Highway to Heaven: Cruising 30-A

2602-26From the sky, the sugar white beaches cresting the emerald waters along Highway 98 in Destin, Florida, are studded with luxurious high-rise condos one after another. On the ground, the traffic along this popular beachfront highway is bumper-to-bumper during the summer season. Not far away, Highway 30-A looks like a meandering seaside road rolling along sand dune bluffs and pristine lakes with low-rise communities and small town traffic.

Some say the gulf gets bluer, others say the sand dunes rise up into the sky, and others just say that Highway 30-A is a winding pathway through bliss; the truth is all of the above. Highway 30-A is a sliver of paradise jutting out toward the sea away from the intensity of Highway 98, breaking away right after the popular San Destin Resort and the exclusive Four-Mile Village. It curves along the coastline through picturesque village after village until rejoining 98 right before Panama City.

In the 1950s and 60s, a parcel of land on 30-A could be bought for as little as $500. Now, with real estate so precious, a beachfront lot with no development goes for north of two-million dollars. The real estate values changed dramatically when the award-winning developer Robert Davis created his vision in Seagrove Beach on an 80-acre tract he inherited from his grandfather, J. S. Smolian.

About 25 years ago, Davis, along with Miami developers Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, created the much celebrated Seaside. It was designed to be a classic southern oceanfront community with white picket fences, small tree-lined streets, pastel-painted wooden cottages, and a town square. Deep roof over-hangings, ample windows with cross ventilation, and broad screened porches are trademarks of Davis’s creation. The group had the unprecedented idea of building homes back from the sand dunes to protect the natural vegetation along the seashore. Each of the village streets culminated at the sea where architecturally significant pavilions served as gateways to the beach. This new urban development was a winning success and now has spawned similar intimate resort communities along the beautiful gulf’s edge.

Highway 30-A is divided up into several small beaches with names like Dune Allen, Blue Mountain, Grayton, Seagrove, and Inlet Beach. In the center of it all is Seaside where children walk barefooted licking ice-cream cones, and parents choose to ride bikes before they get into a car. Symphony concerts and outdoor movies on a large screen are part of the summertime entertainment on the green sloping lawn in front of the town’s center shopping district. The aroma from many an exceptional restaurant drifts across the sand sprinkled walkways. Weddings on the beach pavilion overlooking the surf are frequent weekend occurrences. Live music drifts down on a summer night from the famous Bud and Alley’s (850-231-5900) open-air gulf view bar. Kids enjoy ordering a wrap at Seaside’s Roly Poly (850-231-3799) followed by a run down to the beach to cool their toes in the roaring waves. The living is easy here all day long.

To the west of Seaside is the St. Joe Company development, WaterColor. Walking distance from Seaside, WaterColor offers an impeccable gulf front inn and spa with gulf views and an exclusive village community across the beach road. Many of the well appointed wooden homes are built near a lake where water sports such as kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boating are amenities offered to guests. Cerulean’s Café (850-231-7735) is a popular wine bar in the heart of WaterColor where locals and visitors gather to enjoy the changing art exhibitions and to hear live music on Friday nights. The family-style BaitHouse Restaurant (850-534-5960) has fresh seafood and dreamy views of the sunsets over the lake.

To the east of Seaside are the stunning new developments of Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach. Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company developed Rosemary Beach in 1995 on a 105-acre tract along the gulf. Using the same pedestrian friendly theme as they used in Seaside, the developers carved out a sparkling display of seaside homes. The Rosemary Beach town center is now well developed and offers an upscale selection of shops and restaurants. The Wild Olives Market (850-231-0065), also on Rosemary’s Main Street, is a unique bistro serving up nine types of olives and tapas along with more than 100 wines and champagnes. This fragrant café/shop has sumptuous organic jams spread on scones at teatime and a selection of Venezuelan chocolates for anytime desserts.

Avenues of Medjool palm trees mark the boundaries of Alys Beach where the dramatic architecture is reminiscent of coastal villages in the south of Spain. White stucco homes are staggered along the streets accented with lush tropical landscaping, flowing fountains, and artful sculptures. A combination of architecture from Bermuda and Antigua provides homeowners in Alys Beach with an open-air patio setting leading into many of the residences. As in the other Highway 30-A communities, all of the streets lead to the beach with wonderful unobstructed views of the water and sand dune bluffs.

The breathtaking stretch of Highway 30-A offers many award-winning stellar restaurants worth the trip, even if you are staying in Destin. Criolla’s (850-267-1267) in Grayton Beach serves a unique interpretation of Caribbean Creole food in a setting rivaling some of New Orleans’ grand restaurants. A dish served here called crabmeat Louisianne is a memorable presentation of fresh crabmeat, toasted almonds, and smoked grilled asparagus served over Creole saffron rice. C’est bon! Right next door are the gorgeous gardens of the French Fountains at the Monet House (850-534-4534) which now hosts wine and cheese tasting in the afternoon amidst the fragrant flowers and soothing fountains. Fine 19th-century art and paintings can be viewed in the interior of the main building, which is a recreation of Claude Monet’s home in Giverny, France. Not to be missed in Grayton Beach is the colorful Red Bar (850-231-1008) located right on the top of a hill overlooking the gulf. New Orleans’ inspired jazz music is played here live Wednesday through Saturday nights. The crowd is fun, the décor is off the wall, and the hamburgers are great.

The off-season is a great time to enjoy the beauty of these beach communities, when the rates are down and the views are always heavenly. For reservations and a vast selection of properties, contact one of the many realty companies located in the beaches of South Walton.

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