Ecotourism in South Walton

Spotlight on Bird Watching

Visitors may flock to the Emerald Coast for our sugar-sand beaches and unspoiled landscapes, but our unique natural resources extend far beyond coastlines and waterways. The Choctawhatchee Audubon Society calls our region the most biologically rich area in the U.S. in terms of the number of living creatures. From sea turtles to bottlenose dolphin to great blue herons, the species who pass through our area are plentiful and diverse.

Our local communities embrace ecotourism, which can be defined as sustainable tourism. It includes authentic experiences that are distinctive to the local region, and it differs from mass-market tourism in that it exists because of the place. Simply put, it cannot be outsourced.

Consider bird-watching, for example. The Emerald Coast is a hotspot for this pastime because of the variation in habitats and its position within migration routes. Our location near both saltwater and freshwater make this an ideal habitat for a variety of birds.

Notably, Florida is home to the third largest number of bird species behind Texas and California–states with much more land mass. The region is home to coastal seabirds, shore birds, wetland birds, birds-of-prey, migratory birds and introduced species. The warm temperatures allow native birds to stay year-round and provide nesting locations for migratory birds.

Coastal seabirds nest on the shoreline and are often seen diving just offshore for saltwater fish or gathered in groups on piers. Those common to the panhandle include the double-breasted cormorant, aningha and eastern brown pelican.

Shore birds also live on the shoreline but they do not hunt in the ocean. Native species include the red knot, the American oystercatcher and the dunline.

Wetland birds require freshwater wetland habitats like marshes, swamps, lakes and rivers to survive. Species like the great blue heron, snowy egret and white ibis build nests of grass and mud at the water’s edge as do other waterfowl, like ducks.

Perhaps most well-known, the Panhandle’s birds-of-prey include the osprey, bald eagle, swallow-tailed kite and red-shouldered hawk. They live in the treetops of forest regions near freshwater sources because they feed on amphibians and fish. Florida boasts one of the highest populations of bald eagles in the U.S.

Introduced species include those that aren’t native to the area but that were introduced here, typically by humans who released them into the wild. They can be dangerous to the area because they have no natural predators, allowing them to overpopulate. As a result, they often negatively impact native birds. Our muscovy duck is an example.

Each year, our area hosts a variety of ecotourism events that connect locals and visitors with our varied natural resources. Programs like the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count tallies the welfare and presence of birds in the area. Volunteers assist with the count that collects photos, recordings, and as many details as possible about the local bird population.

The Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau also hosts Nighttime Educational Beach Walks that educate people about sea turtle migration, egg-laying, and the species’ importance to local ecosystems. The presentation teaches people to recognize tracks, identify threats to the population, and watch for them during visits to the beach.

Other ecotourism offerings include Grayton Beach State Park, Topsail Hill State Preserve, Eastern Lake Bike Trail, and the Cassine Garden Nature Trail.

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National Geographic Names South Walton on Best Trips 2019

The Emerald Coast is making global waves again. National Geographic recently named South Walton to its list of Best Trips for 2019, confirming what communities served by The Premier Property Group have long known: our region offers much more than just beautiful beaches. Citing the vast and varied marine life and the local efforts to protect natural resources, the National Geographic team chose South Walton as one of only three U.S. destinations to make the list.

The magazine is not alone in its applause. In 2018, Forbes called South Walton Florida’s Best-Kept Secret.

Comprised of 26 miles of beach, 16 communities, and four state parks, South Walton welcomes more than 4.1 million visitors annually, of which almost 40% are return guests. A 2018 report noted that each visitor to the area delivers an economic impact of about $1,126.

Built within the last 30 years, the 16 communities of South Walton are as unique and varied as the residents and visitors who grace their boundaries. Some are known for their architecture, some for their laid-back atmosphere, and others for their eclectic offerings. Artists, ecotourists, foodies, adventurers, athletes and shoppers alike find something to love about the area, whether they’re drawn to cutting-edge developments, extraordinary experiences or simple beach lifestyle.

