The Florida Panhandle ~ Grayton Beach State Park

{Dates of visit Jan 22 - Feb 1, 2014}

As we mentioned in a previous post, we couldn't decide which park to stay at on our trip through the Florida panhandle...St. Andrews State Park or Grayton Beach State Park. Then we realized we don't have to limit ourselves and nothing said we couldn't visit both! So that's exactly what we did. After a week at St. Andrews we made the long and arduous {insert sarcastic tone} 33 mile drive to Grayton Beach. It's our shortest journey to date.

Our site at Grayton Beach.
There are two sections available for RVers, the new side (where we were) which is geared for larger RVs and is more open (suitable for those wanting satellite TV) and an older section that is well treed and has a much more private feel. The rangers chose our spot for us (I think they knew the weather was going to get really bad) so we were near the restroom, laundry and had full hookups.


Although the temperatures were far from tropical and there was no way we could venture out in flip flops or shorts we were still treated to some great beach time...we just had to wear parkas and ear muffs.


The park is not only home to a great stretch of beach, but there's a so a rare coastal dune freshwater lake not far from the sea. As a matter of fact, the same parking lot that is used for beach access is also the trail head to Barrier Dunes Nature Trail which takes you to the lake. Be sure to take the Pine Woods Loop as well...it's really gorgeous.

The nature trail has interpretive signs all over. They did a really good job on this place.
Yes!
It's pretty cool to be just feet from the beach yet in the middle of a pine forest.
The dunes...
Within walking (or biking) distance is a unique coffee shop called Grayt Grounds at Monet Monet. Even if you're not a fan of java (who are you people!?!) you'll still have plenty to do at this place. It's a local art gallery, live music venue and a cafe run by caterers (which means yummy food). It's a tea house, wifi hub and place of serenity. The house was designed after Monet's own home and gardens. This scaled down version of the famous pink house in Giverny, France also boasts a replica lily pad pond (you know the one) complete with a Japanese footbridge. I can only imagine what this place must look like during the spring and summer when everything is blooming.
Someone send me a picture of this in bloom!!
Monet Monet...come on in and grab a pillow or lap blanket,  make yourself at home.
There's something for everyone here!

Clark and the shop cat gettin' cozy.

Grayton Beach is a small "village" along a stretch of Florida's Scenic Highway 30A. 30A runs for 20 miles along the Gulf of Mexico between Destin and Panama City Beach and is known for it's sugar sand beaches, artist communities, quirky bars, world class restaurants, live music and is the birthplace of New Urbanism...a roll back to the true sense of community where one can live, work and play all within walking distance of their home. It makes for interesting architecture but, if you're not familiar with this form of town planning, it can be a bit confusing for the visitor. Luckily, we had Jennifer and Deas of Nealys On Wheels, who were living part time in Grayton at the time, as our own personal tour guides during out stay. One of our first stops was the Red Bar.


The Red Bar is a MUST for anyone staying in the Grayton area...live music, stiff drinks and great food. It's got a homey atmosphere too, but get there early if you want a seat for the music.
It's hard to get a good pic inside but here's the band and couches...fun place!
They also introduced us to the Forrest Williams Band who was playing at La Playa, a cool indoor/outdoor restaurant located in the Gulf Place Towncenter. We would have never found the place had it not been for the Nealys. This new urbanism, while very appealing, will take some getting used to...restaurants and shops are located in what appears to residential areas or below condos. A genius idea but for visitors it might pay off to "snoop" around and find these hidden gems. Let yourself get lost!

Some really fabulous music!!
If it hadn't been like 10 degrees outside (remember the Polar Vortex and ice storms that hit the East Coast this past winter?) we would have been able to ride our bikes to Seaside to check out the town. Instead we drove the few miles (after warming up Chuck, the Jeep, and letting the heater kick on) and ended up at the Airstream Food Trailers parked right on 30A.
 

I know that these things are popping up everywhere and are hardly unique any more but they still catch our eye and appetite. These did not disappoint...five different local businesses with a local flare, grass-fed meat, homemade breads and even vegan/vegetarian options. And let's not forget the Bloody Marys!


Just behind the Airstreams (and behind some buildings hidden in an alleyway) is the entrance to The Shops of Ruskin (aka Seasides Art Colony). Inside it a great array of art galleries and eclectic shops all surrounding a shaded central park.


As enjoyable as these excursions were (especially in the company of great hosts) our time in Grayton was shadowed by the aforementioned Polar Vortex. Now I know a lot of the country was affected by the drastic drop in temperature and areas got tons of snow but we thought we were safe in Florida. Um...no. It got cold. Very, very cold. And icy.



We were supposed to be heading north to visit my mom near Montgomery, AL but the roads were closed, even in Grayton Beach (and most of the overpasses and highways that lead to my mom's house). So, we ended up extending our stay for 3 additional days until it was safe enough to travel again.

Although it was too cold and dangerous to explore the area by vehicle we still managed to enjoy some brisk walks along the beach.

 

 But mostly we just snuggled.

The crew is using dad as a heating pad!
I've seen quite a few 30A stickers since our visit this past year...what are some of your favorite "hidden" spots?

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