.Alys Beach, Florida, is tucked along hip Highway 30A, nestled in Florida’s northwestern Panhandle. Visitors will instantly realize they are being transported into the artistic, mystical world of Alys Beach as bleached-white butteries (used to store perishable dairy products) welcome guests.
The iconic butteries and skyscraping palm-lined streets introduce travelers to a resort town like no other. Zen-like luxury is inspired by Bermudian architecture, with a nod to Moorish and Moroccan details, while courtyards and lush green spaces transport resort guests to Antigua, Guatemalan. It’s no wonder that Alys Beach won the number three spot on Architectural Digest’s list of top small towns in the United States.
The Ombre Waters of the Emerald Coast
The joie de vivre of Alys Beach is the sublime coastal waters of the Panhandle, which sparked a fashion trend. Deep emerald greens blend seamlessly with vivid turquoise greens and deep blues to give the water a trend-on Ombre effect, which nestles up to white sandy beaches. Guest of Alys Beach will relish a 1,500-foot stretch of beachfront with a rare 30-foot bluff allowing expansive views of the Gulf. Beach-goers can spend hours kayaking and paddleboarding, frolicking with the family, or floating the day away on these calm waters.
No worries, pop on over to Piper’s Kitchen, located beachside next door to The Bike Shop. Guests can grab a quick bite, order a beverage of choice and choose to lunch family style at the outdoor picnic area. If you need to rent boards, kayaks, or bicycles, The Bike Shop is the place as it’s the recreational and rental hub of the resort. It’s also a great place to pick up a few sundry items. Families looking for additional activities can participate in tennis classes, summer camps, and nature tours or take pleasure in the simplicity of beach life by building sandcastles. Families with budding architects can try and recreate the welcoming butteries or one of the property’s notable sculptures.
Speaking of architects, Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, of Khoury Vogt Architects, the lead architect group at Alys Beach, shared that it took a village, including the town planners Duany Plater-Zybert & Company, to create this luxurious place. Creativity oozes from every corner of this 100 percent sustainable, Florida-certified green, awarded place. The attention to detail is mind-blowing — from the pink shells embedded in the sidewalks to the edible landscapes that define areas such as Mojito Lane, where mint and Myers lemon trees grow freely, or Daiquiri Lane, where banana trees and strawberries coalesce, to plentiful blueberry bushes lining the lakes. It’s fun to watch as children pick these delicious organic fruit treats fresh off the plant. Oh, did I forget to mention that the landscape architect doesn’t believe in pesticides, making the town’s edible landscaping oh-so-snackable?
The resort architecture is, in itself, progressive art. For most, this would appear to be an overwhelming proposition, but as you get into the groove of Alys Beach, it seems innate. It’s a community unto itself. Purposefully imagined, walkable sight corridors lead guests to the shore while the sun also plays a part. Moderate Gulf Coast temperatures were incorporated into the design, with an overarching idea of an east-to-west configuration to allow breezes to flow.
You’ll see the east-to-west idea in play as the white stucco walls turn pastel pink at sunrise and then take on pastel orange hues in the late afternoon, a precious gift from the setting sun. As you wander through the community, you’ll notice stars are prevalent. The most remarkable star is a handmade wooden door that, when closed, forms an impressive entrance. This is just one of many inspiring entries. Artistic entryways are everywhere, delighting guests with hidden surprises; indoor-outdoor peaceful courtyards that welcome in the day or inspire a romantic evening.
Beyond the Beach: Green Spaces
The architecture gets cozy with a variety of designated green spaces, water features, and walking paths, which again align east-to-west, mapping out the perfect route to the beach, the fitness center, the clay tennis courts, and sitting areas, or Alys Beach’s take on New York City’s Central Park. The resort’s Central Park opens up to a 20-acre nature preserve and a nature trail. If you’re wondering why one of the lakes is named Marilyn, it’s because the celebrated-star Marilyn Monroe plays a role. It’s said that an aerial view of Lake Marilyn takes on the star’s curvaceous lines, hence the namesake.
