Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
Grayton Beach has a town motto; “nice dogs, strange people.”
The exact story of how the motto came to be is lost in history. Some say it’s because there were once more dogs than people roaming the sandy streets. Others jokingly say the dogs have more personality, but whatever the reason, this tiny, old Florida beach town on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico attracts people and their pets as varied as the places they come from.
Once a remote settlement with dirt streets and wooden, tin-roofed houses, Grayton Beach is the oldest community in South Walton. Founded in 1890 by former army officers and their families, evidence of the town’s history can be found in the mix of architectural styles that includes modern structures alongside authentic old Florida beach houses.
Grayton Beach is one of my favorite haunts. When we first moved to the area, we lived in a friend’s garage apartment on one the back streets. It was lovely to take an evening stroll through town down to the beach to watch the sunset. The town is very walkable and has a neighborhood feel to it.
One of the oldest structures in the county, the former Washaway house (circa 1890), once a hotel now stands guard at the south end of DeFuniak Street, the main drag in and out of town. At the north end of DeFuniak, on the corner of Scenic 30A, is a modern two-story building filled with shops and businesses.
You won’t find concrete blocks of condominiums here. Family beach houses are the rule, some of them having hosted vacationers for 60 or 70 years. Front porches, upper decks and lots of ceiling fans bring to mind another time when life was slower.
The only bed and breakfast inn, Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse, is a motley collection of older buildings that includes a “dogtrot” house believed to be the second-oldest building in town. Rooms feature chenille bedspreads and Florida souvenirs from the 1940s and ’50s.
Across the street from Hibiscus House is Grayt Coffee, a local hangout for coffee, news, and entertainment. There are also two local Realtors that offer vacation rentals, Rivard Realty of South Walton and Beach to Bay Realty. Grayton Coast Properties deals primarily in Real Estate sales.
Some of the early buildings that survived the ravages of time and coastal weather have been given new life in the town. For example, the old Butler General Store now houses one of the area’s most popular hangouts, The Red Bar, where it’s not uncommon to spot celebrities among the locals. Bathed in the glow of red lights, The Red Bar offers live music and a menu featuring locally caught fish, shrimp, crawfish, and pasta.
Across the street. it’s a dog’s life at Shorty’s Surfside and Topside which offers doggy art and tee-shirts, live music, and the only view of the beach. Stools and benches outside accommodate dogs and their people for a drink and a chat with neighbors. Inside the atmosphere is casual and the menu includes fresh fish, shrimp and grits, and a fried seafood basket.
There are also a number of other popular restaurants such as Borago’s, for tasty Italian, Pandora’s Steak House for steaks and seafood, and the newest hot spot, Grayt Coffee House offering “grayt” coffee and pastries all day and blackboard lunch specials. There are more fun eateries north of town at the Shops of Grayton.
Designed to be residential, there aren't shopping malls, theme parks, or arcades here, although a short drive will get you those things if you want. What you will find here are funky and eclectic shops like the Zoo Gallery and Lily Pads, and artists galleries like The Studio Gallery, along with places to enjoy a beverage and conversation, and lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation and water sports.
Surrounded by Grayton Beach State Park, the town embraces Western Lake, one of South Walton’s rare coastal dune lakes, making it a logical starting point for all kinds of eco-adventures from hiking to paddling to YOLO boarding.
North of town, Grayton Beach State Park’s hiking trail connects to the Longleaf Greenway Trail in Point Washington State Forest for some extensive hiking, biking, and wildlife watching. Running parallel to Scenic 30A, the 19-mile long paved Timpoochee Trail is perfect for walkers, runners and bikers.
But the beach itself remains the biggest draw. Local outfitters can fix you up with a surf board or skim board as well as a YOLO stand up paddle board.
Fishing charters leave from the beach (residents with a permit can drive on on the beach) and will have you out in deep water in no time.
Named best beach in America in 1994 by Dr. Beach, it remains one of the best beaches in Florida inviting beachcombers, anglers, and kids of all ages to play. After all, strange people want to have fun too.