Grayton Beach, Old Florida Village
Town motto; “nice dogs, strange people.”
Grayton Beach is the oldest community in South Walton, once an old Florida town with dirt streets and wooden, tin-roofed houses founded in 1890 by former army officers and their families. Grayton Beach had its beginnings when an Army major, Charles T. Gray, built a homestead here about 1885, according to the telling of the village’s history by the Coastal Heritage Preservation Foundation. Evidence of the town’s history can be found in the mix of architectural styles that includes modern structures alongside authentic old Florida beach houses.
It was lovely to take an evening stroll through town down to the beach to watch the sunset. The town is very walkable and has a neighborhood feel to it. One of the oldest structures in the county is the former Washaway house, once a hotel now stands guard at the south end of DeFuniak Street, the main drag in and out of town.
You will not find massive condominiums here. Single family beach houses are the normal, some of them dating back 70 years. Front porches, upper decks and lots of ceiling fans bring to mind another time when life was a lot slower.
The only bed and breakfast inn, Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse, is a collection of older buildings that includes a “dogtrot” house believed to be the second-oldest building in town. Some of the early buildings have survived the test of time, the coastal weather and have been given new life. The old Butler General Store now houses one of the area’s most popular hangouts, the Red Bar, where it’s not uncommon to spot celebrities among the locals, bathed in the glow of red lights. In the 30s it was used as the Saturday night dance hall, on any given Saturday night there would have been 100 people or more, they would come from as far as Destin to dance.
Political and natural barriers have kept Grayton Beach a village. What few efforts there have been to build large condominium projects here have met with furious opposition from most of the community’s residents. The state has done its part to keep Grayton Beach small by virtually surrounding the village with park land. In 1967, the state used its land east of the town to create the Grayton Beach State Recreation Area. In 1985, after years of lobbying by residents, Florida bought the village’s beach front and the dunes and forest land to the west and north.
The town embraces Western Lake, one of South Walton’s rare coastal dune lakes, making it a logical starting point for all kinds of eco-adventures from hiking to paddling to YOLO boarding. North of town, Grayton Beach State Park’s hiking trail connects to the Longleaf Greenway Trail in Point Washington State Forest for some extensive hiking, biking, and wildlife watching. But the beach itself remains the biggest draw. Local outfitters can fix you up with a surf board or skim board as well as a YOLO stand up paddle board.
Fishing charters leave from the beach (residents with a permit can drive on on the beach) and will have you out in deep water in no time.
Named best beach in America in 1994 by Dr. Beach, it remains one of the best beaches in Florida inviting beachcombers, anglers, and kids of all ages to play. After all, strange people want to have fun too.
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