You know all those palm trees you see along Scenic 30A? Yeah. Fake. Well, the trees themselves aren’t actually fake. They’re real trees. But they’re not technically from here. You have to venture a couple of hours further southeast along the coast to find palm trees growing in the wild. Developers use those propped-up palms to make visitors feel as though they’ve finally arrived in the paradise of their frondy fantasies. As you might expect, this tropical topic is the subject of some local debate.
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida has a population of about 14,000 people, so it’s a pretty small town. And yet, any night of the week, locals can indulge in truly world-class cuisine, an abundance of cultural events and live music performances that rival what you’ll find in much larger cities. As if the beautiful beaches weren’t enough, right? How does one little town get so darn lucky?
“30-A is a little like Bali,” said YOLO Board’s Jeff Archer. “When you get there, you’re surprised by how many amazing chefs and artists are living in such a remote place. They could easily be earning big bucks in Paris or New York or San Francisco, but they choose to live in paradise instead.”
For a town our size, per capita, we’re spoiled absolutely rotten by the talent that chooses to call Scenic Highway 30A home. And we’re basking in every wonderful moment of it.
You know those big storms that sometimes form out in the Gulf of Mexico between June and November? They slam ashore wreaking extreme havoc and destruction? Begins with an
Yeah, we don’t talk about those. Ever.
Surfers get excited by tropical storms, as favorable swells can produce the optimal conditions necessary to feed their primal addiction. But otherwise, we avoid all talk of this taboo subject. In the confidential privacy of our own homes, we repeatedly refresh NOAA trajectory maps online and quietly calculate the last possible moment we can evacuate before Highway 331 (the only road out of town) becomes a nightmarish Walking Dead-like parking lot. But just like Harry Potter has his (shhhhh!) Voldemort, we never utter the “H-word” here, even in the off-season.
Newcomers routinely step in this sand trap. They belly-up to their favorite new beach bar and eventually gripe about their employer or co-worker to anyone willing to listen. Of course in a regular city, this is just part of the therapeutic barfly ritual, and it wouldn’t be any big deal.
The problem on Scenic Highway 30A is that the person sitting next to them is their boss’ next-door neighbor, and the bartender is their daughter. In the Kevin Bacon game of 30A, we’re all ONE link away from each other, and word spreads faster than a TikTok video along the Coconut Telegraph. So, it’s always best to heed the motto of the now-defunct Smiling Fish Cafe: “BE NICE OR LEAVE.”
Last year, someone posted this question on our 30A Facebook page:
“We will be visiting 30-A in a few weeks. Can you please tell me if the sharks have left the area?”
:: FACE PALM ::
Hold on to your swim shorts, folks. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this: The Gulf and Bay are FULL of sharks. Bull sharks, hammerheads, tiger sharks, threshers, whale sharks … They’re out there, right along with you, EVERY SINGLE DAY. They’ve been out there with you every time you’ve stepped foot into the Gulf, ever since you were a little tot. And they couldn’t possibly CARE LESS ABOUT YOU.
Seriously though, sharks live in the Gulf of Mexico. They’re often a few hundred feet away from you, and you never even know it. Before you panic though, know the facts. For example, in the entire state of Florida, there have only been 11 deaths by shark … SINCE 1882! But if you still can’t get your head around this plain and simple truth, don’t worry – Scenic Highway 30A is home to some pretty sweet swimming pools.
If you insist on worrying about something, worry about lightning. Florida holds the undisputed title for the most annual deaths by lightning strike. (Oh, and did I mention we have bears?)
100% bona fide 30A locals – people who have lived here literally since birth – are almost as elusive as our local black bears. Their stories of 30A’s Wild West-like early days can produce a laugh a minute (driving a car across Western Lake, anyone?). Everyone else here is relatively fresh off the boat (or more likely, fresh out of the mini-van).
Once you’ve been here for five years, you’re probably considered a local – or at least a Real Estate agent. If you’ve been here for 15 years, you’re a Community Elder; a guardian of ancient knowledge. If you’ve been here for 30 years or more, you’re a mystical creature that commands a special kind of respect. You probably have a park or trail named after you.
PRO TIP: Get to know some of our colorful locals including 5th generation local Jimmy Burgess, YOLO Board + Bike Founder Jeff Archer, health and fitness expert Dr. Bart Precourt, Bud & Alley’s Dave Rauschkolb, Green Beret Daisson Hickle, and Dear Prudence (yes, The Beatles wrote a song about this lovely local).
Like the swallows of Capistrano, it happens every year… usually in early November, right around the time of WaterColor’s MountainFilm Fest. Suddenly, overnight temperatures plummet down to 70 degrees. We all race to break out the North Face jackets, digging in for another bitter cold winter (which might actually witness two or three nights of freezing temperatures).
Hey, don’t judge us: When you live in Florida, your blood thins really fast.
But teeth-rattling temps in the upper-50s aren’t the only thing we’ve lost perspective on. We’ve also lost touch with simple concepts like time and distance.
“Rosemary Beach is way too far to go for dinner,” moans a local nine miles to the west in Grayton. “I wouldn’t drive to Destin if you paid me,” vows another.
Schedules aren’t based on time, but rather, around things like surf conditions and sun sets.
And you know you’ve lost perspective on expenses when your visiting guests from Manhattan comment on how pricey things are.
