For the health conscious families, summer vacations can be a mixed bag. When you are on the road for days or weeks at a time, eating well and fitting your workouts in gets tough. If you are looking for a family escape that offers plenty of active fun, abundant healthy eating options and stretches of white sand beaches that run along emerald green waters, then Northwest Florida is the perfect destination for you. Read on to find out where to go and what to do to create a vacation experience that feels more like a family wellness retreat!

photo: by Annette Benedetti

The Scoop?

Theme parks are likely the first thing your kids bring up when the sunshine state is mentioned as a potential destination for a family getaway. But let’s be honest, theme parks are hard on the feet, the gut and the nerves. Florida is home to an array of ride-filled, fast-food packed opportunities, but the Northwest coastline beckons to those looking for a healthier experience with lesser-known— and far less packed— beach communities that provide breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico along with nutritious eating options to keep your family fueled for some incredible and active fun!

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Seaside

Stay
This idealistic resort community is renowned for its New Urbanist design as well as its appearance in “The Truman Show”. Built on 80 acres of pristine Gulf Coast property, it consists of over 300 homes —perfect for families of all sizes—many of which are vacation rentals. Book your stay at one of the luxurious cottages through the Seaside Cottage Rental Agency. They provide a wide variety of stunning options in various locations throughout the town. Along with enjoying a stay at a beautiful home with all of the comforts (plus some) that you are used to, the following extras are included: two bike rentals, a bottle of wine upon arrival, unlimited complimentary DVD rentals and free popcorn, a welcome beach tote with souvenirs, high speed internet access, discounts on outdoor adventure activities, free use of beach toys and concierge services that assist with planning your daily activities.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Do
The town center is packed with diverse shopping and dining options, including the Seaside Farmer’s Market, all within walking distance of the homes and offices in the area, so you and your kiddos will spend plenty of time on your feet. If little legs get bored of walking, grab some bikes and tour the town and beyond on two wheels. This bikeable locale has several entrances to the beach, nine of which are marked by unique pavilions that offer a place to rest and take in the unique beauty of the Gulf Coast. Stick your complimentary beach toys in the basket on the front of your bike and spend the afternoon splashing and playing in the surf.

If you are looking for a family team building activity, consider taking your sand castle building skills to the next level and sign up for a class with Sandcastle Lessons. The Sandcastle coach will meet you at the beach where they will spend two hours teaching you how to sculpt incredible structures using unique tools, glistening white sand and water. When you are done you will have a castle of your own standing approximately three and a half feet tall to brag about. The whole experience costs around $220 and kids four and under are free!

When you are done with sand play, hop on your bikes and head to the nearby Grayton Beach State Park where you can enjoy a hike through coastal forests. This 2,200-acre park also provides access to pristine beaches and Western Lake where you can enjoy kayaking, canoeing and fishing.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Eat
All of the activity is sure to rouse big appetites. Nourish your hungry little ones (and big ones) at extraordinary eateries like Havana Beach Bar & Grill. This four-diamond restaurant serves up Gulf Coast Americana cuisine with Caribbean influences. Start your day with seasonal fruit or steel cut oatmeal; fuel your afternoon with a steak salad; or enjoy the evening with roasted oysters, seared diver scallops or roasted gulf fish. The Chanticleer Eatery is a perfect location for a filling lunch with an array of scrumptious salads and sandwiches including the turkey bacon guacamole and classic ham or turkey and cheese. And, Thirty-A makes eating healthy a breeze with menu items that include a savory lentil soup, tuna poke with sliced cucumber, carrot and avocado; and a lineup of salads and seafood options that won’t leave you feeling guilty when you crawl into bed. They even offer kids grilled steak and chicken as a healthy alternative to the typical kid’s menu fare.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Destin

Stay
Located on the Emerald Coast this beach town cozies up to some of the most incredible coastline that Florida has to offer. Book your accommodations at The Henderson Beach Resort where your family will enjoy the perfect blend of luxury and family friendly. From spacious suites that are ideal for larger parties to spa rooms with sitting areas and private balconies, there are an array of options to choose from. They all come with luxury linens, incredible views and access to unparalleled amenities for families looking for a mix of fun with a touch of bliss.

If you are booking an extended vacation to the area, have an extra large family or are interested in a little extra space, The Henderson also offers the Henderson Lofts, which are located next to the resort. They feature luxurious vacation rentals with guest services, and are guaranteed to quickly become your home away from home.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Do
The Henderson Resort offers its guest plenty to do on the property. There are two onsite pools, one for the adults and one for the whole family. Kids spend hours floating along the pool’s lazy river and playing on the splash pad. If mom and dad need a little alone time, the resort has on-site care: Poppy’s Kids Club Day Camp. The camp offers games, crafts and fun activities. Kids are guaranteed to make new friends! They even provide a fun Kids Night Out (which translates to parents night out too). Note: there are fees associated with Poppy’s Kids Club.

