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. In this 30A guide you will find everything you need to know about this gem of a vacation spot!
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 like ResortQuest, 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 just opened up the renovated Camp Watercolor area with a lazy river and water slides. 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 a 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. My parents like the Waters Edge community right next to Rosemary. Similarly, Inlet Beach is within walking distance of Rosemary’s shop.
For condos, the High Point community has a great lagoon type pool and beachside restaurant and is also walking distance to Rosemary. 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. Most rentals are on VRBO or directly through master planned community.
Tip: If you are going in the off season, be sure to ask if the community pool is heated. My research shows that Rosemary and Watercolor have a few heated pools but many of the others do not.
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 has 11 rooms and is steps away from the beach. And the Highland House Bed & Breakfast in Blue Mountain Beach is a cute option, too. The Pointe 30A is newer luxury resort in Inlet Beach.
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 small 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!
Fonville Press Playground (Update: Fonville Press Closed But Playground is still there!)
Get coffee and breakfast or lunch (or wine) and watch your children play on the playground and climbing wall while you sit on their beautiful patio.
Outdoor concert, movie, or festival
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
Many of the the resort communities and places like 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).
St. Augustine’s Playground at Rosemary Beach
Has a splash Pad!
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.
The NEAT wine shop in Alys Beach often has wine tastings and live music on Tuesdays from 5- 7 pm. $15 to taste four wines. 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. The Wine Bar in Watercolor often has events, too.
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. Alys Beach has some beautiful shops, too 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 Pescado or 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.
Ice Cream and Candy Store!
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 and candy shops in Seaside, Seacrest 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!
Mini Golf, Go Carts, and Waterparks
Drive to Panama City or Destin depending on which side of 30A you are staying.
Gulf Word Panama City
Dolphin shows, shark feedings ,and more!
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). $$$$.
Crabby Steve’s – This is a local favorite and sort of a secret. It’s in the High Point condo development but if you aren’t staying there you have to access it from the beach! If you are staying at or near Rosemary or Alys Beach this is a great option for a lunch break on a beach day. Lots of specials and fun drinks while you overlook the beautiful gulf! $$$
Pescado – Rooftop bar and restaurant in Rosemary Beach with an incredible view and delicious food. Go for dinner, drinks, or just late night dessert! This is a place I would go with just adults. Reservations accepted. $$$$
La Crema Tapas & Fondue – This top-notch Rosemary Beach restaurant doesn’t take reservations but put your name down and walk around. Great tapas (read: not a ton of food), but also a great place if you want to do a fun dessert after dinner. $$$$
Edward’s – Nightly music and outdoor dining in Rosemary Beach. Usually have a saxophone player or musician. Great ambiance but pricey. Reservations accepted.$$$$
Caliza – Super pricey but super chic in Alys Beach!
Shades Bar & Grill – From the outside it looks like it could be an underwhelming chain restaurant, but this spot located at the intersection of 30A and Highway 98 (east side) actually has pretty decent fried seafood. $$
Cowgirl Kitchen – Well-priced for Rosemary. Their thin crust pizza is great. (Good for take out!) $$
Havana Beach Bar – Upscale open-air dining in The Pearl hotel. Fun place to have drinks and heavy hor d’ouevres, too. Reservations accepted. $$$$
Donut Hole – A local favorite for 30 years, they now have a location on either end of 30A. You can pick up donuts, but I recommend sitting down to eat breakfast. So good!! (Tip: get there before 8 am to avoid the line!). And during lunch and dinner they serve great diner food. If you are celebrating someone’s birthday, they have delicious cakes. But you can’t order ahead. Buy same day but get there early.
Grit and Grind – A new place in Seacrest that is delicious! I had the veggie omelet and it was delicious as were their homemade biscuits.
Charlie’s Donut Truck – In Alys Beach every morning until they sell out! Sometimes there is also another food truck with breakfast sandwiches. (There is also a good donut shack in the Seacrest shopping area.) Splash area nearby.
Slice – Yummy pizza in Rosemary. One slice is $5 so perfect for lunch. Gourmet pizzas are pricey but so good!
NEAT – Super chic wine store in Alys Beach that has wine tastings and live music at night. $15 for four wines to taste four wines.
Wild Olives – On Friday nights this Rosemary wine shop has wine tastings and live music. So fun!
The Daughters Kitchen – A Rosemary location from this Nashville-based bakery!
Big Bad Breakfast – Another great casual breakfast spot near Rosemary!
Western Side of 30A (Closer to Seaside, Seagrove and Watercolor)
Watercolor Wine Bar – Sophisticated food in a casual atmosphere. Lunch and dinner.
The Hub – See above. A great outdoor gathering place for families with seven eateries to choose from. $$
The Perfect Pig – My aunt says this place is delicious!
Crabby Steves – This hidden gem on the east side of 30A just opened a new location near Watercolor!
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. $$$$
Bud & Alley’s – Just the same as when I was a child! This Seaside restaurant is right on the beach so has pretty views. You can dine in the (nicer) restaurant or order at the bar and eat on the rooftop tables with a great ocean view. They also serve breakfast. $$$$
Stinky’s Fish Camp – Family-friendly restaurant in Santa Rosa known for their fresh seafood and oysters. $$$
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 in Santa Rosa.
Bay Restaurant – North of 98 on the bay. A local favorite that’s family friendly.
**There are so many more restaurants I haven’t been to; share your favorites in the comments below!
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! Or use Instacart app on your phone to have groceries delivered after you arrive.
30A is just a short drive from the Panama City Airport and Fort Walton Beach Airport.
If flying, I would recommend staying in or near Seacrest, Seaside, Watercolor, or Rosemary as these communities are easiest to get around via bike or foot. Also, if visiting during the summer months, 30A can be very congested so I would recommend going to restaurants near your condo/house and getting there early. Also, Highway 98 is sometimes faster to get from one end of 30A to the other.
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 and Pinterest!
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