Next on our spring hit list this year is a 2 week stay on the panhandle of Florida at one of our favorite campgrounds: Grayton Beach State Park along highway 30a. Booked this one about a year ago and were excited to have our good friends Dan and Terri also book a week at a condo in Seagrove, just next door. We are all quite familiar with the local breweries, eateries, bike paths and beaches, so this should be a great adventure.
The drive is about 7 hours but we thought we would break it up by heading out a day early and stopping halfway for the night. One other trip south we stopped in Eufaula, AL at Lakepoint State Park, an easy stop. But by the time we got past Columbus and were headed toward Eufaula and Dothan, it was still early in the day, so we searched out some options further south. Jackie found Florida Caverns State Park near Mariana and pretty much just along our route. We pulled up, asked about a spot for the night and were told, yes, they did have a site, but because we were 33’ we would have to use one of the equestrian sites. Ok, no problem. Actually, the three spots were level, full utilities and off by ourselves – with paddocks and stalls available if we wanted to hitch our horse there (um, no). But Kodi did pick up a lot of burrs, so he had to get brushed out a bit.
It was still early afternoon and as Jackie was reading through the park information sheet she said “hey, they have cave tours. But not tomorrow.” Well, guess that means we have to hustle over to the visitor’s center and get a tour. Lucky for us the 4:00 tour was the last of the day and we made it with minutes to spare. Down into the cave we went, 65 feet underground and still above the lower levels of the cave/aquifer complex. It felt nice and cool on a hot and humid afternoon and we enjoyed ducking and dodging the stalagmites and stalactites. We have been in several cave systems and while this wasn’t on the scale of some, it was certainly very scenic. Outside there were blooming columbine, hydrangea and other wildflowers. As we exited, we were reminded of just how hot and humid the weather had become. Can’t wait to hit the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico!
It was a quick 2 hours, plus a stop for gas, and we were nearing Grayton Beach the next morning. We didn’t rush out, but got here just after noon and the site was ready for us. Full utilities and a nice roomy spot. Connected up to water and electricity, put out the chairs, set up the screen house (bugs??), took down the canvas roof of the Jeep and off we went to the beach. You are pretty close to the beach, but it is either a long walk, shorter bike ride or even shorter trip in the jeep. Ah, the gorgeous blue-green, crystal clear water and sugar white sands were just what we remembered. Soon we were splashing in and leaving all our worries behind.
We had a couple of days before Terri and Dan were to arrive, so that meant we could check out the local scene. Grayton Beach is pretty quiet compared to Destin and Panama City Beach, but the Seaside and Watercolor neighborhoods are a destination all their own. And it was indeed just as busy with cars, bikes and people as ever. But we only drove through, on our way to check out two breweries: Grayton Brewing and Idyll Hounds. Made it to Idyll for a couple of sips and met a crowd of 5 other local teachers (it was the end of the school day) and we chatted for a bit. Also met another couple who were great fun – we shared stories of our camping adventures, our beer adventures and some “curly girl” hair advice.
Right next to Idyll Hounds was a new building with a sign “Distillery 98” – so naturally that meant we had to check it out. Aha! a vodka distillery and bar for Dune Laker vodka. Jackie forced herself to have an espresso martini and I had … well a refreshing drink with cucumber and something and something and vodka. It was good, even if I can’t recall the ingredients.
A couple of really nice days at the beach, another beer selection with Bavarian pretzels at Beach Camp brewpub (used to be affiliated with Grayton Beer) here in Grayton and we are just loving it. Oh, and a helpful camper told us that the night before they spotted a big fat snake under our Jeep, probably a cottonmouth. Just thought we should know. Gee, thanks. Well, we kind of think that it was probably a brown or banded water snake so no worries. Our site is just steps from the water of Western Lake. Good to know.
The Jeep has been fun, with the top down and wide open – and I have been putting a cover over it each night to keep the birds off and stay dry from the morning dew. But rain was predicted and we debated what to do (nothing was the decision). Well, Kodi woke us up around 6 am with thunder in the distance. I got out to check things – did see a cool sunrise – but I wasn’t yet awake enough to put the top up. After thunder and light rain (and coffee) we waited for a break and went ahead and put the top on, side and back windows back in and made it water tight. Good thing, as it wasn’t long before we had a pretty severe downpour.
We waited it out and when it seemed to pass we drove east to Pier Park in Panama City to do some quick shopping and especially to have our favorite grouper sandwich at Sharkey’s. Dang, just as good as ever! But the gulf was angry. The storm continued to whip up the waves, rain and thunder and really blow pretty hard. Looks like time to head back to camp and check on things and Kodi. Once there, all was well, nothing blew away, the awning was still fine, but Kodi was definitely glad we came back to rescue him!
While chilling in the motorhome and catching up on blog writing and photo editing we got a text from Dan and Terri to say they were an hour out and wanted to meet up at Grayton Beer. Well, okay, that didn’t take much persuasion. So, since it is still raining and definitely NOT a beach day, we met up, sampled some flights of beer, caught up on what we have been doing and planned out the week. Well, Dan declared “there is no agenda” for the week, so yeah, I know it’s tough being retired.
