Seaside – A family vacation destination like no other.
Seaside, is located on northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast in the South Walton area between Panama City and Destin. Founded in 1981, Seaside is credited as the country’s first New Urbanist community, and its cheerful pastel color palette, traditional Florida panhandle architectural style, and intentionally walkable/bikeable layout became instantly recognizable signatures. While Southeasterners have been aware of Seaside’s charms almost from the start, the rest of the country (and indeed the world) fell under its spell when it was featured as the primary filming location in the 1998 Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show. The town is now the topic of lectures in architectural and design schools around the world, but that means little to the scores of families who call Seaside their vacation home away from home. For them, what makes Seaside special is its unique ability to inject new life into notions of community, comfort, and ease.
Today the town is home to more than 500 individual dwellings, most of which are available to rent. Cottage Rental Agency (CRA) (1-866-281-9783, www.cottagerentalagency.com) offers the largest selection of rentals, with more than 200 cottages, town homes, and penthouse suites in its portfolio. Each rental is individually owned, reflecting an upscale and diverse selection of architectural styles and décor. Rental sizes range from quaint and eclectic beachfront honeymoon cottages to spacious, fully appointed homes that sleep up to 14 guests. Rentals are located throughout the community, from cozy wooded lanes to beachside dunes to the charming-yet- sophisticated town center. A variety of benefits are included with a CRA rental, including two complimentary bike rentals at CRA Bike Shop, a complimentary bottle of wine upon arrival, complimentary use of beach toys, including bodyboards and skimboards, and more.
Dining options are plentiful and diverse at Seaside—the town center is home to more than 15 restaurants, cafes, and food, snack, and beverage stands. The granddaddy of Seaside eateries is Bud & Alley’s (850-231-5900, www.budandalleys.com), the town’s oldest restaurant and a beloved South Walton gathering spot, not least for its rooftop bar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and white sand beaches. People travel from surrounding communities (and farther afield) to sample the restaurant’s menu of Florida panhandle classics and unique twists on classic Southern cuisine. The seemingly bottomless appetite among visitors for Bud & Alley’s has spawned two additional eateries in recent years—a Taco Bar and a Pizza Bar, both of which met with instant success.
Renowned Executive Chef Jim Shirley owns several restaurants throughout the panhandle, but Seaside’s Great Southern Café (850-231-7327, www.thegreatsoutherncafe.com) is the only one where you can sample his signature Grits a Ya Ya—smoked Gouda cheese grits smothered with a sauce of fresh cream, sautéed Gulf shrimp, spinach, portobello mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon, garlic, and shallots. With an emphasis on locally harvested produce from area farms and fresh caught seafood, the restaurant’s menu proudly displays its Southern roots and includes daily seafood selections, organic burgers, Gulf Coast oysters, and a handpicked wine list.
Eating in is a breeze—and a pleasure—thanks to Modica Market (850-231-1214, www.modicamarket.com), which bills itself as a “gourmet grocery with Southern hospitality.” The family-owned and operated gourmet and specialty market has served Seaside since 1988. Sarah and Charles Modica began in the grocery business more than 50 years ago in Bessemer, Alabama. In 1988, the Modicas moved to Seaside with their son, Charles Modica, Jr. to open Modica Market, now an indispensable gourmet market serving fine food and wine. Modica Market has been highlighted in CNN’s “On the Menu” and featured in magazines such as Vogue, Travel & Leisure, and Conde Nast Traveler.
From art galleries and home furnishings to sophisticated beach apparel and toys and sports gear, there’s plenty to charm a shopping fanatic at Seaside. Sundog Books (850- 231-5481, www.sundogbooks.com), an independently owned bookstore, is a Seaside institution, packed to the rafters with books for every taste and interest. The shop also hosts regular booksigning events with national and local authors, and an associated music store, Central Square Records, has opened next store for the more musically inclined.
Perspicasity (850-231-5829, www.theseasidestyle.com/perspicasity), a popular, open-air clothing bazaar, provides fashionable clothing crafted of natural fibers. Each of the shop’s individual 56-square-foot huts is arranged in a vignette to offer customers ideas for how to wear the styles on display. In addition, Perspicasity offers a wide assortment of bohemian accessories ranging from straw cowboy hats, French market totes, espadrilles, leather sandals, handmade jewelry, batik sarongs, and sunglasses.
Kids will be enchanted by Duckies Shop of Fun (850-231-4800, www.shopduckies.com) which carries toys, kids’ clothing, and “just plain silly stuff” in a brightly decorated, whimsical space. Children of all ages will delight in watching toys spin and parachute from shelves, a parade of ducks overhead, and giant tree of ducks.
Perhaps the only thing you can’t buy at Seaside, but which is available everywhere you look, is the opportunity to disconnect from the frantic pace of modern life and reconnect with the one true commodity—family.