Destination: South Walton, Part I

In all my years traveling as a meeting planner, I had never visited northwest Florida. You know, the part on the Gulf of Mexico, where you hear about the sugary sand and the bluest of blue water. So when I got an invite to do a site visit, I didn’t say no.

I’m glad I went. South Walton, a little gem nudged between Destin and Panama City, isn’t your stereotypical college spring break destination. It’s much more subdued, with eclectic little ‘hoods and oddly attractive planned communities, making up 15 distinct areas with 15 distinct atmospheres, stretching over 26 miles of white sand beaches.

Along road 30A is where you’ll find each neat nugget. Stop at Grayton Beach for a mishmash of cool homes, funky shops and odd eateries. The Red Bar, for example, is a dining experience both tourists and locals like. It looks as if a dozen restaurants and bars from a dozen different time periods have all be molded together to make one groovy place to chill out.

You’ll get a kick out of Seaside, a planned community and part of the “New Urbanism” movement. If it happens to look familiar it could be because it was the setting for the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show. Complete with town square and picturesque village Post Office, the community also has a charter school and a ma ‘n’ pa grocery (now run by Ma and Pa’s children). Don’t forget to check out the Air Streams turned food trucks and the quaint bookstore and record shop (selling new vinyl albums).

Then there’s Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, Blue Mountain, Seagrove, Dune Allen and on and on. There’s no lack of beauty, diversity and scenery. Speaking of which, South Walton is also home to the unique and rare naturally occurring coastal dune lakes, seen in only four other places in the entire world, such as Madagascar, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

And, in case you were wondering, there are places for meetings, too, like the Hilton Sandestin, Seascape Resort, Tops’l Resort and Sandestin Resort, to name a few.

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