A nonstop route on Allegiant Air begins next month between Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport and Destin/Fort Walton Beach Airport in the Florida Panhandle. You have a short window to take advantage of the 2-hour flights: one flight each way on Wednesdays and two flights each way on Saturdays, June 5 through Aug. 10.
Allegiant is the only airline offering non-stop flights from Wichita to Florida’s Gulf Coast, and a check this week of late June fares showed the airline much lower than competitors. A Wednesday to Saturday round-trip was $120 before adding fees for bags, seat selection and other optional services.
Summer is peak season for these Gulf of Mexico beach communities, so don’t plan on hotel or rental property bargains and do plan on traffic. Temperatures range from the high 80s to the low 70s with plenty of sunshine.
Destin/Fort Walton Beach Airport makes all of northwest Florida convenient, as it is about midway between Pensacola and Panama City Beach, each less than a 60-mile drive from the airport. There are dozens of beach communities in between, each sharing the sugar-white sand and calm, turquoise waters .
South Walton, about 35 miles from the airport, is known as the quiet option between the resort towns of Destin and Panama City Beach. It might be quiet, but it’s not unknown. Its 16 neighborhoods and 26-mile stretch of beaches regularly appear on annual best-of- travel lists.
Here are five things to explore in South Walton, starting, of course, with those beaches:
South Walton has more than 50 beach and bay access locations along its 26 miles of shoreline, with quartz sand and turquoise water from the clarity of the Gulf and the reflection of light off the sugar-white sand. There’s a beach for every style, including the family-favorite Seaside, the nearly untouched beach at Grayton Beach State Park named one of the country’s best by Dr. Beach and a 3-mile span of undeveloped beachfront property at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park considered a top wilderness beach.
South Walton is a string of 16 architecturally-driven Gulf-front neighborhoods, which are connected by Scenic Highway 30A as well as adjacent bike and pedestrian paths. Santa Rosa Beach is considered South Walton’s original beach community and has a classic beach town vibe along with family-friendly attractions. Seagrove ’s laid-back style caters to casual and luxury, with a backdrop of oak trees and magnolias . Miramar Beach has outdoor adventure and shopping in the form of boutiques, galleries and Silver Sands Premium Outlets, one of the largest designer factory outlet centers in the nation .
There are four near-shore snorkeling reefs and the first underwater art museum in the United States just off the coast in South Walton. A 400-foot-long by 200-foot-wide sea turtle shaped reef was the first system completed, in 2015, and is about 200 yards offshore at Grayton Beach State Park. Two years ago it was joined by a seahorse at Topsail Beach, a grouper off Inlet Beach and a dolphin situated off the shore of Miramar Beach.
Last summer the first Underwater Museum of Art opened when seven sculptures were placed 55 feet below the surface less than a mile off shore. This summer, 12 sculptures created by local and nationally recognized artists are expected to be added by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.
Coastal dune lakes
There are 15 coastal dune lakes here, the largest concentration in the world. The lakes are rare – only found in Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. – and are among the 40% of South Walton land (about 25,000 acres) that is protected in four state parks and the 15,000-acre Point Washington State Forest. The forest and park include more than 200 miles of paved and unpaved trails for hiking and biking.
Have you seen the movie “The Truman Show”? Then you’ve seen part of Seaside, one of the most famous South Walton neighborhoods. This is considered the birthplace of New Urbanism, an architecture approach to master planned communities that takes into consideration how people live and work, provides alternatives to driving and reflects the local environment. The downtown districts of Seaside and Rosemary Beach are both full of examples.