Southerners don’t just go to the beach anymore. They go to a particular beach.
These beaches aren’t just the popular ones: Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, Hilton Head. In the New South, it is fashionable to go to a boutique beach with its own charming small-town feel.
There are still thousands of people who flock to the popular beaches each year. Clearly the Destins and Panama Citys and Daytonas are still popular, but the trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is how specific everyone is now about where they stay. It has almost turned into a competition to see who can come up with the most obscure beach. I’m beginning to think half of these beaches don’t really exist.
My friend, John, pointed out this trend back at the beginning of the summer when he asked when and where we were taking our family vacation.
“Santa Rosa Beach. It’s between Destin and Panama City.”
“Oh, yeah,” he replied. “Everybody goes to one of those beaches these days. No one says
they’re going to Destin anymore.”
In the weeks that have passed since that conversation, I’ve given this some thought. I believe he’s right. Maybe it’s pretentiousness, maybe it’s pride in finding something we think is relatively undiscovered or maybe it’s rationalization for spending so much money on vacation, but it seems some of us need to go to a smaller beach so we can feel special.
We discovered our boutique beach about 10 years ago. Friends told us about the beautiful beaches in Florida’s panhandle. My wife went online, did some investigating and, voila, we rented a condo in paradise. I knew a little about the beaches of South Walton County from interning back-to-back summers in the early ’90s at The Destin Log. Not as crowded as Destin and Panama City, these beaches, such as Seaside, used principles of new urbanism to guide their development.
So each July we make a trek from Atlanta to Scenic Florida Highway 30A. If you see the little “30A” bumper circle, that’s what they’re hinting at: bragging about their little boutique beach. Another common way to show off your beach is the “SoWal” square, which stands for “South Walton” as in “the beaches of South Walton County.”
Those of you who have discovered these communities of Rosemary Beach, Seagrove, Seaside, Alys Beach, Watercolor, Grayton Beach and Blue Mountain Beach (still haven’t found the mountain) etc., already know the flavor and appeal of a boutique beach.
I have to resist my own snootiness when it comes to my beach vacation. The fact is, there are only so many things you can do at the beach, and people do the same things at the beach no matter which beach it is. Sure, the sand may be a different color and texture or the water may be colder or wavier, but the beach is still the beach.
Maybe I’ll adopt the practice of my children. When asked where they are going on vacation, they say simply “the beach.” Isn’t that all that really matters?