We discovered this idyllic town a dozen or so years ago when we lived in New Orleans. It was only a five-hour drive from our house and quickly became our go-to vacation spot. Year after year, we rented cottages, houses, and carriage houses in our quest to escape the haze of work, craziness of Mardi Gras, and to get our beach fix. Fast forward to 2010 when we bought our motorhome. We traded in over-priced rental properties for the ease and enjoyment of bringing our house-on-wheels to a gorgeous state park just a mile or so from Seaside where the bill usually totals around $30 a night.
For RVers wanting to visit Seaside, there are a few camping options. The closest campground being Grayton Beach State Park (click here for a previous blog post mentioning the campground). About ten miles away is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park (click here for a park review) and there are a few private options a little farther away. For you non – RVers, there are thousands of rental units and boutique hotels to lay your head at night.
Downtown Seaside is full of energy and the town square is where it’s at. Many of the town’s activities revolve around this large green space with an outdoor amphitheater where movies are shown under the stars, music is played as the sun sets, and the farmer’s market tempts your pallate.
The Saturday farmer’s market is a favorite of ours where we can browse local goods like honey, meats from nearby Twin Oaks Farm, ice cream from Southern Craft Creamery, and a personal favorite, cruffins from Crust Artisan Bakery – a satiating blend of croissant dough, fruit, and sweetness baked to golden perfection in a muffin pan.
Let’s back up a minute and explain the concept and design of Seaside which plays into it’s character and developed it’s soul. Seaside is a mere 80 acres that lies smack dab between Panama City Beach and Destin but couldn’t be farther apart in personality. The town is acclaimed world-wide as one of the iconic examples of New Urbanism where a defined town center with shopping and dining are well within walkable distance to homes, cottages and offices.
In the 80s, developer Robert Davis had a vision for a pleasant, harmonious beachside town and made it happen on a quiet stretch of road called County HWY 30A. There's a post office in the center of town and all the houses have names. Green spaces and parks are prominent. House fronts with inviting porches line these areas where walking paths encourage mingling with passer-bys instead of watching zooming cars. Less than 300 homes make up this town (many of them available as vacation rentals) and all have a unique picket fence. The towns streets end in distinctive beach pavilions. If you are thinking this sounds like the movie the Truman Show then you are right. That's Seaside.
While you may travel here by plane or car, bicycles are the way to get around in Seaside. The community is totally walkable/bikeable (in fact, parking shortages and heavy traffic encourage alternate modes of transportation) and easy to access the multiple restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and most importantly the beach.
A prominent feature in downtown Seaside is the Airstream food court where silver bullets serve up a myriad of food groups sure to please everyone’s pallet in your group. This strip plays centerpiece to hungry people in search of gourmet hot dogs at Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs, Hawaiian shaved ice at Frosty Bites, healthy organic options at Raw and Juicy, and those looking for a creative take on the grilled cheese at the Meltdown on 30A.
But don’t think those are your only dining options. For those looking for something a little more upscale with white table clothes and a stunning view check out Fish Out of Water at Watercolor Inn or Bud and Alley’s – a long time establishment named after a dog and cat which serve as the town’s mascots. If casual is what you want, you are in luck. Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar serves up a Neapolitan style pie while the Shrimp Shack fulfills your seafood craving. One place that is a must visit for us is Pickles Beachside Grill an open air diner set in the middle of town for great people watching and good food. My personal favorite are the fried pickles but they make a mean hamburger and breakfast specials like the Hangover Omelette (not that I have ever had one – the hangover I mean).
Early risers will find Amavida coffee will satisfy their fix for joe while Great Southern will fill their bellies with their ever-popular Grits a Ya Ya. After breakfast why not take in some shopping? For bookworms and music junkies pop into Sundog Books & Central Square Records where you may find you spend more time than you think. This independently owned joint caters to all whether you are looking for the latest bestseller or a steamy romance novel to entertain your hours spent on the beach. And step into the The Seaside Style store for a t-shirt bearing the name of your new favorite beach town.
Modica Market is a town favorite. This family-owned deli and grocery store are anchored in the center of town. Take a grocery store, shrink it down and stack food and other assorted items floor to ceiling and you have Modica Market. Gourmet snacks, fresh produce, cheeses, wines, prepared dishes, fresh baked goods, sundries, and all the staples are represented here. I happen to be a fan of their morning glory muffins which taste great and re-energize me after a morning walk on the beach.
Pitizi’s home furnishings encite dreamy feelings of owning a beach cottage. The Art of Simple brings together home goods, kitchen gadgets, kitchy decorations, smelly soaps, and cutesy napkins. Per-spi-cas-ity lures you in with their bright and trendy womens’ wear and jewelry.
Seaside remains true to its roots. Architects and developers should be proud that their New Urbanism vision and movement has remained as they envisioned. There are still no high rises (covenants restrict building height to no more than three stories), no chain restaurants, and it has maintained a clean and simple environment that draws people for those reasons.
Even on red flag days with dark clouds, Seaside is a pretty, happy place to be.