Beaches of South Walton - NY Times article
From New York Times Travel
April 27, 2004 -- ANDREA BENNETT revels in the peace and quiet of Florida's hidden Panhandle beaches CHANCES are, when you think of spring in the Florida Panhandle, you picture coeds making their "Girls Gone Wild" video debuts in Panama City.
But 50 miles west is a place that bears no resemblance to it or its Redneck Riviera neighbors. The 26 mile stretch of beach communities (all relatively new) on and around Scenic Highway 30-A, which call themselves the Beaches of South Walton, somehow manage to drip Southern family charm, pioneer cutting-edge design, and stay out of the limelight.
They also share what may be the best beach in the continental U.S. (pure quartz, sugar-white sand) and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. For northerners wishing to break their New York-to-Miami migratory pattern, here are the highlights: SANDESTIN It takes a little time to acclimate to the Stepford-like perfection of Sandestin, which, at 30 years old, is the granddaddy of the communities.
This gated resort has 2,400 acres, a 98-slip marina, four golf courses, a pedestrian village and its own zip code. Its new pedestrian-only Village of Baytowne Wharf, on the banks of the Choctawhatchee Bay, has Southern, colonial, French, antebellum and Low Country architecture convincingly engineered, and lots of good pit stops.
Another Broken Egg Caf, has the best breakfast around (try the crawfish-filled Mardi Gras omelette). Pick a hat and stole from the wall at Magnolia & Ivy Tearoom, owned by two Georgia ladies actually certified in tea etiquette - that is, if you want to be properly attired for the Queen's Tea. Alleviate the preciousness by knocking back oysters at the Acme Oyster House, of New Orleans' French Quarter fame, or barbecue at Jim 'N Nick's BBQ, a Birmingham import.
Also make sure to meet the notoriously cranky proprietor of the Candymaker, who makes amazing Southern pralines and fudge in his dime-sized shop. For later, the deck at Hammerhead's Bar and Grille is the best place to watch the sunset over the bay. Sandestin has some year-round residents, and many of the rentals are are weekly or monthly, but you can stay at the brand-new plantation-style Grand Sandestin.
WATERCOLOR Turn off Highway 98 onto 30-A on the way to WaterColor and you'll pass by Topsail Hill State Preserve, Florida's most pristine coastal property. The landscape is all Gulf-front pines and giant sand dunes. In the community itself, cottages with wrap-around porches are built gingerly around palmettos and magnolias.
At the center is the WaterColor Inn, a luxurious, 60-room cutting-edge interpretation of a Gulf-style family home. Everything faces the Gulf, from the Adirondack chairs under stylized rafters to the showers, which have portholes. Hit WaterColor's beach, or take one of the inn's sea kayaks, a picnic basket full of gourmet take out from WaterColor Market, and paddle west to Grayton's, which looks untouched.
Have one blow-out dinner at Fish Out of Water, the inn's restaurant. It serves stunningly fresh modern riffs on Low Country cuisine with a generous dose of creative sushi. SEASIDE If you think Seaside's pastel-colored Victorian-style cottages and white fences look like a movie set, you're not far off.
This artists' haven and pioneer of New Urban Development (whose Seaside Institute has made a science of perfect communities), was the set for "The Truman Show." But while it all seems oh-so-perfect, Seaside is full of hilarious quirks. Where else can you order sushi from one of two Airstream trailers (both are the Akatonbo), or see townies running errands in golf carts with little dogs sitting shotgun?
To while away an afternoon, hit SunDog Books for well-chosen books and hard-to-find music, and drink espresso at Studio 210. After, troll the ground-level townhouse galleries. The beachside courtyard is where to lunch, either at Pickles Beachside Eatery or Roly Poly, which serves wraps like Porky's Nightmare (pork, ham and bacon). Then cross the street to Dawson's for Kahlua frozen yogurt.
Watching the sunset on the deck at Bud & Alley's Restaurant has attained ritual status in Seaside. Settle in with some shrimp, a top-shelf margarita, and place your bet on the exact time the sun will set. While there are no hotels here, if you want to stick around, check into renting a cottage for the week. ROSEMARY BEACH Named for the rosemary that grows wild here, this community, which has yet to fill up, is one of the newest.
Dutch West-Indies- and Mediterranean-style shuttered houses draw their earthy colors from native plants, and despite the construction going on around it, you'll love the secluded beach. The Pensione, an eight room European-style B&B, is one of the most affordable places to stay on 30-A - and will make you feel like a local right away.
And for your (modest) expenditure, you'll enjoy elegant surroundings, dataports, and a great selection of DVDs. Proprietors Penny and Mark Dragonette, have taken a successful leap of faith by giving a 23-year-old local chef the run of their northern Italian, ground-floor restaurant, Onano. Delicious dishes include a bruschetta topped with grouper, flawless fried calamari with a banana pepper and sundried tomato sauce, and seared tuna with mussels and clams.
Re: Beaches of South Walton - NY Times articleIt takes a little time to acclimate to the Stepford-like perfection of Sandestin