2017 Coolest On the Coast
07/03/2017 04:19PM ● Published by Nancy Babin
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From a giant outdoor concert that draws people nationwide to the local restaurants and shops that bring our area its charming appeal, the Emerald Coast has become a hub for excitement. Not only is our area a beautiful and luxurious place to call home, it’s just as attractive as a vacation spot for those across the country. Our white sandy beaches may be what calls people here, but our vibrant community is what makes them want to stay.
It’s incredible to watch our little corner of the world constantly grow and progress. Every year, we collect the best of the best for your enjoyment. Read about new local hot spots, timeless activities and even a few people that are notably fantastic. Whether your stay is short or long term, our July/August issue will provide you with a road map to making the most out of your time here On the Coast. There’s something for everyone on this list. You’ll undoubtedly discover a hidden gem or a new adventure to catch your attention the way it has ours.
A favorite among our readers, our “Coolest On The Coast” issue is your ultimate guide to the Emerald Coast. Enjoy our 2017 selections.
Coolest Thrill Ride
Ride at The Track
Destin, FL 32541
The new Hurricane 360 Ride at The Track is an amazing addition to the amusement center and the Destin area. Seating 12 riders, the Hurricane 360 takes riders up about 40 feet in the air and around a full 360 degrees — all while spinning. Thrill-seekers can take on the Hurricane 360 for a spinning, swinging, flipping good time and one that gives you great views of the park and the Gulf of Mexico! When you've had your fill of being upside down and thrown all around, there's still tons to do at The Track. From bumper boats and a full arcade that includes all the best classics, like skeeball, to miniature golf course and go karts for all ages, there's plenty to fill your day out.
Cool Factors: newest ride On the Coast, spinning thrills
Coolest Slight of Hand
You’ve been to magic shows, but have you truly experienced interactive illusions? Internationally acclaimed magician Jeanette Andrews performs a unique style of modern magic unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
This summer at The Repertory Theatre in Seaside, spend an intimate evening of close-up illusions with Jeanette. Her performance, The Invisible, shatters the mold of the traditional magic performance, weaving together science and folklore with performance and experiments. Recommended for adults and children ages 10 and up, this journey guides you through a series of interactive illusions where you actually create the performance by making crucial decisions and possessing seemingly impossible knowledge.
You can experience The Invisible Tuesdays at 8 pm and Thursdays at 2 pm and 6 pm now through July 13 at the REP Theatre Mainstage. Jeanette also offers a Magic workshop for ages 5-7 on Fridays at 2 pm and for ages 8-14 on Fridays at 3 pm, now through July 14. Don’t miss the chance to interact with one of the most innovative illusionists today. You can purchase tickets at http://lovetherep.com/theinvisible/
Cool Factors: Live show, interactive magic, awaken the senses, boggle the mind! Praised by PBS.
Coolest Place to Get Artsy
26 Logan Lane, Unit #E, Grayton Beach FL 32459
34940 Emerald Coast Pkwy, Suite 114, Destin, FL 32541
The Shard Shop in Grayton Beach, FL is perhaps one of the most unique and intriguing art boutiques on the Emerald Coast. Apparently, we aren't the only ones who think so, because they've opened a second location in Destin.
Their desire to perpetuate the arts in our community comes three-fold. The Shard Shop offers artwork that has been expertly created by the owner, Mary Hong. Beautifully done by hand, each piece is unique as no shard is alike.
They also offer you the opportunity to create your own masterpiece. ShardART is a modified mosaic technique that allows you to enhance a painting with shards of glass..or shells, or other treasured memories! By offering classes called ShardWorx, The Shard Shop creates an environment that allows you to be creative and get the instruction you need to make that creativity shine. If you're crafty on your own and think you can handle it after you've had a class with them, they have everything you need to do it at your leisure. You can purchase your own shards, resin and tools to make your art within the comfort of your own home. You can attend a class all by yourself for some art therapy or you can get a group together and enjoy some time with friends.
This sure isn't your average tourist opp - this is a one-of-a-kind experience that will leave you with the best souvenir you could ask for, whether you're a local or from out of town. Make sure you add this to your list of "must do's"!
