The Tennessean

White Sands of SoWal

Find your perfect beach in South Walton

The Tennessean (link to full article)
by Liz Daniel
Sept 6, 2011 – After a long hot summer, the best place for a relaxing escape to begin your fall is the beaches in South Walton, Fla., where you can enjoy warm afternoons and cool evenings. “Visit South Walton” is the new official brand for the beaches, and here are some best kept secrets in the area you might or might not know about.

Rosemary Beach has been a favorite hotspot for Nashville (and our staff) since it was first developed. Check out Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Agency to find that perfect vacation home in Rosemary, overlooking the beach, one of the many parks or the bustling town center, which offers much to explore.

If you’re a homeowner at the beach, you might want to learn more about Escape to Northwest Florida, a new rental company founded by the former general manager for Seaside Cottage Rental Agency, Amy Wise-Coble. “Escape” offers custom rental management for vacation properties and looks forward to growing throughout the beach neighborhoods of South Walton, providing owners and guests the service they deserve.

Most of the beach neighborhoods of South Walton make it easy to park your car and commute on foot or by beach cruiser bicycle, but you may wish to set off and enjoy the hotspots at other beaches. Centrally located on scenic Highway 30A is Walco Eco Tours, offering kayak and YOLO board eco tours, guided by master naturalist Murray Balkcom. Paddling is fun and easy, even for beginners, and exploring the rare coastal dune lakes will give you a new appreciation for the beach and the diverse South Walton eco-systems. You’re sure to leave with a smile. Appointments required, (walcoECOtours.com).

Feel the wind in your hair, and breathe in the salty air, all while wearing your flip-flops as you set off to discover all the great shops, restaurants, and galleries. The Hidden Lantern is a great recent addition to Rosemary Beach, as it offers the best books in a cozy atmosphere, encouraging visitors to linger longer. Allison Wickey, Visit South Walton’s “Artist of the Year for 2011,” shows off her talents in World Six Gallery in Rosemary, creating antique-style images of the vibrant landscapes and marine life. Around lunchtime, wander down the street to Summer Kitchen, where you will find the best burger on 30A, made from organic Kobe beef, with many other menu selections. Summer Kitchen prides itself in being eco-friendly while offering the best food.

A bike ride away is Alys Beach, another spectacular community with Bermudan architecture interweaving the natural beauty of the native landscape with the pristine white forms of its architecture. Parks, greens and squares are linked by a network of walking paths, connecting to the beach and natural preserve and providing the town with a multitude of places for outdoor activities. It’s home to Digital Graffiti each June, the world’s first projection art festival, where artists use the latest technologies to project their original video and interactive artworks onto the iconic white walls of the beach resort town.

Head to Seaside for more art and culture with The Shops of Ruskin located in a neighborhood reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Art galleries, boutiques and home shops include Albert F’s, Amore’ by the Sea, An Apartment in Paris, The Art of Simple, Cara Roy Artworks, Elliot Boutique, Focus, Galleryz and Studioz, Jewel Toffier, Magpies, Newbill Collection by the Sea, Quincy Avenue Art & Things, Red Bird Gallery and Rolland’s Beauty Bar and Art Gallery. Join The Shops of Ruskin on the first Friday of each month from 5-8 p.m. for Art Walk, celebrating art, music and culture. Get your picture taken at the Carletta Watkins Studio photo booth or select shells from The Art of Simple to take home. Don’t miss the row of airstream trailers, including the Meltdown on the 30A, featuring the best grilled cheese along the coast. Afternoons, relax on the beach or enjoy a massage. Seaside is home to Beach Ready Spa and Wellness Center, the perfect place for a couples massage. What the emerald-green waters of the Gulf won’t cure, a 90-minute massage will.

Close by is WaterColor Inn & Resort situated on 499 acres, with a vast beachfront on the renowned sugar-white Beaches of South Walton and coastal pine forests alongside Western Lake. Nearly half the property is devoted to open space and preservation areas. Visit Chan’s Wine World Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. for amazing $10 per person tastings (a $5 rebate toward the purchase of a featured wines guarantees a nice evening).

WHAT TO EAT

Fine restaurants dot the coastline of South Walton and two favorites are LaCrema and Seagrill. LaCrema (Rosemary Beach) is the perfect place to meet for wine and tapas, after visiting Tommy Crow Collections next door. Save room for the chocolate. The dining room is quaint, and extends outside under a star-filled canopy of the night sky.

