Site # 20; Paved, Pull-thru site; W/E/S; Solid Wifi; CATV
Pleasant campground within a reasonable drive to some great state park beaches. Also we found two gem restaurants on our top 5 list!
Nice newer campground on a rural road dead ending on the banks of the Black River that links to the Mitchell River and the Choctawhatchee bay. The campground has a small boat ramp and dock. Besides the river and fishing opportunities, the main reason to be here is access to the gorgeous white sand beaches of the nearby state parks (and the fact that they are difficult to get into). It is only 12 miles to Grayton Beach SP, 15 miles (22 minutes), from Topsail, and 25 miles (35 minutes), to Henderson SP in Destin, with 3 large malls (if you're needing something), and several beach-side restaurants.
The campground has many “cottages”, which are nicely sided and disguised trailers measuring 45 feet long counting the porch. We looked at an open house and talked with the salesman who gave us a nice history of the CG. He said the grounds were a fish camp – hence the McDaniels Fishcamp Road access. The property was bought in 2010 by RVC Outdoors, who own several RV parks. He told us they are planning to expand Live Oak Landing this summer.
This is the first campground we have been to – public or private – that did not have reasonable access to a bathhouse/shower. There was one, and very clean too, but it looked as if it were placed there to satisfy a requirement, not to satisfy the needs of the campers. It was simply too far for most campers, and was not an adequate size. I think there were two showers and toilets. With full hookups I guess one could ask why you need them, but I think having options is nice.
There was a screen enclosed swimming pool, a clubhouse and a nice screened outbuilding down by the boat ramp. The later looked good for a late day or rainy day card game away from the skeeters.
The campground is on Black Creek.
From the docks of the campground.
Air plants, saw palmetto and live oaks adorn the banks of Black Creek.
Along the shore of the campground.
Live Oak Landing used to be a fish camp. The boat ramp and some rudimentary docks are still there so we launched our kayak for a nice paddle upstream on the Black Creek, through the Rushing Cutoff, downstream on the Mitchell River. Just before this delta opens up to Choctawhatchee Bay, we rejoined Clack Creek and after a short trip downstream so that we could say we paddled Choctawhatchee Bay, we went back upstream to the landing. We could hear several bass boat size power boats approach us noisily, but each one, slowed politely to a crawl once they saw us. Over and over, we have been surprised at the friendliness of people.
Black creek opens up the Mitchell River.
The Mitchell River.
The Mitchell River.
This was the first we noticed buds forming on the trees - Springtime is coming!
Grayton Beach State Park. As in all the parks and beaches along this section of the coast, the beaches are a beautiful soft glaring white sand and crystal clear blue to aqua-blue water. The aqua shows up more on sand bars at low tide. We drove through the camp ground and confirmed that the sites are better than most state parks with nice wide and spaced sites in moderately wooded spaces. Nice gravel pads that seemed flat from side to side, but many were sloped away from the road. The campground is separated from the beach/day-use area by some water, so a bicycle or car is needed for beach access. Because it is in a more remote area of this coastline (away from Destin), access in and out of the park with a trailer would be easy (in contrast to Henderson).
“Grayton Beach consistently ranks among the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the United States. The beach provides an idyllic setting for swimming, sunbathing and surf fishing and is the backdrop for golden sunrises and silver moonlit evenings. The nearly 2,000-acre park features a boat ramp that provides access to the lake's brackish waters for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Visitors can paddle a canoe, paddle board or kayak on scenic Western Lake to get a closer look at a salt marsh ecosystem. A nature trail winds through a coastal forest where scrub oaks and magnolias stand, bent and twisted by the salt winds. Hikers and bicyclists can enjoy more than four miles of trails throughout the pine flatwoods.”
White Sands of Grayton Beach.
Wife Sandy of Grayton Beach.
Clear water at Grayton Beach.
