Road Trips

By STEVE WINSTON

The town of Mexico Beach boasts some of the best side trips in Northwest Florida. The Dead Lakes State Recreation Area, 23 miles away, offers perhaps the best freshwater fishing in the state, along with unusual scenery due to the stumps and dead tree trunks sticking out of the water. Another “natural” day trip from Mexico Beach is St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, accessible only by water. Here, you’ll see an incredible variety of wildlife, among them many species of birds, Sambar deer and the endangered red wolf. A good starting point is Indian Pass, an historic trading post and, supposedly, the site of Spanish buried treasure.

The Washington County town of Chipley has its fair share of interesting historical buildings in the South Third Street Historic District. And you can take an extraordinary look at early life here at the Washington County Historical Museum.

South Walton has 16 beach neighborhoods that make for a beautiful drive along the coast. You’ll drive along Scenic 30A through a variety of distinct neighborhood styles—so distinct, in fact, that you’ll know when you’re going from one town into another. The area’s upscale aura is evidenced by its many artists and galleries, funky local boutiques, and farm-to-table dining philoso-phy. This route also offers numerous opportunities to kayak on coastal dune lakes, play golf at a PGA-quality course, and bike along the 18-mile Timpoochee Trail.

For something truly unique, check out the first Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) in the U.S. off Grayton Beach State Park, where a collection of seven underwater sculptures were installed in the summer of 2018 as artificial reefs to provide anchor points for marine life to inhabit. This ecotourism attraction was named one of TIME magazine’s “World’s 100 Greatest Places" and 12 more sculptures are in the works for a second installation.

The Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery is a nice day trip from the Emerald Coast. You can tour the winery and learn the ABCs of grape-growing, pruning, harvesting, crushing and bottling. You’ll be able to taste some of the wines that have earned Chautauqua over 140 awards, from dry wines and southern favorites to sweet muscadine and blueberry.