Nestled between Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach, Seagrill in Seacrest Beach, is a great place to enjoy sushi and martinis, but try staying for dinner—a spacious dining room awaits, just beyond the bar. Seagrill features a progressive menu with several USDA Prime steaks, though the focus is on innovative seafood dishes by Executive Chef Cody E. Smith. This trendy locale will delight your senses whether you dine in the casually chic dining room or sip cocktails and eat sushi in the sleek, stylish bar.

HOW TO TRAVEL

Getting to these gorgeous South Walton beaches is more convenient than ever. It’s an easy drive from Nashville, but Southwest Airlines makes it even easier and quicker to arrive with daily, non-stop flights into the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) in Panama City, a quick 20 minutes from South Walton. Visit South Walton and find your perfect beach.

WHAT NOT TO MISS

SEPTEMBER

September 16-17. Southern Fare Culinary Weekend at WaterColor Inn & Resorts hosts. Dine, learn and celebrate SouthernFare with two southern culinary greats, Martha Foose and Lucy Buffett. The weekend event features a VIP dinner with the chefs at WaterColor Inn & Resorts’ award winning Fish Out of Water Restaurant and a day full of cooking demonstrations, storytelling and book signings. To make reservations call (866) 426-2656 or email reservations@watercolorresort.com

September 21-24. Fall Writer’s Conference in Rosemary Beach invites you to explore the creative writing process and hone your writing skills through writing exercises, craft classes, evening readings and receptions with renowned authors including Lynne Barrett, John Cottle, Michael Lister and Leonard Nash, among others. conferenceforwriters.com

September 23-25. Rosemary Beach Tennis Classic offers competitive play, great weather and beautiful scenery. It’s a perfect weekend to spend with friends on and off the court! rosemarybeach.com

OCTOBER

October 1. Seaside Community Yard Sale, hosted by the Merchants of Seaside, presents over 100 vendors from across the country with a variety of unique offerings. The event will be held in the Seaside Amphitheater, along Scenic Highway 30A, where 30A Radio, your community radio station, will provide entertainment. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. seasidefl.com/eventscalendar.asp

October 1- 31. Silver Sands Autumn Tides Month invites you indulge in retail therapy at Silver Sands Factory Stores throughout the month of October, where qualified shoppers are eligible to receive a complimentary 2011 limited-edition Autumn Tides print by local artist Donna Burgess. silversandsoutlet.com/silversands/events.aspx

October 8. Jim DelMauro Rosemary Run. Now in its eighth edition, this 5K has grown every year, becoming a fun social event with a great cause. Proceeds will benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. 7:30 a.m. rosemarybeach.com

October 14-16. Back to Nature Festival, hosted by the South Walton Community Council, celebrates the host of natural attractions throughout South Walton, with scheduled activities such as a guided hike through Point Washington State Park or a safari on the Choctawhatchee River. southwaltoncc.org

October 21. Howl*O*Ween Pet Parade & Costume Contest is now in its fifth year and continues to offer several fun activities like pumpkin painting, face painting and prizes for the Best Owner & Dog Costume, so bring your four legged friend to Fonville Press for an afternoon of Howl*O*Ween fun. 4 p.m.-6 p.m. alysbeach.com/events

October 22. Baytowne Wharf Beer Festival is a weekend full of beer tasting and pairing fun for guys, girls, newbies and brew aficionados alike. More than 100 beers are available for sampling Saturday at the Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Additional activities include a progressive beer tasting seminar at the Funky Blues Shack, a beer pairing dinner at Marlin Grill on Friday and a beer brunch on Sunday. baytownewharfbeerfestival.com

October 22. Rosemary Beach Uncorked serves up a spectacular open-air food and wine event in the heart of Rosemary Beach. Stroll quaint cobblestone streets and explore the diverse culinary styles of eight Rosemary Beach restaurants. Each location will offer signature dishes paired with boutique wines for a very special taste of Rosemary. 1 – 5 p.m. rosemarybeachuncorked.com

October 22. Vettes in the Village—In conjunction with the Baytowne Beer Festival, area Corvette clubs bring “America’s Sports Car” to the Village of Baytowne Wharf. Corvettes will be shined to the max as these automotive icons zoom into the Village streets and park at the Grand Lawn.

