A LuLu’s Weekend

Right off the Mid-Bay Bridge in Destin, Fl, any vacationer or local resident can be transported to Margaritaville in North Florida: live music, white-quartz sand, blue-green waters, a view of the Choctawhatchee Bay, “shrimp beginnin’ to boil,” and a refreshing cocktail. LuLu’s – where the food and atmosphere are each of an equal standard and do not disappoint: a more-than-satisfied palate, belly, and a family-fun feel with a splash of party. It’s a true southern seafood paradise where Ms. Lucy Buffet’s policy is they stay open until the last customer is ready to go home, whether that’s midnight or later.

In the nine months we’ve lived here, we have heard about LuLu’s and have been meaning to check it out. It has an amazing reputation as an establishment, not to mention that it’s Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant – Lucy “LuLu” Buffet, so we knew it would be good food and good fun.

At the front of house, there is a gift shop to the left, full of LuLu’s merchandise with a side of all things Florida/tropical – not the cheezy stuff one sees at the standard Florida souvenier shop, but cute paraphanaila one may actually want to purchase – even the Florida local. The hostess counter is dead-center, and the bar is to the right. The restaurant is indoors with a large porch/covered outdoor seating area right on a beach, which has plenty of games and entertainment for kids or kids-at-heart.

The seafood is wonderful, and the smoked tuna dip is the best I’ve ever had. No oysters on the half-shell or snow crab, here, however. It’s more of the southern seafood style: food prepped grilled, blackened, or fried. As a seafood lover, I feel compelled to make that distinction about the menu as I always want oysters steamed or raw (in the appropriate time of year) or snow crab! The kid’s menu is reasonably priced and has a wide array of foods fit for a young palate, including two of my toddler son’s favorites: mac & cheese and grilled cheese. The mac & cheese is homemade and is scrumptious – like what my grandmother made! It is not a boxed store brand, which is always so disappointing to see on a menu.

 

Mac waving at the acoustic guitarist. He loves music and bands.

 

We had dinner last Saturday night, and we saw boats anchored off the beach. We confirmed with staff that we could drive up in our boat, drop anchor, and come enjoy all LuLu’s has to offer. We have several places we like to go boating, and we always look for a beach or shallow area where we can get Mac out so that he can play.

Since season has been in full force, we have avoided going to our normal places when we boat on weekends. We tend to go on shorter trips in the bay to avoid seasonal traffic on 98, and we were thrilled to find that LuLu’s is boat friendly. So, the next day, we went on our “Sunday drive” and took the boat the thirty minutes over to LuLu’s, anchored up, set up the floating island, and played. We went in and got lunch for McCarty, and APG and I split an appetizer. It was the perfect blend of beautiful sunshine, delicious food, refreshing drinks, fun live music (again), and the perfect company on the bay side of Destin.

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Adventure Lost: Finding Me by Caring Less

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Driving our boat for the first time through Choctawhatchee Bay.

So, how does this forty year old mother of a very active toddler fully regain her sense of adventure, and in essence, who she is?

I have always been an optimistic person. However, after a decade and a half of loved ones dying, including one concentrated year of the passing of three very important people, my father, my aunt, and my mother-in-law, followed by the passing of a favorite uncle, caution and worry has come to overshadow fearlessness and excitement. Fear came into my life, complete with shiny white fangs and gnarly, pointed horns, growling and hissing words like: Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, Pulmonary Embolism, Chemotherapy; personally, with pregnancy, Gestational Diabetes and Cesarean Section. Throughout the years, fear has chipped away at my sense of “I can do and be anything,” and that is hard for me to admit! Even while writing this, a part of me is still in lotus land going – you are still an adventurer, an explorer, a positive person, and you have lost none of that!

But, my friends, part of the true adventure is admitting when the sense of adventure has started to fade away like watercolor, and then grabbing a paintbrush of bold oils and creating a beautiful new work on a blank canvas.

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Sunset, Seaside, South Walton County

There is a part of me, especially after becoming a mom, that has become so cautionary that I hate coffee tables, corners, and anything with a sharp edge at the height of my son’s head. I try to sit back and not hover, and I think I have done a fairly good job of not being the dreaded “helicopter parent,” especially as a first time mom. I admit it – while my son knows his boundaries – when Mac runs full speed down the sidewalk to the curb’s edge, right to the edge, I have to restrain from shouting out, “stop,” or more likely, “be careful.” Guess what? He always stops. I don’t have to remind him. Finding balance between hovering and letting go is something I think most parents can relate to. It can be tough. And I see so much of myself in my son: I can hear my mom’s amazement that I was always “right on the edge of everything,” and I know her anxiety. But she trusted me and gave me room to be me, and I am determined to do that for my son, too.

