The area has a wide range of condominiums and cottages for rent. One good-value example is Venus by the Sea. The visitor information offices will provide lists of others. The largest rental agent is Resort Quest, 3500 Emerald Coast Pkwy., Destin (www.abbott-resorts.com; tel. 888/909-6807; fax 850/654-2937), which publishes an annual brochure picturing and describing its many properties.
The Flamingo Cottage, on Santa Rosa Beach (www.flamingocottage.com; tel. 832/309-5866), is perfect for families or groups (it can sleep up to 16), with fabulous features such as stone tiles, 9-foot bead-board ceilings, crown moldings, an oak staircase, and a master suite with Jacuzzi and private covered balcony. In addition to a large den and kitchen, laundry room, and outdoor gas grill, the cottage has four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Rates are $250 to $340 nightly, or $1,475 to $3,200 per week, depending on the season.
There are several commercial campgrounds here, but the best camping is at Henderson Beach State Park, in Destin, and at Grayton Beach State Park, in south Walton County.
State and local governments add 11% tax to all hotel and campground bills.
Fort Walton Beach
The managers of Venus by the Sea also run the Sea Crest Condominiums, at 895 Santa Rosa Blvd. (www.seacrestcondos.com; tel. 800/476-1885 or 850/301-9600; fax 850/301-9205). The 112 units in this seven-story building aren't as spacious as those in Venus, but they're more luxurious, and those on the higher floors have great views toward the west. The complex has indoor and outdoor pools (actually one pool -- you can swim under a glass partition between them), and it sits next to a county park with a boardwalk leading over the dunes to the beach.
Among the chain motels is the Hampton Inn Fort Walton Beach, 1112 Santa Rosa Blvd. (http://hamptoninn1.hilton.com; tel. 800/426-7866 or 850/301-0906).
Southern Walton County
If you want to stay near the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort without paying its prices, there's a Sleep Inn, 5000 Emerald Coast Pkwy./U.S. 98 (tel. 800/627-5337 or 850/654-7022), just a mile west. Emerald Grande (www.legendaryresorts.com; tel. 866/755-7824) is a luxury condo/hotel on 15 acres in Destin Harbor. While most units are owned by individuals, some are available for nightly (minimum 3-night stay) and weekly rental. Amenities include a sun deck resting 63 feet above sea level, with pools, waterfront eatery Harry T's, a Florida outpost of New Orleans landmark Commander's Palace, a full-service spa and fitness center, a 24-hour concierge, and more.
Luxurious Cottages, Villas & Luscious Surroundings
Rosemary Beach, at the east end of 30A, just 8 miles east of Seaside (www.rosemarybeach.com; tel. 888/855-1551), a larger, Seaside-style community that's a fusion of West Indies and Southern American architecture, has a collection of about 300 Pan-Caribbean-style cottages and carriage houses (from studios to six bedrooms) for rent, all of which are nonsmoking. This is another pedestrian-friendly community -- almost everything on the 107 acres is within a 5-minute walk of the town center -- and most of the homes are owned by people who live here part-time and lease to vacationers the rest of the year. The white-sand beach is ridiculously gorgeous, though guests can also choose from among four pools. Nothing on the architecturally stunning, strikingly planted property is higher than four stories, and all the homes telescope in from the beach, so everyone can have a view (or partial view) of the Gulf. Other amenities include a health club, bike rental, racquet club, 2.3-mile fitness trail, spa, shops, town hall, post office, and a few good restaurants, including the delightful Onano Neighborhood Café, 78 Main St. (tel. 850/231-2436; www.onanocafe.com). Cottages are individually decorated, so check online to see pictures of the properties before deciding. Though all come with a full kitchen, washer/dryer, and TV/DVD, some have added amenities such as a Jacuzzi or private pool. There is also an 11-room inn, the Pensione (tel. 888/855-1551), on the premises, and the town is building a full-service hotel. The inn's daily rates are $175 to $195 spring and fall, from $195 in summer, and $150 in winter. Opening sometime this century, Hotel Saba (tel. 800/310-5768) is a 53-room boutique hotel in Rosemary Beach's Town Center.
