I’m going to tell you a story about a magical land that you must “sea” to believe. My story will not do the secret location justice; your very own eyes must truly tell the tale. If you long to take your chicks to a tiny town of days gone by, equipped with luxury custom beach homes, cobblestone streets where the primary mode of transportation are cruiser bikes for young and old alike, where you’re blocks from the crystal white sand beaches and, the town center, the epicenter of the community, offers restaurants overlooking the sea, you want to travel to my secret destination spot in the Florida Panhandle: SEASIDE, 1 of the 15 beach communities along South Walton. Their slogan, “If I could be anywhere…” will be your mantra after you visit the area and take in the sights and sounds for yourself.
Each of the 15 communities offer a very distinct personality and you are sure to find one that suits your group of girls. They include: Seascape, Miramar Beach, Sandestin, Dune Allen, Santa Rosa, Blue Mountain, Grayton, WaterColor, Seaside, Seagrove, WaterSound, Seacrest, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach and Inlet. Here are a few highlights so you can choose which one best suits your personality.
Walking through the pristine clean streets, you are expecting to see June Cleaver pop out on the front porch with a plate of fresh-baked cookies for you-- a neighborly passer-by. Seaside is a step back in time for folks who want to ride bikes all day long, pass the time on the front porch, and get back to the basics for a true chick vacation. It stands for simpler way of life, only the living comes with a hefty price tag (expect to pay $600-900/night on average).
Seaside has the highest occupancy rate, the highest return visitor rate, but also the highest price of all the South Walton communities. That’s because there’s no other location that boasts the feel of Seaside. A few fun facts about Seaside:
1. The design of Seaside was inspired by both old towns and new Italian piazzas.
2. Porches must be a certain number of square feet at each house.
3. Natural landscaping is all that is allowed so as not to attract loud birds or other creatures.
4. Seaside was founded in 1981 by the Davis family. The grandson of the original buyer (who bought the land for $100/acre in the 40s) is the one who eventually created Seaside.
5. Colors of homes closest to the beach must be soft, soothing beach colors and as the streets go back (there’s only 80 acres in Seaside), the colors get brighter.
6. Seaside boasts 2 general-use pools plus an adult pool, a playground, a fitness center and a town center.
7. Guests can rent a property varying from the motor inn (simple one-room rentals) to an 8-bedroom plantation home, which makes Seaside the ideal locale for a family reunion or a large girls’ vaca.
8. When you check-in at the Seaside Cottage Rental Agency, they greet you with a bottle of wine (your choice: red or white).
9. Favorite eatery in Seaside: The Great Southern Cafe. You’ll want to try the Fried Green Tomato Benedict and the beignets. www.thegreatsoutherncafe.com
Here a few of my favorite recommendations to keep your group busy while staying at Seaside:
· Catch a performance by the Seaside Repertory Theatre at the Seaside Amphitheater, located in the middle of the town center.
· Tee time! Located in Seacrest Beach on Camp Creek Boulevard, The Tom Fazio-designed Camp Creek Golf Club (a U.S. Open regional qualifier course) features a pure golf experience accentuated by a significant wetland system. This 18-hole, par-72 championship course measures 7,151 yards and features a practice facility, short-game area, practice putting green, golf shop and grill. Just beware of the snakes and gators on this challenging course!
· Serenity by the sea is a full service salon, spa and fitness club located at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa. The spa was voted “Best Spa” for four years by Emerald Coast Magazine. I heartily recommend the Serenity Massage (each treatment room has its own robe warmer) and the Serenity Facial. My only question is: Why do 80 minutes working out pass so slow and 80 minutes on the massage table pass in the blink of an eye? Luxurious!
· YOLO Boarding on Western Lake, one of Beaches of South Walton’s 15 rare coastal dune lakes. YOLO (an acronym for You Only Live Once) involves standing up and paddling on a big, safe, comfortable long-board. It’s one of the new fitness crazes, offering a great upper body workout. Founder Tom Losee can even be found giving lessons or leading a YOLOFit class out on the lake. You’ll soon be seeing this sport across the U.S.! Or visit www.yoloboard.com to purchase your own board.
· Zip Lining in the Village--Get an aerial view of the Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin and its surroundings as you soar across the lagoon on Northwest Florida’s only zip line. It only takes a little courage to climb the ladder and off you go!
· Dinner at Fish Out of Water. Located on the second floor of the WaterColor Inn and overlooking the Gulf, Fish Out of Water celebrates Southern art and nature with a fire-and-ice theme, which is anchored by an exhibition grill kitchen and an ice bar bearing fresh seafood and sushi. The mood at Fish Out of Water is casually chic, and yet elegance is reflected in the simplest detail. The freshest local fish and meats, combined with an eclectic approach to traditional ways of preparing and serving food translates into dishes unlike anything else offered in this area. I recommend starting with the Butter Bean Puree Crustini, move on to the Heirloom Tomato Salad, then the Florida Hopper Shrimp with Anson Mill’s Grits with Hobbs’ bacon, and finish off with a Vanilla Molten dessert. Pair all with a Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc.
