Northwest Florida, or the “Florida Panhandle,” is a glorious 200-mile stretch of beach with fantastic meetings spots, like Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Panama City Beach and Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. With a rich local history, it’s no wonder meeting professionals are drawn to book one of the many marvelous venues for meetings, dinners and other events.
Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, the heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast, are renowned for breathtaking white-sand beaches, emerald green ocean waters and a host of unique meeting venues. According to Maureen Morgenthien, deputy director, sales and marketing, Emerald Coast CVB, the area promises plenty to do for groups.
“The Emerald Coast’s forte is small- and medium-size groups looking for something unique and off the beaten path,” she said. “While we have a reputation for one of the finest beaches in the world, groups are just now discovering all we have to offer.”
One spot she recommends is the Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village in Destin. The Harborview Room is a circular dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and can accommodate up to 120, with indoor and outdoor seating. There are also two smaller private dining rooms and a cool, retro bar with a nod to ’50s Las Vegas.
In Fort Walton Beach, a truly unique experience awaits those hosting a reception or dinner in the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. The entire park can be rented out for events, including private animal encounters where groups dine surrounded by a charming motif of seahorses, clown fish and other sea creatures.
“We do have opportunities for private events after hours,” said Meredith Horn, director of marketing and communications. “Our space holds 100 in The Living Sea room, which faces a 45,000-gallon coral reef with tropical fish and a black-tip reef shark. We also have audiovisual capabilities for meetings.”
For larger meetings, the WaterVue at Brooks Street is one of Fort Walton Beach’s most popular waterfront venues. Located at the historical Brooks Bridge, WaterVue offers more than 5,000 square feet of customizable space with an open floor plan.
The waterfront patio, often used for barbecues and other outdoor events, features a wrap-around deck that sits directly on the Santa Rosa sound.
“The Pensacola Bay Area is known for its sugar white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters, award-winning restaurants and two magical islands,” said Steve Hayes, president of Visit Pensacola. “Here, meeting groups enjoy a perfect blend of Southern hospitality, a thriving downtown, world-class beaches and unforgettable experiences. Our meeting space options are as unique as we are and allow you to choose from walkable beachfront resorts to historic downtown hotels, boutique properties and one-of-a-kind spaces that will transcend ordinary meetings into extraordinary experiences.”
Founded and settled by the Spanish in 1559, Pensacola is filled with stunning Spanish architecture and streets with charming Spanish names. Planners can easily incorporate meetings into one of many art, food, cultural and music festivals that occur throughout the year.
An interesting tour at the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum can include a ghost hunt in the 1869 Keepers’ Quarters, still thought to be haunted. An idyllic spot to host an outdoor event or meeting, visitors willing to make the 177-step climb into the top of the lighthouse can also experience a panoramic view of a spectacular sunset over the Pensacola Bay.
The Historic Pensacola Museum of Commerce, housed in a turn-of-the-century warehouse, spotlights a reconstructed 1890s-era streetscape as one of its featured exhibits. Historic shops featuring toys, hardware, music, household items and leather goods, as well as a print shop where one of the most comprehensive collections of antique presses in the Southeast is on display. The museum accommodates 150 for a seated function and 200 to 250 for cocktails.