Have you heard of 30A? If you’re from the midwest, chances are, this hidden gem along Florida’s Panhandle is new to you. Growing up in Michigan, snow birds flocked to the likes of Gulf Shores, Alabama or Florida escapes like Marco Island, Naples, and Fort Lauderdale. However, there’s a secret the Southerners are keeping from us: 30A.
30A refers to the highway that runs from Destin to Panama City Beach. Along this route are carefully crafted beach towns known collectively as South Walton. These have all been built within the last 30 years, and even now, there is a TON of construction going on. Each beach town along the way has its own look and feel and architectural vibe, which is no accident. Each has rigid laws against high-rises and hotels, making it an ideal location to rent an adorable (and huge) beach house for the week.
With soft white sand beaches and turquoise waters, 30A is one of the most gorgeous stretch of beaches I’ve ever been to. (and I’ve been to Northern Michigan, Australia, Whitsunday Islands, Bahamas, St. John, Mexico, Greece, etc.)
We recently visited for our first time from Christmas to New Year’s and can say without a doubt, we will be going back! We have made it a tradition to travel over Christmas break. In past years, we have done California’s Hwy 1 Road Trip and Asheville, Charleston, and Savannah.
Our stay in 30A was great for several reasons:
-Renting a beach house allows our family to spread out. (We use Airbnb, but you could also check out 360 Blue Properties or Panhandle Getaways.)
-The area is incredibly family (and dog!) friendly. Big tables at restaurants are the norm & not a problem at all.
-It was relatively inexpensive to rent a home for the week, and many restaurants offered great happy hours and kids meal selections.
-We loved being able to bike from beach to beach, hop in the golf cart to cruise around, & grab a Bloody Mary or Frose to enjoy while also admiring the architecture (you can walk around with it!)
When planning our trip, I found it difficult to really get a feel of the lay of the land through my research online.
I hope my travel guide to 30A is helpful in planning your next family vacation!
Here’s where we would recommend to stay, what to do, where to eat along 30A.
30A Towns from West/Destin to East/Panama City Beach (there are a few more than this, but these are the ones I would suggest using to narrow down your stay.)
Destin: this is going to be more of a typical “spring break” vibe, but I would suggest driving here to visit the amazing outlet mall. Leo loved the amazing playground outside as well as building his own car at Ridemakerz.
This area is great to visit for the brewery. I loved the Rose Gose! I believe there is camping near the state park here, but you won’t find a plethora of beach homes here. It is also quite far from the other towns.
This area is very cute! In watercolor, there are a ton of beautiful homes to rent in all colors of the rainbow here. It is also walkable to Seaside, in case you’d like to be close to the action but also have a little peace and quiet. If you are coming on a romantic trip as a couple and do not want to rent an entire home, I would recommend The Watercolor Inn. It has a couple of amazing pools, and a few restaurants, including the Gathering Place which we really enjoyed for New Year’s Day brunch. It is situated directly on the beach for a stellar view of the sunset, and provides amenities such as a spa, access to several golf clubs, and complimentary bikes for cruising around. Watercolor is also great for a few of the boutiques, or eating at The Wine Bar.
D. Seaside: This is where the movie The Truman Show is filmed, and its just about as picture perfect as the movie. I would consider this the center of the action along 30A. In the middle of the square you will find a huge park where kids and dogs will play for hours on end. Along the edge of the square are shops and restaurants, which stay busy from open to close. The Seaside Style family of shops are all beautiful and worth stopping in.
Where to Eat in Seaside:
1. Great Southern. They never take reservations, but a big group is not a problem at all! Grab a cocktail from the bar cart next door and enjoy it in the park while you wait for your buzzer to go off. Their signature dish is the Shrimp & Grits a Ya Ya. It was fantastic!
2. Modica Market. This is the perfect place to grab a waffle or breakfast burrito to go, or shop for a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach.
3. Airstream Row. We spent a gooooood amount of time eating here.
The grilled cheeses at The Meltdown on 30A were some of the best we’ve EVER had.(Canan’s pick: turkey. My pick: red white & brie)
BBQ-great for the kids meals, which come with a frisbee they can use in the park afterward. They also have an amazing spicy bloody mary.
4. Bud & Alley’s. The pizza bar was phenomenal. It is located right across the street from Airstream Row and Seaside Square. It is perfect for grabbing a bite to eat after watching the sunset on the beach. However, for a family friendly pizza place, I thought it was a little pricey. The prosciutto pizza was $18 and the cheapest red wine by the glass on the menu was $14.
E. Seagrove/Watersound: We stayed in this area at the HUB30A, which is about 3.5 miles from Seaside to the west, and 2 miles from Alys Beach on the east. The HUB is great for families and the large townhomes include access to the pool, which unfortunately isn’t heated in the winter. It also has grills, a golf cart, and is located right across from the HUB. The HUB on 30A is a collection of food trucks, shops, and restaurants with communal seating, plenty of TVs, and a huge screen for movie nights and big games. There is also a large area for kids to play. We came here at night for BBQ or Tacos or Ice Cream, some drinks, and to watch the NCAA bowl games. We also opted to rent bikes for the week, which we loved! The closest beach access from here is 0.6 miles.
Where to Eat and What to Do near The Hub/Seacrest/Watersound:
1. Enjoy the HUB: shopping, dining, events, and karaoke at the Cigar Lounge.
2. Perfect Pig: great for brunch or lunch
3. Steamboat Grill: great for fried seafood and I loved the burger!
4. For an adults only dinner, consider Surfing Deer or Whiskey Bravo with its rooftop patio.
We also made several meals at our beach house as well. There is a Publix located in Watercolor which had a great selection of all you could look for. However, it was more expensive than our grocery store back home. To cut down on costs while traveling, I like to place an order with Amazon Pantry for snack items and non-perishables that I set to arrive at our destination the day we arrive.
F. Alys Beach
There’s no mistaking when you’ve entered Alys beach! The perfectly coiffed shrubs, all white buildings, and bevy of sports cars let you know you’ve made it to luxury. We loved admiring the architecture lined by perfectly placed palm trees and found some amazing spots for photo opps, but didn’t really fit in with the vibe of Alys beach. However, we did love getting some smoothies from Raw & Juicy and enjoying them while Leo played in the park next door. It was a fun place to explore for us!
G. Rosemary Beach
Rosemary beach was a harder one for me to get a vibe on during the winter months, but is said to have one of the best beaches! There are charming shops and restaurants in the main square downtown. In my opinion, they tend to skew to a littler older crowd, or at least adults only. The cobblestone streets, large canopy trees, and brick and stone buildings made the vibe feel a little Bavarian. If you’re coming to 30A for a romantic getaway, I would suggest a stay at The Pearl. The black and white stripes are iconic to The Peral, as is the adults only pool. We’d love to do an adults only weekend here!
Where to eat: We didn’t stay or eat in Rosemary Beach, but we heard La Crema Tapas was the place to go.
We loved our stay on the 30A and can’t wait to come back! We both commented that we could easily see this as a spot we make a repeat travel destination, and how easy it would be to come here for a vacation with another family or two.
Have you been to 30A? I’d love to hear which beach town you like best!
Please leave a comment below or let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be sure to get back to you!
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