When you are ready to venture out (i.e. put the shoes back on), you’ll discover a community of artists. Swing by Big Mama’s Hula Girl Gallery, tightly crammed with everything from Woodie Long folk art to whimsical garden art. If you carry a large purse, leave it in the car or you’ll knock something over. I chose a few picture frames (the peeling paint variety) and a small watercolor painting at Lily Pads, a large, market-style shop with multiple vendors and artists. Then the sand and water always draws us back. Day after day. Year after year. You’ll see.
Dining at the beach. It’s an adventure, and each restaurant bears its own character. Here are some of my favorites, using Grayton as home base and fanning out.
The Red Bar of Grayton Beach This place is perfectly Grayton--peculiar and oh-so Bohemian, with rock-and-roll posters covering the walls and ceiling, velvet settees for waiting, and loud, often live, music. The menu’s on a chalkboard brought to the table, and every selection (all quite hearty) is delicious. It’s cash or check only, and it might take an hour, or even two, to be seated. But it’s worth the wait.
Trattoria Borago Skip seafood for a night, and go for some genuine Italian. It’s white tablecloth and candlelight, but even with our 2-year-old in tow, we found the staff to be gracious and the food delicious. Try the shrimp pasta with cream tomato sauce or the eggplant lasagna. Then jog home.
Note: A gentle word if you are trying to eat anywhere between 6 and 7:30 p.m.: You will wait. And wait, and wait. So plan an early or late dinner. When they’re offered, make reservations.
Gravel Road “We don’t need a menu; we’ve driven five hours for the grouper sandwich. This is always the first stop we make when we get to town,” says a man next to me to his waitress. I could eat that sandwich four times a week I enjoy it so much. The place, small and quaint, is closed on Sundays, so plan ahead. Needless to say, go grouper.
Destin Chops 30A For a splurge, this is the spot. We travel east to Seacrest Beach near Rosemary, and my husband insists on the surf and turf but it’s a toss-up for me: a filet mignon or the catch of the day. We split the stuffed potato, plenty for us both, and it’s worth the calories. The restaurant is pricey, though, so leave the kids with a babysitter if possible. (Seaside and Watercolor can both recommend babysitting services with background checks.)
Fabrice Patissier While we always adore the huevos rancheros at Another Broken Egg Cafe, we’ve been lured to this authentic French pastry shop in WaterColor. I opt for the flaky croissants to go; I thought the breakfasts were too expensive and not worth it. The Editor of our magazine disagrees and finds it divine. You decide.
Start your lodging search by visiting www.rivardnet.com and browsing the properties in Grayton Beach. Rivard of South Walton offers the majority of house and condo rentals in town, and you can see photos on the Internet. We go for the houses--my family piles in and splits the cost. Check out “Always on My Mind”--I’d move in this place in a flash for its sheer style. Other favorites? “Grayton Orange,” “Lollygag, Too,” and “Lollygag.” Some offer great views and are a bit worn-out on the inside, whereas other locations are immaculate inside without the super view. WaterColor Inn & Resort, right down the road, offers the convenience of a full-service hotel, but you pay more in the long run.
1. While you’re in town, tour some houses for future bookings. Photos aren’t always true representations. 2. Visit the Publix Grocery Store in WaterColor for food staples. 3. Swing by Goatfeathers Seafood Market in Santa Rosa Beach for fresh seafood to cook at your house. 4. Many places charge a cleaning fee, which may not be included; determine extra fees in advance.Numbers To KnowBeaches of South Walton: www.beachesofsouthwalton.com or 1-800-822-6877• The Red Bar of Grayton Beach: www.theredbar.com or (850)231-1008• Gravel Road: www.geocities.com/gravelroadgrayton or (850) 534-0960• Destin Chops 30A: www.destinchops30a.com or (850) 231-4050• Fabrice Patissier: (850) 231-9910• Another Broken Egg Cafe at Grayton Beach: www.anotherbrokenegg.com or (850) 231-7835• Trattoria Borago: www.boragorestaurant.com or (850) 231-9167• Rivard of South Walton: www.rivardnet.com or (850) 231-4446• Big Mama’s Hula Girl Gallery: (850) 231-6201• Lily Pads: (850) 231-0600• Goatfeathers: (850) 267-2627
A NOTE TO OUR READERS:"Grayton Beach, FL" is from the September 2008 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.