The Emerald Coast

From Destin to Panama City Beach

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Ocean Reef Resorts began providing fine private vacation rental properties along The Emerald Coast to our esteemed guests back in 1982. Now we represent hundreds of dream homes and condos from Destin to Panama City Beach where our guests can select their favorite vacation getaway. These Emerald Coast vacation rentals include everything from sumptuous gulf front mansions to cozy beach cottages and from contemporary, luxurious high rise condominiums to old fashioned Florida style abodes with white picket fences. Every rental property has its own unique personality, amenities and location. Location of course is very important since it determines the ambiance of each special place and lifestyle.

Once upon a time everything from Destin all the way to Rosemary Beach, at the far eastern edge of South Walton, was considered to be...Destin. How things have changed. Many of the preplanned towns and villages along this corridor did not even exist ten or twenty years ago. Each individual location has its own set of activities available, pleasures to pursue and memories for creation. Today we have four distinct areas that our guests flock to which include Destin, Miramar Beach, South Walton and Panama City Beach. In order to help you choose one of these locations to suit your family needs and desires here are a few notes about each area along the Emerald Coast.

Emerald Grande

Destin of course is the original and has been around since the late 1800s when the fabulous fish bounty was first discovered here. Started by settlers as a commercial fishing village, it began to blossom in the 1920s when the first tourist anglers began to arrive. This flourished around World War II when Destin had better access by car and received electricity! Today it is known as the luckiest fishing village in the world and harbors the largest charter fishing fleet on the entire Emerald Coast. Staying in Destin you realize that this area offers more than the famous sugar white beaches and emerald toned waters. Here it's all about being out on a boat and especially fishing. Party pontoon boats and jet skis are available to zip you off to Choctawhatchee Bay as well as the fabled party spot known as Crab Island which is actually submerged in shallow water near the Destin Bridge. Delightful dolphin and sunset cruises are available to our Ocean Reef guests at discounted prices here on the SS Southern Star. However, many who come to Destin arrive to take a deep water fishing excursion out into the Gulf. 

One of the best is aboard The Relentless, a 65 x 20 foot custom built fishing yacht that has all the layout and necessities for hard core fishing but with comfortable accommodations. This boat was designed and built by Captain Brant Kelly, who is one of the most sought after, best   known fishermen in Destin. Captain Kelly has been using his intuitive expertise to provide successful charter adventures for over thirty years. The Relentless is both sophisticated and luxurious with state of the art equipment. Kelly's experienced friendly crew are there to help guide and assist your group as you go for the bounty of the sea. Four hour exclusive private parties for up to six people start at $800 but discounts are available for shared charters with others. Avid, professional fishermen opt for twenty-four to seventy-two hour over night excursions which is a Relentless specialty.

Entertainment is close by the marina at Harborwalk Village which overlooks East Pass and connects the Gulf to the bay and offers stunning, unobstructed water views. Harborwalk has an assortment of breezy waterfront restaurants, bars, art galleries and specialty shops. Free live musical entertainment on an outdoor stage and fireworks over the harbor occur here on special nights. In Destin, this is the perfect place to catch a glorious, dazzling sunset right over the water where it slides either into the bay or Gulf depending upon the time of year.

Just east of here you may take the family for the day to Big Kahuna's Water Park. This Destin landmark provides over a dozen themed rivers, slick slides, water chutes or tubes, waterfalls and fountains. It creates the perfect atmosphere for fun family frolic for a happily memorable day. Multiple lushly landscaped miniature golf courses, a go cart track and two intense, atmospheric thrill rides complete the adventure.  As our guest you get access to discounted Big Kahuna tickets!

If you are in the mood for diverse shopping, Destin offers a myriad of choice in retail centers, at individual specialty stores and boutique mini villages. Be sure to check out Destin Commons which is located off Highway 98 at the Mid Bay Bridge road. This newly completed, pedestrian friendly retail complex looks more like a village than a shopping center. In fact it looks almost Disney like with its corner towers, interactive fountain plaza and cleanliness. It is anchored by a big Belk's Department Store at one end and a Bass Pro Shop at the other with specialty clothing stores in between. The Bass Pro Shop has become a popular attraction in and of itself with an assortment of giant fish tanks and even a replica of a Great White Shark.  Destin Commons also includes restaurants with bars, snack venues and a modern, multi-screen movie theater. The theater known as The Rave, has comfortable auditorium style seating and state of the art systems for movie viewing pleasure. It is a great place to visit on a rainy day or when beach activities are less than perfect.

If you stay in Destin and love to golf, Ocean Reef Resorts provides all of our guests with one complimentary round of golf at the Bluewater Bay Club in Niceville. Located right across the Mid Bay Bridge, this golf course is nestled along the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay and offers thirty-six holes designed by world renowned architects Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate. The course includes southerly water views across the bay with Destin in the distance. Besides the gorgeous water vistas there are also inland lakes, lagoons, pristine wetland areas and beautiful pine forests.