The nature trail is forested with slash pine and cypress trees, scrub, and palmetto palms, amongst other natural flora and fauna, while flowing marsh waters support native herbs and plants. The trail offers guests a finished deck-styled pathway, making it the perfect place to ride a bike or take a leisurely walk. It’s also the ideal place to escape the summer heat as a canopy of pine trees acts as a natural sunbrella.
The planners couldn’t help themselves and just had to add another layer of art for guests to ooh and ahh. As you wander the grounds, you’ll see magnificent works of art acting as sophisticated signposts. One of the most Instagramable of them all is,
- Tanzërin was birthed in Germany and created by Christian Peschke, a German sculptor. Tanzërin is a Rubenesque-women who appears to be in the midst of a joyful dance.
- John Aspley, CEO of Antiquities and Interiors, a showroom in Highpoint, North Carolina, worked with an artisan in Indonesia to craft gorgeous teak horse sculptures, which signal the starting point for the nature path.
- As you progress on your nature walk or bike ride, an imposing metal dragon sculpted by a local artist and metal fabricator, Charles Lawson, says hello. Another resort sculpture not to miss is Leda, a graceful Buddha-inspired head carved by local artist Steve Wagner. This unassuming statue is placed along one of the walking corridors. It’s a beautiful place to sit and relax.
For those seeking a pool experience, the Caliza Pool area is stunning. It offers guests a 100-foot infinity-edge saltwater pool, a family pool area with dancing water spouts, a 75-foot lap pool, an intimate spa, and a whirlpool. The perimeter of the pool boasts charming cabanas which overlook the nature preserve, and in signature, Alys Beach style, the entrance to the Caliza Pool area will stop you in your tracks. Note; a new indoor/outdoor pool was under construction during my visit.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are typically a short walk from your vacation rental. Donut lovers will want to head on over to Charlie’s Donuts, located across the way from the fountain-feed amphitheater. Get there early, as these homemade treats sell out quickly. Fonville Press, the resort’s lunch and breakfast restaurant, is the perfect way to start the morning. Enjoy freshly brewed coffee, fruit, or a pastry. Family in tow, no worries. Enjoy the outdoor patio and let the kids run, jump and play at Fonville Park.
Georges’ Restaurant, a recycled coastal cottage known by many as Sandor’s Restaurant, a popular hangout in Seagrove Beach, Florida, is the new hotspot on 30A. The cottage remains intact with a few updates, including a screened patio and deck area. Today this quaint abode still delights as guests dine on fresh-caught coastal cuisine in a casual environment.
& The Wine
The resort’s al fresco restaurant, Caliza’s, is open for lunch and dinner and offers a buzzy happy hour overlooking the pool. The menu blends contemporary American and coastal, sustainable cuisine, offering healthy and indulgent shareable plates. The curated wine selection will please the most discretionary wine aficionados, while artisan cocktails and craft brews are also a good choice.
NEAT is an intimate tasting room and tapas stop. While in town, I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Alvarado. Alvarado is a local singer/songwriter who blends original songs with soothing melodies. In his spare time, Alvarado crafts one-of-a-kind, handmade guitars with hand-tooled inlays. Who captured the attention of Johnny Cash, the Fleetwood Mac Band, the Nashville Skyline, and others. It takes Alvarado six months to create one of these beauties. Get on the wait list for these beauties as it takes about a year from start to finish.
Staying at Alys Beach
Because the resort only offers 25 rentals, you’ll want to book early. Condos and residences sleep anywhere from two to 12 guests. Each one is exquisitely and individually appointed in a quiet style that exudes luxury.
Unpack Your Travel Personality? Alys Beach is ideal for introverts in the late fall and into spring. Plenty of places to explore Mother Nature read a good book, or visit the area’s fantastic local art scene. Come summer. This place is hopping. It’s a great time for extroverts who can mingle with travelers from Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, and all parts of Florida. Oh yeah, the music scene is full throttle, with many events and local festivals.
One of my favorite places in Florida. I first wrote about it in the Naples Daily News.