Cool Factors: DIY, creative, unique
Coolest Breakfast Hangout
4427 Commons Drive East
Destin, FL 32541
Grab your favorite breakfast date because the newest spot is open for business and bringing a California flare to the East Coast! Located in the Publix shopping center, First Watch opened its Destin location this past September, serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
First Watch’s creative menu takes an elevated approach to traditional and inventive offerings made to order. Their most popular items include Avocado Toast, Floridian French Toast, and Superfood Kale Salad. The menu combines farm fresh ingredients and organic greens to put a new spin on “healthy eating.”
You’ll love the open kitchen where you can see the cooks prepare your food right from your table. Four-legged friends are welcome on the outside patio. The restaurant also offers customers complimentary newspapers and free Wi-Fi Internet access.
Head over to the cool juice bar, where options are juiced in-house daily using local fruits and vegetables – the perfect way to start your morning before heading to the beach. Or if you’re a coffee person, First Watch has quickly become the locals’ new favorite place for a morning cup of joe.
Cool Factors: Open atmosphere, healthy choices, locally grown ingredients, dogs welcome outside
Coolest Night Experience
Live Well 30A
(850) 534 - 0183
Imagine a night under the stars, a circle around a warm fire, music playing and marshmallows roasting; the sound of waves in the background. This is how John Wellborn, founder and CEO of Live Well, describes the beach bonfires his company hosts each night.
Wellborn says the beach bonfires are his favorite thing Live Well does. “Most people tell us it was the best night of their trip.”
Live Well will set up your bonfire anywhere on 30A and even into Destin. The most popular choices are Inlet Beach, Rosemary Beach, Seacrest Beach, Watersound, Alys Beach, Seagrove Beach, Seaside, Watercolor and Grayton Beach. Bonfires last three hours unless you want to schedule more time.
You also have the option to either bring your own food or let Live Well cater for you! They’ll even bring the hot chocolate.
Whether you’re celebrating one last summer hoorah or just need a reason to get together with friends, Live Well will help you gather around the fire and in this case, smell the beach waves.
Cool Factors: bonfire made to order, all the fun and no cleanup
Coolest Way to Play Tag
Thrills Laser Tag and Arcade
Seascape Town Centre
90 Seascape Dr. #105
Miramar Beach, FL 32550
Thrills Laser Tag is just that – a thrill! Located in the Seascape Town Center, Thrills Laser Tag and Arcade is a one-of-a-kind experience. The arena stretches over two levels and accommodates up to 24 players per game. That’s more than two football teams!
Thrills calls their 3,700 square foot laser tag arena the “Temple of Doom” and it promises structures, glyphs, and even 15-foot cobra pillars. The arena is unlike any other in the area. It’s not just two teams battling it out – the Temple of Doom fights back, too! Todd Whitney, the owner, says it’s the most interactive and immersive laser tag experience you’ll find. It’s also the most themed; you can even choose your game format – Zombies, Capture the Flag, Gladiator - and that’s only the beginning.
You'll also find at Thrills an amazing arcade that has over 50 games and 70 play stations ranging from classic to cutting edge. With it open seven days a week, that’s a lot of gaming! Thrills is great for birthday parties, get-togethers, team building events, companies, and families.
With so many options to fill your need for adventure, Thrills fits the bill. Digitalized with special effects, custom music, and a whole lot of fun to keep the guests coming back, Thrills is a must for your to-do list this summer.
Cool Factors: Interactive, customizable game format, largest laser tag arena On the Coast
Coolest Place to Spend the Day
Known for its pastel houses, bike trails, exquisite real estate, and living by the motto “where bare feet and sandy floors rule,” Seaside is the place to be. This adorable town is centered around the community lawn, quaint shops, line of food trucks, and of course, the white, sandy beaches. Vacationers plan their trips months ahead, and locals love to spend the days in their own paradise.
The beach is the most obvious of attractions for Seaside. The town is along 30A, so scenic drives come with the package. The beach is within walking distance and the main entrance is right in the center of town. Once at the beach, you can spend the day on the water paddle boarding, boat riding, or letting your feet bury in the sand with a book in your lap.
