The two-lane road was lined with pastel beach cottages and white picket fences, sidewalks jammed with people bicycling and walking to the beach, screaming seagulls perched in towering palm trees, and gleaming aluminum Airstream trailers. They almost seemed out of place, but they are a beloved part of the idyllic beach community of Seaside.
The locals call it Airstream Row.
Located about thirty minutes east of Destin, Seaside is not a town. Instead, it’s a real estate development built in the 1980s. Since the development’s inception, a public square was always part of the master plan, a radical departure from traditional residential communities.
The half-moon-shaped square’s center is a grassy amphitheater with concrete steps typically filled with people eating shaved ice and gourmet hotdogs and Mediterranean meals and barbecue. Towering palm trees with thick tops cast a heavy shadow across the brick-laden street around the square. It’s a pedestrian-only street filled with white tables, vibrant blue umbrellas, bicycles, golf carts, and hundreds of sandaled feet.
In the mid-1990s, Case Cooper needed to find a new home for his shaved ice business, Frost Bites. With limited retail spaces available for rent, he proposed a plan to park an Airstream trailer on the gulf side of the public square. The nostalgic appeal of the classic Americana icon was the perfect fit for the meticulously designed Seaside.
In 1996 – after months of searching and a road trip to Los Angeles – Cooper parked his 1955 Airstream Bubble in the public square. The Airstream was retrofitted with workstations, and a window cut into the side to serve customers. Now owned by Mike and Chance Gullet, shaved ice is still sold by the cone to quench the thirst from summer’s heat.
Over a decade after the first silver bullet arrived in Seaside, Jim Shirley and Kelli Castille parked their Airstream and opened The Meltdown on 30A. Drawing from a lifelong cooking obsession, the chefs offered gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. American cheese, Alabama goat cheese, homemade pimento cheese – the menu is a bit cheesy.
When Bill Dawson realized Seaside needed gourmet hotdogs, he added another Airstream to the expanding row and opened Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs. Now owned by the Beecher and Fields families, the staple ingredient is grass-fed Wagyu all-beef hotdogs served on Rotella New England-style buns. The hotdogs are topped with veggies, drizzled in sauces, creating a picturesque work of art that satisfies even the grumbliest bellies.
Crêpes du Soleil is one of the most recent additions to Airstream Row. Owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Jay and Liz Eichelberger and executive chef Rob Masone, the chefs in the 1972 Airstream serve savory and sweet crêpes. The menu is only a guide as Jay encourages people to mix and match the made-to-order crêpes. But a local favorite is straight from the menu: the Nutella – a creamy chocolate hazelnut spread with the option to add fresh bananas or strawberries.
James Murphy brought barbecue to the beach when he opened Barefoot BBQ on Airstream Row. The hormone, antibiotic, and steroid-free pork, chicken, and turkey are cooked on-site every day under Murphy’s watchful eye. Topped with homemade sauces and served in ginormous platters with two sides, it’s difficult to walk away from this meal still hungry.
Aromas collide in the air along Airstream Row. Tangy barbecue mixes with savory cheese, clashes with the sweetness of fruit-filled crepes, and tussles with the Mediterranean fare from Mr. Gyro Hero. In the shade of wind-swept trees, patrons order their food from a window, pick it up minutes later, and shuffle to a picnic table covered with an umbrella. Traffic slowly crawls along 30A, seagulls hungrily gaze at the baskets of food, and the murmur of a thousand conversations fills the salt-tinged air.
Only in Seaside, a town that could be mistaken for one of those postcards you see in a beach gift shop, could a row of gleaming aluminum Airstream trailers serving gourmet food become one of the most iconic attractions. The biggest problem will be deciding where to eat, but the least of your problems will be finding great food on Airstream Row.
Getting there: Leave Destin on U.S. Highway 98 eastbound. If you want to take the scenic route, turn right onto Highway 30A toward Dune Allen Beach. If you prefer getting to Seaside quickly, continue on Highway 98 to County Road 283 toward Grayton Beach State Park.
We here at Cloud Nine want to thank Jason Barnette, owner of Road Trips and Coffee for writing this engaging article about the Airstream Row located in Seaside, Florida.