Being from Texas, I would fly to Florida a couple of times a year for some beach time. I wasn’t very adventurous though, I always went to Miami (my favorite city in the US). Now that I have kids, I decided to give the rest of Florida a chance. I’ve heard about the Gulf Coast for years, and I decided to check it out. I was visiting my parents in Dallas for a few weeks so I planned to take my oldest son to Destin for some fun in the sun for a couple of days. They were running a great deal on the Hilton Sandestin so I booked it and off we went.
Sandestin is a 2,400-acre resort community in Miramar, about eight miles from Destin. It has the same soft white sands and clear water as Destin, but not as jam packed. It’s essentially its own little town in the middle of the bigger towns. There are many types of accommodations, golf courses, tennis facilities, marinas, shopping, and dining. The best part is that no matter where you decide to stay in Sandestin, you will get access to all of the Sandestin amenities. Also, whether you stay on the beach or not, each hotel has private beach access to Miramar Beach.
So, if you’re looking for a beautiful and fun-filled trip to the Gulf Shore, keep reading!
And if you need a beach vacation packing list, read over my list here.
When to go to Sandestin
Any time between May-October is the time you’ll be able to get a great beach day. The weather is warm, sun is shining, and the water is comfortable to swim in. All of the tourist attractions and water activities are open for business too.
However, the very best time to visit are the months of May or October. The water is warm enough to swim in and the temperatures and humidity are much more comfortable than in the summer (mid/high 70s and 80s). Any time earlier than May or later than October is risky weather-wise. However, hurricane season is between June-November, so be extra sure to purchase travel insurance if you vacation during those months.
The most popular time to visit is obviously summer, but it’ll be crowded and the prices will be at their highest. But on the plus side, the summer months are packed with the best family activities like weekly firework shows and nightly family events.
Getting to Sandestin
Sandestin is drivable from three different airports.
VPS Airport: It is 24 miles (~45 minutes with no traffic) from Fort Walton/Destin Airport (VPS).
ECP Airport: You can also try Panama City Airport (ECP) which is 41 miles (~75 minutes) away.
PNS Airport: Additionally, Pensacola Airport (PNS) is 82 miles (~90 minutes) away.
If you don’t feel like renting a car, there are many options for transportation from VPS airport: https://flyvps.com/taxis-shuttle-service-destin-fort-walton-beach-airport-vps/
How to get around Sandestin
I could’ve easily stayed at our hotel the whole time and been completely content. There was so much to do, and everything was at my fingertips. But we did get out to explore the area.
Tram: We ventured out using the free Sandestin tram. With stops at every major area, it was majorly convenient.
Bikes: Additionally, our resort (and many others) had free bike rentals for up to 4 hours.
Car rental: To get around Sandestin yourself or hop over to the neighboring cities, you can rent a car at the airport and enjoy the beautiful Gulf views from the car.
Where to stay
Sandestin has many types of accommodations. There are the major hotels that offer standard double rooms or large family suites like the Hilton Sandestin, Hotel Effie Sandestin, and Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Each of the hotels have access to the private beach (the Hilton is the only one that’s actually on the beach). They also have pools, full-service spas, dining options, and gyms.
There are also numerous vacation rentals from beachfront to bayfront. A choice of condos and homes that range in size and location, but the best part is that you still get the great amenities of a resort (some even provide golf carts)!
View from our room at the Hilton
With all of that being said, let me get into the five reasons why you should head over to Sandestin:
1. The beach
I could not get over the beauty of the beach. The moment I walked on the sand I was hooked. It was like walking on FLOUR. Yes, flour. (When I got back home, I found some flour to confirm and yes, the sand was like flour.) White, fluffy, easy to walk (and make sandcastles) in. There were also plenty of chairs and umbrellas offered too ($40 for the day) so you could easily camp out there all day. If you didn’t, there was a small strip of sand by the water with just enough room to plop your stuff down and jump in.
To compliment the dreamy sand, the water was emerald green and as clear as pool water. There were no rocks in the water and it was shallow enough that I could comfortably walk out a good distance. The waves were hit or miss depending on the day, but even the worst waves we got weren’t bad. My 2-year-old actually had a blast jumping in the waves and floating back. The temperature of the water had just the right amount of chill to it so it cooled you off, not that shocking chill you get from California beaches. Once we jumped in, we were instantly comfortable.
To add to the fun of the beach, there were plenty of water activities. The coolest one was the inflatable obstacle course. It was roughly 50 yards away and had a variety of humongous floats (think of that show Wipe Out). In addition to that, there were jet skis, kayaks, and banana boats for rent, parasailing, and of course beach volleyball. In short, the beach had it all!
2. Everything you need in one place
Without a doubt, Sandestin was made with families in mind. Everything that a family would want is there.
