Grayton Beach: Romantic Old Florida
by Kathie Farnell
Grayton Beach, Florida, is at the end of the road. One of the fifteen Panhandle communities which make up Beaches of South Walton, the town insisted that residents retain the right to drive on the beach when it deeded a section of its beachfront and dunes to become part of Grayton Beach State Park. This isn’t Daytona; locals who keep going when County Road 283 ends are seeking to launch their fishing boats. The occasional car on the pristine white beach, however, adds to the quirky vibe of this artsy village whose unofficial motto is “nice dogs, strange people.”
The place to stay in Grayton is the Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse. A couple of blocks back from the beach, the inn’s twelve rooms are located in historic “Old Florida”-style
buildings grouped around a shady courtyard. Our headquarters, the Romance Room, features a Jacuzzi and retro ambiance—think pink flamingos, ballerina lamps and a cheesecake portrait of a vintage Miss Florida. The upstairs room shares a spacious enclosed porch and a fully-equipped kitchen with neighboring Tropical Bird Room—think cockatoos. Breakfast here is served in the Vegetarian Breakfast Cafe, which offers quiche, frittatas, muffins and pastries. There’s an onsite florist for couples who marry in the Backyard of Love—also the site of Sunday brunches and occasional live music.
Besides being close to the beach, the Hibiscus is a short stroll from Grayton’s must-do night spot, the Red Bar. This nearly-indescribable watering hole occupies the village’s former general store. Its all-red décor is reminiscent of grandma’s attic on recreational drugs; even the red ceiling is plastered with hundreds of posters advertising every cultural/musical event on the planet. (Belgium has an erotic film festival—who knew?) Right across the street is Shorty’s Surfside and Topside, a bar and restaurant whose upstairs dining room features local seafood and sunset views over the beach.
Couples looking to flee the crowds can get lost at next-door Grayton Beach State Park, where more than 2000 acres of beach and dunes front the sparkling green Gulf of
Mexico. The area’s collection of rare coastal lakes provides a serene backdrop for hiking, birdwatching or kayaking. Both kayaks and bikes are available for rent from the Grayton General Store. The nineteen-mile Timpoochee Trail is level, paved and a favorite for bike riders cruising toward romantic spots like the covered bridge over Draper Lake in the nearby community of Blue Mountain. Another type of romance is found down Highway 30-A in Seaside, home to the studios and galleries of shady Ruskin Place. Nearby, Seaside’s Great Southern Cafe features regional specialties like Grits a YaYa—the ultimate take on shrimp and grits—and Key Lime Pie.
The most romantic side trip, however, may be the dinner/dancing cruise on the Solaris, a seventy-five -foot luxury yacht docked at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort’s Bayside Marina, a few miles west of Grayton Beach down Highway 98.
How romantic is this evening cruise into Choctawhatchee Bay? During our three-hour Valentine’s Day cruise, seven couples got engaged, and the anniversary celebrants on board included everyone from me and Jack to the captain himself. You can even hold your wedding and reception aboard ship. Now that’s romantic.
Beaches of South Walton, located along Highway 98 and Highway 30-A in the Florida Panhandle, is easily accessible with direct flights into 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 in Grayton Beach, visit www.hibiscusflorida.com.
Photo credit: Jack Purser.