The Heart of 30A
By Sarah Murphy Robertson
July 17th, 2017
For more than 35 years Seaside, Fla., has been the pulse of 30A. While that idea can be interpreted figuratively, the town is also situated literally in the heart of this winding scenic highway. This place isn’t merely a destination, but a state of mind.
Evolution of a Dream
Nowadays Seaside is so alive and vibrant, it may be difficult to imagine it undeveloped and dense with native brush. Back in 1946, J.S. Smolian bought 80 acres made up of terrain that was barely passable and landscape that could hardly be considered hospitable. Smolian envisioned a summer camp for these acres, a place he could share the natural coastal beauty with others. That plan never came to life and it wasn’t until 1978 when Smolian deeded the acreage to his grandson, Robert Davis, that the initial foundation for Seaside was laid. Within a few short years, Davis would start 30A’s most groundbreaking project in 1981.
For Robert and his wife Daryl, the concept for Seaside came about from travel in Europe, road trips to rural Southern towns and attentive studying of architecture and town planning. Once they met with young Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the conceptualizing of Seaside, using the framework of New Urbanism, really began to take shape. It was the first of its kind in Florida and emphasizes all we now know Seaside to be: a community with walkable access to amenities in and around a town center.
Worth the Drive
Seaside is acclaimed worldwide and has always garnered loyalty. Once people visit, they return. Lori Smith, Seaside’s Director of PR & Marketing likens Seaside to “a comforting throwback to simpler times.” Much of the character of Seaside comes from its longtime merchants – they become your friends, remembering your name year after year, and that means a lot to folks.
Visitors from larger metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Birmingham, and Houston make the journey to experience this kind of lifestyle.
“It’s a small town with a big city atmosphere,” Smith shared. The community is made up of 72 merchants who are enthusiastic and philanthropic and give back in a multitude of ways. Seaside has been featured on “Emeril’s Florida” on the Cooking Channel, and Travel + Leisure magazine named it the “Best Beach on Earth.” Seaside is regularly visited by architects and design professionals eager to learn about its history and inner-workings.
Eats: On the Go or Enjoy it Slow
Time in Seaside seems to slow down with a focus on taking in the scenery and enjoying incredible dining options. Whether you choose to enjoy cuisine from one of Bud & Alley’s longtime favorite spots, indulge in briny ice-cold oysters on Great Southern Cafe’s deck, or savor peel n’ eat Ruby Reds from The Shrimp Shack, the food options are bountiful, fresh, and superb.
“We don’t have chains; these businesses would all be considered ‘mom and pop’ and that truly makes meals here special,” Smith explained. Delicious aromas waft from all directions and everywhere you look there’s something tasty to try.
Iconic vintage Airstream trailers flank 30A and offer some of the best eats around. What some may not know is numerous Airstreams dotted the town when it was still being built. Architects and builders lived in them while the homes in Seaside were under construction.
The group known as “Airstream Row” now operates as 30A’s version of gourmet fast food, perfect for anyone looking to grab a quick bite. They offer a little bit of everything and can also act as lifesavers for young families. If you have a squirmy little one, simply grab your dinner and picnic on the spacious amphitheater lawn!
From 1994 to 2004, Frost Bites was the first and only Airstream eatery in Seaside. While it has changed ownership over the years, its popularity for dishing out premium shaved ice, old fashioned floats, lemonade freezes, and frozen custard has never once cooled off.
Barefoot BBQ is owner James Murphy’s dream of taking organic wholesome produce and proteins and using the flavors of the Caribbean, the South, and Texas to craft delicious, smoky barbecue. Everything is house-made and since opening in April of 2009, they’ve been voted best barbecue on 30A time and time again.
The MeltDown on 30A griddles up cheese sandwiches, ranging from the classic American to specialty varieties using Gouda or Brie. Owned by the region’s revered restaurateur and chef Jim Shirley, these ooey-gooey sammies instantly put smiles on faces.
Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs serves up tasty nitrate-free and grass-fed hot dogs, topped with delicious scratch-made condiments and chili. This airstream is owned by the Dawsons, some of the original merchants of Seaside. Beginning back in 1986 with Dawson’s Yogurt & Fudge Works, the family also runs Heavenly Shortcakes & Ice Cream and Pickle’s Beachside Grill. Since opening in 1993, Pickles has been a family favorite and is well known – of course – for its famous fried pickles.
Anchoring the eastern end is Raw + Juicy, an organic juice bar and cafe whose menu includes breakfast and lunch and healthy prepared meals and snacks. In 2008, Raw + Juicy owner Jenifer Kuntz began developing her idea for a year-round weekly farmers market, giving life to a Seaside tradition.
Few places in Seaside are as dear to longtime visitors as Modica Market. This well-appointed grocery has fed the area for 28 years. Patrons can browse unique foodie finds, pick up household staples like eggs and milk, or discover their terrific wine and craft beer selection. In 1988, Sarah and Charles Modica Sr. retired to Seaside from Alabama and three family generations later, the store continues the tradition of providing Southern hospitality to all who stop in.
For a relatively young area, Seaside has a fascinating history, and it’s not done yet. Some plans from the original blueprints are still to be realized. It is exciting to know there’s a great deal in store for this beachfront beauty as the heart of 30A beats on.
This article originally appeared in the 2017 Spring Edition of the Food & Wine Guide for South Walton.