If you’re from a southern state, it’s possible you’ve been vacationing on Florida’s scenic highway 30a for years. If you’re from somewhere else, it’s possible you’ve never heard of it.
What is 30a?
Florida’s 30a is a scenic highway that stretches along the panhandle in between Destin and Panama City Beach. It’s a quaint area dotted with charming beach towns where everyone rides bikes, stops for an ice cream cone on the way back from the beach, and waves at one another. It’s about as idyllic as they come.
While southerners have been flocking to spots along 30a for decades due to the area’s stunning white sand beaches and turquoise waters (it’s the Caribbean but closer to home) and availability of beach house rentals, its isolated location on the panhandle made it less accessible for northerners or midwesterners who needed to fly in.
There are no major cities in Florida’s panhandle like there are in south Florida, but as 30a has risen in popularity over the last few years (hello internet!), the airlines have started to make it a little easier. The closest airport is Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS), but Pensacola International Airport (PNS) and Panama City Beach Airport (ECP) are good options too.
And now 30a is absolutely BOOMING.
Part of the charm of this area is you won’t find any high rises or big hotels here. It’s all vacation houses and cozy condos. If you need help picking out the perfect place to stay (including narrowing down which town to stay in), start with this post.
Things to Do on 30a
Beach, eat, sleep, repeat. That’s basically it ; ) I come to 30a for the beach and a bit of puttering around the cute little beach towns. It’s not a big “go go go” trip with a lot of activities. But there are certain things I like to do…
The main attraction on 30a is, of course, the beach! Sugar white sand and beautiful turquoise water stretches for as far as the eye can see in both directions and daily life revolves around sunrises, sunsets, and all the rays in between.
There are rental companies at pretty much every beach entrance that provide daily chair and umbrella setups (two chairs, an umbrella, and a little table for about $60/day) so all you have to do is show up with your book, sunscreen, and shades and wile the day away. In the high season, make reservations in advance to guarantee a set up on the front line.
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Bike or Walk Everywhere
I like to start each morning by strolling around wherever I’m staying and 30a is made for that.
There’s a nice biking/walking trail that runs the full length of 30a (they call it the Timpoochee Trail) and biking is super popular. There’s a bike rental place in every town, too.
Let me set your expectations though when I say bike or walk “everywhere.” That means everywhere around the town you’re staying in and what’s nearby. But you’re probably not going to bike the entire 30a. It’s over 8 miles in between Seaside and Rosemary Beach (the two big anchors on 30a) so you’re obviously not going to do that for dinner, but overall 30a is a very bike friendly area.
Honestly, while I’m not much of a bike rider, I love to get up early and walk in the mornings. Also, because the 30a gets pretty crowded in the summer, it’s nice to be out and about early before everybody else is.
Take a walk through Seaside to see all the colorful cottages or the beach pavilions (each named after a different southern town and designed by a different architect) or stroll through Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach (they’re within walking distance of each other).
Explore Each Beach Town
Speaking of beach towns, 30a has some of the very best. Spend time walking, shopping, eating, and just generally exploring each town. They all have that new urbanism vibe (highly walkable, strong community, environmentally friendly), but the style and personality of each is pretty different.
Here are the ones you don’t want to miss:
Grayton Beach: Grayton was here before 30a was “cool.” Not a pre planned community, this organic little town has a gorgeous beach and plenty to keep you busy. Don’t miss Black Bear Bread Co and the Red Bar.
Seaside: Seaside is the town that made 30a famous. It’s as idyllic as they come and this carefully planned town feels like something out of a childhood daydream. Don’t miss the Airstream Row of food trucks, Sundog Books, and the colorful beach cottages.
Alys Beach: You’re in Florida, but you’ll feel more like you’re in Santorini. Alys Beach doesn’t feel like a town so much as it does a super exclusive resort. Don’t miss dinner at George’s and walking around to check out the incredible architecture.
Rosemary Beach: If you don’t drop an “oh wow” under your breath when you see Rosemary Beach’s “main street,” there’s something wrong with you! It’s a little more refined than Seaside, but every bit as welcoming. Don’t miss tacos at the Cowgirl Kitchen and drinks at Havana Beach Club at the Pearl.
