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.