Get away to idyllic and aptly named Seaside, Florida

Watching the sunset from the Tarpon Club at Bud & Alley's in Seaside is a great way to end the day. Shown is a pavilion over one of the beach accesses.

Combined ShapeCaption
Watching the sunset from the Tarpon Club at Bud & Alley's in Seaside is a great way to end the day. Shown is a pavilion over one of the beach accesses.

The sun, sand and seafood of Highway 30A has long attracted visitors from all over the country, but it’s the Seaside, the idyllic, movie-set town in “The Truman Show” that has become a favorite.  The homes, built in numerous Southern styles, have inviting front porches, and many include a crow’s nest-type tower or deck to offer views of the sand and waves.

A steady stream of cars slowly moves along the highway through Seaside, but you don't need to drive to enjoy the business district, built in a semicircle right off the beach. Enjoy window shopping and buying coffee from Amavida Coffee and Tea, lunch from Modica Market and fruit smoothies from Raw & Juicy, housed in one of the vintage Airstreams that serve as food trucks. Or buy a couple of plates of fresh boiled shrimp from the Shrimp Shack, strolled several feet to a table overlooking the beach and watched the sun set.

Head to the beach afterwards, which is as white as baby powder, and almost as fine. And the water often is so clear and calm that you can see the tiny fish around your feet and the sandy bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The waves are soothing, not the violent ones that send you for a spill and leave you with water in your ears.

Seaside offers many reasons to visit, but the beach makes winter seem especially far away.

This story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Living Intown magazine.

See food

You might be tempted to go straight to dessert for the key lime pie at Great Southern Café (thegreatsoutherncafe.com) but don't skip the preliminary courses.. The shrimp po' boy is fried perfection on a bun and the sides deliver what you'd expect from a restaurant with "Southern" in its name: fried okra, fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas and collard greens. Go early to beat the rush.

Modica Market (modicamarket.com) is much more than a grocery store. It offers outstanding sandwiches and prepared foods — including daily lunch specials — and plenty of desserts at the counter. It's also known for a wide selection of beer and wine.

Plenty of culinary choices can be found on Airstream Row (seasidefl.com/shop-dine/restaurants), where vintage trailers provide meals and desserts for visitors on the go. Options include Barefoot BBQ, Frost Bites, The Melt Down on 30A (think out-of-the-box grilled cheese), Raw & Juicy and Wild Bill's Beach Dogs.

Drowsy browsing

Scan the shelves at Sundog Books (sundogbooks.com), which has a friendly and knowledgeable staff and varied selection for a store its size. We usually buy a couple of paperbacks for beach reads and look for books about the area, such as "30A Style," a coffee table book about local cottages by Eleanor Lynn Nesmith and Jean Allsopp.

Most of the homes and condos in Seaside and Seagrove Beach include kitchens, so if you decide to eat in, check out the Seaside Farmers Market (facebook.com/seasidefarmersmarket) on 30A. It offers plenty of fruits and vegetables, but also prepared foods and other goods. It's open Tuesday and Saturday mornings in the summer.

Family fun

The town of Seaside is built around a central green space that doubles as an amphitheater, and summers feature weekly concerts, plays and such family-friendly films as "The Lego Movie" and "Toy Story 2." (For information, check seasidefl.com or facebook.com/seasideflorida.)

Sip a glass of wine and find a one-of-a-kind piece of art at the First Friday Ruskin Place Art Walk, which features local artists in an outdoor show along the Shops of Ruskin (facebook.com/theshopsofruskin), a kind of artist colony just north of Seaside's main business district.

Seaside's fall events include the Sixth Annual Halloweener Derby (Halloweener.org) on Oct. 24, which features comical dachshund races and raises money for area nonprofits. From Nov. 5-8, the 25th Annual Seeing Red Wine Festival (seeingredwinefestival.com) provides a weekend for wine enthusiasts to enjoy tasting areas and attend lectures and dinners with leading wine experts.

Going coastal at Panama City Beach

If you need a change from Seaside's laid-back atmosphere, or your kids are craving fast food and more stimulation than their iPads can provide, drive 35 miles to Panama City for water parks, amusement parks, state parks and plenty of parking lots for shopping.

Brave the rapids on an inner tube or ride down a 65-foot water slide at Shipwreck Island Waterpark (shipwreckisland.com), which opened in 1983. Or if you want outdoor fun on dry land, head to Coconut Creek Family Fun Park (coconutcreekfun.com), which features mini-golf and a land-based challenge called the Gran Maze. The maze is about the size of a football field and is frequently changed to confound returning visitors.

My friends and I invaded the Miracle Strip Amusement Park (ms-pp.com) during yearly trips to Panama City in the early 1980s. The original park closed in 2004, but the second version opened in 2009 and continues to add rides to its 14-acre location at Pier Park. Located between U.S. 98 and the Gulf of Mexico, Pier Park (simon.com/mall/pier-park) is an outdoor mall with 124 stores and a 16-screen movie theater

Rent bikes, kayaks and campsites at St. Andrews State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/St-Andrews), an excellent place to fish, hike, relax on the beach and look for wildlife — maybe even alligators.