The sugar-white beaches of northwest Florida is what draws most people to our area. And we're blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The crystal blue water doesn't just look clean -- it is clean. Our beaches have been certified as Blue Wave beaches by the non-profit Clean Beaches Council.
From Full Abalone, you're only a few steps away from the public access at Dune Allen. There are several other public access points nearby. Ed Walline Park, where Highway 393 meets 30A, is just across the road from the Gulf Place shops.
Farther to the east is Grayton Beach, which allows beach access by four-wheel drive vehicles.
Request a Travel Guide from the Beaches of South Walton Visitor Center
Our area is bicycle friendly. Get on the paved path in front of Beach Haven and you can cruise all the way to Inlet Beach at the east end of 30A or to Topsail Park on the west end. The 17-mile trail -- one of the best in the country -- runs through Walton County's lovely beach towns and pine woods.
There's also a paved path that follows Allen Loop Dr. around Oyster Lake. And there are plans to remove the causeway road that divides the lake and replace it with a bridge for bikes and pedestrians.
The trail attracts bikers, hikers, skaters and baby strollers. Take a look at the Virtual Bike Tour at 30-a.com. If you don't have a bike, you can rent one at Big Daddy's at Blue Mountain Beach. They will deliver the bike and come pick it up after your stay.
Walton and Okaloosa Counties are home to more 20 golf courses. The Santa Rosa Golf & Beach Club on 30A is a semiprivate, challenging 18-hole course with pristine ponds and pure white sands. The club has two restaurants, a putting green, a driving range, and a fully equipped pro shop.
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is a short drive west on US 98. The resort features four championship courses: the Raven Golf Club, Burnt Pine Golf Club, Baytowne Golf Club and The Links Course. Each course has its own unique challenges and a variety of landscape from wetlands and marshes to beach and bay.
For a complete directory of courses in the area, check out the Santa Rosa Beach and Destin golf guides.
The tennis center at Seaside provides lessons and will hook you up with a partner or a match. Anyone can drop in for round-robin doubles on weekend mornings. The Santa Rosa Beach Club has courts for rent at the golf clubhouse and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has top-level courts. But I usually just slip onto one of the two courts in the northwest corner of the Gulf Place commercial center.
Hikers who want to get close to nature will enjoy the Eastern Lake Trail System in Point Washington State Forest. The system consists of 3 double track loop trails that are open for hiking or biking in loops of 3.5, 5 or 10 miles. Access to the trail system is located at the parking lot and trail head on County Road 395. Pets are allowed, if they're kept on a leash.
Another trail system, called the Longleaf Greenway, winds through the state forest and three nearby state parks.
You can also rent a kayak or canoe at Big Daddy's and put in at one of the many small lakes along 30A.
The South Walton Turtle Watch can help you learn about turtle nesting on our beaches.
According to GraytonBeach.com, the South Walton area offers plenty of fishing opportunities for anglers with all levels of expertise. The area has 14 fresh and saltwater lakes plus the Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
You can fish for bass, bluegill and mullet in the freshwater lakes, including Oyster Lake right next door. The new pedestrian bridge across the lake is a great spot to drop a line.
There are plenty of fishing charters and party boats at the Destin Harbor. Try renting a pontoon boat for a day or half-day.
Three outstanding Florida state parks are within a short drive from Santa Rosa Beach. To the west, where 30A meets 98, is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. The park has 1,640 acres with quiet beaches, old-growth pines forests, coastal dune lakes and a variety of wetlands.
Grayton Beach State Park to the east has more than 2,000 acres of beach, dunes, pine woods and a salt marsh around scenic Western Lake. It's home to rare plants and animals, such as the Choctawhatchee beach mouse.
Deer Lake State Park at Santa Rosa Beach features a large freshwater coastal dune lake and trail access to pristine Gulf beaches. Look for spring azaleas along the blackwater streams and summer wildflowers among the cypress trees.
Camp Helen State Park, east of Inlet Beach, has 183 acres surrounded by The Gulf of Mexico, Phillips Inlet, and Lake Powell. The unique location creates a habitat for wildlife that includes rare shorebirds, and Bald Eagles.
Other state parks in the region include Eden Gardens State Park, home of a beautiful bayou mansion from the 1890s; and Henderson Beach, on 98 east of Destin. Click here for information on all of the parks in the Panhandle region.