If you were transported, blindfolded, to the middle of Alys Beach, then opened your eyes sans-silk eye mask (just go with us here), you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Santorini. With its white stucco buildings, cobblestone streets, and Moorish-inflected architecture, the serene town feels worlds away from its Florida Panhandle location on the Gulf of Mexico.
Designed by planning firm DPZ and Partners, along with Khoury Vogt Architects, in 2003, Alys Beach is a thoughtfully planned development that takes inspiration from Bermudan, Caribbean, and Spanish design. Caliza, the showpiece restaurant-and-pool complex, showcases Moroccan elements like peaked archways and cabanas swathed in billowing curtains. Homes within the community are inspired by Bermuda’s whitewashed cottages and feature central courtyards like those in Antigua or Central America. The walkable town, with its palm tree-lined alleys and public squares, feels like a Spanish colonial village.
The combination makes for an exotic-feeling destination that’s both familiar and unusual—and creates the perfect backdrop for an idyllic beach vacation. Here are all the can’t-miss restaurants, shopping, and amenities while visiting Alys Beach.
WHERE TO STAY
Instead of staying at a hotel—you won’t find one in the development—you can live like a local and rent one of its private homes, many of which were designed by Khoury Vogt Architects firm. There are dozens available, with options for all types of travelers, whether you’re a couple looking for a weekend away or a large family planning a summer vacation.
Considering a permanent beach retreat? There are homes for sale as well, from condos starting at $1.4 million to a private home listed for $3.65 million. Or choose a development site—prices currently start at $619,500—and craft your dream vacation home from the ground up.
WHAT TO DO
While you may be tempted to lounge all day in your perfectly appointed home, there’s plenty to see and do beyond your private, poolside daybed.
Hit the (stunning) beach
The 158-acre town has a private oceanfront
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Lounge by the pool, or four
If you need a break from the salt and sand (it happens!), there’s no better place to go than the turquoise Caliza Pool in the town center. The zero-entry, 100-foot-long pool is a destination in its own right, but there are also three additional pools within the complex. There’s even a 75-foot-long lap pool equipped with underwater speakers so you can connect your own music and a family pool with fountains and plenty of shade.
Explore the natural landscape
Alys Beach has a dozen parks and green spaces, ranging from the sculpted Amphitheatre lawn that frequently hosts concerts and events, to the formal Arboleda Park planted with native sand pine and turkey oak trees and a fine-art sculpture. Kelly Green park offers a flat expanse for lawn games and sports. Meanwhile, Lake Marilyn and Central Park create a natural transition into a 20-acre nature preserve, where you’ll find a pine and cypress forest, a rare coastal dune lake, and a meadow of wiregrass and wildflowers. Take it all in from the elevated boardwalk that makes up much of the 1,800-foot trail.
Get an elevated workout in
In addition to renting bikes, kayaks, and paddleboards, there are a myriad of ways to get your sweat on at Alys Beach’s wellness center, ZUMA. Join a fitness class—choose from yoga, spinning, boxing, TRX, or BogaFit, a cardio workout on a floating mat—or hit one of the two clay tennis courts. (Wimbledon doubles champion TJ Middleton is available for private lessons.) Afterward, relax in the steam room or book a private massage.
Do some “treat yourself” shopping
Alys Beach’s retail scene is as carefully curated as its design. Alys Shoppe sells elevated beach essentials and designer wares, while designer Ann Hartley’s eponymous boutique offers colorful jewelry, clothing, and treasures from around the world. Head to home-goods store Mast to take home a little bit of the town's aesthetic, or hit up the NEAT Bottle Shop to stock your bar with artisanal spirits and locally made brews.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
The crown jewel of Alys Beach’s dining scene, Caliza is the al fresco restaurant at the complex of the same name, and overlooks the main pool there. The culinary destination offers a menu of contemporary American cuisine that highlights the Gulf Coast region, and dishes have a focus on local purveyors and seasonal ingredients. Think: Florida shrimp served in a spicy ocopa sauce, and skate wing served over rice noodles with bok choy and aged soy sauce.
NEAT Tasting Room
Perfect for pre-dinner drinks or a night out, NEAT Tasting Room is the spot for specialty cocktails. The menu is updated seasonally—currently on the list: a spicy orange mojito and a Mezcal take on a Trinidad Sour—and includes small plates, meat and cheese boards, and desserts as well. The space was recently expanded to seat a total of 60, which includes ample room to enjoy a drink at sunset on the patio.
Open daily for breakfast and lunch in the spring and summer, Piper’s
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Located in a charming cottage with a large veranda, George’s splits its menu into two categories: “Behave” and “Misbehave.” The former is healthier, “spa-inspired” fare, like a crab and avocado salad and Gulf snapper with black rice and pineapple salsa. The latter is a bit more indulgent: The lunch menu offers a duck Cuban sandwich and a burger with bacon chutney, while dinner options include a 10-ounce steak and stuffed sea bass.
Charlie’s Donut Truck
For a sweet morning treat, find Charlie’s Donut Truck parked by the Amphitheatre lawn. Made daily, each donut is a 5-ounce whopper of a pastry. Flavors are decadent and inventive; you can’t go wrong with red velvet or sour-cream pound cake, and the maple bacon, topped with two slices worth of bacon crumbles, is a must.
Raw & Juicy
If donuts are too rich of a breakfast for you, grab an organic, cold-pressed juice from Raw & Juicy. Or for a heartier start, the vegan and gluten-free Belgian waffles come topped with six-seed granola, homemade plant butter, berries, and maple syrup. Lunch is where the café really shines, though. One standout: The lentil-walnut-beet burger with roasted mushrooms and pickle-pesto aioli will please even diehard meat-lovers.