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South Walton offers pristine beaches, shopping, cookingcomment (0)

June 12, 2008

By Linda Holloway

Located along the sugar white sands of northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast are 14 communities known as the Beaches of South Walton. This area’s 26 miles of coastline are certified as a "Blue Wave Beach," an environmental seal of approval from the Clean Beaches Council. After having fun on one of these pristine beaches, you don’t have to go far to enjoy nature at a state park, picnic along the Choctawhatchee Bay or take a cooking class.

Popular among tourists to South Walton are the natural wonders. More than 40 percent of the area is preserved through state parks, creating a variety of diverse ecological communities, including beach dunes and coastal dune lakes. The 17 coastal dune lakes in the vicinity are so rare that the only others like them are found in remote portions of Africa and Australia.

Surrounded by expansive dune systems, these coastal dune lakes have an intermittent connection with the Gulf. This results in an unusual a mix of saltwater and freshwater, which allows a wide range of marine species to flourish in the lakes.

Top-notch state parks also abound in South Walton. The facilities at Grayton Beach State Park include a pavilion, camping and picnic areas and a boat ramp to Western Lake. This lake is a favorite for kayakers as well as those hoping for a peek at the nesting and feeding habitats of the osprey, whitetail deer and Osceola turkey. The Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is also ideal for exploring and offers guided tours on Saturday. Topics range from shore birds to sea turtles to poisonous snakes. At Eden State Gardens in Point Washington, you will find landscaped grounds, large oaks draped with Spanish moss and Wesley House, a turn-of-the-century mansion filled with antiques.

If you would rather have your nature visit planned for you, consider a local outfitter who is a Nature Based Certified Outfitter. This program educates tour operators about the natural areas of the Beaches of South Walton, and these experienced guides can help you get the most out of your eco-adventure. Choose from more than 13 certified outfitters including Blue Sky Kayak Tours and Big Daddy’s Bike and Beach. For a complete listing, visit www.beachesofsouthwalton.com/certified_outfitters.asp.

For a break from the outdoors, stop by the more than 30 specialty stores at the Market Shops at Sandestin, which offer items from skin care to a year-round Christmas shop. This unique shopping experience is located at the Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort.

At the Market Shops at Sandestin, hone your cooking skills by taking a cooking class at the Kitchenique store. Its adjoining cooking school is used daily for product demonstrations, tastings and classes. The Kitchenique Cooking Schools also hosts local and touring celebrity chefs throughout the year. The store is stocked with items such as bakeware, cookware, gadgets and cookbooks. You can stock up on your favorite spices as well.

For more information about the Beaches of South Walton, call 1-800-822-6877 or visit www.beachesofsouthwalton.com.

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