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Seagrove Beach, FL

Beauty in simplicity.

It’s no secret that I love the sleepy stretch of beach between Destin and Panama City. If you like resorts, high rises, lots of giant swimming pools and water sports, and big noisy chain restaurants, then the sweet coastal towns that litter Highway 30-A most likely aren’t for you.

They are, however, most definitely FOR me.

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With names like Seaside, Watercolor, and Grayton Beach, you can just feel the charm that they exude. They are a step back in time to a simpler place. They are places where kids spend the day body surfing in the waves and building sandcastles, not lounging on a fake lazy river in a 300 acre pool with fake palm trees and playing putt-putt golf underneath the feet of fiberglass dinosaurs. They are places where you ride your bicycle down to a simple market and order a basket of fried shrimp and hush puppies and eat it on a picnic table with a plastic fork and a giant glass of sweet tea instead of eating a burger out of a treasure chest inside a giant pirate ship restaurant with waiters wearing eye patches and shouting “Shiver me timbers!” every 5 seconds. They are places where the salty sea breeze isn’t blocked by a 64 story condo and where there is seaweed on the beach because no one from the resort is clearing it away.

These are places that are quaint and authentic. They are quiet and slow. They are the peaceful, simple beach towns of your childhood.

Seagrove Beach is tucked in beside Seaside, FL, so close that you really can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Blink and you’ll miss it.

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We spent Memorial Day weekend in a cozy beach house hidden in the live oaks. It had a rustic screened porch and was filled with mismatched tables and chairs and lots of soft white quilts. The upstairs bedroom even had a clawfoot tub tucked into the corner.

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We arrived early enough on a Friday to grab some lunch at the Seagrove Market. When you walk inside, you might think you are just in a convenience mart, but if you keep walking, you’ll see that there is a little café tucked in the back. Nothing fancy, just a cash register and some old tables, but they serve up some of the finest seafood on the gulf and the prices are right.

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It was too early to check in so we did a little beach shopping and grabbed some cold drinks with a view when it simply got too hot to move.

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Matt loves him some raw oysters, and he knows he can find them at the Great Southern Café in Seaside every day from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. for $5 a dozen. They also have a half price bar during that time, so I was content to sip my refreshment while Matt sucked his down raw.

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Unfortunately, this bargain price caused him to consume 8 dozen on that first day, which I am pretty sure is not a good idea. Ever.

About an hour later, he agreed with me.

I held out for the Red Bar, where we headed for dinner even though Matt was 110% certain that he couldn’t eat another thing, maybe for the rest of the weekend. I almost felt sorry for him as I ate my delicious plate of pasta topped with fresh gulf shrimp and crawfish. Almost.

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The heat of the day and too much food had made us lethargic, so we turned in ridiculously early and called it a day.

Seagrove Beach is about ½ mile from Seaside. Apparently, it is just far enough to give you a beautifully uncrowded beach with the same gorgeous water and soft white sand that 900 people are fighting over just a short walk down the shore.

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Seagrove Beach was sparsely populated and we were able to enjoy the crystal clear waters in peace.

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We were shocked when we walked down the beach toward Seaside later in the day and saw that beach chairs were 3 rows deep and so close together that it was hard to find a break you could slip through to run up to grab a cold drink and cool off in front of the fan at Pickle’s.

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It was a perfect beach day, with clear blue skies and incredibly calm water. I felt like I did when I was a kid, when you’d beg to stay at the beach so long that by the time you left, you were limp from the sun, your fingers were pruned from the salty waves, your shoulders and nose were crispy, and you had sand in every imaginable place on your body, even some you couldn’t imagine. We stayed all day doing nothing but taking turns letting the sun warm our bodies and then letting the waves cool them again.

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By the time we packed it up and headed in, we were starving. We had made reservations at Caliza, one of the coolest beach restaurants I have ever been to.

We had discovered it on our last trip down and had to go back to see if it was as amazing as we remembered. It was.

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Set in the beautiful community of Alys Beach, Caliza is a poolside restaurant where the delicious food and cocktails are matched only by the spectacular setting.

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We arrived early to have cocktails on the roof. A good thing to know is that cocktails are half price from 5:30 – 6:30 and when cocktails are $12 a pop, half price is a good thing! The cocktails were unique and fabulous. I even loved my straw.

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When we were seated, we started dinner with an order of the fried green tomatoes and the heirloom tomatoes with grilled shrimp.

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I nearly fainted when the waiter told me the special was a surf and turf with a crabcake over creamy corn, a filet over sautéed asparagus, and a lobster tail over cheese grits. Just go ahead and put me down for 2.

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For dessert, there was a wonderful strawberry shortcake in a glass jar. I adore things that are served in cute containers. They could have served me dog poo in that cute little jar and I would have loved it.

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Fat and happy, we waddled our way back to Seagrove Beach.

The next morning, we rode our bikes over to the Sun Dog Bookstore and Central Square Records, two of the cutest stores to ever exist. It was there that I found the shiny, cherry red ukulele.

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My summer resolution: Learn to play the ukulele.

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Day two was a repeat of day one: more beautiful sun, more incredible blue skies, and more perfectly clear water. It was a beach day at its best.

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For lunch I was craving a hot dog and ice cream so we walked up the beach to Seaside and headed to the Airstreams. The closest thing to a food court in Seaside is a line of old Airstream trailers that have been converted into casual beachside eateries.

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We chose Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs for a giant hot dog loaded with relish, kraut, mustard and their super secret Devil Sauce. It was beach day perfection.

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Followed by an ice cream cone, I nearly passed out from happiness.

