Panhandle Adds Holiday Sparkle

By Kathie Farnell

Photos by Jack Purser and Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

Travelers in search of an entertaining place to spend the holidays may find themselves headed for the Florida beaches, particularly that area of the Panhandle known as the Beaches of South Walton. Made up of fourteen beachfront communities in South Walton County, this destination includes unspoiled dunes, sophisticated shopping and dining and luxury accommodations.

The holiday season starts November 16 in the resort community of Sandestin on Highway 98 with the Beaujolais Nouveau Holiday Kick Off, featuring a wine tasting, holiday music and tree lighting.

Sandestin is also the coast’s premier headquarters for Santa. The jolly old elf is here, there and everywhere from a Kringle Mingle breakfast at Beef O’Brady’s Restaurant on November 24, to Claus and Paws pet photos on December 1, to a standing engagement in the gazebo courtyard from December 8 through 22.

Rosemary Beach, on Scenic Route 30-A, starts the holidays on November 23 with tree lighting and caroling, followed on November 24 by breakfast with Santa and the Holiday Market.

WaterColor, also on 30-A, appeals to the Thanksgiving athlete with its Turkey Trot on November 22, followed by a full day of activities on the 23rd–a Mommy and Me tea, father and son flag football, and a nighttime movie and bonfire. The official tree lighting is set for November 24th.

Not to be outdone, the idyllic planned town of Seaside, Florida, just down the road, also hosts its holiday parade and tree lighting on November 24. Things get musical on Saturday afternoons from December 1 through 22 with the holiday shopping and dining serenade, featuring a DJ playing Christmas music around the town center.

If shopping and caroling aren’t enough, while you’re in Seaside you can take in a play.

The only professional theater company in the area, the Seaside Repertory Theatre presents its holiday offering for 2007, “A Tuna Christmas,” which reunites founder/director Craige Hoover with Sammy Wegent, who co-starred in Seaside Rep’s 2001 presentation of “Greater Tuna.” Together, Craige and Sammy portray 24 citizens of the odd burg of Tuna, Texas. “A Tuna Christmas” will be presented Wednesday–Sunday from December 12 through 22 in the Seaside Meeting Hall Theatre.

Playgoers and other merry-makers in search of a festive headquarters should check out Seaside’s elegant bed and breakfast, Inn by the Sea, Vera Bradley. Located just off the town center, the nine-room boutique inn features designer Vera Bradley’s colorful motifs throughout. Several of the rooms boast fireplaces, and two rooms located in the carriage house also have sitting rooms and kitchenettes. Breakfast, included in the room rates, features local ingredients and may include pancakes, French toast, or sausage and biscuits. Guests enjoy full privileges at Seaside’s swim, tennis and fitness center.

The communities which make up the Beaches of South Walton are located on the Gulf of Mexico between Panama City and Destin, Florida, along Highway 98 and Scenic Highway 30-A. For more information on visiting the Beaches of South Walton, check the website at www.beachesofsouthwalton.com or telephone 1-800-822-6877.

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