October 28. Noche de los Muertos Costume Party at Caliza Pool. Leave the kids at home for this over the top, “Night of the Dead” adult costume party, where a cash bar and costume contest are sure to entertain. Only the undead can be the life of the party. 8 – 11:30 p.m. alysbeach.com/events

October 29. Harvest Market and Monstrous Halloween Celebration. A ghoulishly good time awaits ghosts and goblins of all ages. Enjoy an artist market, pumpkin carving, a haunted cemetery, hay rides, trick or treating and more with the family. 10 a.m. rosemarybeach.com

October 31. Seaside Halloween. It’s time for ghosts, goblins and princesses to go door-to-door collecting candy from the Seaside merchants to feed their sugary appetites. Hop on the haunted hayride with our friends from CRA, hear spooky stories with the Seaside Repertory Theatre and do the monster mash with terrifying tunes from 30A Radio, our community radio station! 4 – 6 p.m. 30a.com/events.php

October 31. Trick or Treat Street at Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Experience this family friendly Halloween event. Trick or treat through the Village and visit merchants as they hand out their favorite Halloween treats from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Dance on the stage to the frighteningly good tunes and hang around for a spooktacular fireworks show at 8 p.m. baytownewharf.com/events.asp

NOVEMBER

November 4-6. Taste of The Beach brings six wine and culinary events to South Walton and neighboring counties over the course of four delicious days in early November, featuring national wine suppliers and boutique vineyards, plus an impressive list of chefs and restaurants serving fresh, local fare. South Walton events include an Al Fresco Reserve Tasting in Seaside’s Ruskin Place and the perennial favorite Seeing Red Wine Festival in Seaside. Visit tasteofthebeachfl.com/events/ and seeingredwinefestival.com.

November 4-5. Telluride Mountain Film Festival on Tour returns to WaterColor’ s Marina Park Amphitheater. More details to come at watercolorresort.com.

November 12-13. Flutterby Arts Festival. This family-friendly event celebrates the annual migration of the Monarch butterfly through the area and is a magical place for kids to flitter as their creativity soars! Enjoy puppet shows, storytelling, arts & crafts, music, exhibits, street games and the popular butterfly costume parade. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. culturalartsassociation.com/node/181

November 25. Alys in Winter Wonderland. Join Santa and Mrs. Claus for cookie decorating, fresh hot cocoa and holiday cheer. You can do your part to spread the Christmas spirit to those in need by bringing unwrapped toys and canned food, which will be donated to the non-profit organization “Caring and Sharing of South Walton.” 10 a.m.-12 p.m. alysbeach.com/events

November 25. Parents’ Night Out at Alys Beach. What parents don’t need a night out away from the kids once in a while? Drop the children off at the Community Center where they will enjoy arts and crafts, games and a movie while you enjoy your coveted romantic evening. 7 – 10 p.m. alysbeach.com/events

November 26. Annual South Walton Holiday Parade and Seaside Turn on the Town Celebration. This beach community parade filled with decorated trucks, golf carts, and holiday floats all decked out in their holiday best begins in front of Seagrove Plaza and strolls down Scenic Highway 30A to a grand finale in the heart of Seaside. Once Santa arrives on the back of the vintage fire truck, he and Mrs. Claus ask all the kids to the stage to sing, and after a few verses of Jingle Bells, the countdown begins in unison to the “Turn on the Town” holiday tradition. 4 p.m. 30a.com/events.php

November 26. Annual Village Tree Lighting in the Village of Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Experience a magical fireworks show over the lagoon as Santa makes his grand entrance. Then help Santa light the Christmas tree and make sure to stick around to give Mr. Claus your wish list.

DECEMBER

December 31. Countdown SEASIDE! New Year’s Eve Celebration. Ring in 2012 with a family-friendly party featuring live entertainment, kids’ art projects and an incredible fireworks display over the Gulf of Mexico. In the tradition of Dick Clark, it is sure to be a rockin’ New Year’s Eve, so come say goodbye to 2011 with all your friends and family.

Please visit ruskinplaceartistguild.com for more information and to stay updated on the latest happenings, become a fan on Facebook/The Shops of Ruskin.

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