Guide to Meeting & Event Planning in

Northern Florida

Learn why you should host your next meeting, event or conference in Northern Florida.

Looking to Plan a North Florida Meeting?
Learn everything you need to know about this sunny locale at Destination Southeast, Northstar’s premier event for meetings and incentive pros looking to book biz in the area.

Why Northern Florida for Your Next Event?

North Florida's Emerald Coast — Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island — comprises 24 miles of powdery, white-sand beaches and gem-hued waters. Meeting groups flock here for superb fishing, kayaking, hiking and biking, not to mention the mouthwatering Gulf-to-table cuisine. 

Recent Hotel & Venue Additions

The Ramada Plaza Beach Resort is now the 335-room Island by Hotel RL, and the first resort destination for Red Lion's upscale boutique brand. The Okaloosa Island property, built in 1966, has renovated its public spaces; newly designed guest rooms will debut in 2019. The hotel has 14,000 square feet of event space, including a penthouse ballroom, plus two pools, a grotto with a swim-up bar, and a beach-side coffee truck. This summer the property unveiled its signature restaurant, Nineteen66 Southern Grill & Tap House, and launched the poolside Living Stage, which gives local musicians, poets and artists a community platform.

The 178-room Hilton Garden Inn Fort Walton Beach recently opened with a large pool and deck with fire pits that overlook the Gulf. For meetings and events, the hotel has a 5,000-square-foot banquet room with sea views.

The 60-room WaterColor Inn & Resort in South Walton’s Santa Rosa Beach neighbor-hood has begun rolling out a multi-phased  expansion and upgrades to its amenities. Already open is the property’s renovated WaterColor Beach Club, featuring a new pool with plentiful seating, lounge areas and event space. The club’s new dining option, the roof-top Rita Bar, serves up a variety of margaritas and an expansive selection of tequilas, specialty cocktails, wine and beer. Rita Bar will soon offer Baha Mexican-inspired bites, as well. The second phase of the expansion, expected to debut by year’s end, will add a second pool deck to  the property. 

The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, debuted recently in Destin. The resort has approximately 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, including the 5,221-square-foot Crystal Ballroom, the Grand Lawn and the Sunset Vista Terrace. Other features include the Primrose restaurant, the Horizons Bar, the Sea Level grill, an adult pool with cabanas, a fitness room and the Salamander Spa with 11 treatment rooms. The property also provides on-site kayak and bike rentals.

A new lodging option soon will open inside the gates of the 1,250-room Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort: The luxury 269-room Hotel Effie Sandestin is expected to debut this coming May with 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 13,000-square-foot ballroom, as well as a restaurant, a lobby bar, a spa, a fitness center, and a rooftop pool and bar overlooking the crystal-blue waters of Choctawhatchee Bay. Guests of the new hotel will have access to the full menu of Sandestin Resort amenities, such as its seven miles of beaches, four championship golf courses, 15 tennis courts and 123-slip marina. Last year, the complex welcomed the 84-room Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard, which added another 1,600 square feet of meeting space, coffee and cocktail bars, a pool, a fitness center and a restaurant to its portfolio. The resort now has more than 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

More Event Venues

Bring out the "kid" in attendees of all ages by spending a fun-filled afternoon (or evening) at Wild Willy's Adventure Zone in Fort Walton Beach. The venue, which bills itself as Northwest Florida's largest family-entertainment center, includes a 17,000-square-foot arcade, a 4-D movie theater, a laser maze, two dinosaur-themed mini golf courses, a 60-foot-long ropes course, a spinning roller coaster and a reverse bungee trampoline. Dining and catering are provided by Salvati's Pizza Factory and YogoMogo's Creamy Cool Creations. Groups of up to 200 people are accommodated. (850) 400-3300

Host a one-of-a-kind dinner at the Living Sea event space at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach. The space is surrounded by a stunning eight-foot-high aquarium filled with rainbow-hued tropical fish, giving it an ethereal underwater vibe. Groups of up 112 guests can be hosted. (850) 243-9046

Celebrate Destin's fascinating fishing heritage at the Destin History and Fishing Museum. Indoor exhibits highlight the village's origins and showcase the variety of denizens populating the local waters. The outdoor Museum Historic Park Complex displays several old-style fishing boats as well as Destin's original post office building. The museum has a large meeting space that accommodates up to 50 people; group tours of the facility are accommodated. (850) 837-6611

Among Okaloosa County hotels with meeting facilities are the 335-room Island by Hotel RL, 216-room Four Points by Sheraton Destin--Fort Walton Beach, 195-room Wyndham Garden Fort Walton Beach, 170-room The Henderson and 155-room Embassy Suites Destin at Miramar Beach.

Things to Do in Northern Florida

Dining Around

The beach party never ends at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Destin. This Northwest Florida outpost of the laid-back tropical chain offers spectacular views of the marina, along with tropical drinks, salads, burgers and more. 

The seaside Fish Out of Water restaurant in South Walton's WaterColor community has been totally redone, and has reopened with a new menu featuring locally sourced fresh catch-es such as catfish and Gulf shrimp. In addition, FOOW now features live music daily. Groups of up to 36 people can enjoy a private dining experience in the FOOWroom wine cellar, and the semiprivate dining room, FOOWwest,  accommodates events for up to 38 guests.

Harry T's, named for a famed trapeze artist and steeped in circus nostalgia, is in the lighthouse at HarborWalk Village of Destin. American fare and fresh seafood are the specialties. 

Dolphins and More

Catch a cruise aboard one of the many vessels that track the charming mammals that frolic off the Emerald Coast. AJ's Water Adventures runs day and sunset sailings.

Shell Station

Learn about the protected sea turtles that nest in the area on an evening eco walk conducted by the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau/Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council.

Sea Stroll

Take a tranquil walk along the nature trail at Henderson State Park in Destin. The path weaves through sand pine, sand live oak, saw palmettos, cacti and wildflowers. The park also is a paradise for birders as well as anglers, who can try their luck catching red fish, flounder, catfish, cobia, whiting and pompano.

Area Transportation

Destin—Fort Walton Beach Airport, 16 miles from Destin. Transfer cost by taxi to Destin, $50.

Top 10 Restaurants in Northern Florida

Be sure to satisfy your taste for Cajun and seafood, as well as cuisine favorites in Northern Florida. Here are a few places that will tempt your palate.

  1. Louisiana Lagniappe - Seafood, Cajun (Destin)
  2. Mimmo's Ristorante Italiano - Italian (Destin)
  3. Stewby's Seafood Shanty - Seafood (Fort Walton Beach)
  4. McGuire's Irish Pub - Irish (Destin)
  5. Brotula's Seafood House & Steamer - Seafood (Destin)
  6. Al's Beach Club and Bar - American (Fort Walton Beach)
  7. Bay Cafe - French (Fort Walton Beach)
  8. Clemenza's at Uptown - Italian (Fort Walton Beach)
  9. Rockin' Tacos - Mexican (Okaloosa Island)
  10. Boshamps Seafood & Oyster House - American, Cajun (Destin)