There exist in the United States small towns and other places that are not accidentally charming, but built that way. Seaside, a small oceanfront community in Walton County, Florida Panhandle, is one of these. It warmed my little wintery heart to the core – literally AND figuratively! How’s that for the perfect weekend?
Seaside is what we call a master-planned community in the property management business, essentially a large (and usually unincorporated) housing development carefully crafted to a theme and often given its own post office, school(s), and business centers. Seaside’s original founder and builder Robert Davis wanted to emulate the glory days of simple beach neighborhoods, as explained in the community’s Beach Life magazine. His dream was a success! Both the Seaside charm and the idea of build-it-yourself “towns’ have become quite popular. Seaside’s residences are cottages of all different shapes and sizes, many available year-round for rental. (Ours was called Take Five!) Seaside became well-known to the point that 1998’s The Truman Show with Jim Carrey was filmed here. One walk around the town and it’s easy to see why. (And, according to the IMDB page for the film, Robert and his wife Daryl (a husband and wife team) appear together briefly in cameo roles.)
I found Seaside a perfect place to stroll and enjoy days at the shore. It made a lovely backdrop for my cousin Carleton’s wedding. We didn’t see much of the beach itself, but on our first night there, my sister and I went out the back door of our bedroom and walked down to the Gulf of Mexico. (I think this is technically on Santa Rosa Beach but not sure.) To get there, we had to pass under a carillon and then down a set of wooden stairs. It was a cold, clear January night, and the shoreline was deserted and quiet. I didn’t look for tar balls from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but my sister did and did not see any. The sand was cold and so were the waves, but I found myself not minding the chill on my bare toes. There were no harsh spotlights from resorts or buildings blocking out the natural beauty of the sky, which was pitch black with far too many stars to count. There must have been a million of them. Standing there with my head tipped back, looking for constellations and hearing only the gentle ebb and flow of the water, I was struck by how unbelievably gorgeous our natural world is. How many times do we stop and appreciate things like this? With a complete lack of noise and over-commercialization, Seaside is a great place to do it.
The main road that runs through Seaside is Scenic Highway 30A. On one side you have the beach, overlooked by a cliff full of fun bars, restaurants, shops (including the delectable Amavida Coffee), and random structures usually marking a stairway to the shore. One such structure is a white, lighthouse-like tower that’s featured prominently in Seaside pictures and literature. I can’t seem to find what the story behind it is, but it’s definitely noticeable.
One of the restaurants is Bud & Alley’s, the upstairs of which is a bar overlooking the ocean. It was definitely very popular and crowded. The logo showed that Bud is a dog and Alley is a cat. Reading the Seaside magazine, I learned that Bud was the Davis’ dachshund. He was present in the early days of Seaside and lived to be 21 years old! You can read more about Bud and see some pictures of him here.
Cross 30A from the beach and you’ll see the Village Green, complete with amphitheatre and surrounded by a few markets: a record store, book shop, coffee, clothing, jewelry, and a little neighborhood mart called Modica. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. Lining the sidewalk are a fleet of Airstreams, each one serving up a different type of food. We chose goodies from The Meltdown on 30A and ate at a nearby set of patio tables and chairs, right next to the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market.
Also at the Village Green is the Seaside post office … check this out. I LOVE IT.
Take a lazy stroll around Seaside’s various lanes, and you’ll find a quiet, peaceful, and immaculately manicured neighborhood. With the sun shining and birds singing, it looks like something straight out of a 1950s sitcom. There’s a neighborhood school, an interfaith chapel, a fitness center, and three different swim clubs, one of which is heated. (Sadly, my sister and I did not realize this until it was too late to take a swim!)
I adored Seaside. I would love to return here again someday and stay longer. Getting there: Try flying into ECP (the new Panama City Airport, better known as Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport), then start out on State Highway 388. Follow Google Maps directions and you should be golden. It’s roughly a 40 minute drive. For cottage rental information: Cottage Rental Agency. For more on Seaside: Seaside, Florida’s official Web page.