By Sallie Paris
When I was little, I played in the spillway and swam in Uchee Creek on my Alabama farm until my fingers wrinkled. My best childhood memories are from vacations to Tennessee when cousins and I skied Douglas Lake, tubed Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains, and had “diving contests” at hotel pools. I am still a happy hydrophile thrilled to be surrounded by aquatic opportunities in my Florida home.
Water lovers have numerous options in Walton County. From young children to the elderly (even those who get crazy seasick like I do), everyone can find a way to play in the water here.
Pontoon Boat to Crab Island
When my family recently visited, I wanted to show my three young nieces something special, so we rented a pontoon boat and cruised to Crab Island, which is actually a sunny expanse of shallow water easy to spot from the Marler Bridge. At Crab Island, visitors swim, paddleboard, shop floating vendors, listen to live bands, and more. My sister and I battled through an inflatable floating obstacle course as part of our ongoing competition to be best aunt. We lunched at the AJ’s in Destin Harbor because there’s a large public boat slip that easy to navigate. Crab Island is a top attraction in Destin.
Kayak Choctawhatchee Bay
If you prefer calmer waters, don’t mind a little physical effort, and like to fish, drop a line in the bay. Filled with wildlife from rivers and bayous, the bay is an ideal place to catch supper or enjoy an eco-tour. It is 129 square miles and connected to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. One outlet, East Pass, sends water straight into the Gulf. When I go out for my morning walks, I always see people dragging their kayaks and carrying rods to the waterline. Exploring the bay is a great way to see marine life.
Canoe Down the Econfina River and Swim at Econfina Springs
I love Econfina because it reminds me of floating down Uchee creek back home. The river water is spring-fed and cool, and the trees provide relaxing shade in a tropical atmosphere. As the river flows toward the Gulf, it picks up tannins that tint it black. Visitors love to play in the sandy-bottomed springs’ refreshing waters.
Take Scuba Lessons at Vortex Spring
Vortex Springs is a 500-acre resort in Ponce De Leon that is world-renowned for safety and excellence. Founder Denzel “Doc” James Dockery and his wife Ruth created the red and white “Diver Down” flag. Instructors offer dive training at different levels, but visitors can fish, kayak, canoe, and swim there, too. Overnight stays are easy and affordable, with lodging options from tents to cabins.
Paddleboard Western Lake
Locals and tourists love to rent paddleboards from Watercolor Boathouse and explore Western Lake (our largest coastal dune lake). You can paddle under the bridge at 30A and over to Grayton Beach State Park. You can also carry your paddleboard across land over to the Gulf side and paddleboard on the Gulf if the water isn’t too rough and see the South Walton Underwater Museum of Art, a snorkel site filled with the art installations. Many visitors choose to swim to the museum.
Of course, you can always go big and charter a deep sea fishing boat out of Destin Harbor or keep it simple and ride the waves on a good old plastic raft from the grocery store.
Destin is called “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” With all these exciting options to play in the Gulf, lakes, and rivers, I think I might be the world’s luckiest water lover.
Sallie Paris uses broad market knowledge and a high level of service to assist clients in all aspects of real estate purchases—from investment properties to beach homes to assimilating into local culture. Sallie says, “Although I’ve lived here for years, I still feel like I’m on vacation every day. My goal is to help other families find perfect properties so that they can grow to love the Emerald Coast just as I do.” Contact Sallie at 850.213.3478 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Search available properties at www.searchcoastalluxury.com.