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SoWal, You’re A Star

July 24, 2009
Blue Mountain Beach

Blue Mountain Beach

Okay. I admit it, I was wrong. Dead wrong. The beaches of South Walton, Florida (SoWal) are gorgeous and shouldn’t be described as anything but. Here’s the but–those beaches are sometimes called the Redneck Riviera, and that description alone was enough to deter me from ever making the jaunt, despite the mere 5.5 hour drive from Atlanta. As a girl who spent her formative years in landlocked Kansas, the fact that I can leave my home in the morning and be sitting on a beach by afternoon is reason enough to go, but I couldn’t get past that nickname.

Santa Rosa Beach

Santa Rosa Beach

Twenty-six miles of beach situated on the panhandle of Florida from Panama City west to Fort Walton, are considered the Beaches of South Walton. And for the record, I was wrong to think the famed Redneck Riviera was anything except picturesque with emerald green waters mimicking those in the Caribbean and sand as fine as sugar.  Since we were there for a wedding, I didn’t get to do quite as thorough of a job as usual scouting out places to eat and things to do in a locale, so this is an abbreviated take on good places to hit while you’re there. Because, I hope it now goes without saying that SoWal is a star.

Seaside-Photo Courtesy of the Seaside Community Development Corp.

Seaside-Photo Courtesy of the Seaside Community Development Corp.

From the looks of things, everyone is vacationing with family and friends, so beach houses seem to be the ideal way to go. There are a variety of places and areas to stay–from the famed Seaside (where most of The Truman Show was filmed and also one of the first communities adopting the design movement known as new urbanism) to something as rustic as Grayton Beach, which boasts a state park with campsites available.

Our friends stayed throughout the week at the Adagio on Blue Mountain Beach–which takes luxe to a whole new level, with the exterior sort of reminding me of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. We stayed in Santa Rosa Beach’s Gulf Place, booking through Resort Quest, which I recommend. They were quite accommodating, but check the hours of operation … they get in late and close early (my kind of workday) but not so fun if you’ve been traveling all day and just want to check in already.

The Baytowne Warf area in Sandestin is super fun for a family–despite my low tolerance for places that put and “e” on the end of names (like pointe, shoppe, and towne) and speed limits of 23 (really, 23).  They have tons of funky restaurants and cool activities (zip line, trampoline, and bungee jumping) to tire kiddos out–plus, great shopping for the grownies.


Queen Bee Cupcakes

While in Seaside, on 30A, visit my friend Jennifer’s Airstream trailer loaded with baked goodies, better known as Queen Bee Cupcakes.  Be sure to hit the other Airstream vendors in that area too, including awesome BBQ.

Stinky’s Fish Camp in Santa Rosa is quite nice. We had great eats there, but while they tout killer seafood, for me the standout of our meal was the braised short ribs and also the squash appetizer loaded with lump crab–so good.

The Donut Hole is an awesome budget booster, allowing you to eat there in the morning, and amazingly tiding you over until supper. Portions are huge and quite good–I must, however, note a bad French toast review by a member of our party.

I love a good BLT. Sometimes I even up the ante with an avocado thrown on there for good measure for the ultimate BLAT-but Wild Olives Market takes it one step further with a fried green tomato as the “T” … totally worth the run to burn it off!


Bridge on 30A

I love towns that make the most of their outdoor space, and the beaches of South Walton do just that. Outside is where it’s at with marked paths everywhere beckoning bike rides or jogs. There are several places throughout the area to rent bikes. Renting all week is the best deal and a fun way to see the lay of the land.

Of course there are great shopping districts and there are prime outlets, though unfortunately I didn’t hit any of them … just window-shopped. However, there was a rumor that one of the many outlet stores had Paper, Denim & Cloth jeans in a bunch of styles and sizes for a ridiculous $30, but I got the kibosh on jean purchasing for the time being, so that second-hand info went without proper fact-checking. The area is a shopper’s Mecca with outlets, boutiques and specialty shops–and good deals (I’m still a little bitter about the jeans).

Sorry beaches of South Walton, from here on out, I’ll stand up for your Redneck Riviera arse–and not just in a bar fight, wife-beater sort of way.