Thursday, April 18, 2013

Beach days at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

April 15-17, 2013
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

We have been looking forward to returning to Topsail, what some call the crown jewel of the Florida State Park system. Aside from its amazing location on a beautiful isolated stretch of white sugar-like sand beach, this park’s allure has much to do with the grounds and unusual amenities for a state park. The park has several picturesque ponds with blooming water lilies (and oh how I love Monet!), fountains, and even a heated pool.

This park was once a private resort, so the landscaping is impressive and the sites not only have full 50 amp hookups but also cable—unheard of for most state parks. All the sites have concrete pads, also not typical for a state park.

Because of all these extras, the daily rate is also higher than most at $42. Nevertheless, the park is so popular that if you want to stay more than a few weekdays, you need to book your site eleven months ahead. Both this year and last year, with two months advance booking, we were only able to find Sun-Wed availabilities. 

Topsail also has what they call cottages for rent; they are actually roomy park models that are quite reasonable at $700 a week. There is also a clubhouse available for group gatherings. I like the rocking chairs on the porch and the smoker barbeque for large cook-outs.

Although we like the area nearby, especially the “designer” towns of Watercolor, Seaside, and Rosemary Beach on scenic highway 30A, we are mainly here to enjoy the beach. The city of Destin, just a few miles west of Topsail, has a pretty beach but it is full of hotels, condos, and high-end shopping areas. Not much charm there although the white sand beaches are still lovely.

On our first day here, the skies cleared after a thunderstorm the day before and all we could think of was getting in a long walk on this beautiful beach. There are three ways to get to the beach area: take a tram that runs on the hour, walk, or ride your bike on a .7 mile paved trail.

When you arrive at the beach, there is a well-designed bike area (most bikes are not locked up), a place to rinse off the saltwater, and a bath house. From here, there is a short walk, about 50 yards, on a boardwalk over the protected dunes to reach the beach.

It turned out to be a perfect day, with a light breeze and puffy cloud cover—not too hot even though the temps were in the low 80. We did notice, however, that the storms and rainy weather made the water much cloudier and less emerald blue than what we saw last year, but the sand was just as soft and white as ever.
Something new this year was the number of fishermen on the beach. We learned that this week was prime time for pompano.  Apparently, last year the season was earlier.  I thought long and hard about getting a license and setting up a rig for surf fishing but I knew it would become an obsession with me if I did, so instead I just enjoyed talking to the folks fishing.

I saw several people with what looked like shelling shovels which seemed strange since there are few shells on this stretch of the Gulf. They were not looking for shells, they were using these scoops to get sand fleas, a favorite bait for catching pompano. I thought sand fleas were like gnats, but these looked like small white crabs. I did a quick check on the internet and saw that both concepts were true. Here is an image of the ones that are also called sand crabs that used as bait. These crab-like creatures are distinct from what are also called sand fleas or no-see-ums, a flea-like biting bug.

Apparently the sand crabs did the trick as most folks I talked to were catching their daily limit (six fish of 11” minimum). Along with the sand crab, this fisherman added a small orange lure to imitate the look of roe. This fellow had a good gig going at the park as a tram driver volunteer with three days on and six days off for the months of March and April in exchange for a free site.

The deserted stretch of beach at Topsail is about three miles long. Eventually you arrive at what I Grayton Beach, where there are several imposing vacation homes for rent. The signs advertise features like six master bedrooms, private pool, sleeps 18.  Expensive vacation homes for sure.

When we returned to the motorhome late that afternoon, we learned about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. I immediately thought of one of my former colleagues who typically runs in the race with her husband while her mom waits at the finish line with their young daughter. Fortunately, I learned that they did not participate this year.  I felt relief but couldn’t get my mind off the countless others whose lives were irrevocably impacted by this tragic event. I also felt a little guilty enjoying such a beautiful day on the beach while others were struggling to cope with the loss of loved ones and life-altering injuries. As we near our two year anniversary of life on the road, I am starting to feel a need to be of service in some way. I used to think 27 years of teaching would make up for it, but that part of my spirit is still restless. Yet, I do believe we can be of service in ways that are less traditional like making a friend at the beach, or just putting a smile on someone’s face. . . .

