By Susan Gunn
In Northwest Florida, not far from iconic County Highway 30A, lies a little peninsula with a big history. Sandestin, named for its geological location between Santa Rosa Beach and Destin, has long held an appeal for historic land moguls. Dotted with coastal lakes and lush lagoons, this land is only one mile at its narrowest point. Many years ago, Winthrop Rockefeller owned a good portion of the land and had plans for a living community. In 1960, Walt Disney had his eye on the property as a potential future site of his dream Disney World but eventually chose Orlando as a more frequented tourist area. In 1970, the owner of the Indianapolis Speedway attempted to procure the land for plans to build a coastal race track. While none of these visions ever came to fruition, we can flash forward to the present day and find an incredible development encompassing over twenty-three neighborhoods and hundreds of vacation rentals. Within the gates of The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, you will find a hidden wonderland called The Village of Baytowne Wharf.
This festive village is nestled against the shore of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the property boasts vacation and living accommodations right in the heart of the village. Hotels and condominiums overlook an expansive area lined with green lawns, natural lagoons, and boardwalks. Blacktop mini-streets will lead you through shady tree-lined thoroughfares that are home to an array of eclectic shops, restaurants, bars, and specialty entertainment areas.
It’s been said there is a very “Disney-esque” feel in this family-oriented spot.
While one might get the feeling of a small-town carnival, another might meander down the lamp-lit lanes and be reminded of New Orleans. There is something for everyone at Baytowne Wharf.
The many retail shops cater to the varying tastes of all visitors. HPO – High-Performance Offshore appeals to the avid fisherman specializing in off-shore gear to get prepared in high-end style before hitting the Gulf. Drop in at Latitude 25 for upscale resort and outerwear for all seasons. And for the ladies, Rockwell Tharp Boutique sells unique cutting edge boots, shoes, clothing, and handbags. Don’t forget to stop by the Sandestin Clothing Company for Sandestin’s signature logo apparel for the whole family. Local Life Print Cafe sits right on the main lagoon and provides custom printing on hundreds of items. You can even find specialty shops such as Artful Soap Co. offering locally made natural soaps and skincare products.
If you’re feeling up for a challenge, head to the Adventure Zone where you can test your wits and agility on the Skytrail Ropes Course. Test your strength and climb the 40’ foot tower and ride the zipline high over the lagoon, or flip out on the Eurobungy. Try your hand in the Blast Arcade and Laser Maze. And to slow things down a bit, the whole family can take a ride on the colorfully lit traditional Baytowne Carousel.
The village is open daily for shopping and fun, but when the sun goes down, things really light up. Start your evening at Fat Tuesday’s Daiquiri Bar to cool down with a fruity frozen adult beverage before choosing from a handful of dining establishments, most of which are open for both lunch and dinner. Hartell’s Village Diner is a true 50’s style eatery, while Hammerhead’s Bar and Grill and the famous Rum Runner’s offer a more high-spirited casual bar and restaurant atmosphere. If Italian fare is your mood, Roberto’s Italian Pizzeria and Sports Bar is a good bet, and popular with locals too. Fresh oysters on the half shell are served up now at the popular Slick Lips Seafood and Oyster House.
Not far from the village, just a stroll on a boardwalk along the edge of the marsh, you’ll find a great spot for watching the sunset. The Baytowne Marina is not only home to the famous Blue and Gold Macaw named Mary Ann, but hundreds of watercraft, from jet skis, speed boats, and skiffs, to the most luxurious of superyachts. If you’re not lucky enough to own one of the beautiful crafts, don’t worry, Baytowne Water Sports has you covered with rentals for WaveRunners, kayaks, and pontoons. It just wouldn’t be beach life if you didn’t visit YOLO Board Adventures for some stand-up paddleboard action. At the day’s end, there is nothing better than having a bayside seat at the popular Marina Grill. Here you can watch the Florida sun setting over the marina while you enjoy a delicious dinner with your favorite wine. At the Marina, you can visit Sunquest Cruises and book a special event or sunset cruise aboard the 125-foot luxury yacht SOLARIS.
When evening comes, make your way back to “town” where John Wehner’s Village Door awaits. Nestled right in the village, this award-winning dance club will get your blood pumping and your feet moving with live music and entertainment.
The Village Of Baytowne Wharf is truly a jack of all trades when it comes to family fun and entertainment. During the summer months, you can count on a busy event calendar managed by the talented events and promotions team. Events stage Adventure Lane features live music every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from June through August. Don’t miss Hydroflight Monday with fly-board expert Ben Merrell, or catch one of two magic shows on Magical Thursday. Baytowne Village lights up the night every week with Boomin’ Tuesday. Grab your spot by 9:15 for Baytowne’s crown jewel fireworks show that never fails to please everyone of all ages. The Village of Baytowne Wharf is truly a magical place to be experienced whether you are local or vacationing.