You know how you felt when the waitress handed you that $108 bill for an appetizer, fried shrimp basket and two Mai Tais? We feel your pain buddy because those are the same prices we pay year-round. There’s no wink-wink-nudge-nudge locals handshake here. Yes, a few places offer locals a modest discount, but that’s about it.
Groceries can be obscenely expensive compared to other cities and long-term home or apartment rentals can be almost impossible to find. And you can’t blame the local businesses – rent here is so high that if you don’t make enough money during the summer, you won’t be able to survive the slow off-season.
Hey, what can we say, there’s a price to pay for living in Paradise, and it ain’t cheap.
But don’t assume that we’re all rich — far from it.
Occasionally, we see people post comments that people who live on Scenic Highway 30A are nothing but “rich snobs.” Such comments are not only rude, of course, but they’re also ignorant.
We’re waitresses and waiters. We’re chefs and bartenders. We’re social media and PR consultants. We’re artists and musicians. We’re nurses and photographers. We’re small business owners and grade-school teachers. We’re receptionists and retail associates. Some of us also have a real estate license, just as a back-up plan. Almost all of us are struggling to make ends meet, and it’s not easy.
But every day, we wake up and take our dogs for a walk along the beach. Or we slowly paddle our way across a perfectly smooth dune lake. In the evenings, we fill a plastic cup full of screw-cap wine and watch a giant orange orb dip gently into the Gulf of Mexico. And that’s when it happens: That’s when we remember why we do it.
Jimmy Buffett — The Pied Piper of Paradise — is probably responsible for more people quitting their jobs and moving to the beach than any other human being on the planet. When you’re stuck with a double-mortgage in a landlocked city working a job that you despise, Jimmy Buffett can become an all-important lifeline to this sugar-sand fantasyland.
But once you actually get here, the psychological need to listen to all of those “songs you know by heart” often subsides. Jimmy Buffet is a gateway drug, and once you’ve arrived, those songs aren’t as essential to your mental well-being. It doesn’t help when hardcore locals sneer at the very mention of his name. Not because they don’t love A Pirate Looks at 40 as much as anyone — but it’s because they grew up hearing it ALL THE DAMN TIME… in every single restaurant and bar… over and over and over and over.
So while you’ll hear Jimmy Buffett played on constant rotation in many other beach destinations, you won’t hear our well-known friend quite as much here. That said, we still save a place for JB in our daily rotation on 30A Radio! After all, he’s the whole reason many of us landed here.
What happened??? Four cars got broken into last night? This place is going to hell in a hand basket! Oh, all of the cars were carelessly left unlocked? Still. We can’t believe it. “It must not be a local,” residents will quickly suggest, refusing to believe that one of our own could be capable of such a dastardly deed. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes not.
Unfortunately, crime happens. Everywhere. Yes, Scenic Highway 30A is Mayberry at the beach, and it’s easy to get lulled into a sense of false security here. But even Mayberry had its ample share of passing bank robbers, snake oil salesmen and shysters (otherwise, why have a sheriff and a deputy with a bullet in his pocket?).
Fortunately, Walton County has a wonderfully proactive sheriff who is quick to remind us all to use common sense. None of us likes crime, but using simple courtesy and common sense can go a long way to help prevent it.
Paradise has its share of problems and controversies. But almost all of them are commonly called FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS. While the rest of humanity is wrestling with topics like unemployment, homelessness, terrorism or the federal deficit, we tend to hyper-focus on things like traffic and parking. We fret about noise ordinances, mosquito control and wedding venue regulations.
For example, there are only two kinds of people who live here: People who believe that cars should “share the road” with cyclists (as the law clearly provides), and there are those who believe that bikes should stay on the @#$!& bike path that hugs the entire length of Scenic Highway 30A.
This is the kind of deeply divisive social issue that keeps some locals spinning their mental wheels at night. Cycling purists will argue that they peddle at speeds in excess of 20 to 25 miles per hour and that striking a child or family on a pleasant stroll would be disastrous. Motorists say that’s all fine and dandy, but a 2-ton car traveling at 45 miles per hour striking a cyclist can’t be healthy either. What infuriates motorists even more is when they finally get around the Lance Armstrong parade on Western Lake, only to be passed by them again as they whiz right through the stop sign at WaterColor.
As for us, we strictly avoid taking sides on local issues, preferring to watch these casual coastal squabbles from the sidelines, with a sense of humor and a cold draft 30A Beach Blonde Ale.
GAME-CHANGER ALERT: If you haven’t yet ridden a 30A Electric Bike by YOLO, you are totally missing out.
For some strange reason, beach communities just seem to attract the oddballs. Whether it’s Key West or South Beach, Santa Monica or the Jersey Shore, the beach serves as a cosmic magnet for derelicts and social misfits. It’s like we’ve congregated as close to the edge as we can possibly go without having to strap on scuba gear.
Scenic Highway 30A is no different. Ultra-conservatives, diehard liberals, artists, mullet fishermen, the super-affluent, the dirt poor, the devout, the agnostic. Though we may disagree on things like politics and religion (and bike path uses), we all share the same wonderful place we call home.
There are even Misfit Christmas parties for those of us who find ourselves alone over the holidays, as we stay behind to wait tables, check-in guests and organize activities for out-of-towners who want to bring their families to the beach for Christmas.
Indeed, the price for living in Paradise isn’t cheap … but it’s a price that we’re all happy to pay.