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Perhaps the most important aspect of these communities is their planning and codes. WaterColor is a prime example. Planned, built, and operated by Arvida, a development branch of the St. Joe Company, the community was designed to fit into its environment. Arvida employs an on-site botanist and biologist to ensure that native plants and animals-including the tiny dune mouse---are protected. Under Arvida's watchful eye, houses are built behind the dunes(rather right on the beach like most of the hotels and condos in South Florida) and only native plants are used in landscaping. Additionally, homes are limited to 3,000-square-feet; none may exceed 3-stories. While the codes may seem restrictive, Arvida was actually forced to hold a lottery to sell the lots in the development because there were three buyers clamoring for every one available lot.

I unpacked my bags at the WaterColor Inn, a luxurious new 60-room boutique hotel set within the still-being-built resort community of WaterColor, an easy walk from Seaside. Designed by renowned architect David Rockwell---who also created the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and the Disney World home of Cirque De Soleil ---the inn is a dramatic fusion of form and function. The attention to detail, in both service and design, is stunning. The rooms are a visual and tactile feast with Shaker-style furniture, denim duvets, and white wainscotting; even the bronze door handles, embossed hall lights, and salt & pepper shakers are works of art.Florida beaches

Each room comes equipped with a stunning beach view, a king bed, a sleeper sofa, fully-stocked mini-bar, electronic safe, more bathing suit/towel hooks than you'll know what to do with, and---best of all-an oversized shower lined with windows so while you're lathering up, you can watch the Gulf waves break along the shore. Other amenities include lush terry robes, twice-daily housekeeping service, two-line speakerphones with data ports and high-speed Internet access. Six ground floor rooms facing the dunes feature outdoor showers hidden in retro blue-and-white striped canvas cabanas that looked especially inviting on my walks back from the beach.

Fish Out of Water, the Inn's signature restaurant, tantalizes the palate as well as the senses. Just past the multi-color, hand-blown glass "seapods" and sea creatures lining the entry, the fresh seafood bar offers sushi (including roast beef sushi for the timid) and drinks. The dining area is flanked by posts topped with over-sized silk lampshades hand-painted with Gulf fish; chandeliers are inverted umbrella shapes with turtle motifs. Stunning color combinations of Bernardaud porcelain and Rosenthal hand-blown crystal stemware add to the elegance.

The cuisine of Chef Kevin Peters is also distinctive. For example, non-traditional Southern dumplings are filled with braised short ribs and presented like Asian potstickers. Diver scallops appear in Maki rolls with Shitake soy aioli, and Apalachicola oysters are served in the half-shell with a zesty relish of jalapeno, mango and habanero pepper. The grouper and snapper are fresh from local waters; the duck leg confit highlighted with onion marmalade and Tupelo honey sauce. The eatery's wine collection exceeds 3000 bottles, representing 325 labels. Attentive service (ask for Donny!).Florida beaches and homes

Guests of the Inn can use canoes, kayaks, and bikes at no charge. Camp Creek Golf Course is also a huge draw. (The front 9 face the Gulf; the back 9 have a forest feel.) If you don't want to exert any energy, opt for a short cruise on the "African Queen" to explore the inland lakes from a comfortable wicker chair. Kathrine Hepburn never had it so good.

While you're in the area---and if you can pull yourself away from the beach---check out Seaside's Fusion Art Glass Gallery (the mosaic mermaids were outstanding!), Bud & Alley's Waterfront Restaurant & Bar (the "quintessential beachside cafe" features locally harvested seafood and an award-winning wine list), Pizitz Home & Cottage (for eclectic decorating accents), and Newbill Collection by the Sea gift shop.

Also worth the drive- Cafe 30A (for quail & grits), Criolla' s (owned by a self-taught "Floribbean" chef who later trained with James Beard), and the Gourd Garden & Curiosity Shop in Seagrove Beach , where you'll find art gourds, chocolate mint and other unusual herbs, native plants and butterfly-attracting shrubs.

Best time on a small budget: climbing the 42-foot dunes on a foggy day.

For further information, about the WaterColor Inn call toll-free at 866-426-2656 or log onto For the WaterColor resort community call 1-800-850-231-6500. Or log onto For the Beaches of South Walton call 1-800-822-6877 or log onto / Issue 138 - September 2018
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