Henderson Beach State Park. Right in the center of the chaos of Rt 98 in Destin, is an small, but absolutely beautiful beach with campground. The aqua color and clarity of the water seemed to be even better here if possible. Maybe it was the clear blue skies of the day. Like Grayton, the beach isn't overly long (just over a mile). There are large motels after that in either direction. One good caveat to that is that there is a really nice looking beach-side restaurant/bar called The Back Porch within a short walk of the beach. A sign out back says “bathing suits welcome”. I feared that if we stayed at Henderson, we would be regulars at The Back Porch. We did not visit the campground respecting the “campers only” sign that we ignored at Grayton. But, the grounds appeared to be very similar to Grayton – to the point that regardless of the campground, if the beach is the draw here.
Due to the shallows, Henderson's water looked even clearer and the color even more spectacular.
Hotel chairs with Henderson Beach in the background.
My personal assessment is that despite the beauty of these beaches, I would be hard pressed to want to be confined to the limited space they have compared to St. Joseph's or St. George State Parks, unless it was swimming weather. And while I prefer Grayton's easy access, solitude, and campground compared to Henderson, having beach-side cocktails and apps, while watching the sun set every day at Henderson could make up for that.
“Camping at Henderson Beach State Park provides 60 campsites that are located in our secondary dune system. The sites include water and electric hookups with a central dump station. Each camping loop has access to air conditioned and heated bathhouse facilities and coin operated laundry machines. A separate beach access boardwalk with outdoor shower for rinsing off the sand is included in our campground area.”
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. This does not have day-use drive up beach access. There is a tram service and ample bike racks at the beach. It looks way too far to walk carrying anything. I heard nothing but great reviews on-line, but one camper recommended Grayton over it. Another confirmed that saying because it was formerly a private campground, the sites are smaller and close together.
“Topsail Hill offers a wide variety of natural resources including 3.2 miles of secluded, white sand beaches with majestic dunes over 25 feet tall. Three rare coastal dune lakes provide excellent freshwater fishing.”
Towns of Watercolor and Seaside.
Camping neighbors told us we had to go to the cute town of Seaside when we got to this area. So we did. It is just east of Grayton State Park on Highway 30A (the gulf's version of A1A on the east coast).
Between the park and Seaside, one enters the village (?) of Watercolor. Watercolor is more like a neighborhood, or rather along with Seaside itself, a planned village where every house is coordinated in style and color with the rest. Picturesque and fanciful to the point of being eerie. I thought of a Stepford Wives type village where everyone and everything is immaculate, pre-planned, and controlled! We found out later that the house and scenes featured in the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carey was filmed here. Understandable.
Watercolor seems to be an introduction to Seaside, like a preface in a travel book. A Google search on Seaside states this: “Seaside is a small resort community... known for its late-20th century New Urbanist design, as well as pastel-colored houses featuring porches and white picket fences.” While quirky, it was beautiful.
The town is laid out as a crown of roads emanating from a half circle of an open public area called Central Square The square is surrounded by shops on three sides and a row of Airstream diner cars on the Rt 30A, beach side. While some were tempting, including a grilled cheese car, we opted to have lunch on a second floor at Bud and Alley's restaurant overlooking the water. The Yelp reviews were right-on describing it as a destination for the view more than the food. Our waiter was good and steered me away from the Cuban – pointing out to me that it was made from sandwich meat. While a top brand is used, it is not roast pork as a good Cuban should be.
There was a great little bookstore (Sundog Books) with a record store on the second floor Central Square Records) and a pricey gelato store that we had to visit.
View from the bookstore.
Central Square and the Gulf beyond - from the bookstore.
A giant memorial to Vin Scully - famous sports announcer - adorns this Rt 30A facade
Just behind these buildings was DiBicci Park, a gorgeous heavily treed and winding sand paths surrounded by art studios and apartments. It reminded me of the shaded melancholy of the brownstones of Beacon Hill mixed with a minimalized version of Charleston architecture. A prettier place couldn't be made, however, like the town, it's perfection gave it too much of a planned atmosphere.
Apartments surrounding DiBicci Park.
The sandy paths of DiBicci Park.
Our random walk down hand-raked sand sidewalks (that's right), revealed outrageous balconies, porches, and doorways making each street look like an exercise in Feng shui. One house was simply jaw dropping and looked like it was being staged for a show as it had a sign out front naming the designer (Walter Chatham, the 2018 Seaside Price recipient). The front door was open revealing people moving about as if they were staging the interior. The archway walls to the front door were painted in giant black and white checkerboard squares, a third story glassed widow's walk, loomed on top, and fountains adorned the front landscaping. It was both ultra modern, and spectacular.
