26 Miles: 15 Communities at Beaches of South Walton—Priceless!
“Seaside was built with the hope that we have not forgotten how to enjoy the simple experiences, that we never forget how to be our best, that we remember to stay connected to the people and places that are truly important to us and that we always remember that there is a better way to live.”—Robert Davis
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. Some call it Shangri-La; I call it Seaside!
If you long to take your family 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.
Each of the 15 communities offer a very distinct personality and you are sure to find one that suits your family. They include: Seascape, Miramar Beach, Sandestin, Dune Allen, Santa Rosa, Blue Mountain, Grayton, WaterColor, Seaside, Seagrove, WaterSound, Seacrest, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach and Inlet. My family’s “hands down favorite” is Seaside, for as many reasons as there are grains of crystal sand on its beach. On this trip, we made the wise decision to travel with another family (our kids had a friend, as did we!)
As the backdrop for the Jim Carrey movie, “The Truman Show”, Seaside is straight out of a
Last summer, many family travelers were scared away by the Gulf oil spill. However, this summer, Seaside is enjoying 96-100% capacity, which shows that Seaside is once again a must-visit for families everywhere.
Walking through the pristine streets, you are expecting to see June Cleaver pop out on the front porch with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. Seaside is a step back in time for folks who want to let their children ride their bikes all day long, pass the time on the front porch, and get back to the basics for a family 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). This is another reason to travel with another family. It’s easier to stomach the nightly rate when split with another family.
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:
- The design of Seaside was inspired by both old towns and new Italian piazzas.
- Porches must be a certain number of square feet at each house.
- Natural landscaping is all that is allowed so as not to attract loud birds or other creatures.
- 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.
- 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.
- Seaside boasts 2 family pools and 1 adult pool, a playground, a fitness center and a town center.
- 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.
- When you check-in at the Seaside Cottage Rental Agency, they greet you with a bottle of wine (your choice: red or white).
- Favorite breakfast eatery in Seaside: Great Southern Cafe. You’ll want to try the Fried Green Tomato Benedict and the beignets.
- Favorite dinner eatery: V Seagrove. With a retro Miami Beach style, this classy restaurant is the epitome of pairing fresh seafood with mouth-watering wine selections.
- Here a few of my favorite recommendations to keep your family busy while at Seaside:
- Catch a performance by the Seaside Repertory Theatre at the Seaside Amphitheater, located in the middle of the town center. Bring snacks, wine and blanket and head to the amphitheater to experience a great family-themed performance.
- Camp Seaside keeps kids busy all day long with crafts, activities and games that let them use their imagination and have a blast with other kids their age. Kids (starting at age 4) can create their own unique souvenir. Activities can include: designing artwork, scavenger hunt, swimming and lunch by the pool.
- Zip Lining at the Baytowne Adventure Zone--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. Kids can even zip line in this safe environment. It only takes a little courage to climb the ladder and off you go! At 40 feet high, you zip 300 feet across the lake. Ask for General Manager Marc Matthews and he’ll take care of you.
- Walco Eco Tours kayak excursion-- Great Herons, Red-winged Blackbirds and Blue Crabs are just some of the wildlife you may see while kayaking on Western Lake during a Walco Eco Tour. For over two hours, you harmoniously dip your paddles into the water and careen through Grayton Beach State Park discovering the rare eco-system that is home to endangered species, unique flora and fauna and nesting grounds for many migratory birds. There’s no better way to get in touch with nature than experiencing it first-hand. Murray Balkcom, owner of Walco Eco Tours and our guide, pointed out the hidden treasures of the area as we soaked in her beauty.
- Sandestin, located along the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay in Northwest Florida, boasts The Village of Baytowne Wharf. This area features an array of boutiques, eateries, galleries and nightlife-- not to mention a jam-packed schedule of outdoor festivals and special events for the entire family. This spectacular setting, all within the gates of Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, is the perfect spot to spend a vibrant afternoon or evening. You can find everything from Cajun to funky and fresh. One of your most memorable stops will be enjoying a delicious snowball at Tony LaRue’s. Tony LaRue’s snowballs are like no other you’ll find anywhere else! Some of Sandestin’s 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
Seaside, touted for its jeweled sand and dazzling waters, is an extraordinary place waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re planning a family vacation or a large family reunion, 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. It’s the only destination I’ve visited more than once (that should speak volumes)! Grab another family of friends and book your dream beach house. Then, find your perfect beach.
With 15 unique Florida beach neighborhoods, finding your perfect beach is a breeze.
Seaside Cottage Rental Agency
Twitter: @CRASeaside Seaside, Florida
More than 250 privately owned accommodations along the Emerald Coast in North West Florida. Call toll-free at 800-277-8696 to make reservations.
Great Southern Café: www.thegreatsoutherncafe.com
V Seagrove: www.vseagrove.com