Seaside has a variety of shops, restaurants, ice cream shops, and food trucks. Whether you’re grabbing a grilled cheese from a food truck on the way to the beach or bike riding through the trails with a sno-cone in hand, Seaside gives you the feel that for a day, or for a week, nothing else matters. Bliss.
Within the community, Seaside offers different events throughout the month, including film and music festivals, a farmer’s market, and movie nights in the amphitheater. There is also a weekly summer concert series. For the younger ones, there is a children’s theater performance and “Stories by the Sea” held each week.
If you’re looking for southern seafood cuisine, Bud and Alley’s, Shrimp Shack, and Great Southern Café are popular choices. For dessert, head to Frost Bites, It’s Heavenly, or Modica Market. Here you can pick up your dessert to go and grab last-minute necessities that you forgot from home. What’s better than a family bike ride to dinner, ice cream right next door, and a walk on the beach to catch the sunset?
Seaside is the coolest and most relaxing way to spend your day this summer. Don’t be surprised if you end up not wanting to leave.
Cool Factors: Small-town feel, quaint, walk/bike ride distance to the beach, so much to do
Coolest Place to Climb
Rock Out Gym
2001 98 Palms Blvd, Suite 5 , Destin, FL 32541
Did you know you can go rock climbing right here on the Emerald Coast? Yes, indeed! Bouldering has arrived and the response has been phenomenal!
After 14 years as an active duty military member, Ken Sheykah decided it was time for him to create something of his own right here in Destin. As a lover of the outdoors and an active climber (as much as one can be in North Florida), Ken knew that there couldn't be a better location for a climbing gym. Destin and its surrounding area hosts thousands of tourists, snowbirds, and locals throughout the year and Rock Out Climbing Gym fulfills the need for a fun way to workout indoors.
Whether you're a parent looking for an exciting activity for your kids, a teenager eager for a new and entertaining way to work out and have fun at the same time, or a person of any age looking to try something new, Rock Out Climbing Gym is the perfect place for you to check out. Rock Out’s mission is to create an environment where you can pursue adventure, seek new challenges, socialize with other active people, and exercise all while having fun. With a wide range of different bouldering levels that change on a constant basis, they are confident that you will enjoy yourself while getting a great workout!
Cool Factors: 3,315 sq ft of top quality bouldering terrain that changes monthly, fun and challenging Indoor Fun for
Coolest Artistic Wood Carver
Maker of Fine Wooden Spoons
Fort Walton Beach, FL
Available at DeFrance Antiques in FWB
Dave Harding is a local artistic anomaly. Sometimes you’ll find him relaxing on the beach, sandpaper and wood in hand. Occasionally you’ll find him at local craft fairs with a selection of spoons, cutting boards and artwork. You’ll run into him on Saturdays at DeFrance Antiques, whittling away at a new piece and greeting customers as they enter. His calm and kind demeanor causes you to stop and peruse his beautifully, carefully carved wooden spoons. His stories will have you intrigued by the man in front of you who has lived more in his 65 years than some do in their entire lifetime. Every piece of wood he works with has its own story to tell and he allows it to form as he goes, taking the time it requires to perfect it. From ladles to serving spoons, stirring spoons to custom handprint salad tongs, custom-shaped cutting boards and even the occasional new idea, not one piece is the same and can take hours to complete. His expertise in types of wood allows him to create the best out of what he finds, whether it is cherry, black walnut, or whatever else he can get his hands on.
Cool Factors: Custom pieces, handmade art, local artist
Coolest Newest Boutique
Belles & Whistles
102 Eglin Pkwy SE
Fort Walton Beach, Florida, FL 32548
Right off Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, you’ll find a beautifully and well-thought out boutique called Belles & Whistles Southern Market. The owner, BethAnne, has curated an incredible collection of clothing, jewelry and gifts sure to delight your spirit. From couture apparel from Johnny Was to stunning jewelry from Marianna, you can’t walk away from this boutique empty-handed. You’ll find glass terrariums filled with sand and carefully selected shells, handcrafted chandeliers and lighting fixtures, functional and beautiful furniture for your home, and even handmade candles, lotions and sugar scrubs that smell like heaven. Local vendors fill up every corner of Belles & Whistles, but in an organized and high-end way. You’ll feel like you’re shopping in a West Elm shop in New York right here in Florida, but with a personal touch that only BethAnne is able to offer.
