A FUN DAY ON 30A!

In 1981, as newlyweds, we were thrilled to move to northwest Florida. My husband, Ron, had his first Air Force assignment at Eglin Air Force Base flying F-15 Eagles in an operational jet fighter squadron. It was very exciting! It’s still a common sight today to see and hear fighter jets fly over the Gulf of Mexico as you play on the beach. My first job was at the Destin Chamber of Commerce and then as a radio news anchor at WFTW. This piece of paradise is a treasure and is our second home.  It holds a very special place in my family’s heart as we go there several times at year. That’s why I wanted to share some of my favorite places on 30A – a very scenic two lane road that is filled with charm and natural beauty!

Santa Rosa Beach: Gulf Place is a great stop. Cruise through the Art Walk and listen to live music through the gulf breeze.  Our favorite – The Forrest Williams Band, plays weekly in this area.  Shunk Gulley Oyster House is just across the street and has a fabulous upstairs bar, coastal view and live music! Or, for a dressier place, drive nearby to one of our favorite restaurants, The Vue on 30a.  It has amazing beach-front dining. We love their early-bird specials and fiery sunset views.

Blue Mountain: Head over to For The Health of It. It’s an organic food and produce market where you can fuel-up with fresh juices or smoothies. It’s also a great place for a body massage. There’s actually large hills so be prepared to take stairs down to the beach. The is a great place to also have a bonfire. You must get a permit from South Walton or hire a Beach Bonfire service. They will set up and tear down everything. It is well worth the money!

Grayton: The Shard Shop is a trendy make-your-own-art boutique. They offer classes in ShardART.  This is a place where you can create an original art piece. Or buy a piece of original art from artist and owner Mary Hong. The classes are a fun and therapeutic. I’d recommend Chanticleer Eatery while in the area. They have fantastic salads and foods with a French twist served at this comfy joint with an outdoor patio & a casual ambiance. And now there’s AJ’s nearby that has nightly live music, a great place to eat and dance.

Seaside: This is such a picturesque little village. Bud and Alley’s is great for waterfront dining and the rooftop bar is a local favorite. Nearby there’s lots of great shopping.

I love stopping at Modica Market, a quaint gourmet grocery. They have an eclectic mix of cuisine, libations & culinary essentials.  If you want to learn to surf attend Austin Magee’s Surf School at Seaside. It’s his mission is to provide each student with a safe, creative, and fun surfing experience. Austin is our cousin and is an awesome international and professional surfer.

Watersound:  There’s always something happening at The HUB! From Funk and Jazz, they have nightly live music on a huge outdoor stage. Or, watch family-friendly movies under the stars. Another option is a burger and beer, relax and watch sports all season long on the 25’ outdoor jumbotron. This is a great bike ride destination!

Rosemary Beach: Spend the day in this scenic area – we love The Pearl Hotel. The breezy rooftop, reminiscent of a European villa, has an awesome open air patio. Have a cool drink and take in the views of the glistening gulf.  Ladies, don’t miss the many great boutiques here. Bike rentals are popular on 30A so consider riding from Rosemary Beach and travel west into Alys Beach to see stunning architecture. This area is my favorite… really chic and beautiful!

Fun Fact – Coastal Dune Lakes are arare and natural phenomena that only occur in a handful of locations around the globeOn Scenic Highway 30A it has 15 named coastal dune lakes, the only in North America. 

South Walton’s coastal dune lakes are said to be as much as 10,000 years old and were formed by winds that redistributed sand and created the shallow basins, surprisingly…most lakes average only about 5 feet deep.

There are miles of things to discover along the 24 mile stretch of 30A crowned by the pristine sugar sand beaches.  It’s always a great family vacation or a nice romantic getaway!

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DISCOVER DUBAI!

The first time I went to Dubai, all I could think about was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz saying, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates and is a very unique. It’s known to be one of the most interesting and fastest growing cities on earth.

Over a very short period of time this desert city has transformed itself from a humble pearl-diving village into an international hub for tourism and trade, and is now a gateway between the East and the West. The official language is Arabic, although English is the most commonly used in this city of over 3 million people.

The following are some things we did that I would highly recommend:

Tour “Dubai Creek” in an “Abra” and see outstanding views of the city’s futuristic and traditional architecture.  Abras look like an ancient wooden row boat but are now powered by diesel engines and can seat about 20 people.

Shop ‘til you drop and stroll through the endless maze of Souks and Malls. The Spice and Gold Souks are not to be missed. And amazingly, there’s over 50 shopping malls in full operation and many more under construction. My husband Ron has even gone “snowboarding” inside the Mall of the Emirates at their ski resort. It features a 200 foot tall “mountain”, five slopes of varying difficulty – including the world’s first indoor black run.

It’s fun to just walk around Dubai and see people smoking ‘Shisha’. Another local name for it is ‘Hubbly Bubbly’ and it has a sweet, fruity smell. Shisha is a water pipe used to smoke tobacco through cooled water. The tobacco is heated by charcoal at the top and inhaled through a water chamber at the bottom. Shisha pipes date back over 500 years in the Middle East.

No trip to Dubai would be complete without a visit to “Burj Khalifa’, the tallest building in the world. There is an observation deck on the 124th floor called ´At The Top´ and on a clear day the views over the city are spectacular. While you´re in the area, visit the Dubai Fountain and see the spectacular water and music show. There are many wonderful coffee shops and restaurants nearby. We enjoyed dinner at Sammach, an excellent Lebanese seafood restaurant that had a fantastic view of the ‘dancing fountains’.

Everyone has heard of Dubai’s ‘Artificial Islands’ but we had to see it to actually believe it. In the Persian Gulf there are three man-made islands which are in the shape of palm fronds and consist of luxury hotels and residences, restaurants, water parks and sports facilities. Our favorite spot is the stunning Atlantis Palm Hotel. It features guest rooms with floor to ceiling glass views of their fabulous Lost Chambers Aquarium, from your bed you are surrounded by an enormous aquarium where you can watch sea creatures swim around until you fall asleep.

Consider a day trip – we went on a really fun Desert Safari Tour. I don’t know when we’ve laughed more. We really enjoy an exhilarating drive over huge red and gold sand dunes, camel rides and a Bedouin Camp for an evening feast while being entertained by belly dancers. Our daughter Kelsie got “temporary” henna there that is very popular in the UAE.

Dine at sunset in one of the many excellent restaurants on the waterways in the shadow of the magnificent ‘7-star’ Burj Al Arab Hotel. On my next trip I will be having High Tea there.  As a hotel guest, you can be picked up at the airport in a Rolls Royce or perhaps,  a helicopter. It is the self-proclaimed most-luxurious hotel in the world. The Burj Al Arab is also one the world’s tallest hotels and is designed to look like a sailboat. When guests arrive, they are presented a gold plated 24-caret iPad worth $9,000.

This Arabian oasis is clearly an exotic place with enormous wealth. Dubai is safe with almost no crime, a good education system, up-to-date healthcare facilities, modern infrastructure…and everything is tax-free. I can certainly say Dubai is a great destination and is well worth a visit!