Florida Panhandle

florida13By Jae-Ha Kim
Photos by Denton Morris
New York Post

OKAY, I know what you’re thinking. Why the hell would anyone want to pay Four Seasons prices for a no-name hotel in Florida’s Panhandle?

That’s like paying upwards of $400 for one of those Poconos resorts where they play the dirty version of “The Newlywed Game” and the chef’s idea of fancy is grey Chateaubriand for two.

The WaterColor Inn & Resort, named for the small planned town it fronts on the Panhandle’s charming Route 30A (between Destin and Panama City) is one of those hotels that has had a surprisingly good reputation from the start, for no particular reason. The proof is in the fact that everytime you try to book a stay, the rates are astronomical. That is, if you can even get a room. Hassle! Just to make a visit more difficult, you can no longer fly nonstop to the region. Already, you’re wondering: Why not just go to the Caribbean?

WaterColor is very much worth the hassle. Here’s why. The hotel is fine. Good, in fact. The accommodations are nice. But what’s really amazing? Its positioning on the Gulf, offering a white-sand, blue-water view that’s nothing short of amazing. The other thing: Food that is ridiculously good (especially the fresh, cheap Gulf oysters). Plus, you’re in Florida. It’s warm (for now — they do have winter, being so far north and all).

Part of the Route 30A New Urbanism movement, where places like Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach recreate small-town Americana fantasies in a strikingly appealing fashion, WaterColor is both mesmerizing and a little unnerving. Mesmerizing because it’s perfect, and unnerving for the very same reason. Most people who know the area are aware that the film “The Truman Show” was filmed nearby Seaside for a reason: It looked too good to be true. And yet it is true, even if a little Stepford-esque. You’ve probably never seen a village this freaking clean and tidy, or populated by so many perfect-looking people. When I saw a couple pushing a stroller down the sidewalk, I actually looked to make sure there was a baby rather than a robot in it. There was and, of course, he wasn’t crying.

The hotel is the centerpiece of the project, but there’s other stuff to do here as well — cross the well-groomed main drag to a charming patisserie, window shop in the very expensive boutiques (expect sales, these days), take advantage of the resort-style amenities at the hotel or just hang out on the beach. Don’t be surprised if you spend a couple of days here without even thinking about leaving. Make reservations at the resort’s Fish Out of Water — the black grouper ceviche and hand harvested scallops are to die for — and ask if you can have a table in the cozy wine room.

Still, eventually you’ll want to get out. I highly recommend kayaking down the Apalachicola River, where the water turns so dark that you almost feel like you’re in a horror movie. But that, too, passes quickly enough and you can head off to enjoy some fresh oysters and a cold beer at the Dockside Cafe in nearby Port St. Joe. Stepford this ain’t. Warn the oysters — I’ll be back.


GO: There are no nonstop flights to the area from New York at this time; services to Pensacola and Tallahassee didn’t last. Currently, try Delta, which offers connecting service to Panama City Beach via Atlanta


STAY: Rooms from $345 for the next few weekends, prices go down slightly in midweek; www.watercolorresort.com

INFO: Learn more about WaterColor and the Route 30A communities by visiting www.beachesofsouthwalton.com