For several years I have been hearing wonderful things about the beach towns in the Florida panhandle along what is known as scenic Highway 30A. Many of our friends make it a regular destination and a few even own homes there, saying it is a great place to make wonderful family memories season after season. We recently visited this special area and now understand why it has become a favorite place to vacation.
We flew into the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) in Panama City. It is small and easy to get in and out of without a hassle. We rented a car right outside baggage claim and in just 25 minutes found ourselves driving along 30A admiring each picturesque town we passed through. From west to east, you will find the beach towns of Dune Allen, Santa Rosa, Blue Mountain, Grayton, Watercolor, Seaside, Seagrove, WaterSound, Seacrest, Alys, Rosemary, and Inlet Beach. Each of them sharing the most beautiful white sandy beaches in the world. The 30A name comes from an actual road in South Walton County (County Road 30A) that spans roughly 20 miles along the Florida Panhandle coastline between the much busier areas of Panama City and Destin. What we noticed first was the absence of big chain hotels, massive condo units and high rises. Instead, there is a much calmer approach to beach life with colorful cottages similar to Key West or Nantucket. Local boutiques and privately owned restaurants are on every corner. Kids are busy riding bikes and folks are walking their dogs and running about in golf carts with a carefree friendly attitude. It immediately felt safe and comfortable.
We rented a townhome in Prominence, a local community between Seagrove and Alys Beach. This master-planned community has a golf course, a lake, and multiple pools with a main ‘hub’ called The Big Chill that has pop-up restaurants, food trucks, shops, and an outdoor stage for live music. Many of the rental homes come with a golf cart, bicycles and beach chairs. We arrived and settled in with just enough time to drive down to the WaterColor community and watch a beautiful sunset on the deck at F.O.O.W. (Fish Out of Water) Restaurant where we devoured the best fried oysters any of us had ever had.
The next morning we made our way down to Seaside, one of the most picturesque areas along 30A. The Seaside town center is a beautiful and popular place to shop and dine. We enjoyed Great Southern Café so much that we ate there twice in three days. I am still dreaming about their Sunday brunch eggs benedict with crabcake, fried green tomatoes and a Cajun hollandaise. Seaside also has a wonderful little gourmet grocery called Modica Market and several food trucks. A perfect spot to grab some picnic goodies before heading off to the beach for the day.
Each little beach town has its own vibe and architecture, but Alys Beach (pronounced Alice) is truly unique. Everything is white and all of the structures have a very Bermudan architecture with courtyards reminiscent of Antiqua and Guatemala mixed with a bit ofn this area along with George’s, another popular restaurant on Alys main drag.
One of my favorite areas was Rosemary Beach. Its main town center is reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter with a West Indies flair and lots of boutiques and restaurants. The Pearl Hotel is a beautiful place to stay or rent a beach chair that they will set out early in the morning for you with an umbrella and pick up at the end of the day. Golf carts are not allowed in Rosemary, but you can walk or ride bikes everywhere you need to go. Our reservations at Paradis, in the town center of Rosemary, unfortunately was reserved for the wrong day, but we heard it is an excellent place for dinner. Instead, we enjoyed a wonderful upscale meal at Café Thirty-A in Santa Rosa Beach. It was a great ending to a lovely vacation.
30A is truly a place for a laid-back getaway and as the regulars already know, once you visit this Emerald Coast, you are definitely coming back. I wholeheartedly agree. Greek, Spanish and Moorish influence. You will find some of the most expensive homes