Footloose & Car-Free
Some of Florida's newest communities are its most old fashioned. Along the 26-mile strip of northwest Florida quartz-sand coastline known as South Walton, Sandestin, Seaside, WaterColor and Rosemary Beach are attractive, groundbreaking towns where people live and vacation, and the emphasis is on neighborly and pedestrian-persuasive. You don't have to live or stay at the resorts, however, to explore, shop and dine along their charming walkways.
Where walking leaves off, a bike path supplements your pledge to stay out of the car and enjoy this vacation without gas sticker-shock and traffic woes. The area's Scenic 30-A, a back road that coils through communities and countryside, is totally inviting to cyclists, while trails run through the area's state forest and parks. Bike rentals are readily available in the resort communities.
South Walton's walking communities double as places to stay and offer a range of accommodations from inexpensive hotel and pensione rooms to charming bed-and-breakfasts and luxurious vacation rental cottages and homes. The towns are designed so that shops, groceries, restaurants, beaches and parks are all within walking distance of accommodations. Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, the most spread out of the four major resort communities, has its own tram and boat shuttle service.
Walk This Way
The western-most and oldest of the area's great residential-resort communities, Sandestin, incorporated a town center, the Village of Baytowne Wharf, into its great expanse of golf courses, marina and beach. The residential resort straddles Emerald Coast Parkway (Highway 98) with shopping and dining on both sides of the main thoroughfare. Designers fashioned the village's layout after a ski resort, so that it provides convenient services and the feel of a waterfront hometown. Independently owned clubs, restaurants and shops include a variety of regionally recognized favorites. A nature trail, marina (where you can rent a bike) and spa lie within this north side half of the resort, easy to reach by foot from most accommodations. Two loops, two and 3.2 miles long, give serious pedestrians something to walk about.
On the south, beach side of the resort, a strip of shops lines Highway 98 and fine and casual restaurants front the beach, less than a mile walk away. The Hilton Sandestin holds another fine spa for massaging worn-out feet.
Seaside gave birth to the new-urbanism model of pedestrian-safe communities and is so ideal, it was selected as the filming site for The Truman Show. Wander its 80 acres of brick-paved streets to marvel at the beautiful cottages and Victorian homes. Shops sell local art, books and silver jewelry.
New 499-acre WaterColor is walking distance from Seaside and, like it, showcases knockout architecture and fronts the Gulf of Mexico. Winding roads pass pools, green lawns, a kids' club, recreational facilities, a coastal dune lake and Town Center's cluster of shops.
On the beach, walk west a few paces to reach Grayton Beach State Park, one of America's top-rated beaches.
Rosemary Beach, 107 acres, opened in 1995 as an architectural wonder combining styles from St. Augustine, the West Indies, New Orleans and Charleston. It expands its Dutch Caribbean-style Town Square with a day spa, fitness center. Pedestrian lanes and secret pathways travel through neighborhoods of homes and rental carriage houses, to one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and the beach - everything within a five-minute walk. For dinner, try Onano's brand of inventive Italian at The Pensione, Rosemary's budget lodging. Rent a bike and head to Deer Lake State Park to walk through towering dunes, about eight miles away.
Visit www.visitsouthwalton.com to learn more about letting your feet do the exploring in South Walton County.