With 2 spas, 2 fitness centers, 15 tennis courts, and 2 major shopping areas, women love the resort of Sandestin. One area that truly calls to women is The Village of Baytowne Wharf—the epicenter for shopping, dining and nightlife. You can find everything from Cajun to funky and fresh. You can also indulge in nightly live entertainment at all types of bars in The Village. Some of their annual celebrations include:
Spring—The Village Goes Green for St. Patrick’s Day festivities; A Basketful of Fun at Easter; ArtsQuest Fine Arts Festival on Mother’s Day Weekend
Summer—Concerts under the Stars, Fourth of July Celebration, Annual Triathlon
Fall—Canines on the Catwalk; Baytowne Film Festival; Beaujolais Nouveau Holiday Kick-off Celebration
Winter—First Night Sandestin on New Year’s Eve; Great Southern Gumbo Cook-off; Mini Mardi Gras
The inn sits on flour-white beaches and offers all the amenities that families need to make the most of a vacation. Families can also enjoy bike rides through 18 miles of paved trails, nature walks and kayaking. Art galleries, markets and a marina surround the beautiful and lush Cerulean Park in the center of town.
South Walton, touted for its jeweled sand and dazzling waters, is an extraordinary place waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re planning a family reunion or a girls’ excursion, you’re sure to find a world of elegance, charm and relaxation. Just make sure you factor in time to spoil yourself in the sun and sand, and you’ll be pining for your next visit.
South Walton http://www.visitsouthwalton.com/ Twitter: @SouthWalton With 15 unique Florida beach neighborhoods, finding your perfect beach is a breeze.
Seaside Cottage Rental Agency www.cottagerentalagency.com 1-800-277-8696
Sandestin www.sandestin.com 1-877-870-5915
WaterColor www.watercolorvacations.com 1-888-775-2545
SIDEBAR: Beaches of South Walton RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS--
Recommendations in Seaside: Bud & Alley’s, a 15-year Seaside tradition, this casual waterfront eatery, mixes casual beachside ambience with a tasty menu relying on a gamut of regional fare. Have drinks and apps upstairs at the Tarpon Club overlooking the glimmering waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Try the seafood gumbo. Taco Bar, a casual, unpretentious eatery with great food.
The Taco Bar features authentic border tacos and burritos with a full bar offering over 40 specialty Tequilas. Try the fish taco and guacamole.
Pizza Bar, the newest venture of South Walton restaurateur Dave Rauschkolb, features authentic Neapolitan Pizza, a variety of pizza made according to a set of strict rules, as well as salads and a full menu of antipasti. Pizza Bar is the first and only restaurant to offer pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven on Scenic Hwy 30A.
Grayton Beach eateries:
Fire is an exciting restaurant in Grayton Beach that features a clean, fresh approach to food and wine. Fire offers a lunch and dinner menu ripe with fresh vegetables, succulent seafood and meltingly tender meat. Their style is "casual fine dining" with an emphasis on natural, hearty, true dishes that offer flavors ranging from adventurous to a familiar comfort.
Shorty’s Surfside and Topside, Grayton Beach’s newest restaurant, has quickly become an exciting place to stop in and hear live music, sample some great sushi, or have a gulf-view family dinner in an upstairs dining room. The menu has something for everyone, from the casual beach drifter stopping in for a margarita and a cup of gumbo, to the group of six desiring a three course feast.
Executive Chef Jesse Hart and Sous Chef Benjamin Steeno invite you to travel the Gravel Road for an adventure in fine dining with unique blends of contemporary American and classic French-influenced cuisine. and classic French-influenced cuisine
Stinky’s Fish Camp, located in Dune Allen Beach, offers the freshest ingredients and local seafood to create classic dishes, with a well thought out wine list that is based on taste, not price, to round out the perfect experience.
The Red Bar, located in Grayton Beach, is place to have fun with friends and family while taking in all of the eclectic decor, listening to the great live Jazz music and enjoying great food and cocktails. The simple but varied menu includes pasta with crawfish and shrimp, panne’ chicken and mashed potatoes, stuffed eggplant, crab cakes and fish of the day.
Eateries in The Village of Baytowne Wharf, Sandestin:
Graffiti’s & The Funky Blues Shack, a restaurant and live blues club, in the Village. It’s family-friendly with funky folk artwork that showcases artists from throughout the Southeast. An eclectic Italian menu offers popular classics such as Linguine Bolognese and Veal Picatta as well as signature dishes such as Lobster Ravioli, Hazel Grouper and Mediterranean Shrimp.
New Orleans Creole Cookery - authentic New Orleans Creole food such as BBQ shrimp, crawfish bisque, seafood gumbo, red fish menuire, blackened prime rib, chicken fricassee slow roasted pork, shrimp Creole to name a few.
CAPTION + CREDIT INFO: (South Walton TDC)
The Beaches of South Walton stretch along scenic Highway 30-A and encompass some of the whitest and cleanest beaches in Florida.
The Village of Baytowne Wharf is the place to be during the evenings. The area of shops, restaurants and bars is located at Sandestin, just steps away from The Grand Hotel.
Seaside Cottages are truly an experience you have to “sea” to believe!