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Destination Sunshine

12/30/2011 05:11AM ● Published by Style

Photos courtesy of Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast CVB.

Although California boasts its fair share of breathtaking beaches, fresh seafood, upscale shopping and more, it’s easy to forget that other states provide the same luxuries with their own unique culture and allure.

Recently I was in a Sunshine State of mind – craving a toes-in-the-sand and no work, no worries kind of getaway – so I spread my wings and flew to Florida’s Emerald Coast…taking my senses on a sunsational journey.

After six hours in the air (not including a short stopover), my travel companion and I descended into Northwest Florida. Located along the Gulf of Mexico between Pensacola and Panama City lies this secret slice of paradise known as the Emerald Coast – home to 24 miles of sugar-white shores, the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” glittering turquoise waters and postcard-worthy views at every turn. Despite a list of laurels as long as their beaches stretch – named one of the “Top 10 Most Beautiful Places in America” by Good Morning America, “Best Beach in the United States” by USAToday.com and “Best Family Beach in the U.S.” by Travelocity – the area still holds on to an unpretentious vibe.

 

From the airport, pick up a rental car and cruise beachside (about a 30-minute drive) to your accommodation. Whether seeking a family-friendly or romantic place to rest your eyes, I recommend Water’s Edge. Our furnished condominium came complete with a kitchen, bunk beds, washer/dryer, two full baths and a spacious balcony overlooking the resort’s 5,000-square-foot beachfront pool and the Gulf of Mexico. Idle the afternoon away swimming in the emerald-green waters, sipping fruity libations, and lazing on the resort’s complimentary beach chairs. The more adventurous may opt to hit the water full-speed on a Jet Ski or skim across the sea via paddleboard, and the golf enthusiast won’t be left out either – just a stone’s throw away a number of challenging courses await. As day turns to night, marvel at the fiery sunset then fall asleep to the lulling sound of waves crashing and the cool ocean breeze wafting in.

The laid-back beach towns of the Emerald Coast – Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island – offer a surplus of dining, shopping and entertainment options...all served up with a plentiful helping of Southern hospitality. Don’t miss visiting the seals at Gulfarium, America’s second oldest marine park; buying (or browsing) the latest trends at Silver Sands Factory Stores, the nation’s largest designer outlet center; or ambling along Destin’s HarborWalk, featuring art galleries, shops, restaurants and entertainment.

 

Appease your hunger at “the museum that sells food,” Magnolia Grill. Located in a 1910 catalog house in downtown Fort Walton Beach, this eatery is ideal for anyone craving an off-the-beaten-path experience. The charming craftsman-style house turned restaurant has a true sense of nostalgia to it, with big bay windows, hardwood floors, sun porches and historic Fort Walton memorabilia decorating the walls. Indulge in the Scallops St. Jacques or Seafood Gumbo and you won’t be disappointed! Post meal, stroll the nearby streets – on our visit the area was alive with locals enjoying an Art Walk and live music.  

Satisfy this year’s resolution to relax more, stress less and travel somewhere you’ve never been before with a visit to the Emerald Coast. Whether drenching yourself in the warm Gulf waters or getting swept away by the Southern charm, a getaway here is certain to leave you with a lifetime of memories.

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