Emerald Coast Paradise — Santa Rosa Beach — Florida

Emerald Coast Paradise

By: Suzanne Ferrara

Nestled among the sugar-white sand and pristine turquoise waters of the famed Emerald Coast is the idyllic Santa Rosa Beach. This charming northwest Florida beach town is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and the Choctawhatchee Bay, making it a nature lover’s paradise.

Adding to this picturesque escape, Santa Rosa Beach is home to the breath-taking Point Washington State Forest and the historic Eden Gardens State Park. These natural wonders add to the mystique of this coastal paradise for vacationers from around the world who seek this sublime refuge. Santa Rosa also boasts award-winning restaurants, boutique shops, family attractions and a myriad of outdoor adventures.

Perhaps the most alluring natural feature is the unspoiled white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters. There’s something truly hypnotic about hearing the ebb and flow of the gulf waves crashing onto the coastline, and at the award-winning, luxurious WaterColor Inn and Resort you can hear these natural sounds right outside your door or private balcony patio. That’s because the water’s edge only steps away from guests at this “Four Diamond” retreat.

Whether you want to relax in this enveloping oasis under the resort’s beach umbrellas or take a dip in either the invigorating clear gulf waters or one of six resort pools, the experience will renew your senses. Guests of the WaterColor Inn and Resort can enjoy the private beach club which overlooks the gulf; it’s here you can swim, relax, have lunch, or sip your favorite frozen concoction. (Tip: The club balcony is another great spot to watch the stunning Emerald Coast sunsets.)

Traveling with family? Camp WaterColor is chock-full of fun, kid-friendly activities. Adjoining rooms are available, or you can opt for an upscale beach house or cozy cottage. There’s also the convenience of a resort-wide concierge service, and everyone in the family will enjoy acres of parks, lush gardens, foot paths and a state-of-the-art fitness center.

The WaterColor community is pedestrian-friendly, and the very best way to get around is by foot or bike (the latter of which is provided by the nearby Bike Barn). A myriad of biking and walking trails are threaded throughout the sprawling (and charming) 500-acre development.

From the resort, take your two-wheels for a ride on the Timpoochee Trail which will give you an intimate look all along 30-A, a scenic highway along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Among the sights are mesmerizing views of snowy beaches, dune lakes, both old Florida and Caribbean architecture, and green trails.

Had enough of land exploration? For a memorable water adventure, head to WaterColor’s BoatHouse for a kayak, canoe, sailing, or YOLO boarding excursion. And fishermen should feel at home as well: cane poles and bait are available, you can fish right off of the BoatHouse docks on Western Lake. (Note: Because of this very unique coastal dune waterway, with spring waters which at times open to the Gulf, you can catch both fresh-water and salt-water fish).

Western Lake is a 220-acre rare coastal dune lake, and is sure to inspire anyone who paddles through its waters. To learn more about this fascinating environmental treasure, sign up for the unforgettable Walco Eco Tour with master naturalist Murray Balkcom. Whether it’s a guided family adventure or a romantic boat trip for two, you are sure to create a memory of a lifetime.

After all of this natural exploration, you will be ready for one of the most relaxing and pampered experiences offered along the Emerald Coast. Only 10-miles from the resort is the award-winning Serenity by the Sea Spa, a full-scale, 14,500 square-foot spa with 16 treatment rooms, a gorgeous vast nail salon, and a state-of-the-art fitness center.

The spa’s Serenity Lounge is a retreat unto itself with floating, zero-gravity chairs and the tranquil sounds of the gorgeous waterfall wall; nearby is the soothing whirlpool and relaxing steam room and sauna. A must experience: the new HydraFacial. You will never want another type of facial after you experience the addictive HydraFacial, and your skin will be glowing after this non-invasive, multi-step procedure.

Men love the large flat-screen television, healthy snacks, whirlpool, steam room and sauna in their lounge, as well. Staff here is second-to-none and they make this extraordinary spa even more unforgettable. Guests truly come first at Serenity by the Sea!

After melting your cares away, be sure to watch the blazing sunset, with its alternating hues of gold, orange and red from either your private WaterColor Inn accommodations or from your comfortable beach chair. You can even watch the sunset from your large walk-in shower, with inset windows that provide you with an expansive view of the gulf.

After a full day of activities, you will have worked up an appetite. Rest assured, there is a plethora of dining choices throughout Santa Rosa Beach, and fresh gulf seafood is a must while dining in northwestern Florida. With a host of passionate chefs, your taste buds will be satisfied in Santa Rosa Beach; in fact, the WaterColor Inn and Resort has four restaurants, including the multi-award winning Fish out of Water.

The WaterColor Inn’s Gathering Spot and Sushi Bar is where you will find Chef Slade Christmas, a culinary artist whose savory, innovative dishes are sure to please even the most discerning of palates. One of his claims to fame is his Lobster Grilled Cheese, a mouth-watering dish served with a cup of fresh tomato and red pepper soup; but there’s plenty of competition for Christmas’ ‘top dish’ creations, including his Sunomono Cucumber Salad and the WaterColor Roll. Upon request, Christmas will create a special five-course tasting plate dinner that you and your palate will never forget. Libation recommendations: Up in Smoke (a torched Sazerac Rye concoction) and the Strawberry Drop Martini made with homemade strawberry vodka.

The desire to please taste buds also runs deep in the veins of Chef Gio Filippone of Vue on 30a restaurant on Santa Rosa Beach. Chef Filippone began his culinary career as a little boy cooking with his entire family, and today, he is nationally known for his television debut on season five of the reality cooking show, “Hell’s Kitchen” with celebrity Chef, Gordon Ramsey. Vue on 30a is located directly on the Gulf of Mexico, and offers one of the Emerald Coast’s best views. Be sure to order the Pistachio Crusted Grouper and the Vue Fruits de Mer (a tasty seafood medley).

After a good night’s rest, head straight to WaterColor’s Fish out of Water restaurant for a scrumptious gourmet breakfast and, yes, sweeping views of the coast. While you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, the omelets are superb.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but you won’t want to leave the WaterColor Inn and Resort. You will think to yourself, “I wish this could last forever!”

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