tees, so pretty much anyone can be successful.
And if you want to improve your game, Sandestin has a golf academy for all levels of golfers, including special programs for juniors.
Free Golf for Kids. Baytowne Golf Club also has kids specials for those 12 and younger. They can enjoy complimentary green fees, U.S. Kids Golf rental sets, and kids yardage guides FREE with a paying adult. Play is one-to-one, so you have to have one adult for every child and the offer is only valid Sunday through Thursday after 12 pm.
Half Priced Golf for Tweens and Teens. Golf and Beach resort guests 17 and younger get a discount year round that is half the resort rate and includes green fees, golf car and unlimited practice before your round. Too bad my boys don’t golf.
Summer Camp for Kids. Camp on vacation? Sounds good to me. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has both golf and tennis camp for kids (and a Golf Academy for adults) From June 1 – July 29, put the kids in camp for a portion of the day.
Biking Sandestin, FL
If you are staying at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, you receive four hours of bike rental for two people every day of your visit. That’s a pretty good deal.
If you are like my family, then you’ll want to rent the bikes for your entire stay. We like to use bikes as our main form of transportation on vacation. On this trip, we may have overdone it a little. Read on to see why.
The Timpoochee Trail in Sandestin
I loved the idea of this 19 mile paved bike trail that goes through 16 different beach communities along 30A (it’s also known as the 30A trail). The trail doesn’t go all the way to Sandestin yet, but I was told that is in the works and should be extended to Mack Bayou Road within the next two to four years.
The Vision. Not to be deterred by a not quite done trail, we left our beachside condo for a day riding the Timpoochee Trail. We would stop for lunch in one of the quaint beach towns, maybe do a bit of shopping, stick our toes in the sand, reward ourselves with a cocktail (lemonade for the kids) overlooking the beach, and then head back.
The Reality. In reality, we rode 20 miles -10 out and 10 back. It took us a couple of hours and we did stop at Stinky’s for a great lunch, passed some beautiful homes, got a glimpse of the beach and some of South Walton’s lakes.
In retrospect however, we should have either driven to a starting point, or stayed within the bike trails of Sandestin. There are sidewalks for the first bit from Sandestin to the beginning of the Timpoochee Trail, but there is about a mile that is off road along busy US 98. Our rental bikes weren’t made for that kind of riding and we popped three chains on the way back. My husband said we should have caught a clue when most people we passed were on road bikes wearing spandex and a helmet.
The Return. I’m still up for a long bike ride along the Timpoochee Trail, but next time we’ll start along the 19-mile paved trail in one of the 16 communities it currently goes through instead of the one it hasn’t reached yet. The South Walton CVB has a great detailed mile-by-mile guide to the Timpoochee Trail here.
Biking through Sandestin
There are miles of bike and walking trails within the Sandestin community. This is a better bet for families than the Timpoochee Trail. There are lots of places you can stop, including playgrounds, a deserted island, a secret fort, and ice cream at Baytowne Wharf. Be alert when riding, especially around Baytowne Wharf as there are a lot of walkers, joggers and other bikers on the trails. In an effort to avoid other bikers, my youngest almost mowed down two retirees walking. Scared everyone half to death.
Kids Clubs in Sandestin
Hilton Sandestin with Kids. While parents are enjoying an adult evening at Seagars, kids can hang out with the Kids Crew. In addition to daytime activities from March 1 – Labor Day, the Kids Crew also does a kids night out. Need a little more time? Let your 5-12 year old stay for Midnight Madness and go ahead and get dessert at Seagars. And should the kids get a bit messy, there is an on-site laundry, as well as 24-hour turn around on dry cleaning.
Sandestin Kids Club. The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort also has a kids club called Club KZ located near the spa. Non-resort guests are welcome for a slightly higher fee. Normal daytime activities run from 9 – 2 pm for ages 4 – 12. Kids Night Out is from 6 – 9 pm. Pre-registration is required. They must have a minimum of three kids, so call before you make definite plans to ensure the kids club is running. This is also where you can call for babysitting.