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Florida has ALWAYS been one of my favorite beach destinations (everywhere, the whole state) and a place I visited often as a child. Living in Oklahoma, we had to fly to get to our favorite spots on the gulf between Tampa and Fort Myers, but we could pack up the car and make it to the Florida panhandle in just a day’s drive. And so we did that pretty often!
Most people visiting the panhandle set up camp in Pensacola, Destin, or Panama City Beach, but my favorite spot is a little stretch of scenic coastal highway called the 30a.
Running between Destin and Panama City Beach, 30a is just a little two-lane road that meanders along sugar white sand and some of the cutest little beach towns you’ve ever seen.
While there are almost a dozen different little towns and developments on 30a, there are two “big ones” that attract most of the attention: Seaside and Rosemary Beach. So which one is the best?
Seaside vs Rosemary Beach: Where to Stay on 30a
Seaside is the big draw on 30a. It’s been an institution since it was built and its pastel cottages, charming town square, and family friendly vibe have been attracting visitors ever since (even just as a daytrip over from Destin).
The town has nine beach entrances all with pavilions designed by different southern architects.
Combined with dozens of quaint shops and plenty of food options to keep up with the crowds, Seaside is always bustling with pedestrians and bicyclers, giving it that perfect summer small town charm.
The beaches are just the best (blue water, white sand!) and the town is SO CUTE.
There aren’t many hotels in this area (The Court first small boutique hotel is under construction right now) so if you want to stay in Seaside, you’ll most likely be staying in a vacation rental (search for Seaside vacation rentals here), although the town’s first hotel, The Court, just recently reopened and I cannot WAIT to stay here. I stayed here when it was the old motor court and you can’t beat the location, but it was getting pretty worn. Well it’s downright luxurious now!
At the far east end of 30a sits Rosemary Beach, a lesser known town but no less lovely.
While Rosemary Beach is a pre planned community just like Seaside, it’s a total 180 when it comes to the vibe.
Rosemary Beach has a much more upscale feel, and honestly, if you didn’t know any better, you’d probably think you were in Europe instead of Florida.
The European colonial architectural style of the Dutch West Indies makes for the BEST backdrop for strolling the cobblestone streets down to the beach.
Rosemary Beach is also a lot less crowded than Seaside. It’s farther from Destin so it sees fewer day visitors (plus it’s just a lot less famous) so it has a bit lower key vibe.
Search for Rosemary Beach vacation rentals here.
***Want to save major $$$ on a fancy beach resort? My favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free nights at some of the island’s most high end resorts. My go to hotel brand is Marriott so I use this Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card to rack up points for a lot of my trips to Florida. If you pay for your monthly expenses on the card and are responsible about paying it off every month, the points add up really fast. Plus, if you sign up through my link, you’ll get THREE bonus free nights to use. In Florida, use your points at some of my favorite Marriott properties like the Swan Reserve at Walt Disney World, the Vinoy in St. Pete, the EDITION Miami Beach, the JW Marriott Marco Island, and the soon to open St. Regis Longboat Key.
Seaside vs Rosemary Beach: My Personal Pick
Here are my two cents about staying in Seaside vs Rosemary Beach.
For starters, if this is what your decision comes down to…you’re doing alright. Both are GREAT places for a beach vacation. And even with a dozen or so different towns and communities on 30a to choose from, I would narrow it down to Seaside or Rosemary Beach (or at least a place that’s within walking distance of either one).
They’re the two big hubs on 30a with the most dining and shopping options and they also get pretty crowded with limited parking so being able to walk (or bike) is important. 30a is a pretty long stretch of road and I don’t like having to load up in the car and drive (traffic!) to find food or anything.
Having to get in the car, drive, and battle for parking (they now charge for it in Seaside) to get to both places will really limit how much you’re able to enjoy what the 30a has to offer.
I really really love both Seaside and Rosemary Beach (I have and will continue to stay in both areas), but I think I prefer staying near Seaside a bit more.
It has a vibe that fits my style just a bit better which includes the food situation. I prefer more casual dining (even takeaway options) and Rosemary Beach doesn’t deliver with that as well as Seaside.
I would rather spend the bulk of the vacation in Seaside and drive over to Rosemary one or two evenings.
That being said, I have stayed in Seacrest twice recently and really liked the location. It’s walkable to Rosemary Beach but much cheaper.
On the Seaside side, if staying IN Seaside is too pricey, check out nearby Seagrove (you really have to be specific on the location because Seagrove stretches for miles) or Watercolor.
Also a little disclaimer…this whole area has gotten CROWDED during spring break and summer vacation (there are more isolated pockets that don’t see the crowds) but nowhere is crowded like Seaside. I probably would only stay there if it’s not peak season.
If it’s an adults only trip, I REALLY love the Pearl at Rosemary Beach. More on it below. And I can’t wait to stay at the newly renovated Court in Seaside. I stayed there years ago back when it was the old motor court, but it looks really cool since the redo.
If you’re going with kids (or extended family), a house/vacation rental is the way to go. Anything in Seaside, WaterColor, or Rosemary Beach is going to be a good location.
