At the very end of County Road 283 lies a slice of the Florida Panhandle where time seems to have stood still since the 1950s. This is Grayton Beach, where streets are made of crushed shell, locals drive on the beach to launch their boats, and the unofficial motto is “nice dogs, strange people.” The folksy, time-capsule feel didn’t come easy; residents have fought successfully to keep the high-rises at bay.
One of the fifteen communities which make up Beaches of South Walton, Grayton is literally next door to Grayton Beach State Park, more than two thousand acres of unspoiled Gulf beaches and dunes. Self-guided nature trails wind among rare coastal dune lakes perfect for kayaking and spotting water birds.
Guided kayak and nature tours, available from Walco Eco tours, provide an in-depth look at the area’s dune system, animals and plants.
Bikes, along with kayaks, are available for rent from the nearby Grayton General Store, and the nineteen-mile paved Timpoochee Trail allows bike riders to explore twelve beach communities along scenic Highway 30-A. More than 40 percent of Walton County is dedicated to preservation, so visitors can explore hundreds of unspoiled acres, including one of the largest longleaf pine forests in the world.
A short drive from Grayton Beach, Eden Gardens State Park gives a look into Florida history—during the 1800s, this was the home of a lumber baron. Visitors here can tour the elegant Wesley Mansion or hike among huge live oaks and blossoming camellias on a half-mile trail. Nearby, the 15,000 acre Point Washington State Forest is home to rare species including the American kestrel and the gopher tortoise.
Back in Grayton Beach, wildlife of another order is always on view around the Red Bar, whose all-red, all-weird décor serves as surreal backdrop to live music and a lively crowd. Across the street, Shorty’s Surfside and Topside has a downstairs bar and an upstairs dining room with a spectacular sunset view.
Grayton Beach’s one-and-only inn is the Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse, where the friendly Fifties vibe permeates twelve rooms decked out in retro tourist ambiance. Think pink flamingos. Breakfast here, included in the room rate, is served from the Vegetarian Breakfast Cafe and features quiche, frittatas, pastries, and muffins all served in the cafe or the shady courtyard. This is a romantic spot; the Backyard of Love is the site of weddings, brunches and occasional live music. Bikes are available free to guests who want to pedal the couple of blocks to the beach (sheds and accessories used here can be found at Shedsdirect.com.au).
The most popular activity here, however, may be sitting back on one of the Inn’s shady porches. After all, there’s plenty of time.
Beaches of South Walton, located along Highway 98 and Highway 30-A in Walton County, Florida, is easily accessible via air through the Beaches of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City Beach. For more information on visiting the area, check www.beachesofsouthwalton.com
For information and reservations at Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse, visit the website at www.hibiscusflorida.com
photos by Jack Purser