Browse the Bookstores
The beach and books go together like pb&j (for me anyways) so a visit (multiple visits really) to Sundog Books in Seaside and Hidden Lantern Bookstore in Rosemary Beach are musts for me.
Sundog Books: I could spend all day here. If there was a competition for best beach bookstore, this place would win it. Sandy, plywood floors…shelves and tables overflowing with books (seriously, all the shelves are double stacked)…and staff whose biggest priority always seems to be helping everyone who comes in the door find their perfect book. It’s the way it should be.
Hidden Lantern Bookstore: Hidden Lantern is a totally different scene than Sundog Books in Seaside, but they have a great selection. It’s really well curated and organized and there’s plenty of space to take it all in and move around the store.
Paddle Board with YOLO
The sparkling turquoise waters of 30a are just begging for a paddle board session and if you’re going to do it, why not local? YOLO is a Santa Rosa based company that delivers pretty sweet boards and bikes. Rent a board or electric bike for your stay or book their paddle board tour on one of the coastal dune lakes.
Hang out at the Hub
Near Watersound (about halfway between Seaside and Rosemary Beach) is a great little hangout spot called the Hub on 30a. It’s a collection of food vendors and shops with communal seating and lounge areas. There’s a large lawn and a stage with an LED screen. Grab your food, find a place to sit, and enjoy the evening. There’s usually some kind of entertainment every night whether it’s a band, movie, or streaming the big game.
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.
Beach towns usually have the best shopping and 30a definitely doesn’t disappoint! I few spots that I never miss:
The Mercantile in Seaside
Disco in Rosemary Beach
Ophelia’s in Seacrest
BEACH by the Seaside Style in Seaside.
I don’t normally think of 30a as a tennis destination, but I spent some time on my last trip checking out all of the tennis clubs and I was pretty impressed. There are great public tennis centers at Seaside, Rosemary Beach, and WaterColor.
Have a Beach Bonfire
I’ve never done this, but it looks super cool! There are several companies in the area that will set up a bonfire for you right on the beach! Complete with a fire pit, chairs, smores, games, the whole works…it’s everything you need for an epic evening. Check out 30a Blaze and Light Me Up 30a.
Glass Art at the Shard Shop
I’m super glad I stumbled upon this on my last trip! It’s the perfect rainy day activity or if you’re looking for something to do in the winter or just if you need a break from the beach.
Sign up for an hour-long workshop where you can make your own glass masterpieces. Instructors are on hand to give you tips and help you out, but there’s no way to go wrong here.
It’s $95/adult ($45/child ages 6-13) and you can choose a design template, go freestyle, or have one of the instructors help you sketch something out.
It’s a really forgiving art form as you’re just arranging pieces of glass on your board and you can move them around however you want. Don’t like what you’ve got going on? Dump the whole thing and start over. The glass gets sealed with resin after you’re done and you come back to pick up your art the next day.
Where to Eat on 30a
Nothing works up an appetite like a day at the beach. Whether you need an early morning coffee shop, a casual lunch, or the perfect place for sunset cocktail hour, here’s everything you need to know about where to eat on 30a:
Coffee & Early Morning Bites
Black Bear Bread Co: I can’t rave about this place enough. And it’s not a hidden secret…everybody knows about this place. Stop by for coffee and pastries (the cheese danish was maybe the best thing I’ve ever eaten) or more of a hearty breakfast (the breakfast sandwiches were really good too). There’s more seating in the bar and lounge area next door and they’re open for dinner. The original location is in Grayton Beach, but there’s a second one in the Grand Boulevard at Sandestin and a third coming to Seaside SOON.
Charlie’s Donuts: It’s not vacation until you’ve trekked down to the donut truck at 6AM to bring back donuts for the crew. Okay maybe not 6AM but if you show up too late, all the sprinkled ones are gone : ) Charlie’s has a few locations on 30a…there’s the truck in Alys Beach, the stand at Peddler’s Pavilion in Seacrest, and the shop (a full cafe) in Rosemary Beach.
Amavida: Coffee, coffee, coffee. This long standing 30a coffee shop has locations in Seaside and Rosemary Beach.
