Along the Gulf Coast of Florida lies a 28 mile stretch of scenic highway called 30A. Dotted with dunes, cottages, boutique hotels, and new urbanist developments like Seaside, 30A exudes that laid back atmosphere we all crave with a beach vacation.
Southerners have known about the Florida panhandle’s white sand beaches and aqua blue waters for generations, but the secret is now out and families from all over the country are now traveling to this quaint yet beautiful destination.
Where to Stay:
There are so many options! You can choose to rent a home or condominium through VRBO, a vacation rental company, or directly through a community listed below. There are hotel and B&B options, too.
If you want to rent a house in an upscale master-planned community (think town center, restaurants, tennis court, pools, etc.), there are several options: Seaside is the oldest 30A community and still as charming with its new urbanism pastel houses. Watercolor is close by with options on both the north and south (beach) side of 30A. They also have a resort for weekend getaways and weddings. Rosemary Beach is on the far east side of 30A. Instead of the pastel houses, you will find something more reminiscent to Carmel, California with stucco and wood sided homes and their single-shake roofs and lots of meandering paths throughout. Alys Beach is the newest master-planned community known for its stunning white houses.
More house/condo rental options:
There are so many beautiful developments all along 30A up that aren’t quite as pricey as the ones listed above, yet you can still take advantage of the cute town centers if you book something nearby. Definitely look at a map before you book (below). Seagrove is closest to Seaside. Seacrest is very close to Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach. Blue Mountain Beach has more of a laid back area with a cute shopping area. A good place to rent a condo across from the beach! Grayton Beach is where many locals live with good restaurants, shops, and little art galleries. Same with Santa Rosa.
The Pearl at Rosemary Beach or Watercolor Resort are both luxury hotels perfect for a couples getaway or a wedding weekend. But there are a few hotel options, too. The Rosemary Beach Inn ha 11 rooms and is steps away from the beach. And the Highland House Bed & Breakfast in Blue Mountain Beach is a cute option, too.
What to Do:
Besides going to the beach, there are so many wonderful things to do up and down 30A:
Part of the fun of staying on 30A is that you can bike (or walk!) to nearby beaches, restaurants, and shops. Some house rentals come with bikes but there are also bike rental shops along 30A. Each of the planned communities has a bike rental place. You can also reserve them online in advance. (See bottom of this post for rental companies).
Alys Beach Splash Park
Alys Beach has a splash park in their town center. If you ride your bikes to Charlie’s Donut Truck in the morning make sure your children are wearing their swimsuits because they will want to get wet!
Outdoor concert or movie
On almost any night during the summer months, you can find a free outdoor concert, movie at a park, or a fun festival to attend. (Check this 30A events calendar.) Most of the master-planned communities have their own nightly events so be sure to check.
The Hub 30A
One of those things where you think, “Why didn’t I think of this?” The Hub is an outdoor and child-friendly gathering place with seven order-at-the-counter restaurants so everyone can get what they want to eat. No waiting for tables or being worried about children squirming in their chairs. Here children can run, skip, dance, and have fun being children while parents can sit back and relax listening to live music. They have concerts every night (and sometimes movies!). In the high season, I’d say go early. Seriously, so much fun!
Evening Beach Fire
Peddlers 30A will arrange the chairs, a 6-foot table and a raised fire pit on the beach for a memorable evening with friends and family. They will even check in to make sure the fire is still going strong. Don’t forget the marshmallows!
Sunset Pontoon Cruise
This is fun to do with a group of friends or extended family. See the beautiful coastal dune lakes along 30A guided by local company Saltair 30 (which also offers paddle board and boat rentals).
Of course, there are the traditional deep sea charters available in the gulf, but if you want to skip the sea-sickness, try a guided fishing charter into the beautiful Choctawhatchee Bay. See a list of guides here.
In Rosemary Beach, Wild Olives has nightly wine tasting. Sit outside, order some hor d’oeuvres for you and your children, and sample some of their wines. No big deal if your older children want to walk around nearby where you can keep any eye on them. Alys Beach often has wine tastings at their Fountville Press Coffee Shop. And definitely check our NEAT in Alys Beach – this Alys Beach bottle shop often has craft beer, spirits, or wine tasting events and is super chic inside.
Each town center has gift shops and toy shops. If there’s one chic clothing store you must stop in during your trip it’s Willow Boutique. They have four locations along 30A and each one has their own unique style. In Rosemary Beach don’t miss classic children’s boutique, Fitz & Emme. And Seaside is always a fun place to spend an afternoon, too. The picturesque town feels like something out of a movie. (It actually was the setting for The Truman Show.) Don’t miss Sundog Books which is a family-owned independent bookstore with a good selection of books about the area (think coffee table book for a souvenir!). And don’t miss the art galleries in Grayton Beach.
Golf & Tennis
Most of the planned communities have tennis courts and see a full list of golf courses here. It might be worth driving into Destin or Sandestin to play as well.
Rooftop or Beachside Bar
Get a sitter (see below!) and go to the super chic rooftop bar at The Pearl Rosemary Beach. They have food, too, so you can even have dinner here. (Note: they close at 9 pm). Acme Ice House is a more casual bar with live music nightly. The Red Bar is always fun a celebrity favorite and there’s the rooftop bar at Bud & Alley’s in Seaside.
After-dinner Walk and Ice Cream!
