Happy Holidays from the Sunshine State!
WaterColor had a modern feel that was not at all charming like close neighbor Seaside. Overall it reminded me of the open-air Winter Park Village, a personally unappealing combination of lofts, stores, restaurants and entertainment. Fortunately we found Cerulean Park, Marina Park and the Western Lake Bridge to Cerulean Park North. Self-described by WaterColor as the heart of their community, Cerulean Park is a pleasant green space with a 340 foot long runnel canal, fountain, oval pond, flowering annuals and perennials. Running parallel to the canal is a wooden footbridge followed by a crushed-shell walking path and an open expanse of seashore paspalum grass. Continuing northeast after crossing Western Lake Drive, you enter Marina Park and its community garden demonstration areas. The densely planted area contains an impressive variety of plants and flowers specifically chosen to attract butterflies, bees and birds. Beyond the gardens is the Marina Park Amphitheatre stage, a lightly forested area and additional seashore paspalum grass meadows. Along the shore of Western Lake are the BaitHouse Restaurant and Boathouse Dock. Providing a connection over the water to Cerulean Park North and Phase 3 is the nearly 500 foot Steadfast 4-Ton Pedestrian/Light Vehicle Bridge 031770 (2003). Lining sections of the Western Lake bridge are artistic, hand-blown glass orb cattails on stainless steel tubes. I did not get to see it myself, but they are apparently illuminated at night via fiber optic fixtures.
This year for Thanksgiving my family and I decided to do something different. On Wednesday, I met up with Mom and Ross at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, close to Destin and Seaside. Before its eventual purchase by the state in 1992, the park and its 1,640 acres of woodlands, trails, undeveloped beaches and three dune lakes was the focus of much controversy including a savings and loan fraud scandal. We set up camp in Site 3 on Pampas Loop in the park's Gregory E. Moore RV Resort, a pleasant but modern facility which operated as the privately-owned Emerald Coast RV & Golf Resort from 1986 to 1998. There are no in-ground fire rings or grills present so we brought our own portable fire bowl. While other parks in the state offer larger campsites with more privacy, the atmosphere here was very enjoyable even during the busy holiday weekend. On Thursday, we walked from the campground to the beach along Tram Road—a park operated transport ferries guests the 0.7 miles to and from the beach but we had no interest in not walking—and photographed the hilly dunes, pristine white sand beach and some of the hundreds of Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis) siphonophores that had washed ashore. Afterward, Mom and Ross prepared a delicious Thanksgiving meal of ham steak, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, red cabbage and apple pie, quite a feat considering the limited kitchen resources of their camper and the size of the meal. The next day we set out to wander around Seagrove Beach and Seaside, the planned beach community I last visited in June 2007. Going on memory from that trip, I led us on a path which took us to various sites such as the Natchez Street Beach Pavilion, The Truman House and Central Square. After stopping for lunch, cocktails and a view at Bud and Alley's Waterfront Restaurant and Rooftop Bar, we enjoyed the flowers of Cerulean Park in the nearby WaterColor community. In the evening, we drove to Destin and roamed the HarborWalk Marina and Village which has expanded significantly since my last visit. It was cool and breezy but that did not stop us from enjoying frozen beverages from Jester Daiquiris. On our drive back to Topsail we stopped and had dinner at The Whale's Tail Beach Bar & Grill, a beach side restaurant that would normally offer excellent outdoor seating but on this night it was too cold. In lieu of our planned outdoor breakfast on Saturday morning, we went to The Donut Hole Cafe & Bakery. Obviously frequented by locals and visitors alike, the Donut Hole offers a wide variety of fresh, homemade sandwiches, breakfasts and baked goods with professional and friendly service. Back at Topsail, we hiked the Turpentine Trail and visited Campbell Lake before heading north. Moving along the Bear Track Trail, we encountered the northern boundary of the park and actually spotted the Donut Hole through the woods. We next took the opportunity to drive through and assess the campground site options at Grayton Beach and Henderson Beach State Parks for potential future visits. Wanting to catch a sunset and revisit the HarborWalk Marina during better light, we headed back toward Destin stopping first at The Back Porch Seafood & Oyster House for lunch. Once we arrived at the marina, we found it to be the perfect chance to spend some time taking pictures of the boats, lights and wildlife with few people around. Hoping to find some nightlife, we stopped at AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar and The Lucky Snapper Grill & Bar for drinks and food. Unfortunately, since it was off season there was not much going on around town. Given the weather conditions, the clear starry night was begging to be observed and so I drove us to Seaside, Grayton Beach and the Point Washington State Forest to find isolated darkness. It was more difficult than I anticipated but we did see several shooting stars and the Milky Way before returning to Topsail and turning in for the night. Sunday morning, we started packing up camp and prepared to go our separate ways after a successful five-day visit. We returned to the Donut Hole for lunch and had another great meal. Our timing was perfect since it was the last day they would be open before closing for three weeks for their off-season vacation. I took one last walk around the park near our campsite and said goodbye to Mom and Ross, knowing that we would see each other again soon for Christmas. The roads were quite busy as expected, although my journey to Tallahassee was uneventful. Mom and Ross had quite a different experience unfortunately, as they were stuck in heavy traffic on I-10 and I-75 for several hours. They ultimately got back to Orlando far later than they should have, which made me feel bad since they had already endured the hardship of traveling 64% more than me in addition to preparing the camper, supplies and paying for everything. In all, it was a successful trip and I am thankful to have been able to spend quality time with my family.