Finest on the Emerald Coast 2012

The winners of the second annual “Finest on the Emerald Coast” competition — a Northwest Florida Daily News readers’ choice event — were announced recently. Local businesses, ranging from Automotive to Beauty to Food & Beverage to Shopping, were honored for being the finest in a certain category. While I agree with most of this year’s winners, I wanted to put together my own list of places that David and I consider the finest in our hometown area.

The Emerald Coast encompasses many communities, from Pensacola to Panama City (which are about two hours or more apart). It includes Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Miramar Beach, Santa Rosa Beach and 30A.

David and I spend most of our time in Destin or South Walton, since we live in South Walton. Here are a few of our favorite places where we spend all most of our free time.

Arts Center: Mattie Kelly Arts Center {Niceville}
Mattie Kelly, which is on the Northwest Florida State College campus in Niceville, hosts great Broadway shows and amazing productions put on by the college (don’t miss this year’s summer musical, “The Wiz” — coming in July!). My mom took me to see “Cats” when I was little, and David and I saw “My Fair Lady” last fall for our one-year anniversary.

BBQ: 98 Bar-B-Que and Barefoot BBQ {Santa Rosa Beach + 30A}
David loves 98 BBQ, which is located on Highway 98 in Santa Rosa Beach. I prefer Barefoot BBQ, which is a food truck parked on 30A. Both are good and will fulfill your craving for smoked meats with good sauce.

(image via the Barefoot BBQ Facebook page)

Beach: Beaches of South Walton {South Walton}
There are 15 beach communities, but we go to Grayton Beach. When I was younger and lived in Fort Walton, I went to Okaloosa Island, but it’s crowded and tourist-y. The Beaches of South Walton attract tourists, but they are much more serene. But no matter which beach you go to, you are sure to enjoy the white sand and emerald waters.

view from Fish out of Water

Breakfast/Brunch: Another Broken Egg {Destin + 30A}
There are four locations –one in Destin, one in Baytowne, one inside the Linkside Conference Center
and one in Santa Rosa Beach. I typically order the Madison, and I’m always amazed at the freshness of the ingredients and how the croissant never gets soggy. All of the locations are small, and there are long waits during the peak season, but it’s worth it.

Church: Destiny Worship Center {Miramar Beach}
We’re thankful that God planted us at DWC. Pastor Steve always delivers a message with real-life applicability, the worship is great and they always have some kind of outreach going on. Whether you live here or you’re just around for a weekend, I hope you’ll come to one of DWC’s three services (Saturday at 6:33 pm, Sunday at 9 AM and Sunday at 10:45 AM).

Diner: The Donut Hole {Destin + Santa Rosa Beach}
Great breakfast and lunch/dinner menu available at its Santa Rosa Beach and Destin locations, and it’s open late (the Destin location is open 24 hours during the summer). Seat yourself and enjoy big breakfast platters (served all day) or delicious sandwiches. And don’t leave without grabbing some donuts or other sweets from the bakery.

Fine Dining: Cafe Tango {30A}
This is our go-to restaurant for special occasions. We went there on Valentine’s Day this year, and we’re just waiting for another reason to indulge in their bread with asiago cheese-olive oil dip, homemade pasta and fresh seafood.

Grocery Store: The Fresh Market {Destin}
There’s a reason we go to TFM every single Sunday. It has the best selection of fresh produce, and it has a real meat counter! We also love the prepared foods section (especially the margherita pizza), and the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.

Hotel: Emerald Grande {Destin}
We had our wedding reception here, and we absolutely loved staying there. It has a great view, clean and comfortable rooms, and is located near a lot of Destin staples, like AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar and McGuire’s Irish Pub.

Ice Cream/ Frozen Yogurt: 32 Degrees {Miramar Beach}
Conveniently located at Silver Sands, it’s the best froyo spot in the area — until Menchie’s opens in Panama City Beach…

Movie Theater: Rave Motion Pictures {Destin}
Located in Destin Commons, I’ve been going to the Rave since it opened when I was in high school. While we prefer AMC theaters, there aren’t any around here, but the Rave comes close. It has comfortable seats and an IMAX theater. Now if only there were some good movies out…

Pizza: Pizza by the Sea {30A}
I’ve written about it twice, and we go there almost once a week. Yes, it’s that good — and I usually prefer thick crust pizza. The only downside is that the restaurant is small with very limited seating. Get there early! They also have the best lunch special on 30A — you can get a giant slice of pizza (which is more like 2 slices) with a side salad, baked spaghetti or a bowl of soup, plus a drink for only $6.99.

Image via the PBTS Facebook page

Shopping: Silver Sands Factory Stores {Miramar Beach}

It’s the nation’s largest designer outlet mall. I could spend every single weekend there (and we, um, kind of do), browsing through the more than 100 stores that offer big discounts on designer brands. Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic, the new Columbia outlet, Coach and Bose are just a few of the stores in the outdoor mall.

Wings: Buffalos’ Reef {Fort Walton Beach}

They have traditional and boneless wings with a variety of sauces — from the traditional mild, medium and hot to honey barbecue and garlic parmesan. They also have the best fries around, and I think their Parrot Burger is the best burger I’ve ever eaten.

So there you have it. These are are our go-to places, and I hope you’ll give them a try if you haven’t already.

What are your favorite places on Florida’s Emerald Coast?

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1 Comment

Filed under Life in Northwest Florida

One response to “Finest on the Emerald Coast 2012

  1. janedwellable

    Hi Lyndsi and David,
    My name is Jane and I’m with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blog posts about South Walton to share on our site and I came across your post…If you’re open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you 🙂
    Jane

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