Known for its emerald green waters and sugary white beaches, northwest Florida has been the getaway destination of choice for many Southern families for decades, but this gem of a paradise is worth flying to if over a day’s drive away.
Quaint and Charming
Along Florida’s northwest coast, down a stretch of highway called 30-A, a grouping of idyllic beach communities—collectively known as The Beaches of South Walton—epitomizes everything that comes to mind when one thinks “southern beach town. Even if you aren’t staying in one of the picturesque beach houses or quaint seaside inns, explore the short drive from some of the more popular vacation destinations such as Destin. If you choose to visit for a day, we recommend first driving the 17-mile stretch to get a feel for the area. Then u-turn and explore the abundant roadside shops and art galleries. A permanent stand of food trucks at Seaside’s town square provides a fun alternative to traditional dining.
For those wanting a boutique hotel experience, book a bright and cheery room at WaterColor Inn, where fresh-baked cookies appear on your pillow each evening. Planning a large gathering? Rent a gorgeous luxury villa at Alys Beach and be within walking distance to the beach, dining and shopping.
For the ultimate emersion into beach town life, rent a fat-tired bike and cruise down the trails that run the length of 30-A. Browse shops and art galleries, including the World Six Gallery at Rosemary Beach. Outdoor enthusiasts can learn about the native flora and fauna with a nature tour at Grayton Beach and try YOLO boarding among the largest concentration of rare coastal dune lakes in the world.
Start your day with a breakfast worth Facebooking about at the Great Southern Café at Seaside. Their shrimp and grits is delicious any time of day! Or sleep in and opt for equally yummy lunch and dinner options. Fish Out of Water at WaterColor Inn serves up the best of casual seaside chic on its plates and with its atmosphere. While there, try the fried Brussels sprouts. Trust me, you’ll be begging for the recipe. I also loved the food at Chan’s Wine World (located in WaterColor)—a combination restaurant and wine shop. The seared tuna salad I enjoy was pure perfection and their extensive selection of wines are not only varied and delicious, but affordable too.
V Seagrove, which just opened in March, is the new hot dining spot along 30-A. Art deco details combined with a fresh, clean color palette give it a retro-modern vibe. Chef David Cunningham’s menu selections please even the most fickle foodie. Patrons lucky enough to get an outside “island” table cross one of the V’s many water features via a wooden footbridge to reach their seats.
Fun and Family Friendly
From Pensacola to Panama, family-friendly accommodations abound. To help you narrow down the options, consider calling one of the many property management companies, such as Resort Quest, and let them help you find the perfect place to stay.
Take a break from beach time with a deep-sea fishing excursion. Visit EmeraldCoastFL.com to find a charter boat. Several restaurants in the area, including the Lucky Snapper Grill, will cook your fresh catch for you!
Golfers in your group? Northwest Florida boasts some of the most beautiful courses in the country—I loved the greens at Regatta Bay—so be sure and bring the clubs. If you flew and left them behind, don’t despair. Quality rental clubs are available.
Serene and Romantic
Looking to rekindle some of that romantic spark? Henderson Park Inn treats guests to a private, grown-up beach experience at this one-of-a-kind bed and breakfast. The Victorian architecture and period furnishings at Henderson Park give it an elegant upper east-coast resort feel rather than casual Florida cool.
Take in camera-worthy sunsets on the large veranda overlooking the gulf during the before-dinner cocktail hour. Then enjoy delicious creations from the Beach Walk, the onsite restaurant that serves up unique gourmet fare (such as venison and duck) in addition to the requisite seafood. The private terraces overlooking the calming gulf waters provide the perfect place to get away from the business of everyday life and reconnect with your partner.
A version of this story was originally published in the May 2011 edition of Living Magazine.