seaside, florida

Back in college I was fascinated by architecture and urban planning. I spent my time in Hillyer Art Library with my nose in a book like Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities and John Kunstler’s Geography of Nowhere. Until then, I had never realized how the automobile radically changed our country’s way of life. As a product of a nice leafy suburb in Connecticut, I wondered about alternatives for the future.  New Urbanism is a design movement built around the idea of a walkable, mixed use neighborhood.  If you’ve seen the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carey then you’ve seen Seaside, a master planned community that is often cited as the birthplace of New Urbanism. This development on Florida Panhandle’s Highway 30A was founded in 1981 and though its been over a decade since my nerdy architecture days of college, I finally got to experience it for myself.

While planning this Gulf Coast trip, I was uninspired by charmless high rises that towered over the shoreline in our intended first stop of Pensacola, Florida. I am deeply indebted to my friend Kristen who alerted me to Seaside’s location, a mere 75 miles to the east. We altered our itinerary and flew into Panama City and instead begin our journey in Seaside.

There are a few beachfront cottages in Seaside. We opted to stay on the Gulf side of 30A, as we mainly came to Florida to unwind on the Panhandle’s beautiful beaches. Here’s the living room of our cottage, Bahama Mama Up.

If you don’t want to rent an entire cottage, the Seaside Motor Lodge offers more affordable options:

There are a few eateries on the Gulf side of 30A. We had lunch at Bud and Alley’s. Its second floor location is a great place to catch an ocean breeze or enjoy the final rays before sunset.

We were lured into Great Southern Cafe for their happy hour special. $5/dozen oysters.  We each got our own dozen and these bivalves were as close as I came to visiting Apalachicola.

This master planned community was designed by Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Observant visitors will be rewarded with carefully framed views. Left: View through Ruskin Place with the chapel in the distance. Right: View through Central Square shops to one of the many beach pavilions that visually punctuates each point of access for the shoreline.

The best way to explore Seaside is on a bike. We got a free bike rental with our cottage. We had a great time riding through the flat, empty streets of Seaside and WaterColor. Visiting mid-week and at the tail-end of hurricane season meant that Seaside was very quiet. I imagine the town springs to life on weekends and in the winter when snowbirds come to warm up in the sun and surf.

What’s more American than an Airstream?  Seaside’s closest thing to a food court is this string of food trucks (yes, all converted Airstreams) along 30A. I’ll definitely be featuring our lunch from Barefoot BBQ in my next post.

Here’s the Meltdown on 30A. Grilled cheese is another one of my college habits. Unfortunately, they weren’t open while we were in town.
(In a side note, I still have not tried the Grilled Cheese truck in New Haven, CT)

Here’s the view from Bud and Alley’s: Left: Overlooking the string of Airstreams and Central Square. Right: Facing southwest to a cloudy sunset.

One of my favorite houses over by Watertower Park.

A home from nearby WaterColor Cottage District.  I’ve never seen an oyster shell chimney before.

Here’s a view along Highway 30A.

No one was in water even though it was quite humid and in the 80s. These jellyfish were enough to keep me out, but I love this white granular sand. Just beautiful!

If you’re interested in learning more about new urbanism, I recommend reading: The New Urbanism, Toward an Architecture of Community, by Peter Katz. If I ever get to Orlando,  I’d like to visit Celebration for a point of comparison. This master-planned community was developed by none other than the Walt Disney Company.

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  1. Susan,
    Unfortunately, I discovered your blog 30A Eats AFTER our trip to Seaside. We liked the peace and quiet in October, but I’m sure there is an entirely different buzz in the air during high season. In the dead of winter here in Connecticut, I could daydream endlessly about a vacation in Seaside. We had a wonderful time in your neighborhood, I would love to return…

    Thanks for stopping by,

  2. Just found you on google! So glad you enjoyed your trip to my neighborhood. My friends live in the house with the oyster shell fireplace, and my kids went to the middle school in Seaside! I too am a fan of our airstream row, Barefoot BBQ (Murph), and write food and travel stories for local and regional magazines. 30-A is very busy in season with 100% occupancy most weeks from May thru September, Spring Break, and New Year’s Eve. October- Christmas is quiet, peaceful, and a great time to come! Hope you can visit again soon! Loved the photos! Susan

  3. Wow what a fantastic look at Seaside. Thank you. We get to Seaside as often as possible. Your post brings me there. Here’s a look at our most recent trip:

  4. We got oysters in Soho last night and I can tell you the prices were at least 6x more expensive! I had a great time in New Orleans, but I do feel more at home in NYC.

    As revisit these photos, I realize there is hardly a soul to be seen! Seaside was pretty empty mid-week in October, but it wasn’t quite the ghost town I depicted in this post!

  5. Great photos, it looks so peaceful. $5 for a dozen oysters is amazing!

  6. Jenny,
    Just this morning I was editing a separate post on your delicious food (it’s coming soon). Barefoot BBQ was my favorite meal in Seaside. You are so lucky to live in such a beautiful spot. I do wish you could FedEx your food up North to me!

  7. Thank you for coming out and photographing SO beautifully our little niche in the U.S.! We are so fortunate to call this place home….great art, great food, great people and amazing beach/ocean combo. I lived in the Caribbean for years and travelled all over the Med, so rarely do you ever see a place like this. Thank you also for props to our BBQ trailer, Barefoot BBQ. Just a side, everything we serve is hormone-free, antibiotic-free and organic, YAY!

  8. If you ever find yourself on the Panhandle, Seaside is a beautiful spot and there are some gorgeous cottages for rent. Apalachicola oysters aren’t my absolute favorite either (I’m a bigger fan of the oysters from the Northwest), but we are so tempted by the low prices whenever we are in Florida.

    Thanks Kim, I am inspired by the work of so many other photographers, I love returning the favor!

  9. Kim Nelly

    I want to go to your cottage and take a nap…then eat at the air stream trailers…and then maybe the bike ride! What a wonderful vacation you had! And I love your photography- you inspire me to see things differently through the lens…

  10. Grace Weitzer

    We’ve got to go ! Very inspired by the great photos ! And Steve wouldn’t want to miss the Shrimp Shack or the Oysters ! Although he is most partial to Wellfleets.

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