12/19/2012 07:38 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2013

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Florida Delights

When many think of Florida, they have visions of South Beach nightlife, a Latin flair and a bevy of palm trees lining the streets as scantily clad tourists and natives mingle up and down Lincoln Road.

But Florida has so much more to offer -- including two time zones. Which brings me to my latest discovery: the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Located on Northwest Florida's Gulf Coast, Sandestin is a 2,400-acre resort that personifies the concept of a destination resort for all ages.

Trying to capture the charm and variety of possibilities that await any guest is not an easy task, and as such I think a good place to start is with the basics.

The Facts:

Sandestin invites guests to enter a world of 30 charming neighborhoods featuring 1,300 condominiums, villas, town homes and a wide variety of hotel accommodations on South Walton, a 26-mile stretch of world-famous sugar-white sands.

  • More than seven miles of beaches and pristine bay front
  • Four championship golf courses
  • 15 world-class tennis courts
  • 19 swimming pools
  • A 113-slip marina
  • Certified children's programs
  • A fitness center and spa
  • 65,000 square feet of meeting space
  • The Village of Baytowne Wharf, a unique pedestrian village

The Amenities

Sandestin offers significant value with a list of added complimentary amenities.

  • Bicycle rental
  • Fitness center access
  • Tennis court time
  • Resort Transportation
  • Seasonal water amenities including kayaks, canoes and boogie boards
  • Kitchenware in all units

The Accommodations

Sandestin offers something for everyone in the area of accommodations.

  • Hotel style rooms with microwaves and mini fridges
  • One-, two- and three-bedroom units in Village of Baytowne Wharf with full kitchens and dining
  • Two- and three-bedroom villas and townhomes, all of which have full kitchens and dining areas.

What really sets this property apart is the rare and delicate balance between the more transient visitor who come for a short stay and the "residents" who lovingly refer to themselves as "snowbirds." One might think that the two would mix like oil and water, but instead the relationship is supportive and fun.

During my recent visit, I made my way to the fitness center for a much-needed Zumba class where I was greeted with a genuine sense of warmth that is shared by guests, residents and staff. Clearly, this is a property that understands that even in the most luxurious of settings, customer care can and is the deal-breaker for any traveler.

My three-day stay had many highlights, with the most important being my accommodations. The one-bedroom condo at the Luau was more than I could have expected. Not only was it spacious with a large living room and bedroom, but the kitchen and bath were high-end and the bathtub was large and deep, unlike many traditional hotels.

The kitchen was fully stocked -- not simply with a few utensils and a pan to boil water, but instead table setting for eight and high-end appliances. While the unit has full housekeeping services daily, a welcomed surprise was the washer and dryer located in my unit (detergent included), which allowed me to leave with a suitcase full of clean clothes.

With so much to do across 2,400 acres, four golf courses and 40 catch-and-release ponds, I must admit that as a foodie I was quite intrigued to see with so many choices.

The real standouts for me were on the property at The Village of Baytowne Wharf. What better way to prepare for zip-lining and ice-skating than with a visit to the Candymaker? The homemade pralines were my favorite, with the key-lime fudge a close second.

From family-style to fine dining -- if you want it, you will find it. Brunch at Another Broken Egg Café was exceptional with a menu that was an eclectic mix of the decadent (the giant cinnamon roll) to the ultimate in healthy-eating -- the delicious, gluten-free assortment of pancakes.

For dinner, there is the Bistro Bijoux, which boasts a causal elegance, excellent food and an intimate wine-bar with an extensive array of choices for even the most discerning palette. From fresh seafood to steaks, the New Orleans-infused flair made for an exceptional meal; but come hungry, as the portions are enormous and rivaled only by the outstanding service.

Another stop on the gastronomic express was Marlin Grill, which specializes in wood-fired steaks and seafood. Decorated over the top for the holidays, this multi-level restaurant hosts a fantastic menu with a staff that balances top-notch customer service with a sense of fun and fabulosity.

Attempting to fully embody the essence of Sandestin Golf And Beach Resort is not an easy task, as it is destination that has so much to offer year-round. With accommodations, activities and restaurants that cater to such a wide range of travelers, it is enigmatic in the best sense of the word -- and it is easy to see why it continues to be named the number one resort on Florida's Emerald Coast.

Sandestin Golf And Beach Resort

Note: In The Spirit of full disclosure I have no commercial connection to Sandestin Golf And Beach Resort nor was I paid for this review.