By Meghan Holmes
Photography by Marianne Todd
The beaches of South Walton have long been appreciated for their sparkling emerald green waters and pristine white sand. Nestled on 23 acres directly facing the Gulf and adjacent to a rare coastal dune lake, Sanctuary by the Sea showcases the best that 30A has to offer: a secluded resort in the midst of a nature preserve only minutes from world class dining and entertainment.
Sanctuary by the Sea’s property abuts Big Redfish Lake, a coastal dune lake environment found only in the Florida Panhandle, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand and the northern Pacific coast of the United States. The lakes are tens of thousands of years old, and the product of shifting sands that created shallow basins fed by streams, groundwater seepage and rain. Heavy rain events and storm surges connect these lakes to the Gulf, depending on tides and weather, creating outfalls that allow salt water and organisms to flow into the freshwater lakes, leading to a brackish system. Fisherman find bream, bass, panfish, catfish, redfish, flounder, speckled trout and mullet in these productive waters, and the plethora of fish encourages birds and alligators to also inhabit the area. Many people explore the lakes on YOLO boards or kayaks.
“This property is one of the most beautiful in the area because it offers views of the beach front as well as Big Redfish Lake,” says Sarah Ralph, Northwest Florida marketing manager at ResortQuest. “At times, the lake connects to the Gulf of Mexico and creates an inlet.” Great blue herons and gulls perch in the shallow brackish water looking for fish, unbothered by people lounging several feet away on the beachfront. A pathway leads away from the resort to a gazebo offering views of the lake, as well as surrounding trees and wildlife, and beyond that to the beachfront, winding in wide arcs to accommodate dune vegetation.
“Guests who stay with ResortQuest receive four complimentary chairs and two umbrellas with each rental unit,” says Ralph, making beach front setup and sunset viewing a more relaxing experience. Bike rentals also are available, allowing visitors to enjoy other nearby outdoor attractions, including Point Washington State Forest and Grayton Beach State Park. Bike paths traverse the entirety of 30A, and many of the area’s downtown centers encourage foot and bike traffic in favor of cars.
“The opportunities for adventure outside are really endless on 30A,” says Blue Mountain Beach resident Martin Schamp, “I’m a birder, and you can see so many different types of birds, some of them rare, around these coastal lakes. There are hundreds of species of migratory birds, because South Walton sits between two major flyways. I routinely see bald eagles, osprey and horned owls.”
Sanctuary By the Sea’s beachfront is one of the highest points of elevation along 30A, allowing for expansive views of the area’s natural beauty. The property’s units are angled to allow for maximum views of the Gulf, and an additional public central plaza with seating allows residents and visitors to congregate and enjoy sunsets.
The property is gated, and bound by water on two sides, creating a sense of isolation despite the resort’s proximity to restaurants and retail. Tropical plants and palm trees surround three pools and two large hot tubs, and the resort has 82 units ranging in size. “Our larger units upstairs span two floors, which is very unique for a condo,” says Ralph. “Climb the staircase to the second floor to find a master suite with a balcony facing the Gulf. It’s perfect for privacy.“
Select units also include private cabana rentals steps away from large, refreshing pools, as well as additional amenities, including state-of-the art gas grills and an outdoor fireplace. Sanctuary by the Sea also offers a virtual golf center, large gym, video game area and a movie theater which can be privately reserved.
“This property’s units were designed with a cook in mind,” says Ralph. “We offer high end Viking ranges and appliances, a spacious island, two sinks and a stainless steel stove, as well as a bar with a wine cooler and stand alone ice machine.” Large floor-to-ceiling windows allow for beautiful lighting, an expansive feel, and breathtaking vistas, with doors opening to the outside from each unit’s living room and master bedroom.
Sanctuary by the Sea residents and guests typically walk or ride bikes to nearby restaurants for dining. “One local favorite is The Red Bar,” says Ralph. “It’s an eclectic atmosphere, offering delicious food and signature drinks as well as live entertainment from local musicians. Sanctuary is also only three miles from Gulf Place, which offers restaurants, shopping, boutiques and concerts. Those who want to venture a little further out also often explore the quaint village of Seaside.”
Locals head to Gulf Place for a variety of weekly events. “I love going to hear music at La Playa,” says Santa Rosa Beach resident Katie Emmons. “They have local musicians on Saturdays and a ladies night with live music on Thursdays that’s always fun. There are also weekly wine walkabouts and free group bike rides on the weekend.”
Other popular nearby eateries include Chanticleer, Chiringo and The Craft Bar. “I love the burger at The Craft Bar," says Emmons. “It’s local, grass-fed beef served on a brioche bun. It’s located right off the bike path, so that’s how I usually get there.” There is also a wide variety of retail near Sanctuary by the Sea, including The Blue Giraffe, Central Square Records, Stinky’s Bait Shack and Outfitters and The Workshop.
Early explorers of this part of South Walton named it Blue Mountain Beach after the blue lupine flower found growing on the beachfront alongside the turquoise water, where it continues to grow today. Sanctuary by the Sea showcases this area’s unparalleled natural beauty and unique native flora and fauna, in many ways unchanged since the area was settled many years ago. At the same time, the resort’s proximity to 30A’s charming shops and restaurants allows residents and visitors to experience contemporary luxury as well. It’s the best of old and new, laid back and luxurious. “This resort is perfect for experiencing some of South Walton’s most beautiful views, as well as exploring all the nearby beach towns,” says Ralph. “It has so much to offer.”