Florida’s Emerald Coast: We “Shore” Loved It!

The purpose of this 9-week journey was to earn a small, tacky piece of paper … a sticker for the travel map on the side of our RV. Florida became the 42nd state we’ve visited in the RV, and we were thrilled to add that “thumb” to our U.S. outline.

Our first of seven stops in the Sunshine State was along the “Emerald Coast,” so-named for its clear, emerald-green waters along the Florida panhandle.

Highway 30A in this region is one of the most scenic coastal drives in all of Florida, with 12 charming small towns in about 30 miles, each with its own personality, but all sharing protected sand dunes, gorgeous mixed flora, and sea life aplenty.

Our personal favorite of the towns was Grayton Beach, the most funky/hippie/artsy and local-centered. Artists’ studios mix with streetside “galleries,” and everything in the town is weird and interesting, even the pillars holding up the beachside homes.

Grayton Beach has zero visitor parking, so the town offers a shuttle to its tiny downtown core, or you can ride a bike. However you get there, you’re likely to find yourself in The Red Bar, Grayton’s “place to be.”

We weren’t really sure about the origin of the name (ties to Communism?) … until we stepped inside. Red neon blankets the inside of the sprawling bar and restaurant, with a mystical and mysterious feel to every nook and cranny.

Tiny Blue Mountain Beach is named for the blue lupine flowers swaying the breeze, and for being the highest point on 30A … a towering 65 feet elevation! Most importantly, Blue Mountain Creamery is the place for homemade treats, including carrot cake ice cream, and the highly-regarded restaurant called Blue Mabel.

On the other end of the sophistication spectrum is Seaside. Regarded as on the most beautiful places in the world, it’s where the wealthy and the ultra-wealthy come to relax. This is the kind of town where visitors engage in a casual game of croquet … in the highway median.

If you’re an architecture buff, you recognize it as the poster child for “New Urbanist” design: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces.  Everything is perfect … and expensive. Even the ordinary city sidewalks are extraordinary … 10 feet wide, and made of inlaid pavers.

They are so proud of being the first fully-designed New Urbanist town in the U.S., that an enormous Vincent Scully greets you at the end of town. He was a professor who greatly impacted the architects of the town and their vision to reduce dependence on the car, and to create livable and walkable neighborhoods.

Homes in Seaside are painted in bright colors to match the sky, the sea, and the sand. Residences all have signs with the cutesy name of the house and its occupants (two and four legged), which seems like ripe fruit for identity theft, but whatever. Even all the clothes for sale in shops here are colorful.

There’s a good reason why visiting Seaside feels like you’re walking into a movie set. Seaside was the location of the picture-perfect town of Seahaven in Jim Carrey’s 1998 movie, “The Truman Show.” The tiny Post Office, the Tupelo Street gazebo, Modica Market, and the Central Square Ampitheater are just a few recognizable locations from the movie.

Along the edge of the Ampitheater facing the beach, Airstream Row has multiple shiny silver food trucks. You can grab your lunch and watch the beautiful people and their beautiful children frolicking, while you eat.

Obviously, a town this gorgeous is too lovely to spend any time inside. So, even the church’s pews are set up outside.

There are only two campgrounds on 30A, and both of them are Florida State Parks. This post highlights the hilarious easy 34-step process of getting a reservation in the extremely popular Florida State Park sytem. Indeed, we were bleary-eyed at 4:30 AM, eleven months ago, when we scored a site at Topsail Hill State Park in Santa Rosa Beach. Worth it!

One unique feature at Topsail Hill is a tram that will take you down to its enormous beach, every hour on the hour.

Being relatively close to Pensacola, the fighter jets flew over Topsail frequently, and despite the regular occurence, we never failed to be awestruck by the sight (and sound). While walking the beach, this odd aircraft buzzed us … it looks like a small drone, but it’s a full-sized military craft, presumably searching for Chinese spy balloons.

And so, the sun has set on our time at the Emerald Coast … but we “shore” loved it here!

We are now coasting to more coasts, as our next stops are at the Forgotten Coast (the area of the state that development forgot) and the Nature Coast! Sounds absolutely perfect!

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