Last month, we showcased the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), recently named to Time’s Greatest Places of 2018. This uncommon offering combines the beauty of sculpture with the utility of an artificial reef to create a scuba destination unlike any other. The UMA launched in 2017 to provide a necessary habitat for a wide variety of marine life. Because the museum plans to add new sculptures annually, visitors can return every year to explore the new additions and the growing numbers of species that call the reef home.

Ecotourism opportunities are endless, extending from rare dune lakes that are only found in a few places around the world to the miles of trails that wind through South Walton. Countless varieties of marine life and animal species reside among the sugar-white sand and emerald waters, including the Great Blue Heron, the bottlenose dolphin, and endangered sea turtles.

Those who love South Walton for its charm enjoy unique shopping, spectacular restaurants, locally-caught seafood and inviting resorts. Outdoor amphitheaters play host to numerous shows and performances, and the farmers’ markets allow shoppers to support the local economy while enjoying the best of our local natural resources.

The neighborhoods of South Walton, each with its own personality and history, draw visitors of all ages and stages, primarily from the Southeast and the Midwest. Roughly 94 percent of visitors spend time at the beach, and more than three-fourths come to relax with family.

Visitors to the area create more than 22,000 jobs and generate a total economic impact of $4.4 billion annually, and those numbers continue to grow. For those already invested in the area, property values remain sound and profitable, as both Walton and Okaloosa counties repeatedly demonstrate growth in real estate closings. Simply put, it’s a great time to own property on the Emerald Coast.

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Underwater Museum of Art off the Coast of Grayton Beach

Emerald Coast Exclusive: Underwater Museum of Art

Beyond the obvious beauty of the Emerald Coast, there’s a deeper, more elusive splendor situated less than a mile off the shores of Grayton Beach State Park. Recently showcased in Time’s famed Greatest Places of 2018, the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) resides about 57 feet under the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald green waters, marrying the beauty of sculpture and the life-sustaining power of artificial reefs.

The UMA’s permanent underwater sculpture garden, launched in 2017, draws a wide variety of marine life and provides a vital habitat in the form of a living reef. Conceived by Allison Wickey, president of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA), the UMA attracts art lovers and marine wildlife in a mutually beneficial partnership.

Wickey called the local UMA a perfect storm of ideas. She developed a love for the snorkeling reefs established by the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA), and she simultaneously discovered the existence of other sculpture reefs around the world.

“I wondered why we weren’t doing something like this ourselves,” Wickey said. “We have so many artists here, but I wasn’t sure if it was even possible because the idea seemed so pie-in-the-sky.”

She pitched the idea of the sculpture garden to the SWARA board, and the organization immediately embraced her vision and joined forces with the CAA. And the rest is history.

The UMA offered its first call to artists in 2017 and dropped its first round of sculptures in 2018. By the end of 2019, the garden will be home to 19 permanent underwater sculptures.

The sculptures must be made of marine concrete, stainless steel, aluminum, limestone, marble, or other natural material to avoid harming the environment. As the team learns more about the process moving forward, Wickey expects it may lean more toward concrete pieces because of the increased durability.

Each year, the UMA determines how many sculptures it intends to add and issues a call for artists. Interested artists can submit an application with a sculpture idea. The top submissions are then reviewed and chosen by a jury, and new sculptures are added to the museum.

The entire effort has morphed into a collaboration between a number of local organizations. Emerald Coast Scuba in Destin has adopted the UMA, providing scuba certification for some of those in leadership and also by working to keep the site clean. Additionally, when Walter Marine out of Orange Beach comes to Walton County to drop a reef for SWARA, the UMA is able to piggy-backs onto the trip and drop its own sculptures. The partnership reduces expenses for the UMA and makes for a very efficient process.

The sculpture garden is a dive-site only due to its depth and isn’t suitable for snorkeling. While there is currently no tracking of visitors to the UMA, Wickey said that Emerald Coast Scuba takes people out to the site weekly. She also said that those interested in seeing the sculptures should contact Emerald Coast Scuba for more information.

