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Southlake Style

Your Next Vacation Destination

Apr 08, 2013 11:25AM ● By tina

Exquisite white-sand beaches and family-friendly activities make Destin, Florida the perfect retreat - Photo courtesy of Jody Felder Photorgraphy

Travel with Linden Wilson

Spring Break has come and gone, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t start planning another getaway — or at least dream about it. This month, we’re mesmerized by Destin, the Florida Panhandle’s most sought-after city, situated in the northwest corner of the picturesque Emerald Coast. Its world-class golf courses, deluxe accommodations, endless variety of family-friendly activities, fresh seafood and exquisite white-sand beaches make it a popular retreat for Southlake residents looking to escape.

Get Outside

“The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” founded in the mid-1800s by fisherman Captain Leonard Destin, has grown from a small fishing community to one of the nation’s premier resort towns that still counts fishing as one of its leading tourist activities. The month of April kicks off prime fishing season, so if catching king mackerel, bluefish and channel bass sounds like your idea of a good time, it’s as easy as casting your rod over the edge of the beach piers. Have a more adventurous spirit? Charter a boat for a half or whole day of deep-sea fishing — you’re almost guaranteed to hook scamp and snapper. Nonresident fishing licenses are quite the bargain, too: $17 for three days, $30 for seven and $47 for one year. For catch-and-release fun, check out SailAway Destin, which takes up to six people out on a private catamaran. “It’s like a limousine but on the water,” says boat captain Brian Klein, who’s lived in Destin since the ’70s. “It’s a very personalized trip.”

The whole family will also enjoy a visit to the Gulfarium, where everyone can get up close and personal with otters, seals, turtles and stingrays. Feed African penguins and take in a spectacular dolphin show after you’ve learned a thing or two during educational chats led by animal residents at the reptile and shark exhibits. The Track, a family recreation center, will also keep the little ones entertained, whether they’re racing go-karts, scoring a hole-in-one at the minigolf course or playing bumper boats (the water version of bumper cars).

Don’t forget about some of the best ways to get a thrill from the enticing turquoise waters: numerous water-sports shops provide waverunners, canoes, inner tubes, kayaks and jet skis for hours of endless entertainment.

Take advantage of tee time at one of Destin’s several acclaimed golf courses that accommodate both novice and expert players. The Regatta Bay Golf Course’s 18 holes wind through marshes, lakes and woods packed with giant palm trees; add clubhouse fine dining, luxurious locker rooms and even a private library, and you’ll never want to leave. Enjoy sweeping views of Choctawhatchee Bay when you play at the Kelly Plantation Golf Course, nestled on 225 acres of lush landscape. If you’re up for a challenge, be sure to visit the Indian Bayou Golf Club, where the new Creek Course’s natural hazards will put your skills to the test.

If you’d rather spend your downtime indulging in a little retail therapy, you’re in luck: Destin boasts some of the best shopping on the Emerald Coast. Find everything from designer pieces at outlet prices to one-of-a-kind trinkets at boutiques located in scenic open-air shopping centers.

Good Eats

Your vacation won’t be complete until you indulge in all of the incredible local flavor, specifically the fish, oysters, crab, lobster and more, straight from the waters of the Emerald Coast. Dewey Destin’s Harborside Restaurant serves up scrumptious seafood like mahi-mahi, grouper, red snapper and flounder in a tranquil outdoor environment near Crab Island, while Harbor Docks has been offering sushi and shellfish with a side of warm and friendly service since 1979. The legendary AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar is a must-visit. You can even have your own catch prepared right at the restaurant while you sip on an AJ’s Bimini Bash (five different rums plus a blend of tropical juices) and enjoy live music.

When the day is done

It’s a no-brainer that when you visit Destin, you’ll want to spend every moment outdoors, but the next best thing to all that fresh air and sunshine is ending the day in a comfortable, relaxing space. If you’ve come to town for a peaceful and romantic trip, there’s no better place to stay than the Henderson Park Inn. This charming New England­–style bed and breakfast offers wine, grapes and flowers upon arrival (plus a light snack of lemonade and cookies in the afternoons) and features breathtakingviews of the Gulf of Mexico from its spacious rooms with private terraces. Its restaurant, the Beach Walk Café, is Destin’s only fine-dining spot located immediately on the water.

If your vacation includes the entire family, you’d probably prefer one of the many hotels that dot the coast. The Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village calls itself the “most family-friendly hotel in Destin,” and it’s easy to see why. The outdoor pool, situated four stories up in the air, offers panoramic scenes of the Gulf and Destin Harbor. Downton Abbey fans will appreciate the lavish Fifth Annual WSRE Destin Wine and Food Classic gala held in the hotel ballroom on April 6. Don your most formal Edwardian or roaring-’20s ensemble as you enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, dinner and good conversation throughout this elegant evening.

See: All of the magnificent natural beauty that Destin has to offer, from the serene, emerald-green waters to dancing dolphins that congregate in shallow breeding grounds

Stay: At the Emerald Grande

Play: With the marine life at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park