A few years ago I started a Pinterest Board called “my new favorite colors.” The board, which you can see here is a collection of pictures that celebrate shades of blue and green. These are nature’s colors, and they originated from the land, sea and sky; they are also the colors of Florida’s Emerald Coast.
This coast, which stretches for nearly 100 miles along the Gulf of Mexico from Panama City to Pensacola and into parts of Alabama, is well known for its white sand beaches and emerald waters. The water is crystal clear and its colors change from blue to green, depending on the day. There is a scientific explanation for the color of the water, which has to do with the DeSoto Canyon among other things. But, that topic is way above my pay grade, so I will state the “not so sexy explanation offered by some enlightened folks, “it is the amount of sunlight and the presence of algae that create the rich color”. Not exactly the sort of thing you want to hear from the local Chamber of Commerce, but apparently not all algae is bad, so I am going to accept that explanation and move on. But, do yourself a favor and google the DeSoto Canyon for some fascinating information.
The sand is said to get its color from quartz particles that have been washed down from the Appalachian Mountains and deposited on these shores. Source It looks like sugar and invites you to take a barefoot walk. The sand squeaks beneath your feet as you sink into its velvety softness.
There are several popular destinations along this coast notably, Panama City Beach, which gave rise to the “Redneck Riviera” in its heyday as a wildly popular spring break destination. Panama City is still an immensely popular destination for anyone looking for adventure. We spent some time there, but we chose Walton County as our base from which to explore the area.
Slow Down, Take It Easy
The Hilton Sandestin Resort in Miramar Beach is centrally located between Destin and the seaside towns of 30A. This resort offers everything you could want in terms of a beachside destination – excellent accommodations, golf course, spa, restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, and one of the most beautiful beaches in the area just steps from your hotel room. It is the ideal place for a short term, low key stay.
The towns along 30A and Highway 98 along the Emerald Coast have been gaining in popularity since the 1980’s when the town of Seaside was developed. The planned community, which was the filming location for the Truman Show, was the conceptual idea of one man with a childhood dream – languid seaside summers. While that ideal still exists with developments like Rosemary Beach, Water Color and Alys Beach, it shares its popularity with high density neighbor Destin, which hosts nearly 80% of all visitors to the Emerald Coast.
Even if you choose to stay somewhere other than 30A, or close by on Highway 98, we suggest that you take some time to explore this unique area. A quick drive-by in the car will provide a sense of place, but to savor the view, hop on a bike. The dedicated bike path will take you past estuaries and tidal pools that are a natural habitat for birds and other wildlife. Biking makes it easy to get up close to the action and stop whenever you want.
Want a Faster Pace
If you are looking for adventure, look no farther than Harbor Walk Village in Destin. It was not our cup of tea, but we can see the appeal to younger folks. There are many choices for high rise accommodations on this end of town but you will wait on line at most restaurants. Not to worry, there are plenty of patio bars available for killing time.
Our vision for this trip was for a quiet, serenely beautiful vacation by the sea. The Concierge at our hotel very sweetly turned us right instead of left on Highway 98 when we asked for directions to the areas most picturesque location. We would not hesitate to return to the Hilton for a quick get-a-way in the future, and for a longer stay, we will definitely consider a rental property along 30A. I have always wanted to live in a gingerbread house!
Area State Parks
The Emerald Coast is home to beautiful Grayton Beach State Park which is consistently voted among the most beautiful beaches in the country. We must agree that it is beautiful, but on the day we visited, the water was a little murky. Unfortunately, our standards for beaches has been set very high by Miramar Beach and Topsail Hill Preserve Beach. With a park entry fee of only $5 this is a great place to spend the day on an uncrowded beach, away from hotels and congestion. Campsites and facilities are available, so be sure to visit their site before you go.
We took a drive through Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, parked the car and caught the tram to the beach. Tram service is provided throughout the park, with the price of admission, which was waived the day we visited. If I were inclined to camp overnight, this would be the park for me. The campsites are spacious, mostly set in wooded areas, and some have lake views. There are a number of gathering places, including a band stand for hosting social activities. The general store on the property provides basic items along with kayak and bike rentals. And, most importantly, the beach is outstanding!
There is a paved pathway followed by a beautiful boardwalk, erected over the protected sand dunes, which leads to the beach. Walking to the beach will take about ten minutes, but if you are carrying gear, we suggest taking the tram. It will leave you at the boardwalk and you will be on your own from there. If you are looking for unspoiled, pure Florida, white sand, emerald water beaches, this is the place for you.
Tired of the beach? Eden Gardens State Park is a welcome relief to all that sun and white sand! You can easily spend a couple of hours viewing the house and grounds, and in cooler weather, you will want to carry a picnic basket down to the lake and sit for a while.
Coming soon; a day trip to DeFuniak Springs and the Chautauqua Winery.
Our recommendations are unsolicited and based entirely on personal experience. All photos are taken by us, unless otherwise noted. Follow us on Instagram.