Ocean Reef guests may also receive discounts at Destin's Emerald Bay Golf Club on the north side of The Emerald Coast Parkway just west of Miramar Beach. Located within an upscale, gated community of Emerald Bay, this premier eighteen hole course was designed by Bob Cupp. The fairways all meander past forested lagoons and lakes with awesome views of the bay from this southern shore. The stone, lodge like club house has a restaurant with a lovely covered patio area that looks down onto sweeping views of the landscaped scenery.

Floating Family
Miramar Beach is the half way point between Destin and Scenic 30A offering some of the advantages of each locale due to its convenient centralized location. Nearby, you have the bustling night life adventures of Destin as well as the scenic splendor of South Walton if you want to do a day trip. However, once you are in Miramar Beach there is no real need to go anywhere else unless you are interested in additional diversions. The scene at Miramar Beach is dominated by three area attractions which include the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, Scenic Gulf Drive and the Silver Sands Designer Outlet.

Sandestin is a world class, gated resort and is one of the most beautiful that you will ever see anywhere. Besides the beautiful surroundings it also has the distinction of being the only resort on the entire Emerald Coast that extends over 2,400 acres from the Gulf all the way to the bay. Multiple golf courses transverse the resort grounds and a professional tennis club with clay courts is also on site. Upscale dining, drinking and shopping are located at the newly completed Sandestin Town Center on Grand Boulevard which parallels the Emerald Coast Parkway. At Sandestin, within the gates of this “artificial kingdom”, is the charming Village of Baytowne Wharf. This village has a magical setting in a wooded section near the private marina right on Choctawhatchee Bay. This New Orleans inspired village was just completed within the past few years although you would never know it viewing the authentic colonial architecture and mature landscaping. Baytowne hosts a number of holiday festivals throughout the year and every week is a fun festivity during the Summer season. The village green has an Events Plaza Stage that conducts free musical entertainment and even outdoor Movie Nights. A big variety of restaurants and bars contribute to an active night life but the village is also very family friendly. There are lots of activities for kids including a Merry Go Round during the Summer and an ice skating rink during the cooler months. There are also floating bubble balls, moon walks, karaoke videos, suspended tram lines and even tree houses along the forested walkway that connects to the marina. Fireworks over the village lagoon happen on a weekly basis throughout the tourist season and for spectacular special holidays thereafter. Here in Miramar Beach, the most sensational sunsets occur right over the bay from late Spring into early Fall which may be viewed from the long wharf at Baytowne that also overlooks the big yachts that are docked nearby. While here in Baytowne, be sure to scope out the SS Solaris and enjoy one of their delightful dinner cruises on us. When you purchase one or more dinner sunset cruise tickets you will receive one complimentary ticket as our Ocean Reef  guest. This multi-tiered ship has a friendly crew, great food, two bars, an open viewing deck on top and even some live musical entertainment. It is an awesome experience to set sail from Baytowne as you head west across the bay during the sunset hours. This is the same time that many dolphins come out to play and you can watch them from the Solaris deck. Sometimes they even race the boat, leaping out of the water in front of the bow just to show off!

Emerald Coast’s famous Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach is another popular destination for our guests and we have many options available for you to choose your dream home or condo as a vacation rental. This two lane road runs along the beach all the way towards Destin with multiple beach access points for the luxury towers, villas and cottages along the way. This is the place to be for ethereal sunsets which can be viewed over the gulf during the Winter months and many local residents do so. Shimmering full moons rise out of the gulf during the Summer time. Large open expanses of beach are located in front of the towering Majestic Sun and Ariel Dunes as well as at the funky, popular Pompano Joe's Restaurant further down the road. The Whale's Tail across from Seascape is a great place for sandwiches, a cold beer and beach action. There is also Captain Dave's for beach side dining which is noted for being the first seafood restaurant established before anything else was here, when this road was still Highway 98.  At the far western end into Destin, there is the James Lee State Park for a fun day at the beach that also includes a Victorian styled pavilion known as The Crab Trap Restaurant.

Along this same drive is the Seascape Golf Club which runs from Scenic Gulf Drive all the way up to The Emerald Coast Parkway. Ocean Reef guests receive golf discounts here as well. Designed by famed architect Joe Lee, this pro par 71 course has enough beautiful visual distractions to challenge even the most focused golfer. The wooded fairways are jeweled with ponds, lagoons and even exotic coastal dune lakes. There is some form of sparkling water on fifteen of the eighteen holes with some stunning views of the gulf beyond. If tennis is your game, our guests also receive a discount at the pro club here which has received a five star rating in national tennis publications.

In the mood for some Power Shopping?  If so, you will love Miramar Beach's retail Mecca called the Silver Sands Designer Outlet Stores. Silver Sands is located in the heart of Miramar Beach along the Emerald Coast Parkway and has the distinction of being the largest designer outlet in the entire nation! In fact over 7,000,000 visitors arrive here each year to do their personal, birthday, wedding or Christmas shopping with substantial, discounted savings. There are over 100 stores to choose from and they feature a “Who's Who” in designer clothing for the entire family. Other designer stores include footwear, high-end cookware, home furnishings, jewelry, electronics and specialty gift stores.

If you want to experience scenic splendor in a laid back country setting then Scenic 30A in South Walton is the place to be on the Emerald Coast. This two lane road shoots down to the gulf from Highway 98 just east of Miramar Beach. Until the 1980s the only real community along this stretch to Panama City Beach was the old town of Seagrove Beach which became a Summer haven in the 1940s with simple cottages and motels. Now 30A is dotted with picturesque villages which were perfectly planned and for this reason have received worldwide architectural recognition. Although Seaside was the first to become established back in the 80s, many of the others did not even exist as little as ten years ago. Running along the shore from west to east these towns include Dune Allen, Santa Rosa Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Grayton Beach, Watercolor, Seaside, Seagrove Beach, Alys Beach, Seacrest Beach and Rosemary Beach. Ocean Reef has a little of everything along this route. Most of towns are residential communities designed for carefree, old fashioned family beach vacations. Over a quarter million acres is set aside here in this part of Walton County for extensive forest preserves and gorgeous state beach parks including Topsail, Grayton Beach and Deer Lake.  There is also a parade of unique, precious coastal dune lakes which parallel Scenic 30A all the way down from Miramar Beach. Eco tourism is big here with long beach walks, forest hikes, bicycle rides on paved trails, kayak or canoe excursions and wild life tours. Restaurants, bars, cafes, art galleries and specialty shops are primarily located in four villages along the way. These include Gulf Place which sits high on a dune in Santa Rosa Beach, in the iconic idealized world of Seaside, in the original old Seagrove Beach and at the Dutch Indies inspired Rosemary Beach.  However, just about every little town has some kind of special place where you can explore, eat and drink. Live musical concerts, holiday festivals and seasonal happenings occur throughout the year along 30A. All festivities have one thing in common. They represent a wonderful, nostalgic world of Deluxe Americana lifestyle with a distinct Florida flair.

Panama City Beach is located just beyond the merge of Scenic 30A and Highway 98 to the east. This area has been known for years as a College Spring Break Emerald Coast destination which has become huge over time. However, it is also a favorite family destination during the Summer season with many new condominium towers and self contained resort areas for accommodation especially along the Gulf. Amusement parks, mini golf courses, themed restaurants, habitat zoos and other diversions are everywhere. One of the most popular, trendy new spots is the recently completed Pier Park which boasts over 1,000,000 square feet of shopping and entertainment. Besides having just about anything you might want to shop for, there is also a mega movie theater. A large outdoor mall anchors this pedestrian friendly, palmed boulevard which extends from Highway 98 all the way to the long pier that juts out into the Gulf. Shops, restaurants, bars and outdoor cafes line each side of the street. Jimmy Buffet sometimes makes an appearance here at his Margaritaville Restaurant that overlooks the beach. Next door is The Back Porch, a popular restaurant that originated years ago in Destin. Both have outdoor decks and often offer live entertainment. Another restaurant called Reggae J's Island Grill features tropical sounds while at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, live country music plays throughout the day and night. There are a total of twelve “sit down” restaurants featuring seafood, steaks, Italian and Caribbean delights. Eight more eateries are available for hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, sub sandwiches, BBQ, sushi, bakery items and ice cream. Pier Park is becoming famous for special fireworks and festivals throughout the Summer holidays along with additional free music concerts at this end of the beach.

Yet another golf outing is available to all our Ocean Reef guests if you are staying at this end of the Emerald Coast. A complimentary round of golf is our treat to you at the Hombre Golf Club here in Panama City Beach. The Hombre is the site of the PGA Qualifying School which is held in the Fall. The course is meticulously manicured with abundant azalea strewn forested fairways with lots of lagoons, ponds and lakes. The three fairways each have nine holes which are interconnected so that you can play any two for variety sake and get a full eighteen hole game. Choose your fairways carefully however since they are named “the good, the bad and the ugly” as related to the challenges of each.

Hopefully these descriptions of various locales will help you choose a special Emerald Coast Vacation Rental that suits best for your family vacation, friend reunion, business seminar, wedding, honeymoon, romantic get away or simply a much needed rest. Once you choose the location that is most appealing, you can use our advanced property search to narrow down your serach. Even some of our esteemed, regular guests who usually stay in the same area may be tempted to try out something new for a special occasion. We are blessed to live in a place that has not only “the most beautiful beaches in the world” but also such dazzling diversity, beauty and pleasurable diversions. It's our great pleasure to share this with all of our special Ocean Reef guests, old friends and newcomers alike!