On our second day here, we treated the dogs to a trip to Starbucks (something we used to always do in Corvallis) and then to the Bark Park, a dog park I discovered on-line. (No dogs allowed on the beaches here—even on a leash.)  I forgot to take my camera, but this dog park was amazing. It had three separate fenced areas with equipment that looked like it was for agility training. After the dogs enjoyed their romping, we also sneaked in a short drive along 30A—just to see the beautiful town of Watercolor once again.

watercolor sign
Day two was the prettiest day here, but with few clouds, it was also the warmest at almost 85 with high humidity. After returning to the motorhome with the dogs, we thought we decided to put off the beach until late afternoon because of the heat and took a drive to Destin to stock up on some organic foods from The Fresh Market (akin to Whole Foods). Another temptation came our way when we passed the Columbia Outlet store as we were both in the market for some new hiking boots in preparation for our time in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  We didn’t find what we wanted there, but the Merrell Outlet more than made up for it.
Sadly, we did not make it to the beach this day as time slipped away. Three days here is not enough!  We vowed to book at least two weeks next year as neither of us was feeling ready to say goodbye to the Gulf beaches.
We spent the last day almost entirely on the beach, enjoying the sounds of the surf and feeling the silky sand between our toes.  I packed a lunch to bring along so we had no excuse to leave early. The sky was not as blue as the previous day, but there was much less wind and a thin cloud cover that made it quite pleasant. 

I walked the beach with an eye for some photo opportunities along the way. Someone had either dropped a cracker or, sadly, fed this cracker to this gull. For a moment, the sandpiper had the cracker and then the gull stole it back. Pretty amusing.

The dunes here are unusually pretty, wild, and windswept—reminding me in some ways of the Oregon beaches. This lone tree on the dunes looks like an Asian bonsai from afar.

Near to us on the beach was this family of five children having all kinds of fun catching bait, riding waves on their boogie boards, making sand castles, and fishing. I had to wonder if they were all home-schooled as this time of year is not typically anyone’s vacation.

Others were just content to read their books and soak in the sun.  This father and son from Romania were very cute to watch as they ran in and out of the waves which seemed to take its toll on dad.
The water temperature was only about 70, much cooler than last year. Not many people were in the water, but I finally decided to go in and once I did it was hard to get out. The smooth sandy bottom and the refreshing feel of the waves breaking over me felt so good.

After getting out of the water, I talked to Vic about staying another night and driving a long day to Abbeville, Louisiana on Friday instead of splitting the trip into two days. He agreed, so I called the park office, but there was no room at the inn.  We packed up, got on our bikes, headed back to the motorhome, and settled in for a quiet night back at the campsite.  I went to bed thinking I would get up early for another walk on the beach, but the pull of getting back on the road won out.

Perhaps, one of the best parts about this lifestyle is looking forward to the next adventure. Next up is something sweet to look forward to-- Betty’s RV Park in Cajun Country. Let the good times roll. . . .


  1. What a beautiful post! Thanks so much for sharing Topsail. One reason we have never stayed there is because there was no where for the pups to play...glad to know about the bark park at Watercolor.

    The beach photos are so pretty! Especially the birds and the sand dunes! Neat sand art too...did you do it?

    Happy trails!

    1. The dog park actually has a Santa Rosa Beach address. It is not far from Topsail. And, I wish I could be so talented with the sand sculpture. I found it on my beach walk.

  2. I was right there with you!! I could really see every part of this post. While we never stayed at that park, we did ride our bikes all through and walk out to the beach.

    I love Fresh Markets! We shopped there all the time. And the Outlet Mall is wonderful. We were just down the rode from there. The Columbia shop opened just before we left last April. So glad it did. I am now into Merrill hiking shoes. Glad to know there is a Merrill outlet there. Next April I will need to stop before we head west again.

    Glad to see you made a stop at Starbucks. Part of our daily walking route involved a stop at the Starbucks by the Outlet Mall.

    We also enjoyed the little towns of Watercolor and Seaside.

    Thanks for taking me back to such a neat area. We spent the month of April there for two years.

  3. What a beautiful beach. I likely will never see the gulf in person so enjoyed your pictures very much.

  4. I agree that Topsail is the "Crown Jewel" of FL's SP system and your pics captured it nicely.

  5. Our friends in Texas have told us much about Topsail ... alas, we have been unable to fit it in this year ... something to look forward to. I can only hope that the cracker was dropped accidentally. Nonetheless, love the gull-sandpiper photos ... especially the second one where it looks like the sandpiper is taking off in a huff after having lost the cracker to the bully ;-)

  6. Wow what a great time you've had at that resort. It's gorgeous. Hope you can get 2 weeks on the Gulf coast next year. Let me know what time you are coming and perhaps we can overlap. I'm sold on St. George and St. Joe and I haven't even gotten up to where you are. Thanks too for all the information about that area. It is great to have a scout going on before us. Sure am glad you didn't post pictures of the sand FLEA. The current bane of my existance.

  7. That is a nice park. You are in our neck of the woods, but unfortunately we are traveling in GA and TN at the moment:( Enjoy the area.

  8. Your pictures are super! Nice to see a photo of you again too. Seems we, the bloggers / photographers, are rarely photographed. We took our first coach on her maiden voyage to Topsail ... way back in the days of being employed and taking long weekend trips. Loved it there, but like you, were limited in the days as we didn't have reservations far enough in advance.


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