Seaside Earns International Recognition as a Favorite Beach Destination By Wendy O. Dixon
Families who live in and visit Seaside know what makes this charming beach town so special — the white beach pavilions that stand as gateways to paradise heralding beachgoers toward the gentle waves, the brick-lined roads and sandy paths in between cheerful colored houses, and the soft green lawn under the twisted oaks at Ruskin Place, perfect for a quiet afternoon spent napping with a snuggling toddler.
Now the world knows it, too. Travel + Leisure, the world’s leading travel magazine, has explored the globe and named Seaside the Best Beach for Families in its 2012 Best Beaches on Earth survey. The
magazine asked savvy globetrotters to rank their favorite places to savor the sun, sand and water from a list of 54 famous beaches all over the world. Seaside earned the No. 1 Best Beach for Families title because of its picturesque scenery, fluffy white sand, calm waves and casual restaurants and shops.
Edie Wenczl, from Nashville, Tenn., grew up visiting Destin when Seaside was being planned in the early 1980s. “We’d drive along 30A, and on the horizon were these precious little homes emerging from the nothingness,” Wenczl recalls. “It was like a little doll village, the perfect dream town.”
Now, as her grown family is scattered across the U.S., Wenczl looks forward to seeing her brood in Seaside every year. “It’s been one of my family’s favorite places in the world since my children were born,” she gushes.
Though Wenczl visits Seaside multiple times a year, she eagerly awaits the days when her children can take time off from work and meet in their favorite spot. “This is where my family connections are,” she says. “My kids started coming when they were little, now my grandkids come, too. It’s the one time of year when they’ll block out their week to see us in Seaside; we’ve got three generations now.”
This 80-acre community was thoughtfully planned to represent an homage to time well spent together — where neighbors gather and talk, where kids ride bikes and play, and families enjoy a leisurely walk to the open-air market and to the beach. Town founders Robert and Daryl Davis envisioned a small patch of beautifully detailed, densely grouped cottages surrounded by natural landscape, with easy access to the emerald Gulf waters.
Far removed from condo living or a gated community, this town encourages friendships among families. “The paths between the homes were designed so that everyone would go out to speak to people,” says long-time Seaside resident Glenn Seawell. “I’ve watched kids learn to ride their bikes with training wheels. Later, I see them come back with their learner’s permit. Then I see them come back with their own families.”
Wenczl says her sons-in-law, buttoned-up professionals most of the time, let loose when sitting on the front porch, enjoying a friendly board game. You may even catch one of them playing the ukulele. “Everyone’s a kid again,” she says.
In Seaside, you’ll find nary a chain restaurant. Instead, food vendors sell hot dogs, barbecue and sweet treats from Airstream trailers lined side by side. You can find the owners of the town’s restaurants — which emphasize fresh, local seafood — on site to compliment them on the exceptional food. Here, you’re never far from the town center, shops, playground, pools or tennis courts. “And of course you’ve got the most beautiful beach in the world,” Seawell says.
This charming town is also architecturally significant. As the pioneer of New Urbanism, Davis carefully planned for a town that defied the trends of suburban sprawl and shortsighted construction, opting for timeless grace instead. While each home has its own distinctive character, the tin-roofed cottages are architecturally uniform, and most are elevated to take advantage of cross ventilation. “Seaside was built to be a beach town,” Seawell says. “Which is why when you walk outside your cottage, you see the beach walkovers beckoning you to the beach.”
As the icon of New Urbanism, Seaside has drawn people from all over the world to study the principles the town has come to embody. Even Great Britain’s Prince Charles has used Seaside as a model of humane urban planning, according to Steven Brooke, architect and author of the book “Seaside.” Other towns have emulated it, but none can replicate it.
The focus on Seaside has always been on families. “It provides accommodations for all kinds of families,” says Seawell. “You can go shopping, or to an Airstream for a hot dog. The entertainment is for families; you can lay a blanket down on the lawn at the amphitheater for a nice afternoon concert.”
This community is meant to be flip-flop friendly, Seawell adds. When the cars are parked, they’re usually abandoned for the duration of the vacation. Instead, feet and bikes are the modes of transportation. “Seaside is also the baby stroller capital of the world,” Seawell laughs.
The Best Beach for Families nod doesn’t surprise long time Seaside visitor Mary Mapes. She and her husband, Tim, from Atlanta, Ga., were married at the beach in front of Seaside in 1995 and have been coming here every year since. “We loved it so much, we’ve celebrated each anniversary here,” she says. “We have so many happy memories here.”
The Mapes have brought their kids, aunts, uncles and friends to Seaside, sharing their little piece of paradise with them. “I hope our children make Seaside a part of their lives, too,” Mary Mapes says. “We have a secret hope we can have a retirement home here.” For the families who can’t stay away from Seaside for too long, the town stands ready to welcome them back year after year, providing memories for generations. As Wenczl looks fondly at photographs in the multiple family scrapbooks, she notes that they are all about Seaside. “We’ve moved houses many times,” Wenczl says. “But the one constant is Seaside.”
Seaside in the Spotlight
Since its first Seaside sign was erected in 1981, Seaside has garnered countless accolades, awards and recognitions. Some recent ones include:
• Best Beach of Earth for Families - Travel + Leisure
• Top 10 Best Beach Towns - USA Today
• Top 12 Destinations of the World - Frommer’s
• Top 12 Coastal Markets (Seaside Farmers Market) - Coastal Living Magazine
• Best Outdoor Dining (Crush) - VisitSouth.com
• Golden Spoon Award (Bud & Alley’s) - Florida Trend Magazine
• Celebrity Chef for the State of Florida (Chef Jim Shirley of Great Southern Cafe)