Award winning Walter Chatham designed house.
Another peculiarity of the houses was that most had signs out front with the names of the occupants. I can assume these were the names of well-to-do renters of these properties. We actually saw this done at a campground.
Our first lunch stop was at Hurricane Oyster Bar & Grill on CR283S (just off of SR98) on our way to Grayton Beach. This is one of those funky bar-wall plastered with dollar bills places with an outside porch seating. A bucket of peanuts at your table and good service. Shrimp and fish tacos and po boys are the norm and good.
Had to bring the truck in for an oil change in Fort Walton Beach, an hour away! We did laundry right after on the same road, which was convenient. That set us up for having to drive on Rt 98 through busy Destin at late-lunch time to get back. Using photos and Yelp, we opted for Boshamps Oyster House on Choctawhatchee Bay. With a great waitress providing substantiated recommendations including an outrageous True Alabama Feta Cheese Dip made with roasted garlic and served with toasted pita chips. I had a killer blackened grouper sandwich. The clean modern interior, multiple decks overlooking the harbor, (one with tiki bar), boats and fancy houses along with the superlative food and menu, made this my favorite dining place yet. I would highly recommend this and will make a point of coming back if in the area. Looked like a great place for night life and any time music is being played on the deck.
The decks of Boshamps. Tiki Bar at top left.
The upper-crust view from Boshamps.
Route 331 cuts over Choctawhatchee bay between our campground in Freeport and the beaches. The Bay is nestled on the northbound side of Rt 331 on the bay of course. We ended up going to this restaurant three times! Twice while staying at Live Oak Landing, and later when we stayed in DeFuniak Springs and we were needing a sushi fix (or anything half decent really).
A happy camper getting an appetite at The Bay in their "outside" seating.
It is a newer restaurant that has one some local awards. They had a Keli sushi roll that I loved and saw at another restaurant in the area though I hadn't heard of it before. It contains ginger shrimp, spicy tuna, avocado, eel sauce, soy wrap, cream cheese, and sesame seeds. They also had a special roll that Sandy loved that featured lump crab.
Having to try new things, we ordered Pork Cracklings on our first visit. They were indeed crackling when they arrived and surprised us with a few additional snaps minutes later. The draw for me was the dipping sauces. OK, I tried them. Tasted like mild Fritos to me, and the sauces were from bland to too hot to eat.
There was a special dish at The Bay that had me waiting to come back hungry, and was it worth it. One of their two signature plates, the Pesto Snapper and Crab Cake was one of the tastiest meals I've ever had. The pesto was pleasantly sufficient to accompany each bite of fish, and the crab took the dish from very good to home run. Sandy loved her Dan Dan Noodles!
Walking into The Bay you enter a comfortable quiet room with bar. Most people opt to eat “outside” which was more casual, much more crowded and noisy. The plastic sheets keeping everyone warm kind of negates the outside benefit, so the last time we went we ate inside and enjoyed it more. Finally, The Bay has a surprisingly good black board beer list!
While visiting Henderson State Park, we went to Lulu's on Rt 293 on the Choctawhatchee Bay in Destin. Lulu is the wife of singer Jimmy Buffet. The food was okay – good nachos as recommended by our waitress – and Sandy had a great Bloody Mary. Lulu's has a sand beach and tiki bar right on the water.
View from Lulu's.
Coming back from Henderson State Park, we drove past a few appealing beach-side restaurants. Comparing Yelp reviews and our own observations we made a return trip to Pompano Joe's in Miramar Beach. This has a fun beach-side vibe complete with volley ball below our second story deck. Sandy enjoyed her bucket of Margarita!!! Cold beer, gumbo, tuna, coconut shrimp, margaritas (all decent) while watching the sun set through red reflecting clouds over the Gulf just can't be beat. Makes one glad to be alive!
Margaritas by the bucket for only a little more :)
Some of us have to drive :(
Can't beat the view.
Volleyball hangs in the air a
t Pompano Joe's
Sunset at Pompano Joe's
We and the restaurant were lit up after leaving.
On to Fort Pickens National Park ...