The beach read queen travels to the Florida Gulf Coast in her latest novel.
In her summer read Beach Town, Mary Kay Andrews puts movie location scout Greer Hennessy in search of the perfect undiscovered beach town. Traveling from Los Angeles, Greer lands in Panama City, Florida, then heads over to 30A, passing communities like Seaside, Rosemary Beach and Watercolor before spending the night in a Destin condo. “Pretty it was. Sleepy it wasn’t,” is how Andrews describes the area. Greer checks out several other towns with no luck before a guy at a barbecue restaurant recommends the community of Cypress Key.
Greer finds her old-timey beach town there after turning off US 98 onto a county road along Chocklawassee Bay. “Spanish moss, shrimp boats, palm trees, and a beach” tell her she’s found what she’s looking for, along with one motel, a marina, a fishing pier and a community casino. However, in the movie business the perfect location is just the beginning. Greer butts heads with Mayor Eben Thibadeaux, Director Bryce Levy and the movie stars who begin arriving in town. Will the idyllic location cause her to rethink her fast-paced life or will she choose her job over the chance to start over with someone new?
Mary Kay Andrews’ sunsets and waterfront views in Beach Town make this a book that begs to be read in the sand, but unfortunately her little enclave of Cypress Key doesn’t exist. What does is an amalgamation of Florida beach towns, along with local restaurants, dives, hotels and motels ready for visitors this summer.
When Greer asks Director Bryce Levy about the movie setting, he tells her:
It’s a beach town. A real sleepy, backwater kind of place. East Coast definitely. I need you to find me a place with a look that’s a cross between Body Heat and the town in Jaws.” – Chapter 1
Panama City and Destin can no longer be described as “sleepy,” but there are pockets of quaint beach towns to be found in the area. Andrews mentions Seaside, Rosemary Beach and Watercolor, which are planned beachside communities where bikes replace cars, secret pathways lead down to the sand and town centers offer shops and restaurants on site. Alys Beach is another popular 30A town on the Gulf flanked by a 20-acre nature preserve.
Greer also scouts out Mexico Beach and Apalachicola. Looking much as it did a decade ago, Mexico Beach just 20 minutes east of Panama City might be closer to what Greer was looking for. Commercial development has been contained here and more than a mile of beachfront protected from development. Businesses are mom and pop establishments, and the population numbers 1,000. Apalachicola and St. George Island, which Greer had high hopes for, are on what’s called the “Forgotten Coast” and offer an authentic experience complemented by the freshest of seafood.
During her first evening at the Silver Sands motel in Cypress Key, Greer asks for dinner recommendations. The town’s five dining options consist of two seafood joints, Chinese, pizza and an upscale inn. Luckily, the Florida Gulf Coast has plenty of restaurants, ranging from diners to seafood dives and fancier places with killer views. Apalachicola is known for its oysters, and you can get them 17 different ways at Boss Oyster seven days a week. Stinky’s Fish Camp may not sound appealing, but it’s where locals eat in South Walton. Bud & Alley’s is a popular waterfront spot for dinner or a drink in Seaside. Watercolor’s four-star restaurant Fish out of Water serves gourmet breakfast, along with the freshest local fish, overlooking the Gulf. Some nights, Greer is so tired from filming that it’s pizza from Cypress Key’s less-than-desirable parlor before bed. She’d have been better off visiting 30A’s oldest pizza shop Bruno’s, voted the area’s best pizza for 21 years.
Other nights, Greer just needs a stiff drink after dealing with fickle actors, a demanding director and the Florida heat all day. Two new microbreweries, Grayton Beer Company and Idyll Hounds, focus on beach-friendly beers like White Dunes Belgian White. Lumpy’s Wine Bar & Bottle Shop in Sandestin could have helped Greer stock her hotel room with more than 250 bottles to choose from. Then again, a margarita, hurricane or 190 Octane from Fat Tuesday’s may have been just what she needed to forget the trials of the movie business.
Beach Town also offers up plenty of hijinks on the water, complete with a scandalous Jetski incident and fiery boat crash. For your own adventure, fishing charters depart from Grayton Beach daily, and Choctawhatchee Bay is filled with redfish, flounder and speckled trout. Take a “yolo” lesson at Watercolor or just dip into the saltwater pool at East of Eden Spa. It’s got to be better than the “eerie turquoise glowing blob” at the Silver Sands.