Looking for a great book? The 30A area has no shortage of unique options from local, independent bookstores to a library that is also a state landmark. We’ve rounded up some of the best places for book lovers around 30A.
The Hidden Lantern Bookstore, which opened in 2011 on the cobblestone streets of Rosemary Beach, has an artsy feel. Deep colors and the arrangement of dark wooden shelves give the feeling of winding through a magical maze of books.
The store was designed with a subtle nod to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series: at the door, customers are greeted by a bookshelf carved in the shape of the wardrobe from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; in the reading area, a large crystal chandelier resembles the Dawn Treader ship; and a hand-drawn portrait of Lewis hangs on the back wall. The name of the bookstore is also a reference to a recurring symbol in the series.
The Hidden Lantern features typical book sections as well as a supply of classics, a robust Christian section curated by a longtime employee, and a well-stocked kids corner. During the warm months, the staff creates a collection of beach reads for those looking for some easy vacation reading.
One highlight of the bookstore is a plush sitting area with a comfy couch and chairs for flipping through books.
Lexie Senior, the store’s manager, said the staff is eager to help customers find the perfect book. “Our passion is helping match the customer with what they are looking for — even if they don’t know what that is yet,” she said. “Sometimes you have to ask ten questions to get to what the person really wants, but that is something we love to do.”
Shoppers living out of town or those who can’t make it into the store can still support the Hidden Lantern by purchasing titles through their bookshop.org page.
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The longest-standing bookstore in the area is the renowned Sundog Books in Seaside.
Walk in and feel the plywood floor creak under your feet and, if the doors are open, a soft sea breeze on your skin. Books line the shelves but are also in stacks on the floor, squished into every nook and cranny.
It sort of feels like walking into your book-loving grandmother’s reading room: cozy, surrounded with so many stories waiting to be delved into.
Sundog Books was born 35 years ago when Linda and Bob White, a young couple with a true passion for books, opened a tiny shop in a fledgling Seaside. The couple slung books out of a 12-foot-by-12-foot room, writing all their tickets by hand and stashing their earnings in a cigar box. At night, they waited tables to make a living.
Today, Sundog boasts over 22,000 titles in a 1,800-square-foot storefront. The Whites have filled their shelves with lots of fiction, including a popular Southern section and a robust Sci-fi and Fantasy area.
Besides a prime location in walkable, Gulf-front Seaside, Linda White said their employees set this store apart. Several have worked there for a decade or more. “We all just really have a love of books,” she said. “We are all readers, and we love talking about what we are reading and hearing what other people are into.”
The funky Central Square Records is housed upstairs from Sundog Books and is definitely worth a pop-in for music and eclectic gift items.
For something different (and free), visit the Grayton Beach Book Swap. This community asset is housed in two handmade wooden and glass boxes at the two public beach accesses in Grayton Beach. Each is stocked with used books and magazines, free for anyone to borrow or keep.
The concept was developed by the Grayton Beach Neighborhood Association, a loosely organized group of about 200 homeowners and residents. Billy and Kelly Buzzett, longtime Grayton residents, took the lead on the project and work to ensure the shelves are always stocked.
Billy Buzzett said the little libraries are very well-used. He and his wife stock them one day, and they are often emptied out the next. Mystery authors like John Grisham are big hits. Cookbooks go surprisingly quick, as do magazines like Southern Living or Garden and Gun.
Buzzett hired Sean Merideth, a local woodworker, and owner of the new restaurant, The Grove 30A, to build the boxes. As is his style, he used reclaimed materials including windows salvaged from some of the first houses in Seaside. Each box is unique, very much like all the houses and buildings in the Grayton neighborhood.
“The boxes ended up looking kind of like birdhouses, which my dad said I used to build with leftovers from his woodshed as a kid,” said Meredith whose family has lived in Seagrove Beach for almost 40 years.
“I loved the idea, that neighborly aspect of people putting books in the boxes and them finding their way to someone else. I wanted to be a part of it.”
On a recent weekend, the book swap’s wide-ranging selection included: Catching Fire (of the Hunger Games series), The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, The BFG by Roald Dahl, a Nora Roberts romance novel, Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, a solid handful of children’s books and a couple Architectural Digests.
The book swap boxes are a welcome addition to Grayton Beach’s laid-back, go-our-own-way vibe. The area has its own personality. It’s a little weird, as Buzzett noted.
“Grayton is not normal. It’s a little irregular, it’s a little rough around the edges, but it all seems to work so well,” he said. “The imperfections are what makes it perfect.”
The 30A area also boasts some incredible resources for book lovers at our local libraries. Library cards are available for free for permanent residents or homeowners and, for a modest fee, for visitors ($25 for six months or $35 for a year).
For the book lover who also enjoys history, it’s worth a short drive to peruse the stacks at the DeFuniak Springs Library. This historic landmark, built in 1887, houses the longest continually operating public library in Florida.
Visitors duck their heads through the slight door frame, hear the creak of the wood floorboards, and are treated to an antique weapons collection adorning the walls. The library also still houses some of its original books from the mid-1850s, shelved alongside today’s best sellers. (While strolling through the aisles, visitors may also hear the whir of two 3D printers, really accentuating the technological transformation we have undertaken over the past 135 years.)
The library is located off the one-mile paved loop that circles Lake DeFuniak and right next to the historic downtown, making for a great day trip, or for visitors, a great stop on your way in or out of town.
The Coastal Branch Library, located off U.S. Highway 331 just north of U.S. Highway 98, is the county’s largest library by more than double.
This library features plenty of tables and work areas for visitors and a large meeting room for events.
They host extensive winter programs for seniors and snowbirds (those visitors who visit during the winter months to escape colder climates elsewhere).
It also houses the Walton County Heritage collection, curated by one of the county’s own historians. Flip through old maps and photographs, check out some artifacts, and page through books on the county’s history as a whole with a particular focus on South Walton’s past.