The selection will make you want to redecorate your home, buy a new wardrobe and buy gifts for everyone you know!
Cool Factors: Locally sourced products, boutique-feel with tons of variety, great prices
Coolest Music Festival
Imagine listening to your favorite music with your toes in the sand and a drink in your hand, surrounded by your closest friends. This is what Gulf Shore’s annual Hangout Music Festival (aka Hangout Fest) offers our beautiful Emerald Coast. With past lineups including names like Mumford & Sons, TwentyOne Pilots, The Misterwives, Florence & The Machine, The Weeknd, Paramore, The Black Keys and so many more, this yearly festival is the complete package for a beach vacation away. Every year, this festival sells out of general admission tickets within a few weeks of opening the sales up to the public. Its popularity increases every year and sees a typical turn out of over 35,000 people. Even MTV and VH1 cover this event!
Keep an eye out in early February to snatch your tickets for this epically cool three-day festival held in May and get ready to be blown away by the 2018 (May 19-21) lineup that is sure to impress!
Cool factors: Unicorns and pixie dust, top musical acts, barefoot, swimsuits and sunsets
Coolest Galactic Experience
Henderson Beach State Park
This summer, start or inspire a love for the planets at Henderson Beach State Park. The Northwest Florida Astronomy Association (NWFAA) is hosting a solar eclipse viewing on August 21, 2017. The NWFAA, comprised of volunteers dedicated to bringing astronomy knowledge to the community, will have solar telescopes available all day for those unable to travel north to experience the path to totality. They will also be handing out specialty eclipse glasses so you can truly experience the solar eclipse.
Why is it important to go to a certain place to look at the eclipse? At no point is it safe to look at the eclipse without protective eyewear, and sunglasses don't count! The event will be set up at the beach from 11 am – 4 pm, and the eclipse will start at around 12:05 pm and will end around 3 pm. The sun will be the most obscured (82.6%) at approximately 1:37 pm. (Isn't it crazy how precise they are able to time this out?)
The solar eclipse viewing is a free event and open to the public. Some schools are turning this into a field trip and we aren't surprised! A day like this hasn't come since 1979, so you definitely want to take advantage of this! Plus, come on, it's at the beach! Talk about a multi-functional day out! Educational, outside, and rare enough to be a true treat.
Cool Factors: Outer space, free protective eyewear, educational and fun
Coolest Irish Dancer
Caitlin Hart, Niceville native and class of 2017 Collegiate High School Graduate, competed at the World Irish Dancing Championships with a team of 15 other dancers on Sunday, April 16th in Dublin, Ireland. With a perfect score, they swept the competition and were crowned World Champions.
Caitlin has been dancing with The Irish Dance Studio in Fort Walton Beach since the age of 6. She says that her own Irish background inspired her to start dancing.
“When I found out I was going to compete in the world championship in Ireland, I knew I reached my Irish dance goals,” Hart said.
In 2015, she reached the highest level of solo competition. Her determination and love for dance led her to a team in Atlanta last August. For the past year, she has traveled back and forth to Atlanta to train with her team and prepare for the World Championships. April has also competed on the regional and national level; she recently placed 10th at the regional level.
The Irish Dance Studio is home to Drake Irish Dance of Fort Walton Beach. The Drake School is based out of Atlanta. Both competitive and performance opportunities are offered, and dancers compete regionally, nationally, and internationally. The studio is under the direction of CLRG certified instructors, Cindy Brainerd and Ashley Breihan.
Cool Factors: International dancer, Irish background, world champion
Coolest Children's Boutique
Pink N Blue Avenue
4145 Legendary Drive
You’ll find everything your heart desires are Destin’s coolest children’s boutique: Pink N Blue Avenue. This bright and airy boutique offers hard-to-find and love-to-have girls’ and boys’ clothing, shoes and accessories and mom to-be care products.
