When a story starts with Once-upon-a-time, I guess the ending is pretty predictable. Suspense officially wrecked here. Let me make it up to you.
Allow me to introduce you to a little slice of celestial coast on the Florida panhandle called Seaside. If you’ve met this town before, great. Consider this an amble down memory lane. The Truman Show was filmed here. Keep-It-Simple isn’t just a mantra in these parts. In fact, does Seaside even have a zipcode to bind it to the rest of the otherwise hurried world? I’m not sure that it does. Check out the post office.
Seaside, Florida is tucked loosely away at the top of the Gulf on a road known to locals and guests as 30A. I particularly love that the scenic highway is named in such a way that it sounds almost cellblock-like. 30A. Yet another of life’s unique ironies. Life down here can make even Andy Griffith’s ole’ Mayberry feel breakneck. Tourists who choose this little part of the Redneck Riviera as a respite from the real world will rave about the white sandy beaches. Don’t get me wrong. The beach is all that and more.
Truth? Seaside beats out the Turks and Caicos destinations of the world every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Paradise found right here in the Central Time Zone. The cottage town is one of New Urbanism’s best success stories. It pulls off this superlative with an impressive pile of little reasons as attractive and clandestine as that shell atop the ivory dune.
Seaside’s 10 Best Kept Secrets
- The wall-mounted rusty bottle opener in the Airstream Food Court. It’s the little things. It always has been. My son was stymied by the fact that his soda wouldn’t twist open. Do you remember the sound that happens when you use one of these? Ah, sweet hiss of summer exhale. If you don’t remember, then it’s been too long for you. Get thee to the ice bucket. P.S. No it’s not the same with a handheld opener. It just isn’t. The same way that a Vespa is not a Harley. Sorry.
- The outdoor showers. I can vouch for the al fresco fab factor on showers at two of the cottages. I am certain there are many more. The homes affectionately called Changes-In-Attitudes and Big Pink have exceptionally noteworthy showers outside. If you’ve ever ambled in from a sandy day at the beach with the tangible stench of happy beach body, you know the appeal of an outdoor shower. Just trust me. It is the closest way to experiment with being a nudist without ending up on the internet. Clean towel? You’re so money (forgive Swingers reference).
- Pavilion personality. With street names like Odessa and Ruskin, each gateway to the beach does not disappoint. Noticing travelers (the only kind that should gain entry to this perfect little town) will want to spend a day drinking in the various Pavilions and each one’s unique architecture. There are around ten such unique gateways to the sea. Every boardwalk serves as a specific street’s spillway onto the sand. There is an obelisk one on Coleman Road. A pelican one on Pensacola. And my favorite? East Ruskin, hands down. I am already prepared to wish my marital vows a happy 20th birthday atop it in 2023. Not to mention, the landmarks are great markers for kids drifting with the gentle tug of undertow on the boogie boards. Many times last week, I caught myself saying to the junior beach bums, ‘Come back when you float to the pelican’.
Above: East Ruskin Pavilion
Above: Sketch of Pensacola Pavilion
- Bookstore with a sandy floor. True, I’ve never really met a bookstore that I didn’t like. But this one is different. Call it the vibe. Call it the ambiance. This one calls itself Sundog Books and is situated on a charming caddycornered spot in the Seaside square. If the bookstore doesn’t fit your mood, it sits beneath an equally cool Central Square Record Shop. How vintage chic is that? A record shop. Can we go ahead and Portmanteau the words quaint and cool? Very quool. The children’s section at Sundog is superb and the handmade cards are a fantastic loitering spot for stand-up-and-read comedy.
- I wear my sunglasses at night. Not quite. But I do ride my bike at night down here. It seems to be the favorite mode of tranport in Seaside. It’s like the Pied Piper (ocean) started playing and everyone is in lazy pursuit of nothing in particular on two wheels. This, of course, means fewer cars. And if you’re like me, cars are a carbon-huff-n-puff reminder of the real world. And the real world is not welcome here. If your tikes aren’t quite roadworthy yet, fear not. Seaside offers weeride rentals wherein your kiddo can co-pilot behind you tandem style. You do the pedaling, they can even ride handsfree and devour the ice cream cone, dribbling it from chin to toe while you provide the tow.
- Cobblestone streets. What exactly is it about a cobblestone street? I am still trying to figure it out. I think that there is some comfortable rhythm that life reciprocates when you bike or walk on cobblestone. Something that is reminiscent of speed bumps. You know those things we barrel over at home that are only meant to encourage us to slow down. Perhaps the nature of a cobblestone street just screams (or whispers) pedestrian to me. Pedestrian=Beach Pace Friendly. Cobblestone is also not high-heel friendly. I don’t need such a good excuse to wear flip flops day and night but I’ll take it.
- Rooftop Bar At Sunset: Bud & Alley’s. Let me rephrase that. Rooftop + Sunset + Bud&Alley’s = Bucket List Material. And if you need further convincing that this venue begs your presence, just check out this pic. My kids, your greeters. And no gremlins allowed after 10pm. Next stop, cocktail, mocktail, waves, and a playlist that I would certainly like to hijack for my itunes account.
- And this. Whatever this is called. Every once in awhile, your bike ride or nighttime walk to Heavenly for a scoop of gelato (how long am I allowed to make this list?) will require a glance up at the cottages passing by. And more than every once in a while, you’ll spy window panes like this one. Call it what you want. Starfish in a series? Silhouette de beachy keen? I call it accidental art. It is everywhere down here.
- The Meltdown. I’m not speaking of the human/child tantrum. The Grilled Cheese Kind of Meltdown. Seaside has an outdoor Food Court of sorts arranged neatly in toe-to-head Airstream trailers landscaped nicely to compliment the grassy amphitheatre beyond. Honestly, I would drive 16 hours round trip on a monthly basis just to eat from these food trucks. But the grilled cheese menu at The Meltdown is either something sent straight from the heavens or sent from the netherworld to tempt us. Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil & Prosciutto is a perfectly legitimate way to sin if you ask me. Even Anthony Bourdain would be drooling in this well-worth-it line of patrons. The line moves quickly. No such thing as rushed here.
- The Porch Swing. Is there anything more quintessentially southern than a porch swing? A place to sit and surrender to gravity. Who can argue with that? If there is any one piece of nostalgia that reconciles the good life to me, it is a porch swing. And there is no shortage of them in Seaside. Have a seat. With your grilled cheese. Or your book. Or both. Or better yet, a boy.
Callie and Matt before the walk to Bud & Alley’s.
I guess I should go ahead and admit this blog was my way of procrastinating instead of putting away the clean laundry from the trip. It beckons so I must oblige. We all must find that one way to stretch happily-ever-after out a bit longer when we are lucky enough to find it. But make no mistake about it. Henceforth, SPF is a completely new acronym around here. Seaside, Por favor.
And finally, a few of my favorite pics. Just a few more won’t hurt. That’s a wrap on Summer Vacay 2012. Don’t for a second think that the countdown hasn’t started to 2013.
Olivia & TJ, Age 6 and 8
The Padre at a Sunset Shrimpout on the beach.
The man, the myth, the legend…The husband with Liv.