In the 1998 Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show—about a psychological experiment that secretly turned one unknowing man’s life into a reality television show—place is paramount to the film. It’s set in a perfect white picket-fence community with everything in walking distance; you really wouldn’t ever want to leave, (unless you discovered a conspiracy to keep you imprisoned for the world’s entertainment, as Truman Burbank does).
Interestingly enough, many people opt to never leave the Truman Show, or at least Seaside, Florida, where the movie was filmed. In South Walton, Seaside is one of the many quaint and beautiful beach communities along 30A—nineteen blissful miles of beach, forest, and rare coastal dune lakes, where red-tinted lakes will merge with emerald gulf waters after a heavy rain.
What made Seaside so appealing to Hollywood was that it was the first town designed with the principles of New Urbanism, which essentially promotes the idea that everything be within the confines of the neighborhood, where cars are unnecessary, and where neighborly talk doesn’t stray far from Truman’s: “Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”
The town is as charming as the film had presented: quaint grocery stores, an independent bookstore, green courtyards lined with artists’ studios, and about a dozen old Airstream food trucks on either side of the country’s most photographed post office.
While Seaside is a world in itself, there are myriad other reasons to check out all nineteen miles of 30A, whether it’s by car or bicycle. (I hate bicycles—or at least the thought of riding them beside cars—but traveling 30A’s Timpochee bike path is perfect, as it’s separated by a grass divider and safe from automobiles.)
Along 30A, scrub oaks, long leaf pines, and palmettos consume the land. And every township offers much of the same lure: powder-white-sand beaches, emerald green waters, and quaint villages that range from the funky to the fabulous. And while you can’t steer yourself wrong, outside of Seaside, there are a few more worthwhile stops: Dune Allen, where Stinky’s Fish Camp serves up buffalo frog legs, fresh oysters, and even spicy PBR oyster shots; Gulf Places’s Growler Garage, a shrine to custom-painted motorcycles and guitars and really good, mostly Floridian, beer; Watersound, where Cape Cod-style homes and the “World’s Largest Backyard Party” exist; and Alys Beach, an all white stucco neighborhood that’s palm-lined and strictly luxury.
The best thing you can do on South Walton’s 30A, however, is to go paddleboarding the coastal dune lakes. The sixteen lakes along the gulf are quite rare. In fact, only New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar, and Oregon have anything similar. Whenever there are heavy rains, the lakes overflow the dunes to merge with the emerald gulf. You can grab a paddleboard from a place like YOLO Boards and head over to Western Lake, for instance.
Essentially, all of 30A is a bit like the Truman Show: one will always be a bit dubious of their reality when it’s constructed into paradise.