Destination Brief: South Walton Becomes Bleisure Hotspot With Pristine Beaches & High-End Meeting Venues

A group of 5 people of mixed genders and races sit around a campfire at dusk on a beach in South Walton, with the ocean visible in the immediate background.

Skift Take

For today's attendees, bleisure travel isn't just about beaches, outdoor adventures, and sophisticated meeting venues — they want a destination that will also deliver authentic local charm alongside a strong sustainability record. Find out why South Walton, Florida, is perfectly positioned to meet this new demand.

As bleisure travel becomes increasingly popular, South Walton, Florida, is quickly becoming a top contender for everything from business meetings to incentive trips. According to TripActions data, the share of business trips that contained a weekend shot up to 38 percent in 2022 — and the upward trend doesn’t show any sign of stalling.

Moreover, many corporate planners are looking to blend leisure experiences into the official agenda as a way to foster team-bonding in the age of hybrid work. What better choice than a beach destination with state-of-the-art meeting venues, luxury resorts, and enriching team-building activities? Stretching along Florida’s sunny Gulf Coast, South Walton checks all the boxes.

5 Reasons to Make South Walton Your Next Bleisure Destination

1. Luxury Accommodations: Beach Views & Unique Personalities

From full-service resorts to romantic boutique hotels and quaint beach cottages to unique event spaces, South Walton has its selection of bleisure venues down to a science. Planners can choose from 16 diverse beachfront neighborhoods, each with their own personalities and aesthetics; some stretches retain a quaint, small-town feel and others boast high-rise luxury resorts with all the latest amenities.

In South Walton’s eastern end, travelers can enjoy small-town charm with European architectural influences. The neighborhood is easily accessible thanks to its location along scenic Highway 30A, and only a few buildings are taller than four stories due to a local ordinance preventing high-rise development. The Pointe and WaterColor Inn & Resort are beloved accommodation options in the area, not to mention The Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach, which CNN named one of America’s Most Romantic Small Towns.

An exterior shot of the Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach, a neighborhood in South Walton renowned for its quaint architecture and bleisure attractions.
The Pearl Hotel, Rosemary Beach. Image credit: Walton County Tourism.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, South Walton’s western end is home to a number of high-rise condos and state-of-the-art resorts. For example, the Hyatt Place Sandestin, Hotel Effie Sandestin, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, and Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa all offer global brand-name hospitality experiences and high-tech luxury developments. With that said, these two extremes of the range that South Walton offers can easily be combined into one bleisure trip, with many west and east end venues only a 15-minute drive away from each other.

An exterior shot of the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, with a view of its inner courtyard complete with two pools and a view of the white-sand beach.
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa. Image courtesy of Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa.

2. Versatile Venues: Exciting Meeting Spaces & Innovative Event Options

There are more than 15,000 guest rooms available in South Walton, alongside meeting spaces that can accommodate small groups of ten all the way up to 1,500 people at a time. For planners thinking outside the box, there are many unique South Walton venues designed to host memorable events and experiences.

Major event spaces like the WaterColor BoatHouse and LakeHouse look out over Western Lake, while The Pointe Rooftop Sanctuary offers panoramic views of the coast and nearby beaches. Baytowne Marina is a full-service 210-slip docking area that makes a perfect home base for boat-bound events, while Rosemary Beach Town Hall packs rolling greens, beach settings, and indoor meeting spaces all into a single venue.

A lakeside view of WaterColor BoatHouse, a rustic cottage-style venue with classic Florida charm — the perfect venue for an intimate bleisure event.
WaterColor BoatHouse, the rustic cottage complement to the modern sophistication of WaterColor LakeHouse.

For foodie bleisure travelers or visitors looking to unwind after work, South Walton’s dining scene has plenty to offer. Roux 30A features a seasonal six-course tasting menu experience sure to bring teams and groups together through their senses. The Big Chill is a family friendly venue with tons of outdoor space and live music. And Grayton Beer Taproom boasts 30,000 square feet of brewing facilities, over 20 of their own brews on tap, and open-air spaces to relax and play classic barroom games as a group.

3. Exceptional Settings: 26 Miles of Pristine Beaches & Biodiverse Landscapes

Beyond the wide range of accommodation options and event spaces, South Walton offers 26 miles of pristine white-sand beaches stretching from Miramar Beach to Inlet Beach, all within driving distance of two major airports; Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) and Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) are both less than 25 miles away. Two hundred miles of hiking and biking trails give visitors a glimpse into the Longleaf Pine ecosystem, which is the sixth most biodiverse region in the United States.

