The two-lane road was lined with pastel beach cottages and white picket fences, sidewalks crowded with people bicycling or 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.
Seaside is not a town. There is a post office, a town square, and founding members, but it’s not a town. It has a name printed on street signs and prefixing business names, but it’s not a town. Seaside is a real estate development. It was founded in 1982 when Robert Davis – a Miami developer who had spent his childhood vacationing on this stretch of Florida beach – transformed his grandfather’s 80 acres into a seaside residential community.
Since the community’s inception, a public square was always part of the master plan, a radical departure from traditional residential communities. The idea was to build a community with everything a resident would need within walking distance – maybe golf carting distance. A post office, grocery store, bookstore, and business offices were built around the square. In 2016, Business Insider named Seaside’s square one of the “12 most beautiful public spaces in the world.”
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.
At the edge of the square, between it and the turquoise water of the Gulf of Mexico, a long line of silver Airstream trailers were permanently parked in the shade of palm trees and surrounded by a gaggle of hungry beachgoers.
The First Vintage Airstream Trailer
In 1994, Case Cooper opened Frost Bites, a one-room store serving shaved ice treats, in the Coleman Pavilion. Business was good in the gulf side shopping center. It was too good. Within a few years, Robert Davis, owner of the shopping center, asked Cooper to find a new home so he could lease the space to another business and raise the rent.
Faced with the prospect of losing his business, Cooper began working on a plan to find a new home. The result would forever change the landscape of Seaside.
There were few parcels available for rent around the small square, and the available parcels were out of his budget range. So, Cooper got creative. Drawing inspiration from the classic Americana Airstream travel trailer, he drew up a proposal and submitted it to a committee.
The idea of a vintage Airstream trailer parked at the edge of the public square with a long line of eager customers was appealing. The committee immediately approved Cooper’s proposal. Now he just needed to find an Airstream trailer suitable for a shaved ice business.
Cooper spent months searching for the perfect Airstream trailer. The journey eventually took him to Los Angeles, the city where the very first Airstream was built. He picked up a vintage 1955 Airstream Bubble from a local company that had retrofitted the trailer with workstations and cut a window into the side to service guests.
In 1996, Cooper parked his Airstream adjacent to scenic Highway 30A and sold his first shaved ice from his business’s new home.
Did You Know?
The first Airstream debuted in 1936. Designed by Wally Byam and built in Culver City, California, the Airstream Clipper was a riveted, all-aluminum travel trailer sold for $1,200. By 1952, production had outgrown the original location. Byam embarked on a road trip across the Midwest, searching for a second location. He purchased a factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, where Airstreams are still produced. Visitors can take a guided tour of the factory, learn the history behind the American icon, and see the different construction phases of an Airstream.
The Gourmet Food Trucks
I’ve always been amazed how straight lines will form in front of food trucks. No lines on the sidewalk, stanchions with ropes, not even a sign that says, “Form a straight line.” Remove the lines on a highway, and people will not drive straight. But somehow, the savory aroma saturating the air around a food truck seems to trick the mind into standing in straight lines.
Mr. Gyro Hero
Laying claim to the dominant corner of the public square, Mr. Gyro Hero was a favorite at the local farmers market before opening their vintage Airstream trailer in 2020. The logo features a Ben-Day Dots background pattern reminiscent of vintage comic books. At the center of the logo, the unmistakable outline of Superman’s family crest surrounding the “G” firmly establishes the owner’s claim of the heroism of Mediterranean food.
If you’ve never tried Mediterranean food before, this is a great place to start. The gyro is a Greek invention, a sandwich made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, carved as needed, piled into pita bread, and wrapped with veggies. Everything is fresh and made-to-order for the best introduction possible to this ethnic food.
Case Cooper carved his legacy into Seaside when he parked the first vintage trailer on Airstream Row. After eight years selling shaved ice from the tiny silver bullet, he retired and sold the business to Mike and Chance Gullet.