Brands inspired by kids who like to express, explore and create fill this charming shop. Pink N Blue aims to emphasize affordability, community and customer service. How are they doing this? By providing a warm and welcoming environment for both shoppers and children alike. A toy area where little ones can explore and play with toys from the toy box, play dress-up in the mirrored fitting room or watch a show or read a book while their parents shop. You just can’t help but be excited by their massive selection of brands, to include Little Unicorn, DockATot, Freshly Picked, Joyfolie, Mustard Pie, Saltwater Sandals, and timeless Beaufort Bonnet!
A huge selection of gifts, jewelry and clothes await and let’s not forget those birthday hats for that special little one on your list!
Cool Factors: Wide variety or unique, super cute “must haves” for your little ones, great prices
Coolest Place to Jump Around
Surge Trampoline Park
Santa Rosa Mall
Feeling jumpy? Okaloosa’s first trampoline park is the place to be! Surge Trampoline Park in Mary Esther offers fun and fitness like you’ve never experienced. It’s also both indoor and air-conditioned – a blessing on those summer days when it’s just too hot or rainy.
The main feature of the park that has kids flipping and jumping is the open court of interconnected trampolines. The park also has a jousting battle beam, spinning wipe-out, gymnastics "tumble tracks,” and a crowd favorite – the foam pits! Kids will be running, tucking, and burning off all their energy. Parents everywhere, rejoice!
There’s also a designated toddler zone, which puts mom and dads at ease and makes for the best playdates. Parents can hang out in the spectator area, but they can join in on the fun, too!
The park is open Tuesday through Sunday and there’s fun for all ages including toddler time, group events, and field trips. You can even have your next birthday party there! There are also fundraiser nights to promote events and college nights using your student ID. Think about it – your family, best friends, youth group, sports team, or even coworkers can all jump in on the fun!
Cool Factors: Indoor trampolines, fitness-oriented, super excitement with safety first
Coolest Way to Swim Like a Mermaid
Kitty Hawk Kites
HarborWalk Village - (850)-837-2800
Okaloosa Island - (850) 796-0102
Have you ever wanted to be a mermaid? Well, now you can. That’s right – Ariel isn’t just under the sea anymore thanks to Fin Fun Mermaid. The company manufactures mermaid tails for toddlers, children, and adults that look just like the real thing. Not only that, but with one of these tails, you can take a Fin Fun Mermaid class for free. Through “Mermaid University”, instructors will teach you the tips and tricks of how to be just like a real mermaid.
The best part is that anyone can take the class and anyone can teach it. Instructors can receive certification through Fin Fun. If a facility chooses to host a Fin Fun class, it can choose to rent or sell the tails, or students can come with their own.
So where do you find your mermaid tail you ask? Right here On the Coast at Kitty Hawk Kites with two convenient locations to serve you. Visit Kitty Hawk Kites on Okaloosa Island or at Harbor Walk Village in Destin. You'll find mermaid tails and a whole store full of fun that will let your imagination float sky high!
Cool Factors: Mermaid dreams come to life
Coolest Way to Buy Local
You don’t have to go far to find fresh, locally grown and locally made foods on the Emerald Coast. You can get everything from fresh produce to artisan cheeses and so much more. As you go from vendor to vendor, you’ll be intrigued by the massive assortment of fruits and vegetables, engulfed by the sweet perfumes of handmade soaps, and enamored by the best of what our area has to offer. You’ll find fresh local seafood, homemade pastas and sauces, crab cakes, local honey, a variety of infused olive oils, preserves and salsas – all from the community around you.
The exciting part is there are so many of these markets available On the Coast!
Farmers’ markets provide a place for local farmers and artisans to display their products and other locally-produced food and goods. Now, some farmers’ markets offer even more to draw in crowds, such as cooking classes, seed exchanges and more.
