Anyone who thinks the best time to visit the Emerald Coast is during summer has never been here in the fall.
Sure, you can swim in the Gulf of Mexico without goosebumps and the attractions are all open with extended hours. But you haven’t been to the beach unless you have walked the shoreline on a warm October day, sharing the sand with a handful of people.
The water is still warm, the beaches are flat, the water a crystalline blue. You can choose your parking space, make it through every stop light the first time and enjoy the sunshine without feeling like you’re being cooked.
I moved to Northwest Florida 21 years ago this month, having visited the area for the first time a few weeks earlier.
There was more open space back then, fewer condominiums, less traffic. But we didn’t notice any of that.
All we could see was the beach. All we knew was that we’d flown from landlocked Illinois with its temperamental temperatures to a coastal, semi-tropical paradise.
I will never forget flying into the small airport late at night, stepping out of the air-conditioned terminal and having our glasses fog up from the humidity. It was magical.
I still feel that way sometimes.
We didn’t plan on staying more than a few years. But it’s hard to leave a place that has become home.
Living in a vacation destination has its challenges. Unless you’re unimaginably rich, you have to share the beauty with other people, lots of them. And that’s not easy.
But I can’t imagine going back to live in Illinois, a place I once considered beautiful, too. It has bike trails, and dim lakes and wildflowers that look like they’re on a calendar. Hot air balloons float along muddy brown rivers and, when the leaves change colors in the fall, you just want to stand outside and look at them.
Winter is overrated. And even fall colors aren’t worth the price of living there year-round.
I’m keeping my beaches and my pink and orange sunsets. I’ll take sand crunching under bare feet over snow boots any day.
As I constantly tell my kids, life is full of choices and it’s up to you to make them and to take a moment to appreciate the life you’ve chosen.
Walk the beach, smell your neighbor’s flowers, let the wind move your hair. You won’t regret it.
Managing Editor Wendy Victora can be reached at 315-4478 or email@example.com.