During our recent trip to the "Emerald Coast" along Florida's Panhandle, we didn't realize just how close our campground at Grayton Beach State Park would be to the charming village of Seaside. I had long been aware of this master-planned community, since my father and step-mother had visited and loved it years ago, but had never managed to get there.
Here's what Wikipedia has to say about its history:
Seaside is an unincorporated master-planned community on the Florida panhandle in Walton County, between Panama City Beach and Destin. One of the first communities in America designed on the principles of New Urbanism, the town has become the topic of slide lectures in architectural schools and in housing-industry magazines, and is visited by design professionals from all over the United States.The town rose to global fame as being the main filming location of the movie The Truman Show. On April 18, 2012, the American Institute of Architects's Florida Chapter placed the community on its list of Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places as the Seaside – New Urbanism Township.
Reading this, I understand better why this town so appealed to my father and step-mother, who were both architects. And once I finally had a chance to see it with my own eyes, I was charmed as well.
Seaside is only a two-mile walk or bike ride from Grayton Beach State Park. You can take the bike or footpath, or you can walk east on the beautiful beach! We did this pretty much every morning.
This obelisk marks the public entrance to Seaside. There are several other private pass-throughs for residents and guests.
Here's the beautiful beach at Seaside, looking back from the stairs to the Obelisk.
As you walk into the village from the obelisk, you are immediately greeted by a huge mural in shades of lavender and gray. Newly painted, it is a tribute to Vincent Scully, who died in November 2017 at the age of 97. Scully was a well-known professor of art history at Yale University and made a lasting impact on the study of Architecture. His influence inspired the creation of Seaside; thus, his memory is honored here in a prominent place by street artist "Gaia".
Beside the mural, the main public square of Seaside includes an adorable Airstream food truck row and a tiny post office.
As you walk a few streets inland, you'll pass shops, a small community school, a public concert/gathering area, colorful single-family homes in a variety of architectural designs, and small natural parks. You will eventually make your way to the picturesque and well-known town chapel designed by Architect Scott Merrill, who also designed some of the homes in the Seaside community.
If you want to learn more about Seaside's history and see photos of some of the lovely homes, as well as a terrific aerial view of the entire development, check out the Florida Backroads Travel website; they have a great write-up and excellent images.
Now, back to our experiences there!
Of course, when we saw that there was a donut food truck, Five Daughters Bakery, we knew we would have to stop for a sample. Most of the donuts sold here are actually "cronuts", a hybrid between a flaky French croissant and a standard donut. We'd never tried these before.
It was a tough choice!
Since these donuts were pricier than most, we limited ourselves to two to share. One was an expresso/chocolate, and the other a maple. They were super yummy, but not sure if they were worth the $5 price tag each. Seaside is not for the faint of wallet!
The taco bar wasn't open when we happened by, but we still had fun playing tourists.
Another day, we tried the Raw & Juicy food truck in another Airstream trailer. Everything on the menu sounded creative and very healthy. We've been married so long we often find ourselves gravitating to the same menu item, and this was one of those times. We both ordered the Costa Rican bowl, with brown rice, black beans, tomatoes, avocado, lime, and cilantro. It was a delicious and hearty lunch.
Our pizza was the "Farmer's Market", with a mix of veggies that changes seasonally. This corn was so sweet and unevenly cut enough that I believe it was fresh off the cob. This was one seriously tasty 'za!
After lunch, we stopped by the Modica Market, a small gourmet grocery store in Seaside, and picked up an assortment of freshly baked goodies. We didn't eat all this but saved some for the next day's drive, and some went into the freezer. It was all so delicious!
We are glad we finally got to visit Seaside; it is a special place, and I can see why it is revered by so many. We can't afford to live there, but I hope we get another chance to visit one day!
It just doesn't get much prettier than this....
Anyone who knows us (or reads this blog) is aware of our love of Mexican and Mexican-ish food. Barry had read about a restaurant we could reach from our campground at Grayton Beach State Park via the 30a bike path. It was about 7 miles west in Santa Rosa Beach, and per their motto, with a name like Stinky's Fish Camp, it better be good! They advertise Taco Tuesdays, so we were excited to pedal over on our first full day in the area and chow down on a fish taco lunch.
What we didn't expect was a couple of challenges that turned this simple plan into an adventure.
We first took a wrong turn, confused by construction on 30a, and ended up riding into the small village of Grayton Beach. We figured out our error pretty quickly and backtracked to get back on track.
The construction that had caused our confusion was our next challenge. We knew the path was supposed to continue west, but where was it? Barry checked at a bike shop on the corner to ask what was going on. Turns out, the bike path was torn out and being reconstructed along a two-mile stretch of the 30a highway. This essentially cut the bike path into two parts, as most casual cyclists wouldn't brave riding on 30a. But we aren't those cyclists, so we decided to go for it. Riding our cruiser bike (Barry) and mountain bike (me) made us slower than on our lightweight Trek road bikes, so we'd pull over on side roads or driveways if traffic started backing up behind us, since this section of 30a had no shoulder.
