Scenic 30A: The Perfect Florida Gulf Coast Vacation
General information about Highway 30-A
Growing up in Alabama, and now a resident of Mississippi, the Gulf Coast has been a frequent beach destination for my whole life. Though Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, and the Orange Beach areas of AL are great in their own ways, the last few years our family has discovered the beautiful and unique beach experience in the area along Highway 30-A sometimes known as the beaches of South Walton. Scenic Highway 30-A is a stretch of highway approximately 28.5 miles long in Walton County in Northwest Florida. It is between the popular beach areas of Destin, FL and Panama City, FL.
Why Choose 30A?
There are many reasons to choose the small and charming beach communities along this highway, but here are my top 5 reasons:
1. Beautiful Beaches: Most importantly there is the view of those beautiful emerald and blue beaches!
2. Family Friendly: This is a very family friendly area, and is much less crowded and "touristy" than other beach areas along the Gulf Coast. They have open air theater productions weekly at some of the village greens, and outdoor movies are offered several nights per week for the kids.
3. Park and Walk/Bike: There are many places for vacationers to rent bicycles. Bikers and pedestrians can be seen daily traveling up and down the side of the road visiting the various beach communities. It is a great option to be able to drive to your vacation rental, park, and then not have to get back in your car. There are also grocery stores within a few miles if you need to stock up and save on dining out.
4. Things to Do Nearby: If the kids are clamoring for a day away from the beach, Destin and Panama City are within a 20-30 minute drive with waterparks, mini golf and all the usual tourist spots. I am more familiar with Panama City which hosts a small amusement park, Miracle Strip Amusement Park and the interactive experience of Wonderworks ( or as my kids like to call it the "upside-down house"). Wonderworks has a great ropes course, laser tag and many educational and fun exhibits for kids of all ages. Nearby Destin also offers quality shopping outlets for an alternative to the kids activities.
5. Great Food: There are so many great restaurants in towns along 30A from super casual food trucks to fine dining.
Map of 30A area
Grayton Beach, FL
In addition to its unique homes, great restaurants, and beautiful beaches, this town is also one of the few beaches where permitted vehicles are allowed on the beach. Home to The Red Bar restaurant with live jazzy music, wonderful food and a bohemian vibe. There are only a few items on the menu but the quality of those items is stellar! Definitely go The Red Bar restaurant, but go early if you don't want a long wait!
update: Sadly the Red Bar tragically burned down in February 2019. Thankfully no one was injured! Happily, plans are to rebuild!
A small highly walkable beach community known for it's unique architecture and beautiful beaches. This town is also known for being the setting of the movie The Truman Show. Seaside is filled with quality fine dining and casual food trucks selling wonderful food. Bud and Alley's is a well known restaurant with great food! Several gift shops are also available for your shopping pleasure. This beach is very family friendly but also very busy.
This is my favorite of the beach communities along 30-A. It has the feel of a European village with its cobblestone streets and architecture. They have wonderful dining options and several great shops with a variety of wares. There are several village greens where kids can play bocce ball or soccer. Playgrounds and pools are located for community use around the village as well. Various events occur weekly such as outdoor movies and plays on the village green put on by local theater companies that are all free of charge. They also have a kids Rock the Block party weekly during the summer months. La Crema (tapas and chocolate....what could be wrong?) and Cowgirl Kitchen are two of my local favorite restaurants. Your kids will beg you for a visit to the Sugar Shack and fun local spot for ice cream and LOTS of candy! This place can be very busy at any given time of the day!
This area has houses and more small condos for rentals with several restaurants within walking distance. This area does not have the unique village feel of Seaside or some of the other beaches, but the condos especially offer beautiful views of the beaches. Seagrove is only about a mile and half from Seaside so it is easily within biking or walking distance. Cafe Thirty-A with luxury fine dining and The Seagrove Market Village Cafe with very casual setting and yummy (mostly fried) foods are great dining options.
Check out the live beachcam at Seagrove Beach....even though it doesn't do the views justice!
If you want to go luxury, stay in the Watercolor area at the Watercolor Inn and Resort. Seaside and Watercolor's own shops and restaurants are within walking distance. You can look at the resort's website for more information.
How do you feel about the beaches along 30-A?
Tips for Saving Money:
This area is definitely not the low cost leader! Look for rentals on www.vrbo.com or special deals from realty companies in the area to save. Also, if you would like to save on dining, several of the fine dining restaurants offer early bird specials with discount for diners coming in between 5-6 pm. There are Publix and Winn-Dixie grocery stores within easy driving distance if you want to avoid dining out.
Tips for Kids:
Most restaurants have a kid's menu but some I have dined at such as The Havana Beach Bar and Grill and The Red Bar don't have an official kid's menu. However, The Havana Beach Bar and Grill serves breakfast through the lunch hour and has entrees such as hamburgers and mac and cheese that are kid-friendly options. The Red Bar offers half portions of several of their entrees and also has the unlisted kid's option of a chicken finger basket or pasta.
In summary, I just love the 30-A area! There is just a feeling of peace and relaxation in the air that I really cannot put into adequate words. The beaches are so beautiful, and I feel my family is very welcome there. We will be returning for many years to come!