Part of being in the military means relocating every four years or so.
Our “four years or so” has finally arrived.
We are leaving the Florida panhandle for the Miami Valley of Ohio. That means this Chicago-born Florida girl is returning to the Midwest after 18 years. (And University of Michigan fan will be causing trouble in Buckeye country.) It also means that my Alabama-native husband will be leaving the South for the first time (to live). For both of us, this upcoming winter will be…. interesting.
I thought I would do a quick recap of our favorite things over the past four years here. While my favorite memories were created at friends’ homes and our home we would occasionally venture out for a date night. And having been pregnant at the end of our stay here, the desire to try out the touristy things ended up going un-quenched.
Cafe Bienville in Niceville, FL is a cute little restaurant along Bay Shore Drive. Stuart discovered this gem on a run back in 2011. They feature local foods and everything is made in house. Their special of spanakopita finally drew me in and an obsession grew. We ended up frequenting the cafe weekly, depending on the daily special. My favorites are the spanakopita, Cuban sandwich, and Margherita pizza. Any fish special they do is always beautifully prepared and perfect for a light lunch. Their most popular is their pulled pork Caribbean sweet potato. One of Stuart’s favorite things is the side order of sweet potato chips – they are dusted with a secret seasoning that makes the plate of chips addicting. Another special feature of the cafe is the daily beverage – either a coffee and/or homemade soda. There is also a scone of the day. While the chocolate chip pecan is the most popular, and Stuart’s favorite, I hold out until the apple cinnamon is on the menu. On the weekends you can also order beignets or sweet potato muffins. They also have homemade gelato and Stuart and I once ordered some to go and watched the sunset at a nearby park.
Sushi gets it’s own category because finding great sushi is a very important task. There is a sushi place in Auburn, Fuji, that was the best sushi we’d (this is a collective we between our families) ever had – Beating out Naples, Huntsville, Birmingham, and Atlanta! And then we found Red Ginger in Niceville. The sushi chefs take great pride in their work and we’ve never been served a boring plate of food. The artistry these men have match their skill in creating perfectly balanced rolls. My favorite is the Black Dragon and Stuart’s the Sexy Girl. And don’t forget to order the Kani Salad. Their hibachi is fantastic too and actually find it to be more flavorful than what you find at the showy hibachi restaurants. Their menu also features Chinese selections. (If anyone has suggestions for fantastic sushi/hibachi in Dayton, OH leave me a comment below!)
The Salty Duck came into our knowledge base way too late. I was pregnant when Stuart discovered this place and said I would have loved it, but it was too smokey for me to go. Stuart went there for a guy’s night while I was at a scrapbooking event. The Salty Duck has games – I’m talking mega size Jenga and Connect Four! I’m not a big drinker so the bar/club scene really isn’t my style, but playing games is my favorite thing to do with friends! (As a separate note: my favorite drink is the Fresh Apple Martini at Bonefish Grill, which is only available during the fall months.)
The largest outlet mall in Florida happens to be in Sandestin and we have frequented it many times. I would often go simply to get in a good walk…broken up with air conditioning and spending money. The athletic stores always draw Stuart in (Reebok, Nike, Underarmour) and I am addicted to Coach. My advice: avoid the mall on a rainy day, especially during the spring. As you would expect, it’s the beaches that draw people to Destin and when it’s raining those beach goers become shoppers and even with 110+ stores the sidewalk gets very crowded. There is also a playground on site for kids to let out their energy.
Favorite quilt shop
There are three quilt shops in the area, two in Fort Walton and one in Crestview. Depending on what type of fabric I’m looking for (batik or novelty) will usually indicate which store I’ll go to. But Lynn’s Sewing Center is my favorite. Their collection of batiks is large and their patterned fabrics unique. If I had an unlimited budget I’d buy a little bit of just about every fabric. And their seasonal fabrics are always one of a kind. The staff is always friendly, never pushy, and they remember what project I was working on last and ask how it’s going – I’ll usually have a photo on my phone to show them.
Favorite athletic store
With all of the adventure racing and Tough Mudders my husband has done I had to mention his favorite shoe store Run With It. The staff at Run With It in Fort Walton Beach are very knowledgable and patient. Before you even pick a shoe to try from the wall they’ll ask you your goals and on what surface you’ll be running. They then watch you walk and determine what type of shoe you need. We have purchased at least 5 pairs of shoes from them in the past two years! They have a running club too.
Favorite seasonal vendor
This category might seem odd but I really wanted to mention this spot! The United Methodist Church in Niceville is the largest and most popular church in the area. They have sports leagues and many events for kids. In October, they set up the cutest pumpkin patch, complete with petting zoo. We have purchased our carving pumpkins from them every year. In December they sell live Christmas trees.
Favorite golf course
The local high school sells a coupon book as a fundraiser and we purchase a booklet every year. In it are coupons for restaurants and golf courses. There are a lot of beautiful golf courses in Destin, but they’re not cheap to play. Thanks to the coupon book, we can play some of these courses at a 2-for-1 rate! My favorite course is The Raven. It is a difficult and narrow course (I tend to shoot better on harder courses, always have) that is beautifully maintained. But, the best course for the price is the Eglin AFB course, which is open to the public.
I’ll admit it, I am not a beach person. I absolutely love the waves and the views but when it comes to going to the beach you can count me out. I prefer the walk-along-the-beach experience to the lay-out-and-tan one. It doesn’t really matter to me which beach we would go to, and for just a walk we’d pop off at one of the public beach access point off of Old 98 in Destin. But that’s not what I’m putting on this list. I am listing one of the most popular tourist beaches on Okaloosa Island, the boardwalk. Here there are restaurants and a little bit of shopping. But the reason for this beach making the list is for its volleyball nets. Beach volleyball is definitely a favorite beach activity and we’d like to get a group together to play.