In our family, it’s become a tradition to get candy or ice cream after dinner at the Sugar Shak in Rosemary Beach and then walk around and enjoy the evening, maybe even let them play on one of the greens. A child’s dream! There are also ice cream shops in Seaside and Watercolor as well.
Eden Gardens State Park
Off Highway 98, Eden Gardens State Park is a great place for a picnic! You can also tour the restored 1897 Southern mansion or walk the nature trails. It’s beautiful!
Late Night Crab Hunting
A family tradition of ours. Grab your nets and flashlights and make fun memories after sunset. Don’t forget your beach pail!
What to Eat:
You have to eat fresh gulf seafood while on 30. If you are ever in doubt about what to order, a blackened amberjack sandwich or pan sautéed grouper or grouper almondine are dishes everyone in this area seems to get right. Here are some of our favorites, divided by the east and west side of 30A.
Eastern Half of 30A (Closer to Rosemary and Seacrest):
George’s on Alys Beach – If you are staying in Seacrest or Rosemary Beach, you can bike or walk to lunch or dinner here. My advice: go early if you have children (they have a children’s menu!). Get the spicy salt and pepper shrimp or the jerk crusted gulf snapper (below). $$$$.
Cowgirl Kitchen – Don’t want to spend a ton of money, but still want good food? Cowboy Kitchen is your answer! Their thin crust pizza is excellent. (Good for take out!) $$
Crabby Steve’s – This is a local favorite and sort of a secret. It’s in the Seacrest development but if you aren’t staying there you have to access it from the beach! If you are staying at or near Rosemary or Alys Beach this is a great option for a lunch break on a beach day. (Shh…they don’t’ like to broadcast this to non-locals because it’s really for Seacrest guests!). $$$
La Crema Tapas & Fondue – This top-notch Rosemary Beach restaurant doesn’t take reservations but put your name down and walk around. Great tapas (read: not a ton of food), but also a great place if you want to do a fun dessert after dinner. $$$$
Acme Ice House – 2 for 1 entrees from 5-6 pm nightly (perfect time to dine with young children!). Reservations accepted. $$$
Edward’s – Nightly music and outdoor dining in Rosemary Beach. Reservations accepted. $$$$
Shades Bar & Grill – From the outside it looks like it could be an underwhelming chain restaurant, but this spot located at the intersection of 30A and Highway 98 (east side) actually has great fried seafood. $$
Havana Beach Bar – Upscale open-air dining in The Pearl hotel. Fun place to have drinks and heavy hor d’ouevres, too. Reservations accepted. $$$$
Donut Hole – A local favorite for 30 years, they now have a location on either end of 30A. You can pick up donuts, but I recommend sitting down to eat breakfast. So good!! (Tip: get there before 8 am to avoid the line!). And during lunch and dinner they serve great diner food. $$
Charlie’s Donut Truck – In Alys Beach every morning until they sell out! There is also another food truck with breakfast sandwiches. (There is also a good donut shack in the Seacrest shopping area.)
Western Side of 30A (Closer to Seaside, Seagrove and Watercolor)
The Hub – See above. A great outdoor gathering place for families with seven eateries to choose from. $$
Goatfeathers – This Santa Rosa Beach casual seafood restaurant was a family favorite growing up but now they also have two fish markets along 30A if you are cooking at home one night! Note: the markets close at 5:30 pm. $$$
Great Southern Cafe – This casual Seaside restaurant with a giant outdoor patio is not quite as expensive as some of the other places along 30A but has great food. $$$
Louis Louis – Off Highway 98. A classic menu on the chalkboard kind of restaurant and it changes daily. $$$$
The Red Bar – In the laid back beach town of Grayton Beach and owned by the same family as Louis Louis. A local favorite for 20 of more years. Live music at night. $$$$
Bud & Alley’s – Just the same as when I was a child! This Seaside restaurant is right on the beach so has pretty views. They also serve breakfast and have a rooftop bar. $$$$
Stinky’s Fish Camp – Family-friendly restaurant in Santa Rosa known for their fresh seafood and oysters. $$$
Cafe 30A – Fine dining seafood restaurant that’s been there forever. $$$$
Donut Hole – See above. Another location where 30A hits Hwy 98 on the west side.
Bikes and Beach Chair Rentals:
Check to see if your vacation rental comes with chairs and/or beach chairs and umbrellas. Ask the owner for recommendations or check out these companies below:
- Rent Gear Here (Full-service rental company with bikes, chairs, baby gear, beach games, and more!)
- Live Well 30A (Another full-service rental company!)
- Big Fish Bike Rental
- Bamboo Bicycles
- Peddlers 30A
Baby Gear Rentals & Babysitters
Grocery Delivery Service
Don’t want to head to Publix as soon as you arrive? The Beach Butlers will shop, delivery, and put the groceries away before you arrive!
You won’t regret capturing your family vacation in treasured photos. There are several photographers in the area. We love Katrice Howell. Tip: while beach photos are timeless, it’s fun to get photos is front of the house or community in which you are staying – they are all so charming and make for an interesting backdrop!
30A is just a short drive from the Panama City Airport and Fort Walton Beach Airport.
What are your favorite things to do along 30A? Comment below! Don’t forget I have an entire post just on Rosemary Beach. And please consider sharing this well-researched post on Facebook!
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