2019 Nat Geo List Features South Walton

Best Trips of 2019 by National Geographic Magazine

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National Geographic Magazine just named South Walton a top trip destination worldwide for 2019, which follows a Time Magazine article in 2018 that provided similar acclaim. National Geographic presents an annual list of The World’s Most Exciting Destinations for the Year Ahead, and this esteemed recommendation now includes southern Walton County, Florida. Places from around the world were studied to jury this year’s selection that included parts of the United States, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and even Greenland. Each destination is unique, exciting and has something extraordinary to offer visiting adventurers.

Read more: 30A Beachfront Homes in Walton County

Most of our South Walton guests frequent our shimmering white crystalline beaches to enjoy the jeweled waters of the glowing gulf, but National Geographic cited another reason to visit… “to marvel at marine life.” That’s because this precious place is the very first in the nation to create and establish an Underwater Museum of Art!  It is a crowning achievement that’s the culmination of a collection of accessible artificial reef systems placed offshore and parallels the popular picturesque coastal villages already established along Scenic 30A. Now this is becoming a highly sought after destination among adventuring scuba divers and snorkelers since it is a one of a kind attraction.

The impetus for this creation was established last year as a joint collaboration between the newly formed South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) and the long-established Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA). It was the perfect meld of artistic promotion with the creation of new marine habitats.  SWARA introduced artificial reefs along the Emerald Coast to provide a sustainable, thriving marine habitat using large concrete stacked trays composed primarily of limestone. They dovetailed artistic sculptures with the establishment of living reefs to secure and protect the precious environment. This remarkable habitat provides scuba divers with an excellent adventure while expanding populations of fish and marine life. Trained scuba divers may look but only leave bubbles and are encouraged to hoist anchor a reasonable distance away to preserve this museum as a magnificent living habitat. Sixteen artificial reefs extend offshore beside Scenic 30A from near Dune Allen to Inlet Beach. Four of them are 200 to 350 yards offshore and only twelve to twenty feet below the surface which may be accessed by avid snorkelers. They were created individually using an image of a dolphin, turtle, seahorse, and grouper since they may be seen from the water’s surface. Twelve additional deep dive reefs are located one to four miles off the coast with an average depth of averaging about sixty feet.

The nation’s first established Underwater Museum of Art was the crown jewel of this project. SWARA had the expertise to construct them, and the CAA had connections within the artist community. Sculpture renditions were solicited from mostly local artists for a competitive juried selection, and seven were selected to start. The large site will include other underwater reef sculptures over the years to provide an extensive collection of such art. The first seven amazing living habitat art sculptures include the following:

The Grayt Pineapple

The Grayt Pineapple was designed by Florida artist Rachel Herring. She was inspired to create an eight-foot-tall pineapple as a symbol of hospitality that welcomes new underwater sea life. The hollow pineapple shaped frame was designed, and a stunning imaginative crown looks like a sunburst from above. 

jycs Dream Underwater

JYCs Dream is a sculpture honoring Jacques Cousteau’s invention of the first underwater breathing device now known as a diving regulator. This giant diver’s headgear has a trail of sculpted bubbles that rise above it and provide separate fish habitats. These “bubbles” were designed by students from the South Walton Montessori Academy to engage them in ocean conservation efforts and marine life appreciation that was championed by Cousteau.

Self Portrait Reef

Self Portrait is by famed local Santa Rosa Beach artist Justin Gaffrey who uses thick palette knife applied acrylic oil paintings of beautiful wildlife that have a colorful 3D look. He has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Florida Digest and Southern Living Magazine but just started creating sculptures five years ago. This “Self Portrait” isn’t really himself but a unique eight-foot tall deer with soaring antlers that resembles a mythological creature fashioned with a ladder and welded together with different stainless steel bars to create its majestic frame.

Anamorphous Octopus is by award-winning local artist Allison Wickey. Her sculpture is of an octopus with swirling tentacles that stands eight feet tall with another eight feet of width and is comprised of sixteen curved metal bars. She used the art form of anamorphosis reusing the bars as special devices to reconstitute them into the shape of an octopus.


SWARA Skull is a nod to the South Walton Artificial Reef Association who helped make this Underwater Museum of Art happen. This creation by Vince Tatum who was an Art Director and Production Designer for the film industry looks like something out of an Indiana Jones adventure. The giant skull rises eight feet tall with a stainless steel jaw, a big nasal cavity and hollowed eyes that use images of Stingrays with tails to create eerie eyebrows. The clean concrete cast skull dome is embedded with limestone to attract marine life and support coral.


Concrete Rope Reef Spheres was created by Evelyn Tickle. This green patina toned concrete sculpture includes faux oyster shells that are attached to a looping rope-like spiral with nook crannies to support embryonic marine life. Her patent-pending clean concrete formula matches the chemical makeup of natural oyster shells.


Propeller in Motion was created by Dallas based Marek Anthony. The remarkable sculpture looks just like a swirling propeller being swallowed by the sandy bottom. It looks different on all sides and creates a three-dimensional illusion of movement. Layers allow light and various marine habitats with concrete sheets are mounted upon a stainless steel tube for support. It is topped with steel cap to resemble the propeller.

Before you visit our glowing gulf waters and “marvel the marine life” at our local Underwater  Museum of Art be sure to check out our fine South Walton vacation rentals all along the sugary shore.