Grayton Beach would be a tough act to follow. Nevertheless, we had heard the praises sung for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park from more than a few fellow campers. Now we were ready to give it a try. Located just a few short miles down the road from Grayton Beach, Topsail is situated on the far western edge of Scenic Highway 30-A. We didn’t have far to drive.
A sweep of fragile dunes along a shore that is quickly vanishing under the rush of development, Topsail Hill Preserve has a wide variety of natural resources. Protecting more than three miles of gulf shoreline along with 1,600 acres of scrub and pine flatwoods that lie behind the dunes, it sounded as if this preserve could hold its own in comparison to Grayton Beach. We were anxious to see for ourselves. And there might be a lot of enjoyment to be had with the investigation.
First, the campground . . . which was a pleasant discovery. Topsail has been selected as one of the top 25 amazing locations in the country in Reserve America’s Top 100 Campgrounds of 2010. Trailer Life magazine rated Topsail Hill in the top 1% of the country’s RV campgrounds. Looking more like an RV Resort than a public campground, each paved site came with full hookups and plenty of space. The camper facilities included a swimming pool, tennis courts, and shuffleboard. While we couldn’t detect a bad site to be had, we were certain we had one of the best.
If it’s location that makes for a prime spot, then this site was a winner. Directly behind our camper we looked out on one of the park’s three rare coastal dune lakes. A beautiful scene was before us, reflecting the constantly changing looks of each day.
It’s undoubtedly the beach with its rolling dunes that scores the most points here at Topsail Hill. Identified as “the most pristine piece of coastal property in Florida,” Topsail’s stretch of beach serves as a nature conservatory. The white sand, so similar to Grayton’s, is made all the more outstanding with the long sweep of rolling dunes, some as high as 25 feet.
You aren’t able to drive down to Topsail’s beach. A half-mile walk or bike ride will get you there, as well as a limited tram service. That makes for a beach very isolated and serene. Sometimes a person might have it all to himself. Now that is surely getting back to nature!
Once there, you still must walk the nearly half-mile stretch of boardwalk that protects the fragile dune vegetation. When you finally arrive at the well-earned destination, you better not have forgotten something you’ll be needing on the beach!
With dunes that are taller and more impressive than Grayton’s (one stands nearly 25 feet above the water’s level), I guess Topsail deserves its highly rated reputation.
We managed to pull ourselves away from this enticing natural environment to enjoy another pleasurable activity. Just outside the park’s entrance was a paved bike trail that went for 18 miles along the coastline. Paralleling the route of Hwy. 30-A, the Timpoochee Trail winds through beach communities, along those coastal dune lakes through natural scenery with gulf views. It promised to be a rewarding outing . . . a great way to spend a warm winter day.
Several miles down the path, we biked right into the heart of a little beach community. The uniqueness of its character immediately caught our attention. This place was just too tempting to pass by.
Seaside is a small planned community which was one of the first experiments in the concept of New Urbanism. The goal of its creators was to not only have it be an old-fashioned beach town, but to create a social atmosphere that encouraged personal interaction. Following that idea, homes are intentionally built close together, all having porches to encourage friendly chats with neighbors. The town was designed to be small, allowing residents to walk or bike where they needed to go. The Central Square is the heart of Seaside, having all the necessities needed for everyday living. That was where we began our explorations.
A row of vintage Airstream trailers immediately caught our attention. Modified as food trucks, each of the six featured different tastes. We closely surveyed each menu and then settled on what we would like. Now this is a good way to explore a town!
Afterwards, we were ready to look a little closer at this designed community that had the appearance of a theme park at Disney World.
Their Post Office had a prominent location in the center of town. Classically designed in style, nevertheless it was postage stamp in size.
Nearby stood their non-denominational, community church, built in a plain, New England style. Rising nearly 7 stories above the ground, it was intentionally by far the tallest structure built in Seaside.
It was their homes that we found most interesting, as we biked through their residential streets. Pastel-colored and built in a variety of styles, they ranged from one-bedroom cottages to what might be considered mansion-sized. Most all of them named, they had a plaque posted by the street . . . EcstaSea and Sisters Three by the Sea are two examples. Often the residents’ names are also displayed on the street-side boards.
. . . and then topped out at a few million.
It was enough to give us pause. “Who lives here?” was the question on our minds.
Our day didn’t end at Seaside. We put a few more miles on our bikes that day. Following the trail, we passed other interesting sights, both natural and man-made. There were more state parks along the route—we took time to check out one. After winding through the pines, It offered another solitary beach.
It was no wonder that this route was known as Scenic Highway 30-A!
One night we got a hankering to have a dinner out. From her list of choice dining options, we decided on a small Italian place. Crust Artisan Bakery proved to be a winner. We found their pizzas to be delicious, perhaps surpassing those even made by Chris. A small place giving personal attention, we met the owner/chef before we left. We learned that Loc prepares special dinners, and so we reserved the ‘chef’s table’ for the following night.
We had a real treat in store . . . our dinners were superb. It was a rare experience for us to sit in the kitchen area, watching preparations behind the scenes. We gave Loc free rein with our entrees, and it turned out to be several courses. But how could we refuse when everything looked so delicious?
While we were there, we watched pizza preparations up close. Loc showed off his cooking skills, and Chris came away with some new ideas.
Topsail lived up to its reputation . . . the spacious, well-kept campground, a great location on 30-A, the very convenient bike trail as well as good restaurants and shopping close by (did I fail to mention the largest Outlet Mall we had ever seen?).
The very private, white sand beach was simply the icing on this delicious cake.
With all the other activities, we only made it to the water’s edge for one evening sunset. While one can’t take a good sunset for granted, even when the days are clear, good fortune was with us as interesting clouds began to form.
The sparkling azure waters had changed to burnished bronze as the sun began to drop. It was the perfect picture that topped off our time at Topsail . . . a last good moment to capture that will stay in our minds long after we have moved on.
Having a great time along this Emerald Coast,
Chris and Melinda