To cool off that afternoon, we headed back to the Red Bar for cocktails and live music.

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The Red Bar is a funky place. An eclectic collection of old signs, music and movie memorabilia, chandeliers and string lights, and bar stools covered in duct tape, it looks more like a flea market than a restaurant and bar.

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With a live band, $5 bloody marys and $3.50 mimosas, we stayed so long we had duct tape marks on our behinds.

Matt had worked himself back up in to another oyster frenzy, forgetting the oyster disaster of only 48 hours earlier, so we headed back to Great Southern Café for more. This time he kept it to a modest 4 dozen and didn’t leave wishing he was dead.

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I had the sautéed blue crab claws and I didn’t leave wishing I was dead either. Those were yummy.

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We decided to try a new place, mainly because it had a rooftop with a view of the water and was named after an airplane, which Matt was certain was a sign of its awesomeness. The rooftop at 83 Whiskey Bravo was indeed pretty fine.

As was the food.

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We topped off the night’s eat fest with a giant slab of caramel cake from the Modica Market.

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Devine.

We had to head out early the next morning, so we stopped at the Donut Hole for a bag to go.

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I could see below the Seneca’s wings that it was going to be another beautiful day on the beach, but we’d had our fun.

It was someone else’s turn.

Until next time…

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Posted by vicki_h 09:09 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida seaside gulf_coast 30_a south_walton seagrove Comments (5)

Seaside splendor

A weekend on the Emerald Coast.

Do you remember summer road trips from your childhood? Trips that meant long languid days in the summer sunshine unencumbered by things like iPods or Wii or 678 satellite TV channels.

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I remember when vacation didn’t involve TSA or carry-on luggage but meant a hard sided suitcase tossed in the back of the family Buick and a brown paper bag of peanut butter sandwiches on the vinyl seat between my parents as we drove down to Florida with the windows rolled down. I remember when there was no fancy SUV with a 3rd row seat, dual DVD players, and noise cancelling headsets, but instead I slid around, hot and sweaty in the back seat playing I Spy with my brothers and would fight with them over who had to sit on the hump in the middle. Back then, the idea of an all inclusive resort with lagoon swimming pools and waterslides was incomprehensible because we woke up in the morning to open up a mini-box of corn flakes, pour in some powdered milk, and eat breakfast with a plastic spoon in our hotel room just before running outside to splash and scream in delight in the 14 x 22 concrete pool. Those were the days when vacation dinner didn’t include words like sushi, hibachi, sliders, or tapas but was eaten in an old wooden building with a tin roof at the end of a pier and included words like fried, basket, and hushpuppies.

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Summer vacations back then were pure and precious. They were uncomplicated and unpretentious. Like a fresh slice of key lime pie, they were sweet and simple.

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That’s what visiting Seaside, FL is like.

Sure, there is some cash flowing, but it still manages to maintain a quaint goodness, an elegant simplicity, and a casual comfort.

We spent a long weekend in Seaside proper and loved every minute of it. It was like returning to the summer vacations of our childhood.

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There were no high rises; no 30 story condos; no multiplexes; no 20 screen theaters; no bungee jumping; no helicopter rides; no 17 acre swimming pools; and no amusement park style restaurants with giant plastic mushrooms, fake waterfalls, or singing elephants.

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Instead, it was a weekend filled with pastel cottages, sticky ice cream cones, hands greasy from fried shrimp baskets, long walks on the sugary white sand, and the simplicity of sitting on the balcony and watching the world slowly twirl in the summer haze before us.

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Seaside is a planned community beside the gulf filled with adorable cottages in pastel colors or brilliant sunwashed white looking like something from a picture book. At its center is a town which consists of a quaint little post office, a green park with a small amphitheater, and a few strips of adorable shops and cafes. The colors are soft. The sounds are happy. The smells are of beach burgers and french fries.

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In Seaside, “dressing up for dinner” means you take your swimsuit off before you put on your cotton sundress and flip flops. In Seaside, you get everywhere by walking or riding an old 3 speed with a basket on front. In Seaside, shopping means strolling through the sidewalk art at Ruskin Place or picking up a basket of shells from Perscipacity’s colorful outdoor market. In Seaside, lunch is found by walking up to the counter at an old, silver Airstream trailer and ordering a beach dog with mustard and onions.

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The sun shines bright in Seaside, reflecting off the white buildings that are scattered about in the sand, warming their faces, fading their crisp blue shutters to a sun worn shade that reminds you of hazy August days. The air is warm and smells of magnolia blossoms and salt. The sand is as soft as sifted flour....warm at the surface, but cool as you dig your bares toes deep. The ocean swells with pride, in ever changing shades of emerald and blue.

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Time seems to stand still and things feel slower here.

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Mornings are spent grabbing a hot coffee and fresh doughnut at Modica Market and walking through the park. Afternoons are long and lazy, spent with your toes in the white sand of the gulf coast watching the surf pound as kids fly kites and impromptu volleyball games spring up in front of the chair rental stand. Five o’clock means it’s time to head to the Southern Café and get the $5 oysters on the halfshell, clean and crisp on a bed of ice washed down with a cold mojito. Evenings bring seafood baskets, glorious sunsets, and children laughing on the park lawn.

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It was a slow and sleepy weekend, spent in blissful summer splendor, a gentle reminder that vacation doesn’t always mean jetting off to some exotic locale. Sometimes, the best pleasures to be found are the simple ones.

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Posted by vicki_h 06:52 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida seaside gulf_coast 30_a south_walton Comments (1)

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