Fortunately, we made it through the construction area safely and were happy to get back on the path. There were actually a few small inclines in this area, much to our surprise. East of the state park is dead flat, but west is a bit more rolling. We also had to fight a bit of a headwind in this direction.
After all that excitement, we arrived at Stinky's ready for some tacos. And they had a bike rack -- perfect! Unfortunately, in our busy preparations to get out the door, Barry had left our bike lock behind, and Stinky's had no outside seating, so we wouldn't be able to watch our bikes. So here was our next challenge!
Disappointed, my idea was to turn around and eat outside somewhere else along the way back where we could keep an eye on our bikes. But Barry had a better idea. Since this is a touristy area, there are many bike shops along the path that rent bikes. He brilliantly realized that we could stop in a shop and buy a lock. We needed a lightweight one anyway, as the one he had planned to take is super heavy duty and overkill for most areas. He really didn't want to miss out on our one chance for Taco Tuesday, and I agreed.
It worked out perfectly. There was a shop just a couple miles back down the bike path, and he scored a lightweight lock we ended up using the rest of the week, so it was a handy purchase. And the detour meant we'd built up even more of an appetite for fish tacos!
We were soon back at Stinky's and enjoying a brew, bikes locked safely outside.
The grilled gulf fish tacos were huge and even better than we expected, along with some yummy black beans and rice on the side. Worth every extra pedal stroke!
Pedaling back east with full bellies, we stopped at a public access to check out how stunning the beach looked in full sun. Both sand and water were absolutely brilliant.
This sign caught our eyes as we headed back along the path. We can rarely resist such a sign.
The bakery was tiny and right next to a big bike shop with a huge fleet of rental bikes out front. I bet this place is crazy on the weekends.
There's some colorful bike art out front.
The selections were rather limited, and pricey, so we split a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. I don't think I've ever had a $4 cookie before (after tax). It was good, but overpriced. Oh well, when in Rome....
I liked the stools with bike wheels and "pedals" to put your feet on. Creative!
On the way back, the stretch of highway in the construction zone was much less busy than in the other direction, and we had a tailwind, so we zipped right through the two-mile stretch.
Before we knew it, we were back at the park. The bike path runs right by the entrance; very convenient!
Pearl's site was at the end of one of the loops, so you can see her nestled in the foliage here, as I approached the campground turnoff.
All in all, a successful Taco Tuesday adventure!
We've been hanging out in central Florida since last August, when I got my braces, and were long overdue for a vacation. We did have one brief trip to Mississippi to evacuate from Hurricane Irma, but other than that, we have been stuck in one place for a long time due to my orthodontist appointments and in order to avoid the cold winter weather in so much of the US.
You might think that being retired and full-time RVers, we're always on vacation, but for our nomadic spirits, anywhere we stay for months at a time can start feeling a little stale. Especially an RV park that feels a lot like a trailer park. Although we have very nice neighbors, there's not much privacy, and we're near a busy road so hear traffic and sirens off and on all day. We were craving a dose of tranquility in a more natural setting.
By mid-April we hoped it would finally be warm enough to head a bit north for a week between my appointments. I had been lucky enough to book a site at Grayton Beach State Park, which must have been a cancellation, as the rest of the park was fully booked, and Florida state parks near the beach book months and months in advance.
It was a longish drive at six hours, never pleasant in a motorhome, but once we arrived, all the stress of the road fell away, and we immediately settled into this pretty, green park. We only had a neighbor on one side, and there was enough foliage between sites to provide privacy. Best of all, we could hear birds singing instead of traffic!
Here's Pearl, parked in our site. The natural area to the left was perfect for walking Paisley. (Unfortunately, dogs aren't allowed on the beach.)
The best part about this park is that you're only about 2/3 of a mile, for us an easy walk or pedal, from truly the most beautiful beach I've ever seen in the US. This part of Florida is known as the "Emerald Coast", and the water is as shockingly turquoise as that in the Caribbean when the sun shines during the day. Maybe even more astonishing is the blindingly white sugar sand. We were transfixed by the beauty here.
Here's a view of Western Lake from along the park road to the beach. The signs warning us not to "swim with alligators" worried me a bit, so we limited ourselves to picture taking.
Before we even knew about the daytime turquoise water, here's what we saw of Grayton Beach on our first evening, near sunset. We enjoyed walking on the shoreline, watching the shorebirds, and finally the sunset.
We'll share some more about this area in subsequent posts. In addition to many long beach walks, we discovered some fun bicycling routes, explored neighboring beach towns, and enjoyed wonderful food, which made for the perfect vacation.
Oh, and that daytime view of the beach? See, what did I tell you?
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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