Thankfully, renting a bike sufficed. It’s how the regulars do it in South Walton. (That and a splendid floral cover-up.) We found Butterfly Bike & Kayak next door to our condo and chose two colorful cruisers to pedal 1 1/2 miles west into Seaside. This impossibly quaint town is chockablock with candy-colored cottages, each with a cheeky name like Serendipity or Vitamin Sea. You’ll also find tony boutiques, high-end dining, a bookstore and a row of trailers selling barbecue, cupcakes and fresh-pressed juice. Its pinch-me kind of charm made me feel as if I were on a TV set.
Anyone who frequents Seaside will tell you to eat at Bud & Alley’s, a waterside restaurant where families in matching clothes gather at sunset for the perfect group photo. Each evening, a cast-iron bell from an 1888 steam train is rung when the sun dips below the horizon. I found myself desperately wishing for that fancy cover-up so that we, too, could have our holiday card picture snapped on the beach during the golden hour.
If Seaside is your picture-perfect prom queen, then neighboring Grayton Beach is more like your kooky aunt. The town’s unofficial slogan is “Nice dogs, strange people,” and I felt right at home in my jean shorts and T-shirt. This funky town offers a less-busy beach experience and is home to the Red Bar, a dim dive among the diamonds that serves great food and is decorated with movie posters and Mardi Gras beads, and Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse, an old-school, this-was-Florida-back-in-the-day property.
At Grayton Beach, I spent a whopping $12 on a boogie board, also a favorite among locals. Cruising along the waves was the most fun I’ve had since, well, spring break.