Northern Florida exposure — the Mattie Kelly Arts Festival in Destin, Oct. 25-26

If you're in the mood to make the most of the great Florida October weather but feel like getting away for the weekend, head to the Panhandle for the Mattie Kelly Arts Festival Saturday and Sunday. 

click to enlarge REACH THE BEACH: James Lee Park, located on the Walton/Okaloosa County line, has pavilions, picnic tables, dune walkovers and a playground. -
REACH THE BEACH: James Lee Park, located on the Walton/Okaloosa County line, has pavilions, picnic tables, dune walkovers and a playground.

The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation hosts the 19th annual festival, showcasing the original works of more than 100 juried artists with live music, art activities for kids, restaurant vendors, and a wine and beer garden. It all takes place Oct. 25-26 at the the recently christened Mattie Kelly Arts Village, a 52-acre parcel in Destin, Fla. 

Destin, between Panama City and Pensacola in the Panhandle, is only 30 years old as a city (but has a fishing village history that goes back a couple of centuries) and is celebrating its anniversary this month. The community offers a lot to do nearby: idyllic beaches, lush nature trails and small towns benefitted by an ever-growing trend toward historical preservation. As anyone who has visited knows, the Panhandle thrums with a quieter rhythm (except for spring break, of course), offering fresh seafood, cooler temps and rolling hills in its northernmost areas.

Getting to Destin from Tampa Bay requires a 6-to-7-hour drive. Points of interest along the way — accessible with brief detours — include Cedar KeySt. Marks Lighthouse and Apalachicola Bay. Potential side trips: the Florida Caverns in Mariana, Tallahassee, the antique haven of Monticello or Wakulla Springs.

click to enlarge Northern Florida exposure — the Mattie Kelly Arts Festival in Destin, Oct. 25-26 - Destin Harbor Boardwalk
Destin Harbor Boardwalk
Northern Florida exposure — the Mattie Kelly Arts Festival in Destin, Oct. 25-26
While in Destin, visit the scenic Harbor Boardwalk, a quarter-mile-long overlooking "the world's luckiest fishing village," or so the locals say. The sand on Destin's beaches — some of the whitest in the world — originates from the Appalachian Mountains and made of finely ground quartz crystal, which gives it its sugar-like appearance. For an eco-touristic expedition, the Okaloosa County Geocache Trail trail allows nature lovers to navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find containers hidden at that location. Click here for more information and other attractions along Florida's Emerald Coast.

Travel a little ways east to visit the planned community of Seaside, filming location of the 1998 movie The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey.

Formerly known as the Destin Festival of the Arts, the Mattie Kelly Arts Festival has been recognized as one of Northwest Florida’s premier fine art shows and boasts more than 100 juried artists from 13 states, a guest artist from Europe and $10,000 in cash prizes.

Some highlights:

Kadri Kaerma — The fest's "celebrity guest artist" (pictured, right) is an award-winning ceramist from Nõmme, Tallinn, Estonia, sister city to Destin. Several pieces of her colorfully comical works will be on display and available for purchase during the weekend.

Artist to watch: Carol Ferony — Known for her eye-catching oil pastels with abstract figures, her style reflects that of an illustrator more than a painter. "I combine various techniques in the initial work, each finished with a subtle overlay etching," she told the Walton Sun. "I really like to create images that have different levels of interest."

Cuisine On The Green — Destin-area restaurants 790 On the Gulf, Tucker Dukes, The Big Red Truck, Jim N' Nicks, Rosey's Kettle Corn, Mark's Hawaiian Shaved Ice, Deep South Sno Treats, and a newly expanded Wine Bar and Beer Garden.

Live music — Saturday: Coconut Radio Band plays at 10 a.m.; Matt Hoggatt, 12:30 p.m.; Mr. Perfect, 3 p.m.  Sunday: Continuum at 11 a.m., Geoff McBride (featured on The Voice) at 3:30 p.m., and The Season Ammons Band at 1:30 pm.

click to enlarge INSPIRATION: Mattie Kelly, 1912-92. - MATTIE KELLY ARTS FOUNDATION
INSPIRATION: Mattie Kelly, 1912-92.

The festival's namesake — Native Floridian Mattie May Kelly (1912-92), who in 1935 moved to Destin with her husband, Coleman Lee Kelly, and their five children. As one of the town’s founding families, they purchased acres of pristine forest along Choctawhatchee Bay and what is now Destin Harbor. Mattie Kelly was a lifelong patron of the arts who wrote poetry, played piano and organ, and composed music throughout her lifetime.

Free parking — available  adjacent to the Cultural Arts Village at Grace Lutheran Church. Off-site shuttle available.

Big 20: The Mattie Kelly Arts Village celebrates two decades in 2015. If you can't make it this weekend, mark your calendar for the following upcoming events:

Recommended accommodations: Beachside Inn offers clean comfort in a boutique hotel ambiance.

Nov. 13th,  5:30 p.m. — 2nd Annual Ruth’s Chris Steak House Wine Walkabout, East Bar & Courtyard
Thursday, Dec. 4, 5:30 p.m. — “Straight Up & Toasted,” Cigar & Whiskey Tasting, Bijoux @ The Market Shops at Sandestin
Friday, Dec. 5, 7 p.m. — Sounds of the Season Christmas Concert, Village Baptist Church
March 12, 2015 — Mattie Kelly Day, City of Destin Proclamation and Celebration
May 7-July 2, 2015 —  20th Annual Concerts in the Village every Thursday
Oct. 24-25, 2015 —  20th Annual Mattie Kelly Arts Festival

The Mattie Kelly Arts Village is at 4323 Commons Drive W., Destin, FL 32541. For more information, visit

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