My family’s been vacating to Seagrove Beach since long before I was born. My grandparents bought property about halfway between Destin and Panama City–before either was a tourist destination–on a coastal dune lake that opens into the Gulf several times a year, one of very few in existence. We spent every summer growing up between the lake and the gulf–boating, skiing, tubing, skim boarding with litters of cousins. Years, moves, jobs and marriages later my family returns each summer to give the next generation that same experience and to getaway in the place we feel most at home.
There are a million reasons I cherish this trip that have piled up each 4th of July, but four why you too should experience Northwest Florida next year:
- Locals: If you’ve ever spent time in Destin or Panama City Beach you know the area is swimming with southeasterners: Georgians, Alabamans, Arkansans, you name it. But the last of the natives are still on these beaches everyday. They’re as kind and calm as they come and they’re sharing what used to be desolate with herds of families and car loads of college students. As with any destination, you want to find them. From stories of when all you could see was sand dunes to recommendations of where to avoid the crowds (both on the beach and out at night), look for leathery skin and a smile, and you’ll be golden.
- Treasures: You can’t miss these coastal dune lakes, considered phenomenons worldwide. This is the only place they’re found in the U.S. and they’re fascinating. And the man-made hidden finds are just as compelling. From little staples like Red Bar to adorable communities full of boutiques and local eats, there’s a quintessential charm to this coast. Explore the likes of Seaside, Alys, and Water Color to see for yourself, especially on a rainy day.
- Simplicity: These aren’t beaches cluttered with rentals and vehicles, and you don’t have to budget for fun–watch the kids. Half a dozen nieces and nephews are little reminders that sand castles and splashing can entertain for hours. I always re-center here finding joy in the simple pleasures: biking, kayaking, walking on the beach, swimming in the ocean, catching crabs at night, and staring at the stars. And fireworks and sparklers after a homemade meal are the perfectly simple way to end a beach day.
- Beauty: If the sound of white sand beaches doesn’t make you smile, you haven’t been to any yet…because there’s no comparison. The Gulf coast is one of the most beautiful in the world–stunning in its purity. The water is crystal clear gradually turning to emeralds and blues towards the horizon and pairing perfectly with both the sun and moon. The views are picturesque to boot.
This is the summer family destination and family’s what draws me down, fills me up, and sweetens the season. For one trip I’m not conquering every restaurant, museum, and entertainment imaginable, because that’s not what the beach is about, and this beach is the main attraction.
- a little good here: In 2010 I covered how quickly this community came together after the oil spill that threatened their entire livelihoods. The unity–even among competing fishermen–is still palpable.
- a long way: you can help by promoting the preservation of this environment, from cleaning up after yourself on the beach to respecting protected land or dunes, and there are turtle and wildlife funds galore should you wish to support the habitat.
What’s your go-to vacation destination? I know you don’t want more people going, but I shared my hideaway!