By Erin Oden
While tourists bring energy to 30A summers, locals delight in the quieter off season, which is becoming more and more popular. Winter at the beach is unique for a variety of reasons. Cooler temperatures are a welcomed relief from sweltering, sunny, humid days. Bike rides, long walks on the miles and miles of trails, canoe and kayak cruises, and beachcombing the coastline’s wide open shores relax the mind and restore the soul. Refreshing Gulf breezes comfort us as winter approaches, but the season gives locals and part-time residents the perfect opportunity to actively learn more about 30A communities and create new memories with family and friends.
As a willing ambassador for all 30A has to offer, I periodically do some digging so that I am always equipped with a long list of suggestions for food, music, art, and fun when guests ask for ideas. Plus, playing tourist is a great excuse to fall more in love with my own community. Maybe my research will help you find new South Walton County treasures!
Locals can sample new restaurants without waiting in long lines, so why not team up with friends and try new fare each week? Music venues bring smaller crowds and better seating options. Finally, you can land front-row at your favorite club or set your blankets and coolers center-stage on a grassy lawn to hear local and traveling musicians from a variety of genres. Artists abound here. If you were too busy to enjoy Art Month in May, visit the Cultural Arts Alliance website to create your own gallery walks and museum visits. Be sure to include the February 15 and 16 Valentine Tour of Homes, which supports the Alliance’s Art for All program.
Tourist attractions are easier to enjoy and explore at a leisurely pace in wintertime. When you are an entrenched local, it is important to pause and take stock of what is awesome about your community, but from a different perspective. I recently consulted TripAdvisor and found new activities to try, like sandcastle lessons and painting, pottery, and glassblowing classes. Maybe I will enjoy the break from sunscreen application and book a sunset cruise led by one of our many expert boat captains. Every age can enjoy a horseback trail ride through Santa Rosa and Dune Allen. I could easily plan a multi-day itinerary packed with fresh experiences in my own hometown. Of course, plenty of options are already organized. These are three of my favorite fall/winter season traditions:
The Nutcracker Ballet at Seaside Amphitheater is hosted by The Merchants of Seaside and will be performed by Ballet Pensacola. The Nutcracker performance has become a beautiful holiday tradition in the town of Seaside in South Walton, Florida. The one-time performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker in Seaside is scheduled for Saturday, November 23, 2019 at 5:00 pm. The Seaside Amphitheater performance is free and open to the public. Bring low back chairs and blankets and enjoy the show!
Another local tradition is Grand Boulevard’s annual Festival of Trees. The kick-off will take place Nov. 26 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm in Grand Park. The festival will showcase twelve uniquely decorated Christmas Trees from area non-profits. The Trees debut the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and remain in the park through Christmas for the public to enjoy and learn more about the missions of these organizations.
Perhaps one of the most colorful winter events is the Holiday on the Harbor Destin Boat Parade. The Destin Harbor will be colored with holiday lights and cheer during the 33rd Annual Holiday on the Harbor Destin Boat Parade. The celebration begins at Boshamps where boats festively decorated with holiday lights and décor line-up and begin drifting along the Harbor past HarborWalk Village toward the Destin Bridge and Norriego Point. Many restaurants along the harbor offer the perfect spot for parade viewing. The evening ends with a bang as fireworks light up the sky.
The event organizers and businesses that dot the coastline never stop dreaming, innovating, and entertaining year-round. Just search Walton County, Florida, on the internet and page after page will prove that homeowners at the beach have found treasure.
Now that I have a spot-on list of fun to-do’s, I will be busy enjoying or recommending rewarding experiences from now til next summer. I look forward to a beach bonfire on a chilly fall night, playing tourist with my children, and meeting friends at the food and wine festivals. Still, nothing beats my own personal winter tradition—a walk on the beach on Christmas morning, when I reflect over another wonderful year of life on 30A.