“This began as a grassroots effort and we had very little experience with anything like this,” she said. “We’ve learned every step of the way, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time.”

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WaterColor Phase 2 3 Bedroom Home for Only 1,097,000

I know you see this a lot, but truly this one will be gone fast! 3 bedroom, 3 bath, 1,999 sq feet this home is on Thicket Circle which is just 2 blocks from the new Camp WaterColor and backs up to nature preserve with a park in front.

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Brand New Luxury Beachfront Home East End of 30A

138 Camp Creek Point: Setting the Standard for Luxury, Gulf-Front Living

The Emerald Coast’s famed Highway 30A has become synonymous with thoughtful residential planning, laid-back coastal living and a blend of new urbanism and eclectic culture. It is also home to some of the most distinctive architecture and luxury developments available.

As one of the latest residential offerings,138 Camp Creek embodies the essence of what makes this celebrated highway special. The spacious 6,423 square-foot residence features the contemporary elegance, state-of-the-art offerings and robust amenities that today’s luxury real-estate buyers expect from a 30A Gulf-front lifestyle.

Along with the home’s more than 6,400 square feet of air-conditioned space, an additional 3,021 square feet of covered outdoor area is available, capitalizing on our area’s abundant beauty and natural resources. A large covered deck extends from the property’s great room overlooking the magnificence of the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald green waters, and a private boardwalk leads out to more than 130 feet of shoreline.

Designed to make the most of natural light, 138 Camp Creek Point features a generous display of windows and French doors that extend the full height of the home’s 12-foot coffered ceilings. Perfect for entertaining, folding glass walls frame the property’s great room and open to a pool deck and spa, as do the two master suites. The pool deck is also equipped with an outdoor kitchen with grill and sink for entertaining or enjoying quiet dinners watching sunsets over the Gulf.

Residents will enjoy added amenities that include a large wine cellar, game room, elevator and 3-car garage. The residence also features a large chef’s kitchen complete with 10’-wide island anchors, Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances and a Butler’s pantry.

Located just west of the Alys Beach neighborhood, 138 Camp Creek Point resides in a gated, non-rental community and is listed $10 million. For more information, please contact Cathy Turner at 850.502.3422

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Thirty-One on 30A: Newest Gulf Front Luxury Condominiums

There is a lot to celebrate about The Premier Property Group’s (PPG’s) Thirty-One on 30A’s development. Namely, it’s the first gulf-front condominium project introduced along scenic Highway 30A in more than a decade, making it a rare find. Not only does the $70 million project encompass the most up-to-date, contemporary design elements, but it is state-of-the-art in terms of building codes and technological offerings when compared to neighboring luxury developments.

While that differentiator alone makes the project particularly attractive, it’s the attention to lifestyle details that truly make Thirty-One exceptional in the market, according to the property’s lead sales agent, Oliver Robbins. “We are essentially offering a high-end luxury hybrid that blends the best in condominium living with the privacy and attractiveness of a single-family residence,” he said. “Thirty-One is setting a new standard for lifestyle amenities, and our residents have a real sense of ownership that is uncommon in most Gulf Coast condominiums.”

Thirty One on 30As differentiators start with the size of the residences. While most Emerald Coast condominiums offer less than 2,000 square feet, residences at Thirty-One start at 2,200 square feet and reach as high as 4,500 square feet, each offering a large gulf-front balcony overlooking 335 feet of beach frontage (the size of a football field). That means that each of the 27 residences is afforded more than 12 feet of beach compared to just over one foot in many neighboring communities.

Designed with a distinctive, refined lifestyle in mind, Thirty-One offers owners an unmatched level of privacy and security. Residences are accessed from a secure, underground garage via eight private elevators, each providing entry to four residences—one on each of the development’s four floors. The garage is also equipped with a secure storage area for each residence.

