South Walton, Florida is more than just beaches. They have chefs from all over the world and attractions that will make your vacation memorable. David Demarest, Director of Marketing and Communications for Visit South Walton, is here to give us a glimpse of life on the Gulf and tell us what to expect when visiting under COVID-19 restrictions.
Hello everyone. I’m Anna Bell. And welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry. Today I’m really excited to have with us, the Director of Marketing and Communications for Visit South Walton in South Walton, Florida. David Demarest. David, thank you so much for making the time to talk with us today.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Absolutely. We’re happy to have you on the show with us today. So David, many of us do know about your area, but for those who don’t know, I’d like to start things off by kind of getting to learn what travelers can expect to experience when we come down to visit you guys in South Walton. South Walton is made up of multiple beach access neighborhoods, correct?
Yes. We got about 16 beach communities or beach neighborhoods. Some of them are very well known, like Seaside and Rosemary beach, Grayton beach, others like Dune Allen or Miramar beach, which ironically is our biggest neighborhood are less well known.
How, how neat. Yeah, well definitely several of those names I recognize right away. But can you kind of drill down and tell us about some of those neighborhoods, what we can find when we come to visit?
Sure. So if you’re looking for the classic resort experience, you want to do the beach, but you also want to do shopping, dining, then outlet, the outlet malls over in San Destin and Miramar beach are very popular, but more people these days, it seems like, know about the little towns that are over on 30A.
So what is 30A?
30A is actually the name of a scenic highway, but it’s almost become a bit of a brand. And so when we talk about 30A, we’re talking about a stretch of that scenic highway that’s 18 and a half miles long here in South Walton.
Wow. How neat. That sounds awesome. It sounds like a perfect opportunity to, to really get to experience what all is down your way.
But what I really like about it is that you have all of these communities and they’re all so different. But you can get between them very easily and you have all these different experiences. You can have a favorite restaurant in each, and getting down to the beach. Obviously we have some really beautiful beaches here. I think some of the most beautiful in the world, and all of our communities are spread along the beautiful beaches.
That’s so neat. I know because for most of us, our minds immediately go to the beach. We immediately think about Florida. Okay, let’s get to the beach, you know? But South Walton has much more than just the beaches. Right? And I’m, so you glad touched on it because they are truly beautiful.
Yes, and one of my favorite parts about this part of the country and South Walton in particular, 40% of our area is actually preserved land. So we’ve got all these state forests that you can go to, whether you want to do some mountain biking or whether you want that just pristine beach experience, or even like, say with Eden Gardens which is on the Choctawhatchee Bay. And it has these beautiful, old antebellum style homes on them. And, and ancient Oak trees. A lot of people like to get married under one of those giant Oak trees.
Oh, how neat. That’s neat.
Yeah. So that’s a great way to get out and just enjoy yourself in nature and South Walton allows you to do that while you’re close to those really nice restaurants or, you know, local brewery or something like that that you might enjoy as well.
Glad you’re bringing that up. Let’s talk about the culinary experience a little bit. You know, I immediately, my taste buds are tingling thinking about getting some fresh fish.
Yeah. I’m really spoiled that way. I just about won’t eat seafood if I’m not right on the coast what South Walton has is access to all this fresh Gulf seafood, but we’ve also really got some chefs that have traveled here from all over the country. And they just want to live here and they have to be some of the best chefs you’ll find anywhere. So that’s a nice combination.
Absolutely. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a, in a beautiful beach town area? Yeah, I bet. I bet the weather’s nice year round.
Well, I like it year around and it depends, I’ll do different things. So during the summertime or the spring, or even well into to fall, I like to be by or on, or even under the water. And that’s a great way to stay cool. It’s a great way if you’re just a water baby, like I always was, that’s your comfort zone, but in the, in the winter months and even January, February, I like to be on my bicycle. I like to be on the trails. So I’ve got an off road bike and then I’ve also got a beach cruiser that I like to take on the, it’s called the Timpoochee Trail, but it’s a paved trail that runs the whole length of 30A. And you can, you can stop at your favorite restaurants. You can maybe have a drink and a view of the water and then just power onto the next scenic spot.
That’s awesome. That sounds so nice. I would love to do that. Now one thing that my husband always loves to do when we get to visit is play a round of golf. And I know you have several really beautiful golf experiences around South Walton.
Yeah. You’re kind of spoilt for choice if you like golf. I’m not a golfer myself, even, even though I’ve had the opportunity to do it. I just, I’m a beach guy and like doing the hiking, but
You can’t beat the beach. That’s the truth.
No, but there is a lot of golf. There’s fishing as well. So, you know, we, we’ve got, we’ve got all those activities that make your vacation really memorable.
That’s awesome. And as far as places to stay, we touched on earlier, you know, that you do have resorts, but there’s a multitude of different ways that you can come down and stay in South Walton. Correct? You don’t just have to stay in a resort.
Oh, no. A lot of people’s favorite thing to do here is rent a beach house or a little cottage. And that’s what makes so many of these neighborhoods special is that it’s not a situation where you’re either on the beach or there’s nothing to look at. The neighborhoods are beautiful in themselves, and they’re great for walking and biking around. So it’s easy to pick up a bike while you’re here or whether you just want to get from place to place on foot. That’s a really relaxing way to do it.
Awesome. David, I appreciate you painting kind of that picture of your destination for us, but I do have to address the elephant in the room. How is South Walton handling, you know, the pandemic at the moment? What, what measures have been in place for you guys to, to keep people safe right now?
