Gulf-to-Table: South Walton, Florida’s Freshest Culinary Scene


Pasta with Mussels via Shutterstock

By Diana Smith

It is the number one beach destination in the state of Florida. Its beaches hail names such as Seaside, WaterColor, and Rosemary, and its ivory sands and emerald waters attract more tourists than Tampa, Miami, or the Keys. It is South Walton, a 26-mile stretch of 16 beaches along the Florida Panhandle’s Emerald Coast. And though located just north of the infamous spring breaker’s paradise, Panama City, the beach communities of South Walton offer serene settings that manage to blend casualness with elegance.

In addition to being a burgeoning artist colony, South Walton fosters an ever expanding and diverse culinary scene– one that highlights the area’s socially conscious culture. “Gulf-to-table” and fresh fare is the norm in here. A place where restaurants change their menu seasonally and serve dishes with locally sourced, organic ingredients. Restaurants like George’s At Alys Beach (just look for the frog logo), which not only operates out of a reclaimed building but also sources its produce from City Greens, a nearby hydroponic farm built on a natural aquifer. Or Roux30a in Grayton Beach where diners can participate in their own sea-to-table experience by setting sail on a fishing charter and meeting up afterwards with one of Roux30a’s chefs, who will teach them how to turn their catches into a delicious supper.

There’s also the Great Southern Cafe in Seaside, where Chef Jim Shirley strives to promote “new ruralism,” a movement described to “champion sustainable agriculture at the urban edge.” Shirley’s restaurant is also home to the nationally celebrated dish, Grits à Ya Ya, as well as many other favorites that stem from his original Southern roots and traveling background.

On the weekends, visitors can enjoy the Seaside Farmers Market, featuring organic fruits, vegetables, jams and honeys along with baked goods, dairy products and native plants. For a more casual and “funky” market, there is the Cowgirl Kitchen Market in Seagrove, which sells tasty and healthy pre-made meals such as take-home casseroles, breakfast tacos, soups, and salads as well as other specialty and gourmet foods.

Other locally sourced culinary delights to check out are:

Grayton Bar & Grill in Grayton Beach

Vin’tij Wine Boutique & Bistro in Miramar Beach

V Seagrove in Seagrove

Bud & Alley’s in Seaside

Fish Out of Water in WaterColor


Diana SmithAbout the Writer

Diana Smith is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to her travels in Europe, she has also explored the US, adventuring from coast to coast and back again by way of the road. When Diana isn’t road-tripping she volunteers with a non-profit AIDS organization in New York City. Diana holds a BA in film and media studies from the University of California-Irvine and an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. To view more excerpts from her travels visit or find her on Twitter @Roads_America.

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