Imagine escaping the snowy north in the dead of winter and arriving to the Emerald Coast late one full moon night. As you take your first drive along the Gulf of Mexico, you look out the window through the moon light and see snow covering the entire beach. It has even blown around and created giant snow drifts! The road is clear, so a lot must have melted since the temperature is only in the sixties. What?! Suddenly you are stunned to realize that it's not snow you’re seeing, it's really beach sand! This must be a scary illusion for some Destin snowbirds who visit the Emerald Coast for the first time. After all, very few people have ever seen sand that is as white as snow, which is something that locals take for granted. Of course the next day when they first see the emerald green waters shimmering off the pure white, quartz crystal sands, they may feel like they've have been carried off to a tropical paradise!
Of course at Ocean Reef most of our snowbirds have been coming here for years. Almost all were told about our pristine beach sand and jewel toned waters, way before they arrived. For most of our guests, it is an annual tradition. There are several reasons for this, the first being that rental rates here are at their lowest while northern winters are at their coldest. The Snowbird Season begins November 1st and runs through mid March. Rates here along the Emerald Coast are much lower than they are in far south Florida where rental rates are at peak and Destin is about ten hours closer by car. Although we do not have hot, balmy days in winter, it's not freezing cold either. Some winters the weather in Destin doesn’t dip below freezing. Almost every day is filled with abundant sunshine and temps require sweaters, not coats! Many of our winter visitors come down from the upper Midwest and Canada, staying at their own special Ocean Reef “roost” for a few months. (You can find a rental for an entire month, paying less than the price paid per week during the high season of summer when rates here are at peak!)
Snowbirds have become such regular, welcomed visitors here that there are a number of clubs that cater to every whim. The Destin Snowbird Club (Destinsnowbirds.org) was founded in 1979 and now has more than 3,000 members. The club house called The Roost is located in the Destin Community Center at 101 Stahlman Avenue behind the popular McGuire's restaurant. A representative is there on Monday's between 1:00 and 3:00 pm to greet new arrivals and old friends. General Snowbird Meetings are held on Tuesday's at 10:00 am with entertainment and door prizes. In January and February, the height of the winter snowbird season, the Tuesday meetings are held at both 8:30 and 10:00 am. This large and active group is engaged in a variety of activities. They include regular card games for poker, bridge and pinochle; bowling; fishing and sunset cruises; tennis; golf outings and a special tournament; quilting and crafts; a breakfast club; a computer club; a fashion show; and a comedy night called Funology. Preplanned trips are also scheduled for casinos in Alabama as well as a fun Mardi Gras foray in New Orleans. A series of six concerts are also patronized with discounted prices available through the club. There are three at the Ft. Walton Beach Civic Center which include “Basie and Beyond” on November 20th; the “Joe Occhipinti Band” on December 18th and the “Roman Street Musicians” on January 8th. Three more are held at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center on the Northwest Florida College campus in Niceville. They include “The Piano Man” on January 24th; the “Bee Gees Tribute Band” on February 5th and “G.R.I.T.S. The Musical on March 19th. Tickets for all six shows are $110, (a $156 Value). Tickets at the door are $22 each for productions at the Civic Center and $30 each at the Mattie Kelly Theatre.
For those visiting Sandestin or South Walton, there is another club called Walton Snowbirds which was founded in 1989 and has over 2,000 members. They meet at the Destin United Methodist Church in the Life Center building once a month on Wednesdays at 10:00 am. The dates are December 15th, January 12th, February 7th and March 2nd. Their events include golf, tennis, bowling, singing as well as ballroom, tap and line dancing! Fishing charters and casino trips also fill their roster along with a bicycle and book club. For those who love to play cards, this place is for you. The Bridge Club meets Monday afternoons at a private beach residence and on Wednesday evenings at the Chateau Le Mer's club house across from Captain Dave's on Scenic Gulf Drive, (old 98). Euchre is played on Tuesday evenings at the Embassy Suites Ballroom in Miramar Beach. Poker and pinochle are played weekly at other sites to be announced. Mah Jongg occurs on Thursdays at different locations.
The oldest Snowbird Club was founded in 1973 by the Noah's Ark Ministry. It is located in Panama City Beach at 12902 Front Beach Road, just west of the Day's Inn. It is part of the Alabama and West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. Club representatives are on hand Monday thru Fridays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm starting November 1st and running until mid March. Besides the usual card games, bowling and dancing, this group offers many unusual, highly creative things to do. They include dress making, pine needle weaving, quilting, potato art, wood carving, stained glass crafting, decoupage classes, painting both water colors and oils, crochet, stitchery, bird watching and horticulture! There is also a barber shop chorus, a writer workshop, a drama guild and Bible study.
Besides all the friendships offered by snowbird clubs, our beautiful, winter weather, and the great rental rates available this time of year, don't forget about the substantial discounts provided this time of year by many local restaurants with Early Bird Specials. A few of the Snowbird favorites includes the Ocean Club in Miramar Beach with seafood, great ambiance and piano entertainment; Pandora's on Okaloosa Island in Ft. Walton Beach who are known for their prime rib; Mc Guires at the Destin bridge known for a huge variety of giant burgers, homemade brew and their famous, (18 cent!), Senate Bean Soup; Callahan's in Destin for delicious home cooked meals; Joe and Eddie's in Ft. Walton Beach for a down home breakfast complete with biscuits and gravy; and the Donut Hole for fresh baked pies. For beachfront seafood dining there is Dewey Destin's of Destin with both a bay front and harbor side location; The Back Porch off Emerald Coast Parkway near Henderson Beach; the Crab Trap and Captain Dave's on Scenic Gulf Drive in Destin; and Pompano Joe's in Miramar Beach. Also, don't forget about good old Golden Corral in Destin which has a fantastic buffet including some of the best pot roast and fried fish you have ever eaten. They also serve surprisingly tender steaks and have a great breakfast table as well.
Ocean Reef welcomes all of you back to your favorite roost with select snowbird rentals. For our new guests, don't worry. That's not snow you see in the moonlight, it's our “summer snow” version done with sand.