Sandwiched on 30A between Rosemary Beach and Seaside is the brand-new Alys Beach (tel. 877/259-5500; www.alysbeach.com), the greenest member of the gang of new urbanists and a sustainable community, featuring 158 acres of million-dollar-plus beachfront villas (all considered "fortified homes" incorporating the latest in green/earth-friendly technology) inspired by the architecture of Bermuda, Antigua, and Guatemala, with 1,500 feet of beach, parks, open spaces, and a 20-acre environmental preserve trail system and wetlands. Of the few homes that have been completed and sold, several are available for vacation rental.
There are also community pools, one of which is open to the public on select evenings -- the Caliza Pool (tel. 866/832-1760). This Ancient Greece-meets-modern-day South Beach complex of a main pool, family pool, lap pool (in which you can plug in your iPod for a custom, underwater soundtrack!), and spa pool also contains the Caliza Restaurant, housed in a loggia with billowing curtains and including dining areas with tables shaded by a gallery roof and seating niches built within a thickened wall punctuated by wood-screened openings. That said, Alys Beach is still a work in progress, with completion of the 600 villas, restaurants, parks, pools, and shops expected within the next 10 years!
Mayberry meets Metropolitan Home in this pastel-hued community, where life is a dreamlike state of mind. If you decide to rent a home or a romantic honeymoon cottage in this village, contact the Seaside Cottage Rental Agency, P.O. Box 4730, Seaside, FL 32459 (tel. 866/624-1054 or 850/231-1320; fax 850/351-2009; www.seasidefl.com). The agency has several hundred cottages in its rental inventory, from one to six bedrooms. The beachside cottages are one of Florida's best getaways for anyone else looking for a romantic escape, though if you want a little more privacy and less action, you might choose Rosemary Beach or Alys Beach instead. Fun fact: Every property in Seaside is identified not by address but by name. And the names are everything from cheeky and kitschy -- Changes in Attitude, Cork the Whine, Four the Girls, Happy Ours, Salad Days Lockoff -- to celebratory, such as Independence Day, the cottage owned by the songwriter who wrote the hit country song of the same name. Another fun fact: No two houses on the same street can have the same type of picket fence.
WaterColor Inn: Picture Perfect
Designed by renowned architect David Rockwell, the WaterColor Inn, 34 Goldenrod Circle (www.watercolorresort.com; tel. 866/426-2656 or 850/534-5000), is a 499-acre beachfront boutique hotel. With just 60 rooms, it feels more like a private beach house than a hotel. A ground-floor library with club chairs and a cocktail lounge opening onto the pool deck drive home that feeling even more. Guest rooms feature a walk-in shower with views to the beach, and Adirondack chairs on the balcony. Six ground-floor bungalows have outdoor showers enclosed by striped tents, lending a French Riviera feel. Rotunda guest rooms in the center tower provide 180-degree views from massive balconies. Access to WaterColor community facilities, such as the Tom Fazio-designed Camp Creek Golf Club, 6 miles east, and Greg Norman-designed Shark's Tooth Golf Club, 13 miles east, is a bonus. Five Har-Tru tennis courts are also available. A Gulf-front beach club (with pool deck, children's pool, and beach services), a lakefront boathouse (with canoes, kayaks, and fishing), and Camp WaterColor, with supervised kids' activities, will keep you from wanting to leave. Rates range from $225 to $595 for a king room, $395 to $625 for a suite. In addition to the 60 rooms at the Inn, WaterColor has a selection of rental homes, ranging from one to five bedrooms. These are very popular with families and groups of friends traveling together. Rental guests can use all of the resort's facilities, and kayaks and canoes are complimentary. For those looking for more privacy, WaterColor's sister community WaterSound Beach (www.watersoundvacationrentals.com; tel. 800/413-2363), a 256-acre gated residential community 4 miles west near Camp Creek Golf Club on 30A near Deer Lake State Park, features a private beach club, white-sand beaches, and a seasonal restaurant. Rates for one- to five-bedroom private vacation rentals range from $195 to $695.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.