A Beach Within Reach: Walton County Access May Look Different, But Still Accessible

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Dreamy pink peach orange sunset in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida with Pensacola coastline coast cityscape skyline in panhandle with ocean gulf mexico waves, birds

From Visit South Walton

Walton County, including the 30A neighborhoods, Santa Rosa Beach and Miramar Beach, is widely regarded and celebrated for its 26 miles of sugar-white sand paired with incredible turquoise waters. It’s truly a breathtaking sight and the reason that many of our residents were attracted here.

Our beaches are what draws visitors here as well, generating an economic impact of more than $6 billion annually and supporting more than 40,000 jobs for our residents. Tourism is the No. 1 economic driver in Walton County.

Historically, Walton County has had a mix of public and private beaches. What does that look like today? In many ways, it looks the same. There are still portions of beach that remain private (think of our resort areas like Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach or Seaside) and there are condos, single-family homes and other developments that have deeded access to portions of beachfront.

With spring break upon us and the summer beach season rapidly approaching, it’s important to acknowledge there have been some changes along the beach.

The most important change from a private beach standpoint is the ability for the public to now have access to beachfront that was inaccessible in many areas. Based on the county’s settlement agreement, the public now has access to the area 20 feet landward of the wet-dry shoreline – known as the transitory zone – for walking, running, jogging and entry into the water for swimming and other activities. This only applies to beachfront parcels that were part of the county’s customary use settlement agreement and summary judgment. The map we’ve created shows the changes: https://www.visitsouthwalton.com/beach-bay-access-locations/.

With this expansion, beachgoers are welcome to enjoy the transitory zone between 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. There are other restrictions that apply to these parcels, which can be found on the Visit South Walton website: https://www.visitsouthwalton.com/.

What remains unchanged is the ability for residents and visitors to enjoy county-owned beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to our state parks. The county’s Regional Beach Accesses and Neighborhood Beach Accesses provide opportunities for everyone to soak up some sunshine, while the state parks are perfect getaways and provide their own special experience.

Approximately two-thirds of Walton County’s beaches are available for the public to enjoy. Additionally, from the Bay County line to the Okaloosa County line, both residents and visitors still have the ability to traverse the beach along the wet sand area for the entirety of Walton County’s 26 miles of shoreline.

Walton County is also committed to securing additional beachfront. Since 2016, the Tourism Department has purchased more than $76 million worth of property for beach access and parking expansion.

These purchases were made with TDT (Tourist Development Tax) funds or bed taxes as they are commonly referred to and not taxpayer dollars – so visitors to Walton County are funding these acquisitions. Please know that expanding available beachfront has been and will continue to be a priority.

Whether resident or visitor, we all want the same thing – to enjoy our beautiful beaches and make lasting memories with family and friends. Current changes to the beaches don’t prevent this from happening.

Understanding the dynamic of public and private beach usage is key to shaping the desired beach experience we seek individually. Creating this awareness is the goal of the tourism department, but sharing it is the responsibility of everyone in our community who wishes Walton County to thrive as a quality place to live, work and visit. Please join us in this vital undertaking.

*Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SoWal Connections.