Let your mind wander off to that favorite place of yours you had as a kid. The place you felt you could really be yourself. The place you felt safest and most at home. The place you could come to life exploring. The place where the world seemed to slow down and life was simple. When you think of THIS place you find your mind carried away with wonder and all of the sudden a few minutes have passed. When you think of THIS place, your memories seem to play as a slow motion reel on an old projector screen. Where is THIS place for you?
For many, THAT place is Seaside, Florida, a favorite thriving coastal community not far west of Panama City Beach.
Plenty of towns shout for attention up and down the emerald coast, but Seaside is the most nostalgic and charming experience. Today, (yes, even during covid-19) a visit to Seaside will likely include little crowds of friends and family enjoying time together outside under the shade and a nice breeze. Many are socializing while enjoying a slow walk on the clean streets in bare feet & beach attire. They pass colorful cottage style homes around every corner, and unique architectural elements like the giant purple wall mural of Vincent Scully. Not to mention the white beach sands and bluest water on the emerald coast.
It's another world in Seaside. Teeny-bop crowds, toddlers with snow cones, and multi-generational families from all over the world, seem to blend in together perfectly forming their own melting pot of a community. Sitting indian style on the fresh cut grass of the amphitheater on Central Square just feels "right". Life is good in Seaside. Oh yeah, and did I mention you're surrounded by palm trees? A day in Seaside could include strolling along the shopping & dining cul de sac, perusing vintage airstream trailer restaurants, or meeting up with a friend for a sunset beach stroll. Young ones, old ones, and in between find both outdoor adventure and peace on the beaches/town of Seaside along 30a... but where did it all begin?
Though it was founded in 1979 (construction began in 1981), appx 40 years ago, Seaside leaves a legacy of impacting both homeowners & vacationing families every season since.
Arial photo of Seaside in 1960 before it was the Seaside we know and love:
A simple vacation to the beach for the Davis family in 1946 began the well-known journey of what is known today as Seaside. J.S. Smolian would decide on that very vacation to purchase 80 acres near Seagrove Beach on Florida's northwest coast. Years later, his grandson Robert Davis' passions led him to an award-winning career as a builder/developer in Miami in the 1970s. Robert became enthralled with the idea of constructing a town perfect for nostalgic family vacations on that same very beach land his grandfather purchased during his childhood.
Photo of J.S. Smolian with grandson Robert on the beach below:
Northwest Florida's building traditions produced wood-frame cottages that Robert dreamed of reviving. He wanted cottages that would be built perfectly for on the go beach life. For that, they would need to allow room to room ventilation, large lounging porches, and plenty of room for multigenerational families. Robert and Daryl Davis teamed up with Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk to help plan this visionary community.
A small town model was used in laying out streets and squares and locating the hot spots of the community which would span 80 acres, a quarter of a mile. Perfectly planned so that it would be an idyllic walk for someone on the go throughout the day from work to home.
One of the first houses ever built photographed below:
The architectural & popular press both caught wind of Seaside and found appeal in that Seaside could change the future patterns of urban & suburban growth. In 1982, The original master plan & the Seaside Urban Code were drafted. Places like Charleston, Savannah, & Nantucket inspired the design and code. Even the streets are constructed so that it's more pleasant to walk than to drive. The first "shops" if we could call them that were wooden tables with canvas roof coverings where fruit, veggies, and flea market items were sold.
As I write this article, Seaside contains more than 300 cottages, many of which are available for rent. Every spring, summer, fall, and winter hundreds of families pass through the little town that's just far enough south to be "off the radar" of the nearby well known Hwy 98, but loved so much that many call it their second home. The secret of Seaside, well, it's out my friends!