Like I’ve said, by FAR the majority of accommodations along 30a are vacation homes or condos and once you know the exact area you’re looking at, I recommend doing a search on Vrbo to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount USA Car Rental. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. I started using their sister company (Discount Hawaii Car Rental) on my Hawaii trips almost 10 years ago and now I use their main site for all of my other trips. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
My FAVORITE Place to Stay on 30a: The Pearl in Rosemary Beach
If it’s an adults only trip (either a couples trip or a girls getaway), my absolute favorite place to stay on 30a is at the Pearl in Rosemary Beach.
The Pearl is a AAA Four Diamond Hotel and was just named one of Conde Nast Traveler’s top 15 hotels in Florida.
You guys…it’s CUTE. The Pearl sits right in the middle of the town just steps away from the beach on Main Street which looks like a charming European street…cobblestones and all.
I would describe it as posh and sophisticated, but with a laidback Southern feel. With only 55 rooms, this boutique hotel may be small in size but it’s high on luxury. From the service to the rooms to the design of the common spaces, it’s on par with a mini size Ritz Carlton.
The facade from Main Street couldn’t be any more perfect (it’s part of what makes Rosemary Beach so iconic) and the lobby is small, but it’s sophisticated with several Chihuly-like pieces.
The service and the personal touches were pretty top notch. I stay at a fair amount of luxury properties and they do it up right here: a prosecco toast at check in, snappy valets, a welcome snack in the room of homemade pimento cheese and crackers, plenty of complimentary drinks in the room (including sodas and water), friendly staff, nightly turndown service with snacks, and a sweet present when we checked out.
The rooms have been recently updated and they are lovely. I’m not going to lie, when I walked into the room I audibly gasped. They’re very crisp and classic with a warm color palette and a sense of laidback luxury that feels like a southern beach home.
The pool fits into the design of this place so well. It’s situated in a courtyard so a lot of the rooms and the rooftop bar look down into the pool. The black and white color palette of the hotel with the bright yellow umbrellas and the turquoise pool really pop and make it such a design feature.
If you can, I would definitely splurge for one of the ocean facing rooms (top two floors would be best). They’re probably the quietest rooms in the hotel, and it’s nice to be able to see the beach from the room.
Book your stay at the Pearl here.
Where to Stay on 30a BESIDES Seaside & Rosemary Beach
Between Seaside and Rosemary Beach, there are a smattering of communities some more centralized than others and each with a unique vibe.
Not a preplanned community, Grayton was here before Seaside was built. It’s more “old Florida.” Search for Grayton Beach vacation rentals here.
A newer community that kind of band wagoned onto the popularity of Seaside. Pastel colored houses, but they’re newer and bigger than what you’ll find in Seaside. There’s an inn and a new waterpark (Camp Watercolor) and quite a few shops and restaurants. It’s not quite as much of a community as Seaside, but it blends into Seaside so you could have all of the amenities of both within walking/biking distance. Search for Watercolor vacation rentals here.
The other side of Seaside is Seagrove and that runs for miles. There are pockets of development (shops and restaurants), but there aren’t really any central gathering places and it’s mostly just a long stretch of houses and condos. There’s not much of a community in Seagrove, but it’s proximity to Seaside makes it a good budget option while still being close to the action. Search Seagrove vacation rentals here.
An uncrowded stretch of sand with a nice inn and amenities. It feels like more of a resort, manicured area instead of a town. The Hub 30a is located in this area and it’s a very popular hang out spot with a lot of dining and live entertainment. The draw back to this area is that you’re not within walking distance to either Seaside or Rosemary beach so you’d have to drive and parking can be a real hassle. Search for Watersound vacation rentals here.
By far the most exclusive community on 30a, Alys Beach is primarily residential and its architectural style will have you feeling like you’re in Santorini instead of Florida. There are a couple of restaurants and an amazing pool. It’s within biking distance of Rosemary Beach. Search for Alys Beach vacation rentals here.
Like Seagrove, Seacrest is an area that’s popular because of its proximity to Rosemary Beach. The distance between the far end of Seacrest (Alys Beach side) to Rosemary Beach is very walkable. Seacrest is made up of different pockets of condos. Search for Seacrest vacation rentals here.
Want to Read More Posts about Florida? I’ve got plenty!
Check out these destinations: Miami (Things to Do Besides Party & Where to Stay) // Key Biscayne // Sanibel & Captiva // Longboat Key & Anna Maria Island // Marco Island // 30a // St Augustine // Amelia Island // St Pete Beach // St Petersburg // Fort Myers // Dunedin // Crystal River & Weeki Wachee Springs // Honeymoon Island & Caladesi Island State Parks // Tarpon Springs // Matlacha & Pine Island // Apalachicola
Trying to narrow it down? Siesta Key vs Anna Maria Island // St Pete Beach vs Clearwater Beach // Sanibel vs Marco Island // Destin vs Panama City Beach // Destin vs 30a // Key Biscayne vs South Beach // Seaside vs Rosemary Beach
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