To start, in addition to the fantastic beach, the resorts each have multiple pools and hot tubs. Sandestin has 19 pools altogether! The Hilton had two large outdoor pools and a hot tub, plus an indoor pool that we would have some fun in (to get any remaining energy out) before bedtime. Beach access was directly across from both the pools so it made it very easy to jump from beach to pool (and my son wanted to do this multiple times a day!)
For the athletes, families have their choice of golf. They can head over to Dune’s Mini Golf, an adorable 18-hole course with sand-traps, water hazards, and fast-breaking ridges. Or for the more advanced golfers, Sandestin is home to four championship golf courses. There are also basketball courts next to Dune’s and you can even rent a basketball (because who brings a basketball on a vacation?) Or you can head over to one of the 15 tennis courts and get private lessons, hitting sessions, join a class, or a matching service. They even have children’s tennis activities too.
Two of the resorts offer Kids Clubs during the day and at night too- Kids Crew at the Hilton Sandestin and Club KZ at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. The kids fly kites, build sandcastles, play with water balloons and squirters, slide down water slides and slip-and-slides, play educational and interactive games, and so much more. Not only do the kids have a ton of fun with other kids but the parents can have some adult fun as well! Check the schedules for both on the links above.
After all that fun, there are all kinds of food options. Our resort, like many of the other resorts, had numerous food options. Just in the Hilton, there was a coffee and snack shop (with Starbucks coffee), a beach snack hut that had all kinds of quick pre-made snacks like chicken tenders or pizza (plus ice cream!), an open-air bar and grill perfect for lunch by the pool (with delicious cocktails), a breakfast buffet, and a sushi restaurant. There was also pool and beach service, so you didn’t even have to leave your seat if you didn’t want to.
TIP: I recommend sticking with seafood, it’s fresh and we never had a bad seafood meal… everything else was nothing special. And don’t expect to get a quick meal at a restaurant either, everything goes at a slow pace in Sandestin.
3. Village of Baytowne Wharf
Baytowne Wharf is a charming little village with cobblestone streets lined with big, full trees right on the bay. It was modeled after Bourbon Street in New Orleans (but a family version). It’s full of food, shopping, events, family activities, and nightlife. They have many (like 10 or 12) delicious options for dining. (I went to Slick Lips and ate the best and biggest raw oysters I’ve ever had in my life.) Plus, many options for ice cream and candy stores for dessert.
The kids activities were legit. A merry-go-round (does anyone want to guess how many times my kid had to ride this?), an enclosed playground, an adventure zone with zip-lining and a ropes course, and laser tag and an arcade.
And the best part—all kinds of family events. In the summer, there are weekly firework shows, live music, magic shows, outdoor movies, art festivals, and food festivals. You can easily spend hours here or come back multiple times. My kid cried when we had to leave, so it’s that kind of place.
If addition to the Wharf, Grand Boulevard offers a more upscale option for shopping and dining, plus a movie theater.
4. The FREE Sandestin Tram to get you around
The shuttle was a life saver. I mention this again because currently (June 2021) getting a rental car is either impossible due to the rental car shortage or extremely expensive. I didn’t want to deal with the hassle, so I wanted to visit a place that was walkable and had transportation included.
The tram runs on two continuous loops and will hit each stop roughly every 30 minutes.
In the summer months, it runs from 8:30am—midnight on weekdays and 8:30am—2:00am on weekends. It fits about 20 people with overhead storage.
There is even a live tracker: https://sanddollartram.azurewebsites.net/#TramController/displayMap
5. Location, location, location.
Sandestin is the type of place you can visit and not leave the resort. However, if you want to see more places during your time at the Gulf, it can also be a great home base to discover neighboring cities. It’s in a perfect location—only 8 miles away is Destin and 10 miles to 30-A beaches.
Destin is a bustling hot spot. It’s called “The Crown Jewel of the Emerald Coast.” It’s much larger than Sandestin and has a wide variety of activities and restaurants from water parks to dolphin cruises. It’s usually packed with tourists though, so competition on lodging, restaurants, and events is high. Visitors can get the Destin action during the day and then enjoy quiet nights in Sandestin. The best of both worlds.
Scenic Highway 30-A is home to 12 different unique beaches. Even though they are neighbors, they each have their own charm about them. 30-A is the more relaxed, quiet, less commercial area. While it may be too slow for a stay with kids, this could be a perfect day trip for a bike ride around town or a delicious meal looking out onto the water.
No matter what you do in Sandestin, you will have a blast! Have you been? Let me know about it in the comments!
need help booking your trip? use my favorite resources!
I always start with Kayak when I book flights. It searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly. you can also set price alerts for a specific flight.
My first stop for rental cars is rentalcars.com. It scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.
Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.