While your kiddos meet new comrades, try one of the clubs fitness classes. From yoga to spin, you won’t have trouble staying fit on your vacation. The Henderson also provides its guest with kayak and boogie board rentals and more. Having fun on the beach is as easy as grabbing your gear and walking a short distance to the shore.

For memories that will last forever, book one of the cruises that AJ’s Water Adventures offers. Step on to one of their sailboats for a dolphin or sunset cruise and experience the emerald coast from a unique vantage point. Your kids will love the fun group setting and if they are lucky they might catch a glimpse of some sealife or get a chance to steer the ship while mom and dad enjoy a glass of wine.

What would a family wellness trip be without a little spa experience? The Henderson Resort’s Salamander Spa offers a variety of treatments that will relieve any remaining stress or anxiety you may have. Sign mom up for a 60-minute facial that will leave her looking radiant, or book a 90-minute Swedish massage and customize with a massage enhancement like aromatherapy or a body scrub. When you are both done, relax in the luxe whirlpools, wash off in the experiential shower, or have a steam.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Eat
Start your days off right at Formula Fresh Superfood Bar. From cold-pressed juices to power-packed smoothies to bountiful bowls filled with fruit, nuts, almond milk and more; there is something that will please everyone in your family—and you’ll feel good about it too! If farm-to-table is more your thing, but you don’t have time for a long drawn out meal, head to Destin’s Everkrisp for what they call farm to fast food! Choose from an array of fresh salads, wholesome grain bowls, or enjoy the bursts of flavor with one of their avocado toast options. There isn’t a single dish you’ll regret.

The Henderson Resort has excellent dining options onsite. Whether you dine at the Primrose or the Beach Club Grill, you are guaranteed a next-level experience. The atmosphere is elegant but kid-friendly and the menu is inspired by the proximity to the waters of the Gulf while expressing Destin’s local flavors. Get ready for some of the best sushi you’ve ever had along with a variety of dishes that include braised pork shank, Florida’s Gulf Shrimp and crispy sesame cauliflower. Yum!

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Pensacola

Stay
Another sugar-white sand beach destination, Pensacola has plenty to offer the family looking for time on the water, a hardy dose of nature and a whole lot of culture. While it’s a bit of a drive away from the town center of Pensacola, the Purple Parrot Village is located in Perdido Key and offers families looking for a cottage stay plenty of options. Accommodation options come in the form of one to four-bedroom condos and include access to a large outdoor swimming pool that features a waterfall cave and bridge accessible island hot tub: a little something for both parents and kids.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Do
Get acquainted with Pensacola in a unique and exhilarating way. Book a Segway tour with Emerald Coast Tours! This one to two-hour excursion gives your family a chance to ride the oh-so-cool Segway and then glide through town with a guide who will fill you in on all of the area’s fascinating history. The kids are guaranteed to love the whole experience…and there are plenty of dad-jokes involved that will keep the man of the house entertained too.

Pensacola Boardwalk is a perfect destination for families with kids of all ages. It’s packed with unique boutiques for hours of shopping, endless dining options and tons of kid-friendly entertainment. If a private boating experience is something your family craves, book a family excursion on a catamaran with Condor Sailing. This unique experience gives visitors the opportunity to see what it feels like aboard a ship that was built for racing. If you have family members with weak stomachs, this boating experience is perfect for them because the sailing is smooth on this 40-foot catamaran. Captain Kirk guarantees it!

Finish off your Florida getaway with a trip to Big Lagoon State Park. Walk through 698-acre protected area or grab a kayak and experience its natural serenity as you paddle along surrounded by native plants and wildlife. The song of the birds and the splashing of jumping fish will inspire even the youngest of nature lovers in your crew.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Eat
Enjoy some afternoon sips at The Wine Bar on the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk while the kids explore or play in the sand. Or head to Casino Beach Bar and Grille where you can sit inches away from the beach and enjoy delectable and healthy menu items like Ahi tuna nachos, lettuce wraps, shrimp and green mango ceviche and more! Kids will be pleased with their choice of sliders and seasonal veggies made just the way they like.

Additional eateries you don’t want to miss include the George Artisan Bakery & Bistro where breakfast includes items like the cinnamon honey pecan scone and smoked salmon poached eggs. They also serve a weekend brunch and a have a dinner menu with grilled octopus and beef Carpaccio. While you are in the area, you have to experience Flora Bama, and there’s no better place to do that than at The Flora Bama Yacht Club where the kids can enjoy running across the border of two state and parents can grab a cocktail and slurping down oysters in the laidback atmosphere.

Northwest Florida has so much to offer families dedicated to healthy living. Between days spent playing on pristine beaches, afternoons dedicated to family adventures and eateries that leave you feeling satisfied, the sunshine state’s panhandle is bound to become your family’s favorite annual getaway.

ADVERTISEMENT

—Annette Benedetti

This trip was paid for by Visit Florida, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.