To do that, I have to find a part of myself that has been tempered and muted: my gypsy soul, if you will. Yes, I just said that. The adventurer and explorer. I have a feeling she’s right where I left her, twenty years ago…even just four years ago.

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Destin Harbor

My dad used to depart from his friends by shouting out, “Be Careless,” instead of “Be Careful,” and it always got a laugh. I didn’t hear him say that as often until after he had fought cancer for years. He may have said this phrase earlier in his life, but I never heard it much till towards the end. That’s significant. He, like many, in arguably the most challenging part of his life, found laughter, fun, and adventure. Even in a phrase.

So, with a little less care, and filling the glass half full of lemonade, I have started to regain who I am and laugh in the face of fear by doing things that are full of adventure, and doing them with my son!

Mac, who can climb up ladders like a boss, but going down is a different story. At the top of the ladder, he has been nervous like a kitten in a tree. However, he decided the other day that he could climb back down with my help. Finally! And it was on a tall ladder at the top of a tree house that he made that decision. Yesterday,  I was invited to paddle board while with friends, recently. It was in the morning before work, and my husband was at the office. I jumped on my friend’s paddle board for a quick ocean ride after assuring Mac he could watch me and would be fine with our dear friends whom he knows very well. He was fine and even sat on the paddle board after I returned from my short jaunt; this is huge, considering his newfound understanding of sharks, stingrays, and jellyfish: all the big bads in the water. We have a beach camping trip we are planning – our first time camping with Mac. We’ll be roughing it on a small island, but with all the accommodations of a true glamping experience. 😉 May wanderlust and exploration abound.

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Treehouse on the walk to Baytowne Warf Marina in Sandestin

I have firmly reset my adventure compass to find that girl from twenty years ago, from four years ago, and with a little luck and a sprinkling of fairie dust, I’ll morph into a healthy combination of the three.

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My favorite beach somewhere on 30A. The second time I went paddle boarding. Dolphins came to chat.

What about you? Have the difficulties in life dampened your spirit of adventure? What healthy ways do you keep a positive attitude?

 

Helen McCall Park

We love this park! It’s off 98 in Santa Rosa Beach, right near 30A, and the playground is well-designed.

I have written about two other playgrounds that we frequent in the Destin area. This one is not as visible. When I first heard about it, I knew it would be good because when I asked a 6 year old on our neighborhood playground the location of other playgrounds nearby, he told me about it.

There is a toddler section of the playground that is completely shaded. Much of the playground is shaded, offering respite from the bright sun.


Across the playground is a larger structure, complete with rock walls, ladders, slides, and bridges. It is nice because when toddlers graduate to this side of the park, the structure is built for various developmental stages and stimulates different levels of growth.



The swings, rope tower, and see-saws keep the kiddos moving. My son never tires of this park, and it is our favorite.

The park also has a picnic area and bathrooms that are kept clean, so it’s perfect to bring lunch, snack, or to plan a child’s birthday celebration.


One of the best features is the splash pad. As most splash pads, it only runs when it’s warm. This park is wonderful for a morning, or afternoon, of playground time and then a cool-off in the splash pad.

Play hard,

J.

Gulf Coast Surfing

Yes. Yes, you can surf the gulf coast.

I started surfing when I was 30 years old on the East Coast of Florida, Cocoa Beach. I was living in Orlando, 45 minutes from Cocoa Beach, single, and ready to take charge of my life in a brand new way after some personal discoveries. Surfing had been a lifelong dream and taking action was a result of inner change.

For the first time in my life, I now live two minutes from the beach. Two minutes! I still can’t believe it. It’s the result of ten years of hard work and sacrifice by my husband. I am thrilled to live closer to the water, knowing I have more of an opportunity to play on the water. Before we moved over here, I figured I’d get to surf occasionally, when there was a storm in the gulf. In the meantime, I’d learn to paddle board, and I’d body board, play and swim. It’s the ocean – my place of peace on this earth.

