Earth. Water. Air. Fire. It’s elemental, really. Everything in nature can be traced back to one of these, working in perfect harmony: The wind carrying clouds higher to produce rain, falling to the earth to create new life, kindling fires that produce light and heat.
We accept these elements as part of our everyday lives, and here at the beach, we have more than a few uses for each. One of the most popular is a beach bonfire, a particularly coveted opportunity as the temperatures cool and beach activities turn from swimsuits to s’mores.
Staging a beach bonfire on the Emerald Coast is not as simple as it might sound. There are tight restrictions and requirements for these nighttime festivities so if you’re thinking about “firing up” a get-together, there are some key things you need to know.
As A General Rule
There are no bonfires allowed on the beaches in Okaloosa County including Destin and on Okaloosa Island. If you’re hoping to gather around a bonfire with friends and family, you’ll have to head east to Walton County — Miramar Beach and beyond. It’s the only county — and one of the few in the entire state of Florida — to allow them.
Bonfires are permitted on most public beaches (and some private gulf-front residences with written permission from the owner) along Walton County’s 26 miles fo shoreline. All fires require a county permit and a fee. An application can be filled out on South Walton Fire District’s website at swfd.org. The good news is that bonfires are permitted 365 days a year (day or night), with a restriction on the number held at the same time to avoid congestion.
A few rules do apply:
- You must choose a specific date and permits are non-refundable due to inclement weather.
- You must be 18 or older to request a permit and present throughout the duration of the bonfire.
- Permits are limited to gatherings of 29 people or fewer.
- Bonfires must be at least 50 feet away from vehicles, roads and vegetation; 100 feet away from habitable structures; and 200 feet away from sea turtle nests.
- Certain containers must be used (and approved by South Walton Fire District) and clean-up must be completed.
- Burying of ashes is not permitted.
While there is no shortage of public beach accesses for swimming and sunbathing, bonfires are limited to those that can be identified by an access number at the start of each boardwalk.
Beach access points to consider:
- Miramar Beach Regional Beach Access #49 at Pompano Joe’s
- Scenic Gulf Drive Regional Beach Access
- Dune Allen Regional Beach Access
- Ed Walline Regional Beach Access (near Gulf Place)
- Santa Clara Regional Beach Access in Seagrove Beach
- Grayton Dunes
- Inlet Beach Regional Beach Access points
More options are available in a dropdown menu in the online permit application at swfd.org.
Hire An Expert
If it all sounds like too much to handle, there are plenty of companies who will handle all the details – from requesting permits to providing the equipment. From basic blazes to lavish affairs, here are a few vendors for consideration:
Using a beach bonfire company eliminates the hassle of permits, hauling gear and handling clean-up (maybe in the dark). Packages can run the gamut from very simple with the permit, firewood and chairs to more elaborate celebrations that involve food, drinks, games, sparklers and beyond so you can design your perfect experience.
If you’d rather show up at an already planned bonfire, Royal Palm Grille in Miramar Beach offers a free opportunity every Monday and Friday at sunset. There is no entrance fee and plenty of chairs are provided. No outside food or drink is permitted but the restaurant offers a full menu, drink specials and even s’mores kits.
As the sun dips below the horizon, and the crackling flames dance in the cool gulf breeze, one thing’s for sure: beach bonfires are the perfect recipe for unforgettable memories. So, grab some marshmallows, cozy up with friends, and let the magic of a beach bonfire night warm your soul. It’s a beachcomber’s dream come true.