Bill, a HomeAway staffer, gives us the lowdown on an under-the-radar Florida beach gem
For the last two years, my family has gone to Watercolor, Florida (near Santa Rosa Beach, about 40 miles from Destin). Watercolor is basically the same thing as Seaside, Florida - they are about 100 yards apart and I honestly can’t tell the difference between them. Regardless, it’s one of my favorite family vacation spots in the world and I would highly recommend it. Here’s why:
- The beach is amazing. There are parts you have to rent a local home or stay at the main resort to get access to, but the public beaches are about 100 yards away and just as nice. We actually stopped going to the more private ones and only went to the public beach.
- Renting a local home is really easy. We found ours on VRBO, and there are tons available. We go with another family, four adults and six kids, so needed a house sleeping 10. There were tons of options, and the owners do this all the time so are used to it. Ours gave us free bikes and access to the main beach and all the pools. And the kids, as you can see from the pictures, loved the house.
- There are tons of pools that are terrific for kids. You can’t spend all your time at the beach with 2 and 3 year olds, so having the pool option was really helpful. I think there’s also a grown-up only pool; I’ve never seen it, sadly…
- It’s incredibly safe. Everyone rides bikes – we literally never drove our car once we got there – and you can get to any of the many parks, beaches or pools in about 3-5 minutes on a bike. There really isn’t a bad location for a house.
- Downtown Watercolor is basically a huge amphitheater surrounded by great restaurants and food trailers – we’d always get dinner and then the kids run around after they ate while we did. You can also bring beer and wine and sit and have a drink while the kids play. Several nights a week, they will have a concert or screen a movie for kids, which the kids LOVED. It also floods when it rains, which creates another “pool” that while a bit gross, kids love.
- There’s also a great ice cream shop – Heavenly’s – next door, along with some snow cone and fudge places. Kids (and grown ups) liked those…
- And there are tons of activities during the day for kids. We never sent our kids to “Camp Watercolor” but lots of other families do, and you can see the kids playing sports, face painting, tie-dying shirts, biking, etc… Looks great, we just needed our kids to get older.
- There is a great walking and running trail for those looking for some exercise. These also stop by a bunch of docks where you can fish – we taught our kids. Nearby, there’s a nice set of tennis courts for those that want to be active.
- There are some great local restaurants. The Shrimp Shack is easily my favorite, if you want something casual where you can get shrimp and a beer. For those looking for something a little nicer, Great Southern is terrific, and Whisky Bravo is another good one. All really easy to get to.
- The only negative is probably that the night life isn’t great. There’s basically one bar – Bud & Alley’s, which is also a good restaurant - where most people who did want to go out went. But honestly it’s really not a place to go unless you have kids. But if you do have kids, I don’t think you can do better. It’s a perfect place for families.
- We drove there from Texas, which is about 12 hours away. But you can fly in much closer. Santa Rosa has an airport that’s about 30 minutes away, and Pensacola is about 1.5 hours.