Convenience is central to the vision behind Thirty-One on 30A, where the end-goal for residents is a maintenance-free lifestyle. To that end, the development offers a wide variety of concierge packages and services through Live Well 30A and La Dolce Vita. Owners can leave all the menial tasks associated with managing or visiting a property up to local experts and focus their attention on relaxation and quality time with friends and family. No more standing in line at the grocery store upon arrival or running to the car wash before leaving. Owners and visitors can look to these concierge partners for nearly any task including booking fishing trips, hiring babysitters or building a beach bonfire. The possibilities are endless.

Convenience extends well beyond Thirty-One’s concierge partners. For example, beach service is automatically included with all residences to ensure a seamless, hassle-free experience for owners. A fleet of street legal golf carts are also available that residents can use for dinner outings or simply enjoying the eclectic offerings of nearby 30A communities. An onsite catering kitchen, club room, outdoor kitchen and owner’s area with firepit make entertaining easy. The property has spared no expense to ensure the satisfaction of owners and their guests.

Of course, the development would not be complete with its 2,500-square-foot resort-style pool, offering an expansive terrace and temperate waters. The development is also home to a fitness center that overlooks the pool and Gulf.

Complementing Thirty-One’s unmatched lifestyle amenities is a commitment to high-end service by those who work at the property. For instance, Robbins recalls one instance where an owner realized that her four-carat diamond was missing upon returning home to Mississippi. The diamond was later found at the Waffle House in DeFuniak Springs, an hour north of Thirty-One on 30A. Building Manager Karac LeCercq drove to the restaurant and retrieved the diamond for the owner, leaving it securely in her Thirty-One residence.

“Thirty-One on 30A is bringing something new and truly special to the market, standing out for its superior offerings from all vantage points,” Robbins said, adding that the price point is attractive when compared to other single-family offerings. Currently, residences are still available and range in price from $2.2 million to $4.0 million.

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Emerald Coast Chefs Craft Flavorful Food, Memorable Experiences

(My favorite YaYa Gritts from Great Southern Cafe in Seaside’s recipe is at the end of the Article!!) Distinctive experiences come in many shapes and sizes along the Emerald Coast. A feast for the senses, our region is home to stunning water views and lush natural surroundings, soft, sugar-white beaches, the smell of warm Gulf breezes and, of course, tastes that will delight even the most discriminating palate.

Award-winning restaurants and celebrated chefs are abundant across the communities served by The Premier Property Group. Whether you are seeking a Gulf-to-table experience, Southern cooking, healthy fare or international cuisine, the chefs of the Emerald Coast strive to create dining experiences that will keep you coming back for more.

Here are a few of our favorites.

Jim Shirah, executive chef at Dewey Destin’s Seafood, grew up fishing the waters of the Emerald Coast with his family. Local to the Destin area, when the family launched the restaurant 10 years ago, the plan was to serve locally-sourced seafood, which can be a bit of a challenge sometimes.

“Locally-sourced seafood is the freshest possible, but it sometimes means we don’t have every fish available on the menu because it’s out of season,” Shirah said. “Changing the menu keeps the work interesting for our team and the food interesting for our customers.”

Shirah works in a kitchen that once belonged to his great aunt and uncle, and though the building in Destin Harbor has expanded over time, Shirah’s team serves an extensive menu of fresh fish from a surprisingly small kitchen. With four locations along the Emerald Coast, Dewey Destin’s serves original Destin recipes as well as Gulf Coast recipes pleasing both locals and visitors alike.

At George’s at Alys Beach, executive chef Camille Withall oversees a menu of regional coastal dishes flavored with global touches. Originally from the Philippines, Withall enjoys traveling the globe to learn about food, bringing that knowledge back to the customers at George’s.

“Food is everything. I believe that food has the ability to inspire, create lasting memories, and it can gather and unite people together almost like a universal language,” she said. “You can express love and emotion through food as well.”

The team at George’s crafts its offerings with locally- and regionally-sourced produce and the freshest seafood available for its lunch and dinner menus. Withall says that her team’s love for food is reflected through their creativity and enjoyment in crafting uncommon dishes.