My dad grew up in Tallahassee, and I used to hear him tell stories of surfing in the ’60s on the gulf coast. It was always fascinating to me – a dream world of adventure and fun. There was the most exciting story about a shark. Dad was out surfing, and all of a sudden all of his buddies on shore were jumping around and waving at him to come in. He turned and saw the shark and never paddled so hard in his life to get into shore. We talked about surfing together, but being two hours away from the nearest surf  spot before the internet existed made surfing more difficult. Dad taught me how to swim and how to body surf and ride waves; he gave me a strong foundation. He also was thrilled when I started surfing. Unfortunately, he only saw me surf on video since he was in the last years of fighting cancer and we lived 4 hours from each other. That video was of me surfing waves at Big Island, Hawaii. Pretty epic.

Thanks to my friend, Cliff Millender, I surfed the panhandle gulf years before I moved here, but it was when I came up from Orlando and a bunch of us piled in the car and drove together from Tallahassee. The first time I surfed the gulf, it was different surf than East Coast and what I was used to. The waves were more mush than even the east coast. Cliff’s so good, he got barreled several times because he’d been surfing for 12 years or more at the time and got outside to the cleaner waves. I’d been surfing less than a year, then, and I was happy to ride the wash. 

A beautiful thing: living here, having the ability to view the beach daily, I know how wrong I was. Again. This place has frequent and decent surf, and I don’t have to wait for storms. With the jetties around, there is almost always a place to catch a wave.


So, if you love to surf and you want to make your home in a beautiful area of the country, don’t forget about Florida’s gulf coast. Pristine, crystal water, friendly folks, and nice waves.

Aloha.

The Village of Baytowne Warf Playground

Located in the Grand Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, The Village of Baytowne Warf is the hub for fun, family-friendly activities.  Our first holiday and third day after we moved here, October 31st, we put on our Winnie the Pooh and friends costumes and went to the Halloween festival for a reprieve from moving and boxes, and we had a blast! Each holiday, the Village is brightly and beautifully adorned. We have enjoyed celebrations and parades there since. Most events are family-friendly and free. If you are a new resident or are vacationing, here is a link to the Village’s calendar of events.

img_1623-1When you enter Grand Sandestin Golf community you’ll need to ask for a parking pass to Baytowne Warf at the gate. The playground here is an adventure of activity from toddlers to ten year olds, and the occasional big kid, like yours truly. The red and white lighthouse stands as a beacon: the promise of curiosity and fun for the energetic child.

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Nautical themed in structure and decor, the playground inspires the imagination of swimming underwater with sea creatures to climbing into the lighthouse as a keeper or sailor.

Safe! I love how this playground is built and how safe it is, especially for the young and adventurous toddler. Many taller structures make me a little nervous as Mac is a daredevil (karma sucks) since so many of them tend to have wide open gaps at the tops of ladders and rock walls. Here, Mac can walk up the wide steps to the lighthouse tower and go down the slide without encountering those high gaps. Climbing ladders is a skill he has acquired but isn’t totally comfortable with, especially if the ladder is high. Here, I feel confident he can practice that new skill with 4 or 5 rung ladders within small passages.

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The higher walls can limit visibility, so while I feel the structure is safer than many, to keep an eye on Mac on some parts of the playground, I am usually right behind him on the otherwise hard-to-see places; it makes me feel a little like a helicopter parent. That’s really the only downside I’ve found to this playground. Darn, I get to climb and play with my kiddo. That’s tough. 😉

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Half the playground is lower and spread out, structured for blossoming toddlers. The mulch is rubber from recycled tires. There are only two swings – a baby swing and a chair swing. The tunnel, slide, and climbing stairs are great for little legs.

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Toddler zone
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A view from the very back of the playground. The toddler section is at the back of the playground, seen here.

Next door is an ice cream shop which is nice for a fun post-playground treat. Also, around the back of the ice cream shop are the nearest public restrooms.

 

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If it’s near lunch, The Baytowne Melt is across from the playground, and offers a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s a convenient and inexpensive lunch, especially for the little ones. Grilled cheese sandwiches are Mac’s favorite.

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There are plenty of other fun activities at Baytowne Warf, including an arcade, putt putt, a shooting gallery, ropes course, rock wall, a bungee trampoline thingy, and my son’s favorite – a carousel complete with horses and other fantastic creatures. One of the best features is a simple green grassy hill in front of the stage, by the fountain where children can run, run, run!

