Before high-rise condos and expensive hotels dominated Florida's shorelines, vacationing couples stayed in modest cottages where they could relax on the front porch and enjoy ocean breezes.
Seaside, a gem on Florida's Emerald Coast with pastel-painted cottages wrapped in white picket fences, strives to evoke those feelings of yesteryear. The tiny Walton County community, with its brick streets and tin-roofed buildings, has garnered numerous architectural awards. It was a spot so charming that it was selected as the setting for the "perfect" town in the 1998 film, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey.
Seaside, built on an 80-acre patch of scrub oak and sand along the Gulf of Mexico, opened 21 years ago. Its downtown began as a collection of canvas-covered tables where people gathered to buy fresh produce, arts and crafts and flea-market items. Now the pedestrian-friendly village has become the cultural and commercial center of the beach communities along County Road 30A. Couples can stroll to shops, galleries and restaurants, or sit back and enjoy an occasional outdoor concert or wine tasting.
White pavilions and walkways lead beach-goers from Seaside's chic downtown to a powdery beach so carefully protected it has been designated a Blue Wave beach, an environmental certification that recognizes responsible management practices.
Wrap your arms around your loved one and step onto the half-mile beach, where you'll notice the squeak and sparkle of the sand under your feet. The sand on these shores is different than that on other Florida beaches because it is composed mainly of tiny grains of quartz crystal from the Appalachian Mountains. The water lapping the shore looks different here too -- the translucent water of the shallow Gulf and the high reflectivity of the crystal shore makes the sea appear emerald.
As the day winds down, join Seaside's residents to celebrate with the ringing of the sunset bell at Bud & Alley's Waterfront Restaurant. Folks mingle on the roof-deck bar as the sun sinks. If you guess the exact moment the last bit of sun will dip into the ocean, you'll be rewarded with a free drink.
After sunset, linger at Bud & Alley's, 2236 E. County Highway 30A, for tastes of the coastal Mediterranean, Louisiana, Tuscany and the Deep South. Peruse the generous wine list, and pair a bottle with the eggplant and spinach lasagna or one of the daily specials. Finish your meal with Key lime pie or tiramisu. Bud & Alley's summer hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Information: 850-231-5900; budandalleys.com.
Seaside's version of takeout food can be found at Modica Market, a gourmet grocery store and deli in Seaside's Central Square that drips with old-fashioned Southern hospitality. Stop in early and sip a cappuccino at one of the outside tables. If you're in the mood for a picnic, this is the place to pick up sandwiches, gourmet baked foods, specialty salsas and a bottle of wine. Information: 1-877-809-0994; modicamarket.com.
If you feel like holding hands across the table, try Josephine's French Country Inn, 101 Seaside Ave. The intimate dining room creates a cozy setting in which to sip wine and enjoy crab cakes or grilled rack of lamb by candlelight. Information: 1-800-848-1840; josephinesinn.com.
Or jump in your car and head west to Criolla's Restaurant, 170 E. Scenic Route 30A; Santa Rosa Beach. It'll give you a chance to see more of the area before you dine. The menu is ever-evolving, but the food generally can be described as contemporary tropical fare, with featured items such as barbecue shrimp, seared yellow fin tuna and conch fritters. Again, there are plenty of wine choices to pair with your meal. Hours are 5:30-10 p.m. Information: 850-267-1267; criollas.com.
Visitors' best-loved pastime may be lounging on the beach and watching the waves roll in, but there is plenty in Seaside to keep active couples happy too. Stop in at Seaside Bike Rentals, 87 Central Square, to rent a bike -- or a bicycle built for two -- then pedal along the 13-mile paved bicycle path that runs along 30A. You'll pass by dunes covered with sea oats, freshwater coastal lakes, hardwood hammocks and long-leaf flatwoods. Wildflowers bloom year-round along this scenic road. Information: 850-231-2279.
Nature-loving couples may want to visit secluded Deer Lake State Park, east of Seaside off County Road 30A, for a glimpse of a rare unspoiled dune lake as well as a Gulf beach. Deer Lake, which became a state park in 1998, features an expanse of rolling hills and sugary white sand with 20-foot dunes. The lake sits on the park's south side along with 172 acres of undeveloped beach. Its north side features about 1,700 acres. Admission is $3.25 per vehicle or $1 per person. Information: 850-231-4210; dep.state.fl.us/parks.
Seaside Repertory Theatre, the only professional thespian group on the Emerald Coast, produces family and adult shows and the popular SPF7 Improv Troupe. Visit by Aug. 11, and you can catch Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at 8 p.m. Mondays at the Seaside Ampitheatre. Admission is free. For information on other upcoming performances, call 850-231-3033 or see Seasiderep.org.
Staying at Seaside's storybook cottages gives couples a chance to experience what it's like to reside -- if only for a few days -- in a town that looks like a watercolor painting come to life. Visitors can rent privately owned cottages with names such as Plum Lazy and Always 5 O Clock. Or try Seaside's 1950s-style motel, the Seaside Motor Court. Rooms are equipped with a refrigerator and coffee maker. Reservations for both places are handled by Seaside Cottage Rental Agency. Seasidefl.com, provides photos of the cottages to help visitors decide where to stay. For rates and other information, call 1-800-277-8696.
Art lovers may enjoy Studio 210, 210 Ruskin Place, a bed-and-breakfast establishment that also houses a coffee shop and art gallery. Sip on an espresso and try the fresh pastries for breakfast, then stop to view creations by the local artists. Coffee shop hours are 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Information: 850-231-3720.
For more information, call Seaside Visitors Center at 1-800-277-8696 or see seasidefl.com on the Web.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun