Friday, April 18, 2014

Our time at Topsail Hill Preserve sails by

April 11-16, 2013
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

topsail beach umbrellas

This is our third stay in this park, a record for us. Advertised as the “crown jewel of the Florida State Park system,” it is not easy to get reservations here. We, however, lucked out all three years with at least a four night stay that we scored a month or two before our stay. This year we started out with only three days, but persistence in checking on Reserve America paid off and we were able to add two more nights on the same sight! 

What makes this park special to us is its location on one of the best white sand beaches on this stretch of the Panhandle known as the Emerald Coast. The campsites do not have views of the water but it is less than a mile bike ride (or tram ride) to a pristine beach. Topsail is also unique in having full hook-ups including cable, paved sites and patios, a swimming pool, and groomed landscaping. The park used to be a private RV resort which explains the extra amenities.

Another big plus for this area is its proximity to what locals call the 30A, a a twenty-eight mile scenic highway that is home to the charming waterfront towns of Santa Rosa Beach, Grayton Beach, Watercolor, Seaside (The Truman Show filming location), and Rosemary Beach. The best part of 30A, which we just discovered this year, is the Timpoochee Trail, a separate bike path that parallels eighteen miles of the highway.

Our first day here, the temperatures were in the low 80s with a gentle breeze. As soon as we set up, we headed for an afternoon at the beach. A big delight for me was discovering the water temps were warm enough for swimming (about 73 degrees). The pure white sandy bottom here and the rolling surf close to shore make this beach one of my favorites for playing in the waves.

This is also a very popular beach for surf fishing. The fishermen use sand fleas for bait and mainly seem to be fishing for pompano, but we saw one guy pull in a 30” black drum, a sizeable catch.

We ended the day with the treat of going out to dinner at nearby Stinky’s Fish Camp, a restaurant I wanted to try the last two years we came here. It did not disappoint. They must be doing well, even with a name like Stinky’s, as they built a new annex and now only use the original Fish Camp building for a gift shop and kitchen. We had something that we saw others eating that wasn’t even on the menu: an oyster log. Thirty six baked oysters of all kinds. I thought it would be too much for us, but truth be told, I think I could have eaten the whole assortment of oysters myself!

On day two, we were excited to take a bike ride along the 30A. It’s always amazing how much more you see on a bike than in a car. Of course, we took several opportunities to explore some side streets that looked interesting along the way. Our intention was to ride to a Starbucks in Grayton Beach that we had visited before, about ten miles away. To our surprise, the Starbucks is now Bad Ass Kona Coffee. I don’t think these beach towns are big supporters of chains, that may explain the switch. I prefer local coffee spots over Starbucks (shhh, don’t tell Pam and John, our Starbuck loving friends), but Vic likes the consistency of knowing his non-fat no-water Chai latte will always taste the same when he goes to a Starbucks. I, on the other hand, am always hoping for a more European style cappuccino like the ones we had overlooking Lake Como in Italy.

Back to our bike ride. I did not take my camera so you will have to use your imaginations. This is the route we took on the bike trail. The only challenge was a pretty strong head wind on the way there and a surprising number of hills, but the ride back with a tail wind was a breeze. It would be fun to plan a whole day and ride all the way into Seaside from Topsail.

30a bike route

With cloudy skies and much cooler temperatures the next day, we chose to drive the 30A stretch stopping to wander around the streets lined with shops in Watercolor and Seaside. There seems to be an abundance of colorful art and seashore themed gifts in the shops, eye candy for sure. I was also bedazzled by the freshwater pearls and braided leather jewelry, an unique combination with some hefty price tags. No purchases for us this time. (The bonus of living in a small space.)

watercolor sign

By sunset that evening, a major storm was brewing. Time to batten down the hatches, retract the awnings, and get out the Bach’s Rescue Remedy to quell Jetta’s nervous reaction to thunder. The TV had severe thunderstorm warnings flashing at the bottom of the screen for our county but the radar looked like we might just get lucky and be on the edge of the red zone. Not so. By midnight, the motorhome was surrounded by flashes of lightening and big cracks of thunder. I felt claustrophobic in the back in bed, so Jetta and I waited out the worst of the storm together on the couch (while Vic literally hid under the covers with pillows over his head). Fortunately, strong wind wasn’t a part of the storm, but there sure was a downpour. By morning, many sites were surrounded by water. We were lucky to be in an area with good drainage. The storm was still rattling on a bit in the morning, so we sat tight until blue skies broke through in the afternoon.

By then I had a little cabin fever, so we took a ride to see the Destin Harbor Boardwalk. Temps had dropped into the 40s overnight and daytime temps were still only in the 50s, so the boardwalk was relatively deserted but we enjoyed a brisk walk there anyway. This area is definitely geared for tourists but we enjoyed checking it out. We were most surprised at the huge number of charter boats along the boardwalk. I am sure it would be fun here for families on a summer night with a variety of rides. fireworks, and live music.

Our last day here the skies completely cleared but the temperatures were only in the high 60s. Regardless, we needed at least one more day at the beach so we bundled up a bit and enjoyed a good long walk along the shore. I had hopes of swimming, but didn’t want to experience the chill of getting out of the water wet. Saying goodbye to the beach was a little tough as we will have to wait until June in southern California before we have beach time again.

Five days sailed by and next thing I knew it was time to pack up. We sure are getting spoiled with our endless vacation lifestyle as we have five days in New Orleans to look forward to next! The Big EZ will finally get to see its namesake. Rollin’ on. . . .


  1. Such great pictures give a wonderful feel for your time there. But none of you in the gorgeous water??? We stay in Grayton Beach SP. I like my beaches a little closer to my site than Top Sail provides. Maybe I just take too much stuff down with me. But I spend hours. Do you guys walk it or take the tram? I'm not much for cities, even New Orleans, so I can't wait to go with you. Safe Rollin' !!

    1. I tried to wave to Vic to take some photos of me swimming, but he was deep into his book.

      We ride our bikes to the beach with chairs, a beach bag, and an umbrella in tow. Not the easiest ride, but it is only about a mile. (Closer would be good, but we like the sewer hook up!)

      We are not averse to cities, but for some reason New Orleans has not been high on our list. We thought we should give it a go this time. Stay tuned for our candid reviews.

  2. Glad you had some nice days for bike riding (even if the Starbucks changed hands!!!) We spent the month of April not too far from Topsail. We were two blocks from Miramar Beach at small place called Geronimo RV Park. We always enjoy riding down through all those really cool little towns. The beaches are amazing along there. They are so wide with that squeaky sand. Again another place where you can ride bikes everywhere.

    Have a good time in New Orleans. Travel safely!

    1. We are really going to miss the good bike riding in Florida. Thanks to you, we are biking further than we ever did before and are starting to feel like twenty miles is nothing--of course, that is mostly on flat terrain!

  3. Oh I wod take a cappuccino in Italy any day over Starbucks...but don't tell John or Pam.

    Boy have you two been having a heck of a good time. I live that little town of Watercolor. Looks so cute with all the bright colors.

    Drive safely to NO. Love that entire town

    1. I am glad to have a kindred spirit regarding a quest for the perfect cappuccino. Even in the great Northwest, it is not that easy to find one that competes with those in Europe.

      Driving the motorhome through New Orleans made me feel a little crazy. I needed a shot of whiskey to calm my nerves when we arrived!

  4. You were practically in our back yard:) Our Winnie club stays at Topsail every Dec and we take visitors to see Seaside. Glad you had a good time:)

    1. Good choice of a place to stay, but I am guessing it is starting to get a little chilly in December? We really have come to love this area. In terms of beaches it is our second favorite after Longboat Key in terms of Florida destinations.

  5. We got the wind ... hardly any rain; and it's been comfortably cool since the storm passed through. The beach at Destin is indeed lovely. We were staying at Mid-Bay Shores; a military campground nearby and just toured Top Sail as we'd heard so much about it. Perhaps someday we'll stay there ... but it will be a while since we plan to stay west for the time being.

    1. Even if you don't stay at Topsail, be sure to explore the 30A. I thought the "designer towns" would be too cookie cutter looking, but they are quite inviting.

      Staying west sounds good to us too. We are pretty sure we will be doing the same this next year.

  6. Beautiful header picture Pam...sure makes my mouth water for that glorious what sandy beach!
    We have never been to New Orleans...cant wait for you to take us there!

    1. New Orleans is a first for us too. Hope I can do it justice as it is a bit overwhelming to figure out what to explore.

  7. We wanted to stay at TopSail and you are absolutely right, getting a site there was not easy, hence we ended up at Navarre Beach.
    At least your beautiful photos made up for what we missed.
    Hope you are able to take a spot at Bayou Segnette State Park, where we stayed when we were in NOLA, It's close to a seafood market and the ferry that takes you to the Big EZ stress free.

  8. Didn't know NOLA was the Big EZ's namesake. Does it wear beads, too??? :cD


Don't be shy. We would love to hear your comments!