Through a tiny window, the Gullets continue to serve shaved ice and fresh-squeezed lemonade to long lines of thirsty customers. There are no aromas wafting through the air, but more than any other food truck on Airstream Row, a treat from Frost Bites will punch your tastebuds.
The Meltdown on 30A
Over a decade after Cooper parked his vintage Airstream in the public square, Jim Shirley and Kelli Castille joined him with their own trailer. In 2009, the partners opened The Meltdown on 30A. Drawing from a lifelong cooking obsession, the chefs offer gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Gourmet. Grilled cheese. Sandwiches.
Even as the words roll off the tongue, they seem like an oxymoronic food. Boneless spareribs, white chocolate, jumbo shrimp, and then there are gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The secret is in the cheese – American cheese, Alabama goat cheese, homemade pimento cheese. The menu was a bit cheesy.
Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs
In 2011, Bill Dawson realized Seaside was missing something: gourmet hotdogs. After parking a vintage Airstream along the expanding Airstream Row, he opened Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs. In 2020, Dawson retired and sold the business to Ashley and Clark Beecher.
The staple ingredient in the gourmet hotdogs is grass-fed American Wagyu all-beef hotdogs served on Rotella New England-style buns. The ‘dogs are topped with roasted veggies and drizzled in sauces, creating a picturesque work of art that demands a placement in your Instagram feed before you’re allowed to eat it.
In 2021, the Beechers partnered with Courtney and Baron Fields to purchase The Dawson Group, a collection of restaurants in Seaside founded by Bill Dawson. Along with Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs, the families also own Pickle’s, Shrimp Shack, Dawson’s Yogurt, and It’s Heavenly.
Crêpes du Soleil
In 2018, husband-and-wife team Jay and Liz Eichelberger partnered with executive chef Rob Masone to add crepes to Airstream Row. From their vintage 1972 Airstream trailer, the trio began offering sweet and savory meals. Crepes are thin pancakes wrapped like a burrito and stuffed with meat and veggies or fruits and creams.
The menu offers about a dozen items, but it’s kept short on purpose. Jay encourages people to mix and match to create their very own made-to-order crepe. But a local favorite is ordered straight from the menu: the Nutella – a creamy chocolate hazelnut spread with the option to add fresh bananas or strawberries.
Propelled by the success of Crêpes de Soleil, in 2019, the trio opened Cocina Cubana. Garage-style doors slide open at the small parcel in a shopping center across Highway 30A, allowing visitors a peek into the kitchen as they cook savory Cuban food.
James Murphy knows a thing or two about smoking meats – he’s been doing most of his adult life. When he decided to add another eatery to Airstream Row, he vowed to smoke his own meats on sight every day. The aroma wafts through the air, successfully fighting for dominance among the other foods.
Murphy only uses pork, chicken, and turkey that are hormone, antibiotic, and steroid-free. The smoked meats are topped with homemade sauces and served in ginormous platters with two sides. A local favorite – and mine as well – is the BBQ Nachos: chips, baked beans, homemade beer cheese, onions, jalapenos, and your choice of pork, chicken, or turkey. You won’t walk away from that meal still hungry.
Located on Scenic Highway 30A
By 1935, US Highway 98 was completed through the Florida Panhandle, connecting Pensacola and Tallahassee. Along this stretch of the superhighway, smaller feeder roads are connected to nearly a dozen communities along the coast. But there was no road directly connecting the communities. That effort wouldn’t begin until 1937.
Work was slow. The locals resisted. They feared a highway connecting the beach towns would ruin the pristine qualities of the coastal environment. The developer of Seagrove Beach, C.H. “Cube” McGee, even offered to give land to the state for the new highway as long as it didn’t pass through his community.
By 1961, the eastern half of a coastal highway had been completed and was labeled S-30-A. Eight years later, the western half was completed. Finally, in 1976, the entire highway was completed. In 2007, the Walton County Board of Commissioners officially designated the route Scenic 30A.
Airstream Row is located on Scenic 30A, forty minutes from Destin and Panama City Beach.
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. 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 Highway 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.