I had so many questions about our recent trip to 30A so I thought it would be helpful to do a “Holidays on 30A” post. We have an entire 30A guide that has helped so many of y’all plan family vacations but today I’m sharing what it’s like to spend part of the holiday season on this magical stretch of beach along Florida’s gulf coast. And around the holidays, it is even more magical!
My family has been going to South Walton County since, well, my grandparents took my mom and her siblings when they were little! The white sand beaches hold many special memories for our family.
Over the past six years my parents have generously taken their children and grandchildren on an annual or biannual family 30A beach trip. But with school and my nephew’s sports commitments it’s getting harder to make this happen in the spring and summer. (My parents prefer to go in April or May before the summer crowds and heat!) So we decided to try something different: a destination Thanksgiving on 30A. And we loved it!
Florida Panhandle weather in the late fall and winter can be tricky. We realized it could have been 40 degrees everyday or 70. Thankfully, we lucked out on the weather this year!
Mornings were spent in fleeces, but by noon the children were in their swimsuits and on the beach or in the pool. Evenings were cool again which we enjoyed. We packed rain coats, but it only sprinkled a few hours on one of the seven days we were there.
I recapped the different 30A communities in our 30A guide. We usually stay on the beachside of 30A in the Rosemary Beach or the adjacent Waters’ Edge Community. In the warm weather months this is nice because we don’t have to haul our beach stuff very far.)
But this year we stayed in Watercolor, on the north side of 30A. A few reasons: the houses in the newer parts of Watercolor are generally more spacious so there was plenty of room to spread out with a big family room and outdoor living space. My parents booked this house using Royal Destinations rental agency.
We had access to all of Watercolor’s heated community pools, including the new Camp Watercolor with the lazy river and the Watercolor Beach Club which has a lovely pool and grill overlooking the beach.
Also, we knew this trip would be different in that we weren’t planning on being at the beach all day everyday. This trip was more about relaxing, riding bikes, and just being together. It was a priority to have a heated pool though because my parents knew the grandchildren would want to swim even if it was chilly outside. Which they did most evenings!
Tip: If you book a home during the fall or winter read the fine print and make sure the contract states they will turn on the pool/hot tub heaters.
If you rent bikes or a golf cart, a car isn’t absolutely necessary unless you want to venture out of your community. Everyone drove so we had cars but the part of the experience at staying in a place like Watercolor is that everyone rides bikes! It’s so much fun!
For those who can’t ride bikes a golf cart was very helpful to get around the neighborhood and fun. But book that in advance because they do rent out quickly during peak months.
As for getting there, Pensacola airport is 1.5 hours away and Panama City is about 20-30 minute away. Southwest flies to both airports!
If you have visited 30A before, you know there is no shortage of activities, even in the cooler months. Like always, we enjoyed biking, spending time by the pool and beach and visiting the shops at Seaside which is adjacent to Watercolor.
We also participated in the fun Thanksgiving activities that were planned. There was something for the whole family almost every evening! Check this calendar for a comprehensive list of events. We ordered these cups from Two Funny Girls.
On Thanksgiving day, there was a Fun Run, 5k and 10k that we went to before we headed back to our rental to have our Thanksgiving meal. You can check the dates and register for next year’s runs here.
The Nutrcacker played one evening at the Seaside amphitheater (which is biking/golf car distance). There is also a Christmas parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. When planning your travel, make sure to check the date of the parade so you don’t miss it.
I detailed many of the great restaurants in our 30A guide. We didn’t venture too far on this trip, frequenting the Seaside food trucks, Great Southern, and the Watercolor Wine Bar (if weather is nice they can accommodate big parties). My parents ate at Fish Out of Water on the beach. We mostly ate at home, the grill poolside and the food trucks!
On that note, we had all our groceries delivered by Instacart!
With a full kitchen, we were still able to have a somewhat traditional Thanksgiving lunch (with paper plates because #vacation!), but if you want to skip the cooking, there are a handful of restaurants that are open on Thanksgiving day. And you can pre-order Thanksgiving sides and pies at places like Modica Market in Seaside. We ordered our pies from the Donut Hole of course!
The holiday season on 30A is more popular than I realized. It’s not as busy as summer months but it’s definitely a thing with a lot of families. Knowing that, book peak weeks in advance. My parents booked 10 month in advance.
Don’t miss our other posts on 30A and Rosemary Beach!