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View crossing over the second footbridge, going toward the carousel and rock wall.

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Rock wall.
Don’t miss a tour of the impressive marina just a short walk from the playground. You’ll find a few, fun tree houses along the way. My husband was very impressed when he saw a Nordhaven docked on our first visit. There are several restaurants to satisfy your taste, including places with seafood, pizza, sushi, and wings. Do you like dualing pianos? Check out Rum Runners. Want a little late-night fun? Stay past 10 pm for this sweet beach town’s local nightlife. It’s fun, yet low key, and the area is clean and safe.

Baytowne Warf is full of entertainment for kids, and adults. I recommend adding it to your rotation of Destin activities, whether you’re a local or a visitor.

Enjoy!

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Mardi Gras golf cart parade at Baytowne Warf, 2017.

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img_0730Mac and I dancing to  a little live Dixieland jazz at the Mardi Gras parade. My hubby dancing with him, too. No we didn’t plan to wear the same thing. That’s how our Mardi Gras happened to work out. 🙂

 

 

Destin Commons Playground and Shopping Area

When I moved to the Destin area, I was thrust into a temporary stay-at-home mom life. My busy two-year old needed outside time and playgrounds and kids…and I needed adults. I searched online in the Destin area playgrounds and didn’t find much. I asked neighbors and explored and found great playgrounds, which were a life-saver. This is the first review of my playground series for the primary playgrounds in my rotation for those new to the area and those visiting on vacation.

If you are new to the Destin area or you are visiting and need a fun, physical outlet for your kiddos, the playground at Destin Commons is fantastic. From a 2 year old’s perspective, everything is happy pirate and nautical. Mac loves the colorful pink and yellow ray he calls Mr. Ray, from the movie Finding Nemo, the boat because…it’s a boat, and the cannonball pile from which he thankfully still has not jumped off the very top. I keep waiting for that one.


The playground equipment is typical of what one sees at many malls these days: soft foam sculpted structures that are bright and colorful. The ground is padded as well. Pirate and nautical themed benches surround the border of the playground and there is a clear view of all play structures – very open. 

Mac was able to handle most playground equipment at the Destin Commons playground very well, so I have been able to sit, watch, and relax and not have to follow him around. It’s nice for quieter days after there’s been a lot of activity and we need a day to recoup, yet he still needs entertainment and activity.

If you’re visiting and want to go to a movie, there is an AMC directly across from the playground. A children’s train runs most weekends, and tickets are $4, although that may have changed during season. There are plenty of stores to tempt: Pandora, Brighton, Sunglasses World, Sephora, H&M, Guess, Hollister, Build- A-Bear Workshop, Bass Pro. It’s an outdoor mall, so there is an abundance of shopping, including some adorable boutiques. You can visit the Destin Commons website here


We moved here in October. Leave it to us to move to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and not be able to go in the water because of cooler weather. Yes, this is north Florida and temps can get into the teens. We love the water and often say we would live in the ocean if we could. Despite the colder weather, we did log in plenty of beach time on a few of the rogue, warmer days.

When the weather is rough, we loved going to visit Bass Pro, let Mac climb in and out of boats and on the side-by-sides, and dream of future warmer days.  (Please always attend your child if they’re on any equipment for their safety, and to teach them to respect property.) Mac loves to see the fish – they have an enormous Grouper he loves, a huge Red, and three Jacks. There is a cool doamed window kids can sit in and feel like they’re in the water with the fish. Bass Pro in Destin Commons is two-story wonderland of fishing, hunting, and camping goods and other outdoorsy merchandise. We like to visit the playground when the weather permits, and then we may stop at El Jalisco for lunch, but that’s when we’re there in a weekend family outing.

Last week we had more warm weather after a cold front had passed through. When I took Mac to Destin Commons, We approached the playground and I heard it before I saw it: water! The splash pad was up and running! It’s spring break, so tourist season is in full swing. I knew he wouldn’t leave dry. I had no bathing suit for Mac and no towel in the car. Hadn’t I figured that out by now? Toddler life in a beach town? Have bathing suit, have towel, will travel? Come on, now, Janie.