So a recap of the week (which is a bit heavy on food and beer, I admit) includes:
A delicious grilled steak dinner at the campsite for four, complete with, um, three (?) bottles of red wine.
Mother’s Day dinner at Cafe 30A for some delicious seafood. Ahi tuna for Jackie (and a proper beet salad – check the “Harmony” blog for the story), a spicy seafood pasta for Doug and a bit of a debate over dessert. More on that later.
A trip back to Idyll Hounds for more beer sampling and the vodka distillery next door for some bloody marys, martinis and frozen cocktails.
A walkabout at Seaside with fish tacos for lunch. A very cute gathering spot along highway 30A, but very congested with people, cars, bikes, trucks, strollers, golf carts and dog walkers all competing for space.
Beautiful sunny, cool and dry weather the entire week, with plenty of beach time reading and sipping “beach beer.” The water was absolutely the most gorgeous color, crystal clear to your toes with the aptly named sugar sand beaches. Unfortunately we have no underwater critter sightings to report, maybe one or two rays spotted moving past.
Dinner at the Red Bar – a famous watering hole in the cute bungalow community of Grayton Beach. I had a delicious crab cake and salad, Jackie had some chicken penne, I think Dan had gumbo and Terri had a large salad … it was all filling, but kinda pricey, too. Definitely a busy spot and we had to take their free shuttle from the parking area. But we did catch the sunset on the beach.
More sunsets. It’s just something you do at the beach: watch the sunset from the water’s edge. By then the sand is cool on your feet, the water feels warmer as it washes over your toes and the bright yellow sun turns orange as it slips below the horizon. Definitely cool and we tried it a few nights.
E-bike rentals and a ride down to Blue Mountain Beach and back to Seaside. Jackie has been researching e-bikes for a while and we had the chance to try some out. A great guy ran a local service (rentelectricbikes.com) that delivered the bikes to our campsite, then picked them up the next morning. At $50 per day each that was a deal. We rented RadRover bikes that had rather fat tires and a step-through frame. They were pedal-assist but you could also just use the throttle alone and zip along just fine. Wow, what a cool ride. Terri and Dan rented beach cruiser bikes in Seagrove and met us at the campsite. We all rode a couple of miles on the bike path along 30a to Blue Mountain Beach and then back to Seaside to leave Terri and Dan before we turned back to the campground. Very cool experience.
A last night dinner at Hurricane Oyster Bar with the most monstrous oysters ever. Dan ordered six grilled and I ordered six baked with crab and cheese, thinking they would be small appetizer size, but they were a meal in themselves (but I had also ordered a fried oyster po boy, so it was a major oyster feast that night).
Oh, and the key lime pie affair.
I mentioned Mother’s Day dinner at a wonderful restaurant – Cafe 30A – and how we debated our dessert choice. Naturally, they had key lime pie and we were tempted to finish off the meal with some, but Terri said she had one back at their condo to share. “Yeah, but how big?” Dan asked. “Well, you know, about six inches, a Publix one,” Terri replied. “That won’t be enough, we’ll only have a sliver each,” Dan countered. So the discussion went, but it was silly really, since we were all stuffed anyway. I shared how when we were in Key West years back they had key lime pie covered in chocolate on a stick that I really wanted to try. But we managed to leave the Keys before I managed to snag one to try. “Oooh, that sounds delicious,” was the general comment. But back at the condo we had a very nice slice each of the key lime pie Terri bought and it was just fine.
The next day Terri texted us a picture of a sandwich board from a spot in Seaside that advertised “chocolate covered key lime pie” – Aha! It did exist. Well, of course that meant we had to arrange a trip back to get ourselves some of that, so the next afternoon we all arrived at Nigel’s Chocolate Covered Bananas to get our key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate. “Oh, sorry, we are out for today.” What?? “We should have some tomorrow.” Grr.
That meant another trip the next day to see if indeed they would have more. “Oh, yes I remember you from yesterday. We have the pie today.” Great, we will take four slices. Out came the first monstrous slice, on a stick, that was gently dipped into the pool of dark chocolate. “What do you want on the outside?” Oh, there’s more? Well the choice for most was to cover it in crushed pecan shortbread cookies, but I opted for toasted coconut.
Jackie said she didn’t want it on a stick, but they all were set in paper baskets anyway and we grabbed forks to help. As we sat outside on benches and devoured our slices of heaven, all we could say was how lucky we were that we found a local source for this decadent treat. In all the excitement I forgot to snap a picture of the pie, but imagine if you will a 3 inch thick slice of pie with a generous graham cracker crust, dipped in dark chocolate that already was crackly and then coated with cookie crumbs or toasted coconut. Way too many calories. And pretty much our afternoon meal. That’s how it goes at the beach.
Well, a good cleaning of the RV for one thing and a check on our maternity ward backyard to see how many new fawns have been born. Someone said we are headed out on another cruise and we plan to spend a week camping at our nearby Lake Allatoona with the grandsons. Never a dull moment. Stay tuned.