Seaside Featured in USA Today Travel
September 28, 2012 by SoWal Staff
Check out this neat article in USA Today Travel featuring Seaside, in the heart of SoWal. It's entitled: Idyllic Seaside is still in the pink as it turns 30
On the emerald-hued lawn of the Central Square, children and dogs romp while their parents stop and chat or shop the Saturday farmers market for locally produced cheese, preserves and other edibles.Residents, vacationers and visitors bite into a barbecue sandwich or hot dog at gleaming Airstream trailer food trucks that serve daily. Later, Seasiders carry glasses of wine down wooden steps to a miles-long white-sand beach to view the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico.
Simple pleasures in artfully quaint surroundings are treasured at Seaside, an upscale Mayberry-by-the-Gulf whose neat rows of pastel-colored frame houses -- all with required white picket fences -- were made famous in the 1998 Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show. This year, Seaside, one of America's best-known "New Urbanism" communities laid out to be low-rise, walkable and neighborly, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
The idealized vision of small-town America is "a wonderful place," says Nathan Upshaw of Fairhope, Ala., on a retreat with his wife, Amanda, without the kids. The Upshaws have visited often with their children and have contemplated buying one of the few remaining lots. Seaside is a haven for families. "You can let your kids go (alone) to the beach, go get ice cream, go get dinner," says Amanda, a tanned blonde, who, like most Seasiders, is quick to greet strangers with a smile and hello.
The 80-acre community, straddling two-lane Scenic Highway 30A, is self-contained, with about 550 dwellings from tiny to tony including houses, townhouses, apartments and condos; old-fashioned motor court; grocery; a dozen eateries; and about 40 shops and galleries. Some vacationers arrive, park their cars and never get back in them till they leave. Many come back year after year.
The idea behind Seaside, close-together homes built from the ground up, is you have "a sense of community" and can walk to the beach or stores from anywhere within five minutes, says Robert Davis, the developer who co-founded Seaside with his wife, Daryl. He has aimed "to build carefully and prevent the mindless overbuilding that took place elsewhere." That means no chain restaurants, no ugly strip malls or the high-rise condos that mar the Florida coastline. Compared with nearby Panama City Beach and other Gulf Coast vacation destinations, Seaside is an oasis viewed as architecturally important, says urban designer Mark Schnell, who studied it and moved nearby.
The majority of owners lease their homes to folks who want to unwind on the beach or pedal bicycles down quiet streets past cottages that must have front porches to encourage sociability. Houses have cute names -- Lemon Drop, It's Happy Hour, Love Me Tender, Bahama Mama. Costing as little as $150 a night via websites such as VRBO.com or from the $250 range at the Cottage Rental Agency (bottle of wine handed over at check-in), many houses have wooden signs out front saying who owns them, down to the family pooch in some cases.
Bicycles and the beach
A Seaside day might begin with an Amavida coffeehouse latte made from organic coffee beans bought from a farmer in Central America. For lunch, Latin American specialties are served.
Juices and smoothies (with kale chips, anyone?) are popular at the Raw & Juicy Airstream parked near the trailer housing Wild Bill's Beach Dogs selling hot dogs without antibiotics, hormones or nitrites.
On sunny days, Seasiders head for the sand, where young men set up blue umbrellas and chaises. There also is croquet and tennis. Foul weather brings a shower of shoppers to non-chain stores such as Sundog Books, which sells Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The Southern women's must-read was written in part at a home in Seaside by Rebecca Wells, on one of the "Escape to Create" artists' residencies set up here.
Sunsets are spent walking the beach or raising a glass at the upstairs open-air bar at Bud & Alley's, where a bell signals when the sun dips below the horizon. The tourist must-see: the yellow-peach-and-white "Truman House" on Natchez Street, where Jim Carrey filmed scenes as a man who finds out his picture-perfect life in a perfect town is really a TV show with actors playing his friends and family.
While Seaside is famously civilized and sleepy, evenings at Bud & Alley's Roof Deck Bar can resemble a Vanderbilt frat party, as sports play on TVs, Brown Eyed Girl blares from a nearby wedding reception, and Southern drawls rise in decibel level (a large percentage of homeowners and visitors come from below the Mason-Dixon line). Those seeking less preppy fun drive to Grayton Beach's raucous The Red Bar.
Funky can be found
As Seaside marks its third decade, Davis is still deeply involved, though he and his wife also spend months in San Francisco, he wants to make it even more of a dining destination. Bud & Alley's (named for a real-life dog and cat) serves $23-$35 entrees such as meaty crab cakes and lobster tagliatelle. They can be so-so or fabulous, depending on the night or whom you ask.
The dish to order at Great Southern Cafe is spicy Grits a Ya Ya, shrimp and bacon on a bed of Gouda grits. Crush, a fairly new wine bar/sushi/small-plates eatery, is the hip dining choice.
Seaside is "more funky" than many think, says Davis, 68, who is interested in promoting the arts. He's aiming for a compromise in a legal dispute with some Seaside homeowners who don't like the location he proposed to bring in cottages used for Hurricane Katrina victims that would house architecture students and artists.
Originally, Davis envisioned Seaside as a diverse community "inexpensive enough for schoolteachers and carpenters." They did buy, but as Seaside's stature grew, "people who are rich were able to outbid the others," he says. Small condos now start at about $400,000, houses at $800,000, he says.
Despite whispers that he may go the high-rise-condo route, Davis says no Seaside building can be more than four stories. He may add a story or two to a commercial area, "though my wife says we need to move extremely slowly."
Yes, ma'am. Change is a word that's unwelcome to most enjoying life in the slow lane in the USA's pastel paradise.