Just down the street from Grayton Beach, on the spectacular Gulf Coast of Florida, is the picture perfect, but kinda bizarre, community of Seaside. Built in the early 1980’s, it was a “master planned community” designed using the principles of “New Urbanism” – a fancy way of saying a town where everything a resident needed would be within walking distance of their home. The concept was perfectly executed in Seaside, and, to this day, it is a model for communities nationwide. But it really became famous when it was used as the setting for the 1998 Jim Carrey movie, “The Truman Show” – the story of a man who’d unknowingly spent his whole life as the star of a reality show in a fictional utopian town.
Walking around in the middle of the day during the offseason, it very much felt like an unused Hollywood movie set.
There are over 300 homes in Seaside, and while each home is architecturally different, they all fit into the same scheme…. There are no outlier paint colors, no homes that show signs of neglect, no random leftover holiday decorations. I imagine the list of rules and regulations homeowners must sign when they buy a property here is 40 pages long.
Every home is gorgeous.
And every one of them has some interesting detail that makes it unique….
Every house is required to have a front porch (to encourage socializing within the community), and some look like they were designed by Norman Rockwell himself.
The landscaping is extensive and, not surprisingly, nature has seemingly conformed to the specific mandates of the master plan.
It is a community where every lawn is lush, every blade of grass standing at attention:
Every home has its own whimsical name and its owners are identified…
It is a place where the narrow streets are surfaced with bricks rather than pavement,
and where unsightly trashcans are hidden away from public view:
And, either the rule-makers have a sense of humor, or they’re just nuts… I couldn’t figure it out.
Seaside offers everything one could need in one perfectly pristine package:
Not surprisingly, mine was the only 15 year old Nissan parked in the neighborhood. I’m actually surprised the cops didn’t tow it away, since it obviously did not belong…
However, what was most notable, beyond the obvious displays of wealth, was that I could find no evidence, at all, of any human beings actually using the neighborhood. Not an article of debris anywhere. Not a child’s bicycle left lying in a yard. Not a midday dog walker. Not a UPS truck making deliveries. The one and only sound I heard as I wandered from one street to the next was the landscape crews (who must work 80 hours a week every week to make it look so good). It was like a picture perfect, utterly idyllic, completely deserted, ghost town. To be clear, I made no effort to exclude people from my photos. There just weren’t any around. It was incredibly odd.
The only place I found any activity was on the main street where the restaurants spill out onto the sidewalks… Not that there were a LOT of people, but I did see a few. Ok, 5. I saw 5 people. I considered it a win.
Apparently, most of the homes in Seaside are vacation rentals, and the town comes alive during the regular season. But this time of year, the homes, and the larger neighborhood, stand mostly empty.
After I came home, I jumped on the local real estate sites to see what houses in this community sell for. The short answer is a lot. A LOT.
Speaking of which, when Kevin and I stopped by the local grocery store to pick up some odds and ends, we immediately noticed it was one of the nicest grocery stores we’d ever been in.
Having just driven through a large swath of the southeast, we’ve definitely noticed differences in the grocery stores we’ve visited. It’s an interesting thing to compare and contrast. We’ve been in stores where it seemed we were the only people not wearing hunter’s camouflage and we’ve been in stores where there were almost as many people riding around on scooters as there were walking. On the other hand, we’ve been in stores like this, where it seemed like every other patron had just left the country club…
We immediately noticed the quality of the food and the prices were higher here and we noticed that every employee stopped what they were doing and greeted us as we walked by. The staff was almost alarmingly friendly and helpful. The guy who bagged our groceries literally walked off with our cart because he assumed we’d want him to bring it to our car. We noticed there were more kid friendly grocery carts than we’ve ever seen in one store:
So, of course, I decided this was the perfect grocery store in which I would buy a box of wine.
You know this particular store hasn’t sold a box of wine since 2009. They just stock it because Corporate makes them.
The poor check-out girl forced a smile as she reached over onto the belt and awkwardly picked up the wine. As it slowly dawned on her that these customers were not like her other customers, she did everything she could to maintain her calm demeanor and act as though everything were fine. Though it was clearly Not Fine. Meanwhile, our fellow customers, faces contorted in obvious disgust, did their best to shield their innocent children’s eyes from the horror going on in check out lane #4.
That’s right, kids. Some people fight the power with letter writing campaigns and petitions. I do it by purchasing cheap wine at the ritzy grocery store. #powertothepeople
Oh, I’m just kidding. Everyone was lovely, and no one cared that we were buying bargain basement wine. And don’t knock the boxed wine before you’ve tried it! It’s not that bad!! (It’s not that good, either. But it’s not that bad…)
Speaking of wine, and beer, and cocktails….as of this writing, we are enjoying the hell out of New Orleans. More on that coming soon!
Where we stayed: Grayton Beach State Park