Every year I make the pilgrimage to Florida for work… um, yeah, work. Of course it doesn’t hurt that my work involves sun, sand, water and seafood. If you have to work somewhere, why not at the beach, am I right? I have stayed in lots of places over the years, up and down the coast, but my favorite so far has been in my Airstream at Grayton Beach State Park.
Grayton is a beautiful Florida state park and you don’t have to camp to enjoy it. The beach there is pristine, with no houses or developments. There is a small fee for day use, but the fee is waived at times. The park also features a lake for kayaking and hiking trails. Up the road from Grayton, there is also Topsail Hill State Park, with equal activities and beaches.
Most of our time in the Panhandle is spent further south of Destin, a little more out of the fray. Not only is it less crowded, but the sunset falls over the water rather than behind the high rises! Santa Rosa Beach is one of my favorite spots with good public beach access, affordable rentals and some of our favorite dining options. Seaside is wonderful, if you don’t have to drive and like to eat at odd times (so crowded!).
Stinky’s Fish Camp and Trebeache are two of my favorite spots for dinner, and owned by the same group. Don’t miss the Stinky Stew, yum! Further down the road, in Watercolor, The Wine Bar has an incredible charcuterie board, if you’re sick of seafood. The food trucks in Seaside are a good option for a quick meal too.
Last summer we became regulars at The Black Bear Bread Co., truly amazing toast and coffee! Another new place, Shunk Gulley, in Santa Rosa, was a solid choice for a fried grouper or fried shrimp basket at lunch. They have outdoor seating with a view of teal blue waters across the street. I can’t wait to find more new places this year!
Fresh seafood is a must for us when we visit the coast. Our favorite seafood market is Shrimpers, a family owned establishment where they have a wide variety of local catch. I love to make a simple sauteed grouper with garlic, white wine, butter and lemon (*insert drool). Royal Red shrimp are my husband’s favorite thing, while I prefer just plain gulf shrimp with that “pop” you get when it’s perfectly cooked.
I’m not much of a shopper on vacation but no trip to 30A would be complete without a stop at Sundog Books in Seaside to pick up a few beach reads. My son and I love Duckies, the cute little toy shop there too! The Grand Boulevard at Sandestin is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and has just about anything you would need – grocery, theater, lots of shopping and restaurants of the chain variety. We also always make time one night to swing by the Village at Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin, for some cheesy, vacation fun.
What are some of your favorite places and traditions at the beach? We are always looking for new ideas. A new tradition I hope to add to my list this summer – deep sea fishing! No matter where you end up, I hope you have the chance to make some special memories this summer with the ones you love.