South Walton Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is SoWal?
The word SoWal (prounounced So-Wall) is an abbreviation for South Walton and is used when referring to the Florida panhandle beach communities of South Walton County on the Emerald Coast between Destin and Panama City Beach.
From east to west these beach communities include Inlet Beach, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, Seacrest, WaterSound Beach, Seagrove Beach, Seaside, WaterColor, Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Dune Allen, Sandestin, Miramar Beach, Seascape. Directly east is Carillon Beach and Panama City Beach, and directly west is Destin. Point Washington, south of the bay north of Hwy 98, and Freeport north of the bay round out SoWal.
Where is SoWal?
See South Walton Map and towns at www.SoWal.com/towns
Why is the sand so white?
The Beaches Of South Walton are made of clear quartz sand eroded and washed down rivers located to the east from the Appalachian Mountains. Quartz, a hard, durable mineral, survives transport by fast-moving streams, while softer minerals break down and dissolve, or remain suspended in the water. Sedimentary particles available for deposition along the Gulf Coast are thus pure white quartz.
A sand dune today was once, thousands of years ago, a mountain top near the Georgia-South Carolina border. Swept into the Gulf of Mexico, powerful currents pushed the quartz sand westward. The stunning white beaches extend from Cape San Blas in the east, to the Gulf Islands National Seashore of Mississippi to the west.
Are dogs allowed on the beach?
Walton County does not allow pets on the beach, except for residents with a permit, during morning and evening hours. Permitted dogs must be leashed and only allowed during certain hours. See permit info at www.clerkofcourts.co.walton.fl.us.
Are tents and other items allowed on the beach?
The Walton County Tourist Development Council kicked off its "Leave No Trace" campaign July 23, 2009 in an effort to prevent items from being left on South Walton Beaches overnight. The TDC's goal is to create a cleaner beach that would be free of items that interfere with beach maintenance, emergency vehicles and sea turtle nesting. Under County Ordinance 2003-07, items such as tents, umbrellas, chairs or toys that are left on the beach for more than 24 hours, will be collected and discarded.
Is there camping in South Walton?
Tent camping, RV and camper, and rental cabins are available at Grayton Beach State Park - www.SoWal.com/place/grayton-beach-state-park. Tent and RV Camping is available at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park - www.SoWal.com/place/topsail-hill-preserve-state-park, Peach Creek RV Park, and Camping On The Gulf in Sandestin - www.campgulf.com. Sleeping on the beaches overnight is prohibited.
Are fires allowed on the beach?
Yes, you must get a permit and pay a fee, and of course clean it all up! Call SoWal Fire District at 850-267-1298 to obtain a permit and learn about guidelines for having a bonfire on the beach - www.swfd.org.
Can I drive on the beach?
Before Scenic 30A was completed, many folks hopped in their jeep and drove to the next town down the beach. In later years, some beach driving areas were retained partly because of tradition, but mostly because there is nowhere else in Walton County other than the beach where you can launch a boat with direct access to fishing in the gulf. These days, driving is allowed only on a small stretch on Grayton Beach and Inlet Beach only if you have a valid beach-driving permit. For permit information go to www.SoWal.com/south-walton-beach-rules-and-safety-information.
Fireworks at Seaside on 4th of July
Are fireworks allowed?
Florida allows limited fireworks for sale or use. Prohibited: Firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles, daygo bombs, and any fireworks containing explosive or flammable compounds. Many visitors bring bigger bang stuff from their home states. There are excellent fireworks shows at many towns in South Walton - Rosemary Beach fireworks, Alys Beach, Seaside fireworks, Pier Park at Panama City Beach fireworks, Sandestin fireworks and Destin fireworks. Also, there are weekly fireworks at Baytowne Marina in Sandestin during most of the year.
Where are the churches?
For a list of churches in South Walton visit www.SoWal.com/sowal-churches-spiritual-centers
How are the schools?
Schools in the South Walton area are ranked highly and facilities are modern. www.SoWal.com/sowal-area-schools
How do you catch fish and what kind?
South Walton has great fishing in the gulf, bay, lakes, and river. Check out the SoWal Fishing Guide - http://SoWal.com/sowal-fishing-guide
Do I need a fishing license?
Unless you are on a commercial boat covered by a charter license, you most likely need a license. You can get one by phone or on the net - www.myfwc.com/license.
What about red tide?
Red tide is a common name for a phenomenon known as a harmful algal bloom, an event in which estuarine or marine algae accumulate rapidly in the water column, or “bloom”. These algae, more correctly termed phytoplankton, are microscopic, single-celled, plant-like organisms that can form dense, visible patches near the water’s surface. Red Tide kills fish, crustaceans, sea mammals (like manatees and dolphins), and birds. It causes mild to sever respiratory distress in humans. More info - www.SoWal.com/red-tide & www.redtideflorida.org. Current Red Tide Status available at www.research.myfwc.com.
