South Walton’s Hidden Gem: Eden Gardens State Park
While most people book vacations to Destin and 30A for the beautiful beaches, they’re not the only thing Northwest Florida has going for it. Now that temps are starting to drop, it’s the perfect time of year to check out the area’s other attractions. Eden Gardens State Park in Santa Rosa Beach is just one of South Walton’s hidden gems. Furthermore, the park is only a ten-minute drive away from Seaside and admission is only $4 per vehicle. Whether you tour the Wesley Home or picnic by Tucker Bayou, this beautiful state park is the perfect place to spend a fall afternoon.
The Wesley House
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love touring the grand Victorian mansion in the center of the park. You can take a tour Thursday-Monday, from 10 am to 3 pm on the hour. William Henry Wesley originally purchased the land in the 1890s for his wife, Katie Strickland, and their seven children. Wesley and Katie’s father had a profitable lumber company on the grounds. They even additional housing on the property for their employees and their families. The company operated from 1890 until just after World War I. Wesley lived in the mansion until his wife died in 1953 and the children sold the estate.
The house sat empty until Lois Maxon, an incredibly wealthy journalist from New York, purchased the estate in 1963 for only $12,500. Maxon refurbished the 5,500 sq. ft. house, adding a kitchen, dining room, and modern amenities. Additionally, because Maxon descended from German royalty and inherited a fortune from her grandparents, she filled the home with her vast collection of antique family heirlooms. In fact, the parlor features the second largest collection of Louis XVI furniture in the country.
Lois Maxon donated the estate and 10.5 acres to the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials in 1968 after she fell ill and moved to Pensacola for medical care. In the short time she lived on the property, Lois planned the beautiful gardens that are still flourishing with azaleas and camellias. Today, you can stroll through the gardens, check out Lois’ reflection pond, hike the nature trails, and picnic by the bayou. The park is open 365 days a year and closes at sundown. The live oak trees on the property are covered in gorgeous Spanish Moss and are approximately 600 years old. Overall, this beautiful state park is the perfect place to take an evening walk or let your kids run around and explore.
If you’re looking for a fun place to explore in South Walton that’s a little bit off the beaten path, Eden Gardens should be on your bucket list. With all the trees changing color and the weather cooling off, fall is the ideal time to check it out. Furthermore, if you are dying to see this incredible mansion, Feeling Good Again in Seaside is the perfect place to stay. Built in a similar style and only 10 minutes away from this park, there’s no better place to book!