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GREAT ESCAPES: Panhandle Pars

Bordered by the powdery sand of the Gulf Shore and by brackish Coastal Dune Lakes, Florida's Walton County is a place of breathtaking sunsets and elfin towns awash in pastel. Now this portion of the Panhandle coast, about four hours west of Tallahassee, boasts excellent golf and a new boutique hotel of the sort you'd never expect to find in a region long scorned as the "Redneck Riviera."

In March the WaterColor Inn (866-426-2656), designed by renowned architect David Rockwell, opened its wrought-iron doors on environmentally protected dunes just steps from Seaside, the picture-perfect village immortalized in the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show. Decked out with exposed rafter rails, trellises and lime green shutters, the airy four-story inn greets visitors with a lobby whose centerpiece is a low-rise brown leather game table. The hotel offers sixty cabana-like rooms with colorful furnishings, CD and DVD players, and ocean views—views that guests can enjoy through the windows of their walk-in showers.

Tom Fazio's 7,159-yard Camp Creek Golf Club (850-231-2019) headlines the roster of top-notch courses nearby. Set on more than a thousand acres of beautiful wetlands, marsh and sandy hills, Camp Creek is private, but WaterColor guests can play this treat for special resort-rate greens fees.

Raven Golf Club (850-267-8211), a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design in Sandestin, is a rolling mixture of meadows, woods and ponds. While the most memorable hole is the sixth—a par three with an island green—the true gem is the 604-yard par-five seventh, where a double dogleg through pines and palmetto bushes leads to a green ringed with woods and bunkers. Raven complements three other courses at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort (800-277-0800), most notably the semiprivate Burnt Pine Golf Club.

Golfers who find Kelly Plantation Golf Club (800-811-6757) in Destin discover a windblown track on Choctawhatchee Bay. Designed by the team of Fred Couples and Gene Bates, this 7,099-yard course boasts tall evergreens, flowing fairways and white-sugar-sand bunkers.

Local gourmands swear by the WaterColor Inn's exquisite Fish Out of Water restaurant. After dinner, the cognoscenti head to the rooftop deck at Bud & Alley's (850-231-5900) in Seaside, where sunset views make even the locals gape. Dining alternatives include Criolla's (850-267-1267) in Grayton Beach, a hot spot noted for Creole-Caribbean fare, and the Lake Place Restaurant (850-267-2871) in Dune-Allen, where a down-home meal makes a well-above-par finish to a Panhandle weekend.

—Farhad Heydari


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