Yeah, that’s that’s been a really fun part about this whole process is that people will ask me what to do next or what’s going to happen next. And I will tell them, honestly, I don’t know. It’s a, it’s a tough situation because we don’t want anyone put in harm’s way. We don’t want to endanger our locals. And we don’t want anybody to come here and put themselves in a situation where they might not normally that they would, would be at risk of COVID-19. So, you know, what we’re telling people is that we want you to come here armed with information, and that may mean buying supplies before you come down here to have with you, that definitely means that if you are feeling sick or you’ve been exposed to somebody who has been sick, put your vacation off. We’ll be here. We’ll wait for ya. And and we just want to make sure that people don’t take risks. So you’re here on vacation, but there’s no vacation from a virus. And so take any of the precautions that you would take at home or anywhere else, make sure you’re taking them here. We, we love for people to come down. But we want you to do that when the time is right and in a responsible way.
Right. How are you guys operating, you know, your hotels, your restaurants, your venues, you know, how are you guys operating right now? Are the beaches open like normalL
No beaches are open. And it’s pretty close to normal. We just ask that people practice social distancing, which we all to be used to by now. Give people that extra elbow room. But the the restaurants are limited by state law to 50% on indoor dining. So that might mean a longer wait time than you’re used to, or it might mean ordering to-go from one of your favorite restaurants would be a good idea. Instead, as far as we don’t have a lot of pure bars here in South Walton, but it’s a state law right now that if you make more than 50% of your revenue off of alcohol sales, you are, you are essentially closed down. You can’t serve alcohol for consumption on premises. You could hypothetically open a bar and serve everything to-go. But we don’t have a lot of that anyways. Mostly down here were restaurants, and they make more of their money on food and alcohol. So they remain open and you can still order your glass of wine with dinner or a beer.
Now, can we expect the same thing with your, your hotels? Are people gonna have a little bit harder time finding a place to stay?
People will, if they’re talking about visiting in July, because it’s our busiest month. It is as busy this year as it was any other year that we’ve had. So you might think that nobody’s going to come down because everybody’s staying at home. But that’s not what we’re seeing here. It’s actually busier even than it was last year. And so I think a lot of people have the idea that they’ve just been cooped up for a while and they want to get out and some fresh air and sunshine sounds like just the thing.
The ticket right? Sounds like the ticket.
Yeah. But if you were planning on coming in July, don’t think you’re the only one who’s had this idea. We, this is our busiest month.
Wow, and, and it still is even despite that the pandemic going on right now.
Absolutely. Yeah. Like I said, even busier than, than it was last year. Part of the reason for that is because people might have otherwise gone on a cruise or gone to Europe or done one of these things that you’re definitely not going to do. Whereas, you know, if you’re coming to South Walton you feel a little safer. The activities that I mentioned, they’re all outdoor activities, which are going to be safer according to the CDC. But within that, I do think it’s so important that people remember to take precautions and to, to take a vacation from your house, but not from your common sense.
Sure, sure. Have you been down to the beaches recently? Are people of spacing themselves out? Can you kind of give us an idea of what it looks like today on the beach?
Yeah. I go to the beach every day and I like to get down.
I don’t blame ya. Not one bit.
I like to go down to watch the sunset. Different people like different times, so the crowd can come and go throughout the day. But from my perspective we see we have 26 miles of beach. So, and during the summer we pay for free entry to two of our state parks that are on the beach and had several miles of beach access. So we want to make it possible for people to spread out as much as, as we can. And, you know, again, we, we asked that people who come to the beach, be respectful. If you, if you were to come and you looked around and you felt like it was, there were too many people, go go shop for a little while or go play, play with the kids in one of the parks. And then come back a little bit later for the beach.
That’s right. Cause a little bit later on, it might be a different story. Right?
So what about the locals in the area? You know, as tourists and travelers were kind of coming in and out, but I’m curious about the locals. How, how are they fairing you know, during the shutdown period?
Well, the shutdown itself was really difficult for a lot of people, simply because so many of our jobs are based on tourism. So if you as the state did, restaurants were closed down and short term rentals were banned. And so that meant a lot of people didn’t have jobs. So that is a tough situation to be in. You know, and that’s the reason why so many people are pleased that the beaches are back open, and that they can once again make their living.
That’s right. That’s right. What about your businesses, small businesses or how are they doing? Have you seen many close?
You know, you’ve had one or two that have closed. It will reopen again. A whole lot did close temporarily, because without visitors there was it was too expensive to keep the doors open.
Sure. You know, I wanted to ask too, cause a lot of people are still kind of on the fence about coming down, you know, in closing, what message do you have for those who may be considering a beach vacation this year, but are still on the fence?
Ooh. Well, I would say if you’re thinking of a last minute vacation to South Walton, you may have missed your chance already. So we our, our accommodations are full. So if you want to visit Southwalton.com, you can search city accommodations based on the neighborhood and the date range and find something that way. I think a great thing to do is visit in off-peak times like, like fall which is my favorite season of the year. But for people thinking about vacation, definitely go to visit Southwalton.com and we have a COVID-19 safety page. It’ll tell you what the conditions are now, because you know, from one day to another, the governor could pass a rule that’s going to impact how we do business, or the local government could pass some laws. And we keep everybody up to date there. And then we have some good safety tips as well. And I think the, the informed traveler is a good traveler. So we want to keep you as up to date as we can. And and just make sure that your trip to South Walton is going to be a safe one.
Awesome. It sounds like there’s a wealth of knowledge there at that website. So thank you for sharing that with us. David, thanks again so much for your time and your insight today, sharing with us, you know, what all is going on in South Walton, Florida today.
Thank you very much for the opportunity. I appreciate it.
Yeah, absolutely. We sincerely appreciate it. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell sending you all well wishes.