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September 02, 2010

Hit the Gulf Coast this Labor Day

By Kate Chandler

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Beach at Sandestin, Florida (Kate Chandler)

If you're still undecided about a vacation spot for the upcoming long Labor Day weekend (a bit of a procrastinator, are we?), I have to suggest giving Florida's Gulf Coast some thought. I visited Sandestin, part of the Beaches of South Walton, a couple of weeks ago and was pleased to see that the beaches at one of my fave vacation spots were untarnished by the oil spill.

Even more amazing was the lack of crowds on these typically uber-popular beaches. This, of course, isn't good for the local economy, but it's great for someone looking for a gorgeous white beach with a clear blue-green ocean to enjoy. I mean, I only had to wait 15 minutes to get a table for four at the Red Bar...that's unheard of in August. I also uncovered a culinary gem in Vin'tij, a wine bar with southern flair right across the from the Silver Sands outlet stores. Don't let the Subway sandwich shop next door fool you, Vin'tij is the real delicious deal.

Yolo Boarding at Eastern Lake, Florida (Kate Chandler)

Besides parking it on the beach, I also tried stand-up paddle boarding, known in these parts as Yolo Boarding, after the local company that makes the boards and lets you rent them for an hour or a whole day. They also give eco-tours and general tips about how to "yolo." You can take them in the ocean, but we opted for the smoother ride in Eastern Lake, one of the several rare coastal dune lakes found in these parts. New Zealand, Australia, and Madagascar are also home to a few of these rare dune lakes, but the 11 found here in Florida's gulf take the cake.

After a hard day's work playing on the beach and boards, you might need a little pampering. Head to Serenity Spa at the Sandestin Hilton for a paraffin-wax pedicure, followed by a Serenity Facial. Booking a treatment gives you access to the whole spa, including a spacious hot-tub, sauna, and steam room. If you're the motivated type who likes to work out on vacation, Serenity has nice exercise facilities, too. As for me, the only exercise I'll be getting here involves a long walk on the beach.

If you can drive down here for the weekend, it's really a no-brainer. But even if you're not in driving distance, the new airport at Panama City Beach (ECP), with great direct flights on Southwest and Delta, makes it easy to get here for a weekend trip.

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Florida Vacation · Last Minute Trips


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