Sunset on the beach in South Walton, Florida (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)
Sunset on the beach in South Walton, Florida (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)

As the emerald green water grew farther and farther away, I remember asking myself: What was I thinking?

A friend had convinced me to go parasailing with her on a recent visit to Florida’s northwest coast, and I reluctantly went along. The higher the colorful parachute raised us, the more I tried to calculate the potential force of impact with the water, should a malfunction occur. I expressed my paranoid musings with my friend, who did not share my fears and was thoroughly enjoying the experience. After a few minutes of floating at our maximum sailing altitude, I took a few deep breaths and talked myself into taking in the beauty of my surroundings: sunny skies above and the sparkling Gulf of Mexico below.

Parasailing (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)
Parasailing (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)

We were staying at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in Miramar Beach in South Walton, and while there was plenty to do on the property, we had taken an afternoon to go parasailing at the nearby Destin Beach Parasail, located on a vibrant boardwalk with shops, restaurants, and even a child-size wooden train on which kids could take rides. Later in the day, we took a sunset cruise from Southern Star Dolphin Cruises, also located on the boardwalk. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing experience, with breathtaking views and numerous dolphin sightings.

View of the pools from our room (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)
View of the pools from our room (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)

This was my first time visiting this area of Florida, and I am so glad I did. The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa was the perfect place to unwind for a few days. The beachfront property, which in 2015 underwent a $30 million renovation, is casual, bright and airy, with an understated navy blue nautical motif in the lobby and other common areas. There are 602 guest rooms —all with private balconies—in the eight-story mid-rise, and an expansive 17,000-square-foot pool deck with spectacular sweeping Gulf views. We stayed in a comfortable spa tower guest suite that had all of the necessary amenities including high-end toiletries, comfortable beds and free Wi-Fi.

Comfortable beds in our suite (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)
Comfortable beds in our suite (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)

A complimentary resort trolley takes guests to The Village of Baytowne Wharf, which features an array of boutiques, eateries, galleries, and nightlife. For tennis and golf enthusiasts, there are 12 clay and three hard-top courts, and access to four nearby championship courses.

While there are several dining options on site, as well as a Starbucks, we ate most of our meals at Sandcastles, just off the resort’s main lobby. The spacious restaurant offers an impressive breakfast buffet, as well as lunch and dinner menus including gourmet salads, sandwiches, wraps, and soups. The poolside restaurant, Barefoot’s Beachside Bar and Grill, was also very good. A spacious fitness center, with a full schedule of exercise classes, is a great place to work off extra calories.

We found several off-site eateries as well, including LuLu’s, a fun waterside restaurant that has its own beach (chock full of games and activities for kids and adults) on the marina, with kayak and paddleboard rentals. The open-air bar is staffed by engaging staff who seem to enjoy creating unique drinks. My tropical-themed “mocktail” was as pretty as it was delicious. What struck me as amazingly progressive and customer-friendly was the fact that in addition to its standard menu, LuLu’s has six separate menus—everything from dairy-free to gluten-free—catering to guests’s dietary proclivities.

Hotel beach (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)
Hotel beach (Credit: MaryAnne Danahy)

To the beach…
The wooden walkway from the pool deck to the beach is an experience unto itself, as the flowers that flank the path attract beautiful butterflies that don’t shy away from shutterbugs. The crystal clear sand on the beach is amazing, and it is easy to wile away the hours in the comfortable lounge chairs that friendly resort staffers set up for guests under large yellow umbrellas. Even guests must pay for this service though: $39 for an umbrella and two chairs for the day, and $25 for half a day.

The spa
Perhaps what impressed me most about the resort was its spa, Serenity by the Sea. It was calming and inviting, and staffed by attentive employees who couldn’t do enough to ensure that guests enjoyed themselves. Sea-inspired treatments incorporate mineral-rich, marine-based products. I had a Serenity Sea Escape facial that left my skin glowing and me feeling totally pampered.

For more information on the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, visit



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