Mardi Gras can be strenuous, but those seeking to restore their energy and relax on the beach after a long, festive holiday can head to the Beaches of South Walton – a conveniently situated vacation spot featuring 15 beach communities connecting Destin and Panama City, Fla. Highlights include state parks, guided tours, restaurants, shopping and other recreational beach activities. Each month brings family-friendly events.

On Feb. 20, the Camellia Fest will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Department of Environmental Protection’s Eden Gardens. Talks on camellia identification, air layering (propagation), general maintenance and pest control will be given by experts on-hand. There will also be living history demonstrators in the park teaching about the skills of past generations. “The Camellia Fest is one of our most popular annual events,” says Tracy Louthain, director of communications for the Beaches of South Walton. “Last year we hosted more than 350 attendees.”

The event was conceived 15 years ago to honor Louise Maxon, who planted more than 100 varieties of camellias when she owned the property. “There are still more than 80 of those camellias on the property today,” says Louthain.

Information, (850) 267-8322, www.beachesofsouthwalton.com.

– Sarah Ravits

Camelias on the coast

The bookstore for book lovers

Celebrating 45 years of service to bibliophiles from near and far, Maple Street Book Shop is one of the few remaining independent bookstores. The store is conveniently located in a small purple-shuttered cottage on Maple Street, and boasts one of the greatest collections of local authors’ works available. Their children’s bookshop in the pink and white cottage next door is equally as eclectic and successful, and hosts a Saturday story time (with exceptions – check their Web site). The shop frequently hosts events with both local and national authors who sign books, give readings and mingle: For their grand reopening this past November Dave Eggars was on-hand to help celebrate their “new” location at 7529 Maple St., plus their new 9,000-plus volume collection of rare and used books at 7523 Maple St. The shop offers a daily 10-percent discount to teachers, faculty members and Hurricane Katrina volunteers, as well as a 10-percent discount to students and senior citizens each Tuesday. This month local author Leila Helakoski will be in the store signing her newest children’s book, Big Chickens go to Town, left, on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Information, 866-4916, 7523 and 7529 Maple St., www.maplestreetbookshop.com.

– Lilith Dorko