What about seaweed?
South Walton Beaches have two main types of seaweed, both of which are harmless. Sargassum weed is coarser and plant-like with small round parts which are actually floats. It is quite beneficial to beach building and provides protection and food to a wide variety of marine life. Sargassum weed appears mainly in the Spring and is sometimes washed up on the beach in large quantities.
June Grass is the second type of seaweed, and is actually an algae which is bright green and fine, often described as slimy. This is the stuff some people pay good money to have applied to their skin in spas (seaweed treatments). First appearing in May or June, it comes and goes during the Summer, depending on waves, currents, and wind.
What about jellyfish?
We have a few different types of jellyfish in South Walton. Although they are not a big threat, a sting can be painful. Purple flags on the beaches often signify the presence of jellyfish.
What about sharks?
There are plenty of sharks on our coast but most are harmless and there are few close encounters. Do not enter the water if menstruating. Do not wear flashy jewelry. If you get cut while swimming and are bleeding, get out of the water. Avoid swimming at dusk.
Where can I rent a bike, kayak, or beach chairs and umbrellas, etc.?
There are quite a few rental companies on Scenic 30A. Check out our Business Directory at www.SoWal.com/business.
Are golf carts allowed?
Street legal golf carts are allowed on the roads where speed limit is 35 or below. Most golf carts struggle to even reach speeds of 25. It's best to avoid driving golf carts on Scenic 30A or other major roads except for very brief stretches. DO NOT drive golf carts between towns where the speed limit is higher and traffic gets backed up behind golf carts. Golf carts are not allowed on the bike path in South Walton.
What are lake outfalls and why is the water brown?
The coastal dune lakes of South Walton periodically open and close to the gulf allowing an exchange of fresh and salt water. This is a fascinating ecosystem where fresh and saltwater species coexist. the lakes provide an excellent protected environment for species to breed and mature. The water from the lakes is tea-colored because of natural tannins from leaves and other vegetation. For more info on coastal dune lakes go to www.SoWal.com/coastal-dune-lakes-of-south-walton-county
Where can I jet ski or parasail?
Jet skis are not allowed to be launched from the Beaches of South Walton, except by Gulf front homeowners. The 331 bay bridge is a popular spot for jet skis. Gulf jet skis and parasailing can both be found in Sandestin and Miramar Beach, and over the county lines to the east and west in Destin or Panama City Beach.
Where are hospital and medical clinics?
Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast is at the intersection of Mack Bayou Road and Highway 98 just east of Sandestin. There are several medical clinics, check out the Business Directory at www.SoWal.com/business.
What is the quickest/best route from...?
Maps & Driving directions - www.SoWal.com/map
Is there any fast food?
There are few traditional fast food restaurants in South Walton, east of Sandestin. Drive throughs are prohibited in the Scenic corridor.
Why so few high-rise buildings?
Structures over four stories (50 feet) are prohibited in South Walton east of Sandestin. The few tall buildings you see were built before the ban.
Where should I eat - which restaurants are most popular?
Are there hotels?
There are hotels in Sandestin and Miramar Beach, and a few Bed & Breakfasts on Scenic 30A.
What is the best time of year to visit?
For weather the short answer is May and October. Check out a month-by-month breakdown - www.SoWal.com/weather-for-south-walton-beaches-in-florida
Where should I stay?
There are busy spots (in the Summer) and secluded spots on the Beaches Of South Walton. All the areas and towns have their own unique qualities and character. Do you like to walk to shopping and dining? Want to be pampered? Like lots of amenities? Like biking and hiking? See www.SoWal.com/stay.
Can I have a wedding or party on the beach?
Beach weddings in South Walton range from grand affairs arranged by an entire town management team like Alys Beach or Seaside or WatColor to small intimate affairs at public beach accesses. Beach weddings begin with a Florida marriage license and a permit from Walton County. The permit ensures that your spot on the beach is "reserved" for a particular day and time.
What state parks are in the area?
Florida State Parks in SoWal - www.SoWal.com/parks
Where are the public beach accesses and which ones have lifeguards, restrooms and ramps?
Check out all SoWal beach accesses, features, maps, videos, etc. at www.SoWal.com/beach-accesses.
How long is the bike trail on Scenic 30A?
The Scenic 30A Bike Trail (officially, The Timpoochee Trail) stretches about 17 miles from one end of Scenic 30A to the other from Inlet Beach in the east to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in the west. In addition there are paved paths on some of the north-south roads and great off-road biking trails through the state parks and forests.
Are there jobs?
South Walton is primarily a tourism and rental market with associated service jobs. There is no other industry to speak of, and the food and retail business is seasonal. Check the SoWal Forum for job listings.