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The Emerald Coast

by

Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher

Hammock stretched by the  aqua waters of the the Gulf of Mexico 1-8-31-16

The panhandle of Florida, stretching along the Gulf of Mexico, is often called the Emerald Coast--the name is not in vain. The translucent waters of the gulf are not quite the color of emeralds but light reflecting off the micro-algae gives it a lovely green tint. The water's clarity results from the fact that no large sediment-bearing rivers flow directly into the area's gulf waters. The incoming water is filtered through the estuary of Apalachicola Bay.  

  The area between Panama City and Destin is often neglected. It is in this area one finds a stretch of 18 beach communities, not one of which is incorporated as a town, known as the Beaches of South Walton. The pastel color scheme of the homes and buildings of Seaside, one of those communities, makes it look very much like a movie set; not quite real. It was the setting for Jim Carey's movie, The Truman Show. Located only 25 miles south of I-10, this area is a quiet interlude between the noise and hustle of those larger cities. It is a place to escape the pressures of everyday life and get a little closer to nature and the natural rhythms of life. You won't find gaudy T-shirt shops lining the beaches in this area--it is not your typical beach destination.

The powdered-sugar, brilliant white sand squeaks as one walks across it. The sand is actually made up of very fine pieces of highly-polished quartz. These eroded quartz particles originated in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, tumbling down mountain streams into the gulf. Since the ocean journey to the gulf was longer than to the Atlantic Coast, the sand is much finer than that found on the eastern seaboard. The longBlue Mountain Beach, Florida Panhandle 1-8-26-5 physical journey and the journey of time (about 350 million years) has broken down, bleached, and polished the bits of quartz one sees today.

                                                                                Things are a bit spread out. We wouldn't recommend this as a shopping destination, but there are a number of shops around. If one is looking for fast-food chains, perhaps this isn't the destination of choice. We don't recall seeing any such establishments, but are told there is at least one in the area. What one does find are many locally-owned restaurants with excellent eating options, from barbecue, to seafood, to ethnic cuisine. Seafood is featured at most all restaurants. The Seagrove Wheel House, located right across the street from Seagrove Villas (our place of stay), provides several excellent fish entrees at very reasonable prices. Another place to be recommended is Angelina's Pizzeria & Pasta--the seafood pasta is incredible.Seagrove Village, "The Emerald Coast," Florida 1-8-31-10

Appreciate nature without throngs of people? This is the place, especially if one goes in any season but summer. Unlike most other Florida destinations, summer is the high season here. Since visitor numbers dramatically drop after Labor Day, there are many accommodation discounts to be found. Winter prices, in many cases are half those found in summer. There are around 6,000 lodging units available in the area.

As cooler weather approaches, thoughts naturally turn to warmer days. TheDunes Trail, Grayton Beach State Recreation Area, Florida 1-8-29-10 mood often matches those long gray days of winter. Nothing, it seems can shake the gloom, nothing but a dose of sun, sand, and sea. The sultry gulf air will do wonders to lift that gray mood. Those southern latitudes produce a definite change in attitude. There is nothing like lying in a hammock, listening to gulf waters lap at the shore to free the mind from the clutches of the winter blues and call to mind old Jimmy Buffet songs. The winter temperature averages 69 degrees and the water temperature is an average 64 degrees. We've been to Maine in the middle of summer when the ocean water wasn't that warm--and it was still filled with swimmers.

Florida Panhandle Beach 1-8-19-11Two areas under state management that we recommend are Topsail Hill State Park and Grayton Beach State Recreation Area. Topsail Hill State Park has been identified as "the most pristine piece of coastal property in Florida." It is a two and one-half mile stretch of beach that serves as a nature conservatory. It is an ideal place for solitude serenity and "getting back to nature." This is the place to see Florida as it was, and, in our opinion as it should be. Grayton Beach State Recreation Area has an extensive system of self-guiding hiking trails. We spent an afternoon meandering along the Dunes Trail. We observed quite a variety of flora and fauna, including one badly twisted Slash Pine stump--probably the victim of some past hurricane.

Not into hiking or beach strolling? There are enough golf courses in the area to satisfy the most avid golfer. Tennis is another option, with several available facilities. Of course there are a number of water-related activities, from snorkeling to deep-sea fishing. A request to the South Walton Tourist Development Council will get one a packet of information listing accommodations, golf & tennis facilities--everything needed to plan an excellent get-away.

One morning we stood on the balcony of our condo unit and watched a dolphin playing in the gulf waters below. It was skimming along near the water's surface, its dorsal fin slicing through the water. A strolling couple saw it also, and from the looks on their gape-mouthed faces, they thought it was another species of sea life. They didn't have our high vantage point. The dolphin playfully plied the waters then leapt and dove, as if it were teasing the onshore couple.

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Stock photography by Thomas R. Fletcher at Alamy

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If You Go Sidebar

            If you drive down from the north, the area can seem out of the way--since there is no major North-South Interstate nearby, which serves to weed out the masses.  Fort Walton Beach Airport provides air service to the region.  Another option is to fly into either Panama City or Pensacola.  There are many lodging bargains to be found in the off-season (three seasons out the four).  These discounts, the moderate temperatures and the uncrowded beaches are natural attractions.

Beaches of South Walton

South Walton Tourist Development Council

PO Box 1248

Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

Phone: 800-822-6877

           850-267-1216

Web: www.beachesofsouthwalton.com

Seagrove Villas

Phone: 1-800-336-GULF

            850-231-1535

Web:    www.seagrovevillas.com 

E-mail:  rentals@seagrovevillas.com

Angelina's Pizzeria & Pasta

4005 East Hwy. 30-A

Seagrove, FL 32459

Phone: 850-231-2500

Seagrove Restaurants 

Seagrove Wheel House Restaurant

3031 East Highway 30-A

Seagrove, FL 32459

Phone: 850-231-5760

Seagrove Wheel House Restaurant 

Sunset, Gulf of Mexico, Florida Panhandle 1-8-33-3 (#1-8-33-3 Sunset, Gulf of Mexico, Florida Panhandle Seaside, FL Post Office 1-8-22-2 # 1-8-22-2 Seaside, FL Post Office
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