Meet Seaside, the idyllic town on the Florida Panhandle known for its perfect beaches, pastel cottages, and the kind of laid-back vacations we Southerners adore.
If you've never visited this sweet spot, then you won't notice the changes afoot. But, if you're a Seaside regular, you've probably noted some modifications here and there. They have folks nervous and chatting, but we're here to give you the scoop and assure you that a weekend here is just as enjoyable as ever. Get ready for three days of so much fun, you'll want to book next year's trip before you leave.
Nothing stays the same forever--even here (see "What's Different?" on the next page). But the coming changes are all for the better. "This is evolving Seaside. Not a single thing is changing about the homes; it's just the downtown that is changing," says Pam Avera, vice president and general manager of Seaside. "The pastel, picket-fence Seaside you love is going to be the same."
Community developer and founder Robert Davis views the ideas as a natural transition--the next step of a plan he's had for more than 20 years. "The downtown is putting on its grown-up clothes," says Robert.
There's no need to wait. Today's Seaside offers tons to do--so let's get to the fun.
Lodging remains much the same: Renting a cottage is the most popular way to go. Choose one- to six-bedroom homes, some with minimum night stays. The town also recently added the Inn by the Sea, a nine-room property featuring the trademark Vera Bradley company style.
September is prime time to visit because rates drop significantly in mid-August. Plus there are ways to save even more if you know the tricks. Typically, lodging costs range from $400 to $1,200 a night. (Visit www.cottagerentalagency.com for last-minute deals and packages. Cottage Rental Agency also manages the inn.) The best prices fall from August to mid-October and in the months of January and February. Rates drop as low as $199 a night.
When you're in Seaside, the meals revolve around seafood. If you choose to cook your own, go to Goatfeathers II Seafood Market, located a few miles down County 30A in Seagrove Beach. They offer the freshest fish and shellfish around. For the best selection, call ahead to order.
Another favorite is Modica Market, a family-owned deli and grocery store in the center of town. You can pick up the staples you need, as well as already-made dishes such as crab cakes, boiled shrimp, and sandwiches. It's a daily stop. Buy basics such as paper towels and milk at Publix, which is 10 minutes away but less expensive.
Bud & Alley's restaurant is known far and wide for its rooftop bar, where folks pile in to watch the sunset. Try the barbecue shrimp, and guess the exact moment that the sun goes down. The winner gets a free drink.
While The Old Florida Fish House and Bar isn't actually in Seaside, it's worth the short drive down the road for the fresh dishes and perfectly prepared sushi. Meat-lovers will find great steaks here too. We must warn you, however, that service can be slow, so be prepared for a wait.
Having fun here is all about being outdoors. Everyone travels on foot or bike ($20 per bike for 24 hours; visit the rental shop on Central Square).
Lounge by one of the many community pools (a privilege when you book with Cottage Rental Agency), frolic in the Gulf, rent a kayak or canoe, go fishing, or simply take a nap in a hammock. When you check in at the office, pay the extra $5 for a walking tour booklet. It's worth it and will make your outdoor adventures more enjoyable.
If you're a shopper, swing by our favorite toy store, Quincy, for stuffed friends, games, art supplies, and hard-to-find playthings of yesteryear. Then stop by Fusion Art Glass Gallery in the new Gateway Building to ogle over the works of the more than 200 artists represented.
For bookworms or music junkies, a visit to Sundog Books & Central Square Records satisfies. It's an independently owned joint for literary types who love everything from a cheesy beach paperback to a book of dark poetry. A trip to The Seaside Store for a T-shirt is a requirement before you leave town.
Tons of new stores and restaurants continue to pop up every time you blink here, so Seaside is like one big adventure. Enjoy.
Here's a smattering of the proposed changes at Seaside.
• The View: Better views of the water from the road (meaning some buildings will move, including the sweet and tiny post office)
• Pending: a move of the popular Bud & Alley's restaurant (not for at least two years, if ever) and a possible shifting of Perspicasity, the outdoor market, to the other side of 30A
• Time frame: "It might take 10 years or more to accomplish everything we have in mind," says Robert Davis. "But that's the beauty of Seaside. It doesn't really matter how long it takes."
Down To Details
• Goatfeathers II Seafood Market: (850) 231-4004
• Modica Market: www.modicamarket.com or (850) 231-1214
• Bud & Alley's: www.budandalleys.com or (850) 231-5900
• The Old Florida Fish House and Bar: (850) 534-3045
• Quincy: www.quincyshop.com or (850) 231-0874
• Fusion Art Glass Gallery: www.fusionartglass.com or (850) 231-5405
• Sundog Books & Central Square Records: www.sundogbooks.com or (850) 231-5481
• The Seaside Store: 1-888-850-8337
"Relax By the Sea" is from the September 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.