Who knew you could have one of your best Girlfriend Getaway experiences with complete strangers? That’s exactly what I did during my Girls Getaway to the Beaches of South Walton. A few months ago, I received a wonderful, heartfelt letter from Jennie Ann Dean (no relation to Paula although upon meeting her you may think otherwise) explaining that her best friend Sondra (aka Rooster) was in desperate need of a Girls Getaway but they had limited budgets to work with. Jennie Ann simply asked, “Is there anything you can do to help us?”
I get a lot of random emails, but this one was different. As I read more about Rooster, I couldn’t help but want to help her. Rooster’s only son recently passed away after a multi-year battle with cancer and her husband decided to leave her for another woman only weeks after the funeral. After that came the torturous stalking and harassment from the husband’s girlfriend, which eventually led to the woman’s arrest. Yes, Jennie Ann was right….Rooster needed a fabulous Girls Getaway. Jennie Ann and I communicated only via email and agreed to celebrate Rooster’s birthday at the Beaches of South Walton during one of my upcoming Girls Getaway press trips.
Not knowing anything about these “new” friends of mine, I was reluctant to travel with them by myself. So my friend Tanya and I flew the new Southwest Airlines route from Orlando to Panama City, FL and rode with Roy about 45 minutes to Seaside, which is just outside Destin. Seaside is where the movie “The Truman Show” was filmed and is every bit as quaint and charming as depicted in the movie.
Once we arrived in Seaside, FL at Seaside Cottage Rental Agency, we were greeted by our three new friends; Jennie Ann, Sondra (Rooster) and Becky who are all from Marianna, FL. Rooster has had some hard times the last few years, and her friends decided she needed a Girls Getaway, so we met up in Seaside to help Rooster have the time of her life as she celebrates her 44th birthday! We checked in to our “cottages” and Michelle gave us not only our entry codes, but also four bottles of wine! This is going to be one great trip! We got settled in to our new homes for the next few nights… the Marianna girls stayed at the three-bedroom Sisters Three-by-the-Sea. Tanya and I stayed at the two-story Mahogany Fun. The accommodations are super cozy and decorated really well. We all decided we weren’t going to leave.
With our stomachs growling after the travels, we walked to the town center to eat at Bud & Alley’s Restaurant, a 15-year Seaside tradition named after a dog and cat. I had THE BEST pork chop I have ever eaten, while the rest of the group loved their Grilled Grouper, Crab Cakes and Salmon. During dinner we laughed and laughed so much that my cheeks hurt. It was so great to finally meet the Marianna ladies, and I could already tell we were going to have a great time together.
Friday morning started with a bicycle ride through Seaside with John, our tour guide. He explained the concept behind Seaside, an 80-acre beach town community where everything is focused on community, ease of lifestyle and comfort. It certainly has accomplished that. From the architecture to the names (not address numbers) of the cottages, Seaside has a special ambiance that makes you feel like you are home even if you just arrived. Each cottage has a name that is proudly posted where a typical address would be. We laughed at names like: Julie Got Her Way & Tom Had to Pay, Changes in Attitudes, Four the Girls, Hooty Hoot, Wilder by the Sea, SeaEsta and Mom’s Day Off. In addition to the cottage names, the names of the owners and where they are from are also posted out front. The town center (which is actually shaped like a horseshoe) is the hub of activity for Seaside. In the center, which is across from the beach, is a row of about six airstream trailers that sell everything from cupcakes to BBQ to cocktails and they are decorated so cute! Here you can also find great boutiques, a wine bar, local market, sushi, bicycle rentals, galleries and more. After working up quite an appetite, we drove about 10 minutes west to Grayton Beach where we met Tracy Louthain who works for the Beaches of South Walton CVB and organized this fantastic trip for us. We ate lunch at Shorty’s Surfside and Topside, a great little beach joint with an open upstairs so we could see the Gulf of Mexico.
Next, it was off to try YOLO. YOLO stands for You Only Live Once, and YOLO Board is a Santa Rosa Beach, Florida company that is dedicated to creating awareness of what is soon to be the world’s fastest growing water sport and recreational activity: Stand-up Paddle-boarding. We were greeted by Tom and Justin who gave us a quick overview of the boards, how to paddle and what to expect on the water. The ladies were doubtful they could stay on the board, much less stand up. To their surprise, everyone was standing up and paddling around Eastern Lake within about 10 minutes. It was so much fun! I am so proud of Jennie Ann who did not tell me she could not swim, but she got out there and YOLO’d anyway. Woo-hoo! That’s was travel is all about…getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things.
As my friends know, I love to eat and I had spent a few hours without food, so it was time to get dinner. However, this dinner was going to be a very special one as we were celebrating Rooster’s birthday. We arrived at The Culinary Gallery and met Chef Scott Nelson who explained we would be learning to cook a fabulous Gulf Coast Seafood meal. My motto is “I am better at eating than cooking,” but I thought I’d give it a try. With Chef Scott’s great tips (and tasty wine), the cooking wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Plus, everything tasted amazing! We made Thai Shrimp, Blanched Asparagus, Roasted Vegetables, Mahi Mahi, Grilled Steak (only seasoned with salt and pepper) and Bananas Foster. Plus, we had birthday cupcakes just for Rooster. I cannot believe I ate all this food! We ended the night and trip with a visit to The Red Bar in Grayton Beach. As I drank my last Beaches of South Walton cocktail, the Marianna girls invited me to some of their favorite outings, which include the Annual Possum Festival & Funday (Wausau, FL) , Rattlesnake Round Up (Op, AL) and Mule Day (Calvery, GA). Guess I will have to add these places to my list! Given the fact that I grew up on a cattle ranch, I assured them I would fit in just fine. As I returned home, I was very happy I made the decision to invite the Marianna girls on this trip. I love making new friends, and I know I made three life-long friends this weekend.