Forty percent of South Walton is officially recognized as a nature preserve, including four state parks, a 15,000-acre state forest, and 15 rare coastal dune lakes that connect intermittently to the Gulf of Mexico. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park has been named the most pristine piece of coastal property in the entire state of Florida. This immense biodiversity puts nature within reach for bleisure travelers seeking to balance their time between the conference room and the great outdoors.

Enjoying a favorite bleisure activity, stand-up paddle boarders take in the views on Western Lake, one of the world's rare coastal dune lakes.
Stand-up paddle boarders on Western Lake, one of the world’s rare coastal dune lakes. Image credit: Walton County Tourism.

4. Programming: Endless Team-Building & Leisure Activities

The wealth of activities available in South Walton make it a perfect destination for both team-building adventures and bleisure weekends away. From nature-based volunteer outings that restore the environment and give back to the local community to exercise-focused excursions, cultural explorations, and sight-seeing trips, South Walton promises to keep visitors as busy as they want to be. The fitness-minded can try yoga on the beach or bike the 19-mile Timpoochee Trail, not to mention all the best water sports like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. And plenty of professional outfitters like 30A Blaze are on hand to manage all the logistics. South Walton also boasts nearly a dozen championship golf courses.

On the beach right next to the water, five women follow their yoga instructor in assuming a stork pose, a top bleisure activity for wellness-minded business travelers.
Yoga on the beach. Image credit: Walton County Tourism.

Teams that prefer more leisurely bonding time might choose to set sail with SunQuest Cruises on their 125-foot SOLARIS yacht, complete with three levels, elegant dining rooms, and an open air sky deck. A wine tasting at The Wine Bar or a brewery tour of Idyll Hounds Brewing Company combine the best of education and indulgence, while The Shard Shop encourages visitors to roll up their sleeves in interactive workshops and group art classes.

Planners interested in CSR activities that help companies give back can partner with any number of local organizations and South Walton preservation efforts. Volunteer opportunities at Eden Gardens State Park include clean ups and invasive plant removal, while volunteers at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park can help preserve old-growth forests, wet prairies, basin swamps, rare coastal dune lakes, and other rare flora and fauna. Alaqua Animal Refuge, Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve, the Children’s Volunteer Health Network, and Habitat for Humanity all work with volunteers. And the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center even offers overnight events for groups.

The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. Image credit: Walton County Tourism.

5. Sustainability: Initiatives, Experiences & Brands

It’s easy to build sustainability into any trip to South Walton, even without prioritizing environmental activities; the area’s official motto is “pride, preservation, conservation.” Local architectural efforts are specifically designed to keep visits eco-friendly, and plenty of local businesses — from food and beverage spots to shopping opportunities — have baked sustainability into their core initiatives so South Walton visitors can explore in good conscience.

The neighborhood of Seaside is the home of New Urbanism, an architectural design movement that prioritizes walkability and exemplifies picturesque design — it is even featured in the 1998 Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show. Serving as the hub for the neighborhood’s sustainability efforts, The Seaside Institute’s mission is to promote sustainable practices through education and design. To help invite others into the cause, they also have on-site meeting space available for business and bleisure groups. Other South Walton sustainability initiatives include the St. Joe Company, which has placed more than 170,000 acres into permanent conservation since 1997.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, a living testament to the motto “pride, preservation, conservation.”

That desire to make a difference has inspired countless local businesses throughout South Walton. For example, all the fish served at Bud & Alley’s waterfront restaurant is fresh from the Gulf and almost all the establishment’s vegetables are sourced from regional farmers and growers. They are also an entirely plastic-free business; everything from straws and take-out containers to shopping bags are made from paper. Other sustainable food and beverage standouts include Black Bear Bread Co., which prioritizes local ingredients, and Amavida Coffee, which serves organic coffee and is committed to carbon neutrality. And for visitors looking to shop locally and sustainably, the 30A Company’s clothing is made from a blend of cotton and recycled bottles.

South Walton Is An All-in-One Bleisure Hotspot 

With countless styles of accommodations to choose from, endless opportunities to appreciate the great outdoors, and any number of activities to pass the time as teams or families, South Walton is a powerhouse destination for the bleisure traveler. The county is also working toward official affiliation with nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful in an effort to further its already impressive sustainability efforts. Whether your ideal bleisure trip is a cosmopolitan getaway with luxury amenities or an immersive nature experience in a quaint seaside town, South Walton is the place to be.

To learn more about everything South Walton has to offer, reach out to the experts at Walton County Tourism.

Did You Know?
Protecting Nature & The Ecosystem:
Nearly half of South Walton is officially recognized as protected land. This helps maintain and secure the breathtaking landscapes and natural ecosystems in the area, from its pure white quartz crystal sand beaches to 15 rare coastal dune lakes and a range of state parks and forests.

This content was created collaboratively by Walton County Tourism and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.