Beyond Destin: Eden Gardens State Park (PHOTOS)
Destin has a lot to offer, and although its beaches are world-famous and its seafood delicious, there are hundreds of hidden treasures in the surrounding area of Northwest Florida that yield for fun adventures, day trips and weekend getaways. This column which will be featured on Wednesdays, will follow the wanderings of reporter, Savannah Vasquez, and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.
What do you do with a glorious day in January? Well one option is to head to the beautiful gardens of Eden Gardens State Park. Located along Tucker Bayou, the 161-acre park was once the estate of a wealthy Florida lumber family named the Wesley’s who left behind a grand Victorian-era mansion. Subsequent property owner, Lois Maxon developed the grounds surrounding the house into a flowing garden prior to donating the land to the state.
Today, visitors can enjoy the peaceful landscape reminiscent of turn-of-the-century Southern culture. Broad Live Oak trees draped in Spanish moss, rose gardens and other ornamental plants invite visitors to wander the flowing green lawns. Notable plants are numbered by placards throughout the garden and an informational plant reference guide can be obtained at the ranger station.
Hourly tours of the Wesley mansion are available Thursday through Monday for a chance to view the furnished home and historic relics including the second largest collection of Louis XVI furniture in the United States. The two-story house is often decorated for the changing seasons and the spacious wrap-around veranda holds a row of white rocking chairs offering a great place to recline and soak in the view. A gift shop is also available in the house with garden souvenirs and post cards.
Cristian and I found our favorite part of the park was the mile-long nature trail that leads through the forest to lookout points over the bayou. On the hike we found the natural beauty of the palms and pines interspersed with hanging Spanish moss above and clusters of deer moss on the ground. The wandering pathway led beside a small creek to some picnic pavilions and featured several bridges and benches along the way. As for wildlife, we spotted numerous squirrels and even caught a glimpse of some bald eagles flying overhead.
The beautiful Eden Gardens have become a popular place for weddings due to the picturesque trees, lawns and water views that lend to the joyous occasion. There are several outdoor locations specified for such events and a screened-in pavilion is also available for rent. Area photographers are known to frequent the gardens to us it’s the natural beauty as a backdrop for portraits or simply to capture the magnificent landscape.
Treat yourself this weekend to a stroll amongst the age-old trees; you’ll be surprised how the serene surroundings will relax you. And if you are looking for a place to venture after the gardens, Scenic Highway 30A is just five miles south of the park. After our morning visit to the gardens, my husband and I explored the town of Seaside and grabbed a quick bite to eat at one of the many food truck vendors located along the downtown strip of this resort town.
Eden Gardens State Park is located at 181 Eden Gardens Road in Santa Rosa Beach. Cost is $4 per car by check or cash, direct change is required. Cost for house tours is $4 per adult and $2 per child. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown. Guided tours of the Wesley Mansion are available hourly Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.