Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
Forget the road map. The Beach Road, a.k.a. U. S. Highway 331, goes
straight south from Montgomery Alabama and is the main route south to the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast beaches. Some of the highway runs along a ridge of what is the southernmost portions of the Appalachian mountain chain, offering distant views of valleys and hills beyond. Mostly it runs through rich farmland and the combination of “old south” towns, rolling hills, and gracious curves makes the drive a pleasant one.
Leaving Montgomery, elevation 250 feet, you’ll climb out of the river valley and start the ascent to the ridge. You’ll pass through several small towns with names like Snowdoun, Ada and Highland Home before reaching Luverne, the “Friendliest City in the South” and home of the “World’s Largest Peanut Boil.” This charming, old southern town is also the county seat of Crenshaw County and is 354 feet above sea level. Make note that highway 331 makes a sharp right turn downtown.
Next is Brantley, Alabama, the “Front Porch Capital of the South,” with some lovely old homes and several second hand stores and craft shops just begging to be Explored. Look for Muscadine vines growing in the yards of many of the homes. The grape is native to the southeast and grows wild throughout the region.
Opp, Alabama is the “City of Opportunity” but if you go around it on the bypass road, you won’t even know it’s there. The elevation of the beach road has now dropped to 338 feet above sea level. Each April, the town hosts the Rattlesnake Rodeo which draws nearly 20,000 people. Along with rattlesnake demonstrations and arts and crafts booths, visitors can sample fried rattlesnake.
Florala sits on the state line between Florida and Alabama, with most of the town actually located in Florida. In 1818, Andrew Jackson and his troops passed through the area during the First Seminole War and the lake is named for him. Several antiques shops beckon travelers to stop and browse. The elevation here has dropped to 262 feet.
The trip from Montgomery takes about three hours so do plan to eat along the way, mostly because you’ll miss some great snacks if you don’t. Make a stop in Luverne, at Stimy’s Coffee Shop for coffee, pastries and hot dogs. Hook’s Barbeque in Opp is a great place for ribs, chicken, burgers and wings. Corbey’s Ice Cream and Deli in Florala has hand dipped cones and freshly made deli sandwiches. Look for the statue of Betty Boop outside the store.
You know you're in Florala when you see Betty ...
... and Elvis.
Luverne is about 52 miles north of the Florida state line, so you can judge your travel progress at this point. Southland Service Center in Brantley is a good place to buy gas. They usually have good prices.
Frank Jackson State Park is located just north of Opp and offers fishing and swimming in its 1,000-acre stream-fed lake as well as shoreline picnic areas and lakefront RV camping sites. The Frank Jackson Scenic Overlook just south of the lake is a relaxing place to stop.
Stop at Frank Jackson State Park.
Highway 331 travels along a ridge.
Florala offers a variety of activities from antiquing, to a 9-hole mini golf course. Rent a surrey-bike to ride around Lake Jackson. Two bed and breakfast inns serve the town as well as a lakeside campground at Florala State Park.
For a little Florida trivia, take time for a short side trip. After you cross the state line, turn east on highway 147 and go 1.4 miles. Then turn north and go one mile to Lakewood Park. It sits at the peak of Britton Hill and at 345 feet above sea level is the highest point in the state of Florida.
Back on the beach road, continue south to DeFuniak Springs, the county seat of Walton County. This historic town has a great boutique hotel and a natural, perfectly round, spring-fed lake, one of only two in the world. Surrounding the lake are beautiful Victorian homes, Florida’s oldest operating library, and the Chautauqua Brotherhood Hall, on the National Register of Historic Places.
Turn left at the last traffic light just before passing under Interstate 10, then take an immediate right onto Hugh Adams Road and stop at Chautauqua Vineyards’ & Winery, one of Florida’s oldest wineries. They have a tasting room and sales shop and feature estate grown Muscadine wines as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and White Zinfandel.
On the right side of Highway 331, about 4 ½ miles south of I-10, there is a trailhead for the Florida National Scenic Trail, an 1100-mile hiking trail that traverses the state. This portion goes through Eglin Air Force Base for about 40 miles and offers primitive hiking with no services, but lots of wildlife and nature.
Take any south-going road to reach Scenic Highway 30A. Here, in South Walton you’ll find fifteen unique beach towns, including Seaside, Rosemary Beach and Grayton Beach, and rare coastal dune lakes, art galleries, restaurants, shopping and lots of eco-tourism opportunities.
You are now at sea level and you’ll know you’ve reached the beach when you see the brilliant white sand and blue-green water ahead of you.