Getting lost in the sea of white stucco homes and cobblestone streets of Alys Beach, one has the feeling of sauntering through an idyllic Caribbean or Mediterranean town—and yet, for Americans, no passport is needed to enter this wanderlust-inducing world. Situated on the Emerald Coast of Northwest Florida, this pristine community combines the best of natural and man-made beauty for homeowners and visitors alike. From the bountiful amenities to the scenic pathways that provide glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico’s turquoise waters, no detail has been overlooked.
“New Urbanism is based on traditional town design, where everything is centralized and the residences are more densely structured, so that the overall footprint is condensed,” Diana Lane, Alys Beach’s Director of Public Relations, tells AD. Lane likens Alys to a European city, where within a short walk, visitors can have completely different experiences. “Especially for the secondary-home market, owners don’t have to leave the property while they’re here.” True to the New Urbanist approach, Alys also prioritizes environmental sustainability. In addition to its emphasis on walking and biking rather than driving, the community applies eco-friendly principles to its overall planning, architecture, and landscaping.
In 2004, the Miami-based planning and architecture firm DPZ CoDesign (“DPZ”) was brought in to create the vision of Alys Beach. DPZ has crafted plans for more than 300 new towns, regions, and revitalization projects across the globe, including two other 30A communities, Seaside (designed in 1980) and Rosemary Beach (designed in 1995). Leading the charge for Alys Beach’s planning was American architect Andrés Duany, a founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, who selected Bermuda as its model. Like the Gulf Coast, Bermuda was prone to storms and hurricanes, yet its architecture withstood devastation for centuries. DPZ organized design charrettes in Bermuda, and later Antigua, Guatemala, where multiple architects proposed ideas for Alys.
DPZ wrote Alys Beach's urban and architectural codes in collaboration with architects Erik Vogt and Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, hand-selected by Duany to shepherd the design. As town architects and the first full-time residents of Alys Beach, this husband-and-wife duo has been instrumental in its evolution. Today they continue to oversee the design process to ensure that the plans of other architects adhere to the design code, which additionally encompasses codes for the landscape, sustainability, construction guidelines, and Fortified…for safer living® certification criteria. This certification was developed by the Institute for Business and Home Safety to protect homes against natural disasters, and Alys Beach is the first community in the world to obtain the designation for an entire town.
While Alys residences can attribute their stepped roofs and other exterior design features to Bermudian architecture, their private courtyards nod to the city of Antigua, Guatemala. “Early on, we were curious what the southern market’s reaction would be to not having a front yard,” says Erik Vogt. Many houses feature zaguáns, covered passageways leading from the front to the courtyard, as well as loggias, to make these outdoor spaces tranquil places to pause or gather. “Instead, our clientele has absolutely embraced it.” For added green space, Alys features an abundance of shared parks, as well as a 20-acre nature preserve with a state-protected forest behind it.
As for working within a tight design code, “it forces you to be more disciplined and to stretch your creative juices,” says Khoury-Vogt. Expanding on Bermuda’s architectural language, she and her husband took visual cues from other countries whose designs could be seamlessly integrated. The occasional Grecian trellis, Moorish arch, and Dutch gable bring awe-inspiring flourishes to Alys Beach's architectural white canvas, where no two houses look the same, yet the streets still feel immersive and cohesive. “We do the best we can to make sure that every house is enhancing the public realm and not necessarily taking away from it,” says Khoury-Vogt, adding that interiors are the optimal place for experimentation.
“The most important amenity we have to offer is the Gulf, so wherever you are in Alys, there should be something that reminds you of the water,” Khoury-Vogt continues. Indeed, when strolling through the ample pedestrian parkways that provide dreamy Gulf views, one can almost always hear the soothing trickle of a water fountain from a nearby courtyard. For added “design food,” as Khoury-Vogt puts it, every homeowner at Alys Beach is asked to contribute an “architectural gift” when designing their property. “Your eye will naturally be drawn to these focal points, sometimes on a subconscious level,” says Khoury-Vogt. Elements ranging from unique planters to façade stairwells and Juliet balconies add character and elevate the streets. “There are lots of little moments that make it really fun for people to keep discovering things.”
As of winter 2022, Alys Beach is nearly halfway to completion with some 300 homes and residences. Like many beach towns across the country, Alys Beach has seen a surge in sales and occupancy since the COVID-19 pandemic. “When residents’ Caribbean cruises and European vacations were canceled, they were looking for something that felt escapist,” says Lane. While luxury home inventory is lacking in other areas of the state as a result, Alys Beach's in-house sales team uses a phased approach to property releases, ensuring a continuous stream of inventory. As with everything in Alys, there's also a mindfulness toward the impact of construction, allowing a margin for managing the integrity of design.
Along with resale properties, limited releases offer opportunities for custom home builds; purchases within the semi-custom “Somerset Home Program,” which allows for a more efficient build process; and pre-construction condominium residences in multifamily or mixed-use buildings. While owners have the option to participate in Alys Beach’s vacation rental program (handled exclusively in-house), typically less than 20% of the homes in Alys are available as vacation rentals at any one time.
Throughout the year, Alys Beach opens its doors to the wider community for events, including the 30A Wine Festival, Digital Graffiti (where international artists showcase digital works in a juried festival), and the newly inaugurated Alys Beach Crafted, which celebrates crafted beverages, culinary experiences, and workmanship. Alys Beach homeowners are as culinarily savvy as they are advocates of wellness, as illustrated by the array of amenities on site. In addition to casual and fine dining that will satiate both seafood devotees and the pickiest of eaters, Alys features Raw & Juicy for smoothies and plant-based goodness, Fonville Press Market Café for groceries and light bites, and NEAT, a tasting room with a daring cocktail menu and a bottle shop with a finely curated collection of artisan spirits, wines, craft beers, and tools for a well-stocked bar.
Alys Beach promotes an active lifestyle and also places great emphasis on its natural environment. Throughout the town and along 30A, many people prefer to travel by bicycle. Alys Beach's ZUMA Wellness Center offers an expansive courtyard for meditation, as well as top-of-the-line fitness equipment and classes, red-clay tennis courts, a lap pool, steam rooms, and spa treatments. Nearby, the 100-foot saltwater Caliza Pool is a striking masterpiece with decidedly Moorish leanings, conceived by town architects Vogt and Khoury-Vogt. Exclusive to homeowners and vacation-rental guests, it also features a restaurant and bar, a variety of additional pools and fountains, private cabanas, and lounge seating areas. Once sufficiently nourished and rested, Alys Beach owners and visitors can stop into the shops surrounding the town’s amphitheater. AD readers will especially love SummerStory, a home design store with everything from thoughtful hostess gifts to full-fledged furnishings.
While vacation guests have access to Alys Beach's 1,500-foot private shoreline of powdery white sand during their stay—as well as to ZUMA and Caliza—the community’s tour de force is its Gulf-front, private owners’ Beach Club. Opened in March 2021, the club offers casual and formal dining spaces, multiple pools, and the most jaw-dropping views of the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s been fun to see Alys grow into this very complicated, sophisticated machine,” says Vogt. Still to come at Alys: pickleball courts, additional shops and restaurants in the Town Center, residences with a more organic landscape to complement the nature preserve, and the property’s largest indoor-outdoor amenity center. “Ultimately, the real strength of Alys Beach is always going to be how everything comes together in a way that feels harmonious.”