The Seaside Farmers’ Market, located at County Road 30A in Seaside, FL, is open from 8am-12 noon on Saturdays. www.facebook.com/seasidefarmersmarket
The 30A Farmers Market @ Rosemary Beach is open Sundays year-round and Thursdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 9am-1pm. www.30afarmersmarket.com
Crestview Farmers Market offers seasonal fruits, vegetables, eggs and locally sourced grass fed beef on Saturdays. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7am-1pm. www.facebook.com/CrestviewFM
Okaloosa County Farmers Market in Fort Walton Beach has a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables on Lewis Turner Blvd, open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7am-2pm until Thanksgiving. www.facebook.com/OkaloosaFarmersMarkets/
Grand Boulevard Farmers’ Market is located in Grand Park and runs on Saturdays year round from 10am-2pm. https://www.facebook.com/grandboulevardfarmersmarket/
The Destin Harbor Farmers’ Market is open from 10am-2pm on Saturdays at 314 Harbor Boulevard in Destin. https://www.facebook.com/destinharborfarmersmarket/
The Fort Walton Beach Farmers’ Market. Located at the corner of 201 SE Miracle Strip Pkwy and Ferry Road is open the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month from 8am to noon. http://www.downtownfwb.com/farmersmarket/
Cool factors: local vendors, fresh homemade food, locally-grown produce, unique products, outdoor shopping
Coolest Cup of Joe
Main Brew Coffee
661 Beal Parkway NW, FWB FL 32547
Main Brew Coffee is a huge win for Fort Walton Beach's cool factor. We are excited to welcome a local source for great food and coffee in Fort Walton Beach. The best part is that it their coffee is amazing, close-your-eyes-and-swoon coffee. This sweet shop has taken the area by storm and has rave reviews from tons of customers. That's not all, though. Main Brew Coffee offers a breakfast and lunch menu, including gluten-free options. Rumor has it that the crepes are simply divine, but you can't go wrong with anything on the menu.
Locals, Patrick & Shelagh Tatum, opened Main Brew Coffee in March of this year after taking over the building and renovating it to give it a cool, hip and relaxing vibe. Not only do they offer a great environment, but they're constantly trying new flavors and concepts, so each visit can be exciting for the coffee connoisseur. You'll find the comfortable setting allows it to be a very versatile space. It's perfect for the casual conversation, quick pick up from the drive-thru, business meeting or even just to get away from the house to work in a quiet environment.
Cool factors: New local business, amazing coffee and food, gluten free options, great ambience
Coolest Way to Practice Yoga
The two most relaxing activities have teamed up and made their way to Niceville – paddleboarding and yoga. Emerald Coast Paddleboard, a new business in Niceville, offers SUP yoga classes and paddleboard excursions on the bayside.
Dana Davis, founder and instructor for Emerald Coast Paddleboard, has been practicing yoga for seven years and has lived in the area since 1970. She established the business because she wanted to focus on the local community and offer families outdoor fun at an affordable price.
The SUP yoga classes improve balancing skills and settle the busy mind – don’t we all need that! Anyone can do it and no experience is required. “Just bring your sense of humor. Falling is half the fun,” Davis says.
A brief paddleboard instruction is provided on shore. Each board is equipped with a personal flotation device, paddle, leash and dry bag. The yoga class offers modifications and is tailored to meet the experience level of each participant.
ECP offers regular classes throughout the week at Twin Cities Park, Lincoln Park, and Baytowne Marina, or you can schedule a private group class. You also have the option to BYOB (bring your own board), or rent a board through the company.
ECP’s motto is “For the Adventure in All of Us,” so locals, this one’s for you. Grab a paddleboard, because the adventure is on this side of the bridge.
Cool Factors: Challenging outdoor exercise, amazing environment (on the water!), great core workout
Coolest Hangout Spot
1284 Marler Ave
Okaloosa Island, FL 32548
Tucked off 98 towards the sound side, you’ll find the coolest hangout spot on the coast: The Gulf on Okaloosa Island. Expertly crafted food and drink await you along with a myriad of locations for you to sit and enjoy time with your friends and family. The Gulf has done a fantastic job creating an outdoor haven, complete with twinkly lights, private nooks for conversation and even comfy sofas on the sand to relax on. Since it’s all outside, the kids can run amuck while you ease back and chill.
Once you've had your fill, you can grab a drink at the bar and head over to the ping pong tables or go sit right on the beach. On Wednesday nights, they set up to play movies for the public, and when the moon is out in full, you can experience one of their Full Moon Parties after 9 pm where they offer live entertainment and campfire cooking.
So grab your favorite people of all ages and spend an evening at The Gulf!
Cool Factors: Outdoor dining, movie nights, adult and kid-friendly!