My kid. After I told him we would go to the playground, first, and then maybe the splash pad, he agreed and ran to the playground. He played for ten minutes- maybe fifteen. I had my eyes on him the entire time, and I saw it. The stop, the little blond head turned toward that rushing water, and he darted to the water. All I wanted to do was remove the shoes and socks for which I had no replacements! Like a slow-mo action sequence in an action film, and I bolted after him…the shoes! Take off the shoes! I jumped from the bench, leaped across the playground, dodged children, yelling his name. Did I actually think I would catch him? We had other errands to run and planned on meeting my husband, Mac’s daddy, “AP” for lunch. I did have a spare change of clothes and a pair of his sweatpants, which substituted for a towel. 


He had a blast, of course. A dozen or so other children were politely playing on the playground. My child was chasing the sprouts of water, soaked through, head to toe, having the time of his life. We later went about our errands and lunch, and he got carried everywhere. I now have a spare pair of flip flops in his clothes bag.

If you visit the playground during the spring and summer months, be prepared for spontaneous water escapades and enjoy.

Love, J.

Paddle Boarding – Anything but Boring!

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Saturday, the water at Dune Allan Beach here on 30a looked like northern lights had infiltrated the water. The array of colbalt, aqua, green, and blue appeared absolutely majestic. The sandbars that rose in two stripes of pale terquoise gave a lighter end of the blue spectrum and a place on which to stand and observe the surroundings. On the first sandbar, we clearly saw a sting ray swimming about seven feet from us. Once I pointed it out, crowds on the beach came to observe.

The water has been rather chilly, especially since we had a cold front pass through last week. I don’t mind getting in, however, especially when the sun is out. I have spent my life swimming in the natural springs of north Florida, and I’ve surfed the Atlantic in cooler months, so I am used to the colder temperatures. Come late summer, some days the gulf is so warm, I prefer swimming pools, cooler, spring-fed rivers, and boating farther out in the gulf.

While we were relaxing and playing on the beach, a man who as about our parents’ ages came off the water with his paddle board. We asked how his session was, and after chatting for a few minutes about boarding – paddle, surf, and the beach in general – he offered us the opportunity to try out his board. I have known I wanted to give paddle boarding a try, especially after watching paddle boarders catch some nice rides. My husband insisted I go, so I did. I don’t know why I was surprised our new friend, Dave, who was down from Tuscaloosa, AL for the weekend, offered up his paddle board, but I was. It was good old fashioned southern hospitality and the surf sharing culture in action.

Strapping on the leash, guiding the board out onto the water, parallel to me and perpendicular to the shore, I felt right at  home. I hopped up on the board, but stayed on my knees. The paddle – the inverted side is not the side that pushes the water. It’s contrary to what one might think.

Kayaking and surfing all in one! Brilliant. With my years of kayaking our rivers back home- I paddled out well. The boarding differences were another challenge. Okay – can’t lie down because you have the paddle; control with your core and legs while kneeling but not while lying down; paddle and don’t run into those kids!; don’t stand up because it’s choppy and you have your prescription sunglasses on- can’t lose those.

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An audible, “I’ve got this. I can do this,” sent out to the vast blue stretching in front of me. Nothing but ocean. I was alone. Isolated. In no time, I was on the second sandbar, my destination. It was fast! Easy compared to paddling on a surfboard through wash and chop.

Before I moved to Santa Rosa Beach, paddle boarding seemed boring. Dullsville. Why work for no fun? No waves? In surfing, your willing to kill yourself paddling out to soar back in on a killer ride. Who wanted to paddle flat water, endlessly?

I figured I’d give it a try…sometime. When there weren’t waves. SUP yoga looked like a fun challenge. But, in general, paddle boarding looked tame.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

On the way back in, I felt a few lilts of the board. It was nice – not a crazy rush, but fun. I will be able to catch waves one paddle board here on the gulf on a quiet day. The clarity of the water and view of the ocean and shore while moving slowly over the water is spectacular. Paddle board stoke, baby! I have it! Really…I know I sound cheesy, but who cares.

The coolest thing about boarding and kayaking – you can get to places in nature you never could by foot or boat. I have always said that about kayaking, and I see it with paddle boarding. I am looking forward to exploring some of the freshwater rivers and gorgeous and rare tidal pools unique to this area.

I have a lifelong love affair with water and nature. I am so glad my husband and son do, too. It makes the Florida life so much better, after all. I’m happy to add paddle boarding to my water exploration.

Aloha.