Withall added that many customers are surprised to learn that the chef at George’s is female. “Although women are still not predominant in this male-driven industry, they are just as hardworking and talented as the rest of them,” she said. “Almost half of my kitchen staff are women, and I couldn’t be more lucky and proud to have them in my team.”

Chris Joyner serves as executive chef at The Saltwater Grill in Panama City Beach, which specializes in steak and seafood dishes on its dinnertime menu. Home to a 25,000-gallon tropical saltwater aquarium, The Saltwater Grill receives whole fresh fish daily, making its menu offerings among the freshest on the Gulf Coast. Joyner points to people’s increasingly busy schedules as the motivation for creating a memorable dining experience.

“As society evolves, we have less time to spend together at the dinner table,” he said. “Those 30 minutes together may be the only time that people get to spend with one another. A good meal can turn a bad day into a great one.”

Restaurant IRON, led by executive chef Alex McPhail, serves Southern contemporary cuisine driven by locally-sourced ingredients in handmade recipes. The dishes feature Gulf seafood, grass-fed beef, artisan products, and produce fresh from the on-site garden.

McPhail points to local markets like the Palafox Market in downtown Pensacola as a source of seasonal fruits and vegetables for everyone in the area, and a variety of products like locally-produced cornmeal and honey.

McPhail finds his inspiration, and the secret to Restaurant IRON’s success, in the teamwork of a talented staff, the beauty of his surroundings, and his freedom to create the freshest offerings from native ingredients.

Jim Shirley, chef and owner at Great Southern Cafe in Seaside, is affiliated with numerous well-known restaurants in the area, including The Fish House, The Atlas Oyster House, 45 Central Wine and Sushi, The Meltdown on 30A, The Bay in Santa Rosa Beach, and Baytown Provisions.

Great Southern Cafe promotes what it calls “New-Fashioned Southern Cuisine,” a mix of international cuisines with Southern cooking and locally-sourced foods. Shirley, a Pensacola native, has extensive knowledge of the waters along the Emerald Coast, and he couples that with his family’s farming history to promote what he calls “New Ruralism,” a concept that champions sustainable agriculture.

Check out Shirley’s recipe for Grits à Ya Ya, or many others at the Great Southern Cafe website.


Smoked Gouda Cheese Grits
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound Dixie Lily grits
¼ pound butter
1 pound shredded smoked Gouda cheese

The Ya Ya
8 strips applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallots
3 tablespoons butter

White wine
1 pound peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
1 portobello mushroom cap, sliced
¼ cup diced scallions
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups smoked Gouda cheese grits

First, make your grits. Run the chicken stock into a thick-bottomed saucepan and turn on high till it boils. Mix in the grits and stir like crazy. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cream if you need more liquid. Then tumble in the butter, drizzle in the rest of the cream, and stir ‘til it’s all in the family. Then shake in the shredded cheese and stir very well ‘til it’s all nice and smooth.

While your grits cook, bring a large saucepan to medium heat. Add bacon and cook for about 3 minutes, then add garlic and shallots. Sauté and then add butter and a splash of white wine. When the butter is half melted, add the shrimp. When the downsides of the shrimp become white, flip them and add mushrooms, scallions, and spinach. Sauté for 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp. Pour in heavy cream and let simmer while stirring. When reduced by one-third, add salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Return shrimp to the sauce and combine. Spoon the sauce and shrimp onto heaping mounds of cheese grits.

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Instead of Playing It Safe..

Be bold and have fun like they did in this beach home for sale in Rosemary Beach!

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Beachfront Home on 30A for Under 2.2 Million!

You can’t find a beachfront lot let alone a beachfront home for under 2.2 million on 30A. It’s even remodeled already! This home is in the quaint Sunrise Beach neighborhood just east of Gulf Place and has it’s own private beach walk over. Lot is 54′ of beachfront and 275′ deep.

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Seaside Home with Permanent Beachfront Views

The portion of the lot in front of this Seaside home cannot be built on creating permanent unobstructed beach views for under 3.2 million

This home has SOLD. Click here for all Seaside property for sale.