I’ve driven through a lot of small towns that I could describe as “perfect”, but Seaside, Florida is the first one I’ve seen that was designed with perfection in mind. This little gulf-side community, halfway between Panama City and Destin, is so meticulously designed that it feels a lot like a movie set.
It also feels like a movie set, because it was one. Many scenes from The Truman Show were filmed here. Of course, The Truman Show is about a man who doesn’t know he’s the star of a reality show. Every moment of his life has been broadcast to the world, and every person in his life is an actor. In other words, it’s all phony.
I knew all of this as I arrived in Seaside, but my one question was: would the town seem phony, or perfect? Even now, I’m not sure I have the answer.
First of all, a perfect town would not be this crowded. I arrived at the worst possible time to visit any beach community — a Saturday evening just before sunset. Traffic on Route 30A (the scenic alternative to US 98 on this part of the route) was at a crawl, and nearly every parking space on Seaside’s crescent-shaped Central Square was taken.
These were no ordinary crowds, though. They were crowds of perfect people. From what I could tell, everyone appeared to be rich, mostly white, and thoroughly thrilled to be vacationing in a utopia. I’m not knocking it, heck, I was envious.
Some of the businesses that face the Central Square looked vaguely familiar. I seem to remember one scene from The Truman Show where Jim Carrey comes running out of one of the businesses in a panic, as his character’s faux world begins to crumble. The camera spins around him, revealing the entire town. At least, I think that’s what happens. I need to go rent the movie and watch it again.
I poked my head inside one of the stores, hoping for some unique souvenir. It was a souvenir shop, but every item looked exactly the same. Mugs, key chains, and t-shirts were all imprinted with the same logo, which read simply: “Seaside”.
The scale just tipped a bit towards the creepy side.
Several pedestrian pathways lead off the square, into neighborhoods and outdoor malls. I wandered into one area that was set up for outdoor wedding receptions. Pretty nice.
A lack of zoning laws in the county allowed Seaside’s planners to build a densely populated town. The homes that surround the town square (mostly rental properties) are small and situated closely to one another. White picket fences are everywhere.
The developer, Robert Davis, wanted his community to be filled with homes built like the old Florida beach-front houses of the past. That’s why so many of Seaside’s homes have big porches and floor plans that allow a sea breeze to flow through. Most visitors, I suspect, just crank the air conditioner.
On the edge of the town square (not square at all, but rather a semicircle, as I mentioned earlier), Route 30A creeps by. On the other side is a collection of restaurants and other businesses, then, the beach. So many walkways were closed for private events, I couldn’t find a way to get to the Gulf (though there are several that are open to the public).
So what’s the verdict? Seaside definitely felt perfect to an extent that made me a bit uncomfortable. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind kicking back there for a few days, if money was no object. Maybe I could get used to it.
Fort Walton Beach: Santa Rosa Island
The sun was down, and a beautiful full moon had risen over the gulf as I made my way toward Fort Walton Beach. Even though I had another 100 miles to drive, this was a scene I couldn’t pass up.
Between Destin and Fort Walton Beach, US 98 travels along Santa Rosa Island. This stretch of highway is called the Miracle Strip Parkway, and there are plenty of places to access the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay. I stopped at one area that had a big parking area, restrooms…
… and some sand dunes.