Raw & Juicy: With an airstream trailer in Seaside and a full shop in Alys Beach, this is the go to spot for lighter fare. Smoothies, juices, bowls plus coffee drinks and a fuller breakfast at the Alys Beach location.
Modica Market: Stop by the market for coffee, pastries, breakfast sandwiches, etc to go and eat them outside on the square.
Other Places I Haven’t Been Yet: Sunrise Coffee Co (Santa Rosa Beach), Kahve & Cream (Santa Rose Beach-they have Charlie’s Donuts), Kith & Kin (inside the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park campground), Blue Mountain Bakery (Blue Mountain Beach), Sweet Henrietta’s (Santa Rosa Beach)
A Proper Breakfast
Donut Hole: This Destin breakfast institution is so popular that they’ve expanded and there’s now a huge restaurant in Inlet Beach (just east of Rosemary Beach). Yes, they do have donuts in a case, but they do a FULL breakfast. Go early or be ready to wait.
Havana Beach Club: I am a breakfast person and 90% of the time I eat the same thing everywhere (scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, breakfast potatoes, and toast) and can honestly say that every time I’ve eaten here it. is. so. good. Yes, there are fancier things on the menu, but they do the breakfast essentials perfectly and that tells you everything you need to know. Mimosas, bloody marys, eggs benedict, french toast, etc. It’s all there. If the weather is warm, the views from the porch are 10/10.
Other Places I Haven’t Been Yet: Big Bad Breakfast (Inlet Beach) – I’ve heard so many recommendations for this place!
Casual Sit Down Lunch (& Dinner)
Great Southern: The quintessential 30a restaurant. There’s ALWAYS a wait (no reservations) no matter what time you show up. Grab a drink at the BFF bar on the porch or head next door to Sundog Books to wait it out. The Grits a Ya Ya (with shrimp) is their signature dish and is not to be missed, but I have to say that their pecan crusted catch of the day (often grouper) and fries is hands down the best fish and chips I’ve eaten anywhere.
Crabby Steve’s: One of the few beachfront restaurants on 30a, Crabby Steve’s is easiest reached from the beach in between Seacrest and Rosemary Beach. Work up an appetite walking up the steps from the beach. It’s casual seafood and burger fare, but the view makes everything taste better.
Cowgirls Kitchen: It’s hard to find a casual spot in Rosemary Beach (this is about it), but it’s a good one. Famous for their tacos.
Bud & Alley’s: Another Seaside icon, this is one of the best views on 30a. Bud & Alley’s (upstairs) is your typical beach bar with good food. It’s not terribly big though, so if you can’t get in, try the Taco or Pizza Bar downstairs. Everybody goes for sunset (or wants to), but breakfast/brunch on the weekends is pretty great too.
Shrimp Shack: One of my favorite spots for lunch…it’s on the beach side of 30a and always easy to grab a bite and find a good spot to sit and eat. Yes, it has shrimp in the name, but don’t sleep on the lobster.
Other Places I Haven’t Been to Yet: Cafe 30a (Santa Rosa Beach), Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar (Santa Rosa Beach), Stinky’s Fish Camp (Santa Rosa Beach)
On Another Note: If you’re looking for a condo or vacation rental for your trip, I always book with Vrbo. They’ve got the largest selection of rentals you’ll find anywhere and you can easily filter to find exactly what you’re looking for. Need a specific number of bedrooms and bathrooms? Narrowed it down to a certain location? Want flexible cancellation terms? Need to stay under a fixed budget? Click here to search for Florida vacation rentals for your trip.
Food Trucks & Takeaway
Seaside’s Airstream Row: The thing Seaside does better than anywhere else on 30a is serving up good beach food, fast. And the Airstream food trucks lead the way. Lining 30a, there are 6 or so trailers with different offerings. My favorite is Meltdown on 30a (GRILLED CHEESE!), but you’ll also find BBQ, crepes, hot dogs, snow cones, smoothies and acai bowls.
Peddler’s Pavilion: Down at the other end of 30a closer to Rosemary Beach, Peddler’s Pavilion has a similar setup. 5-6 food huts arranged around a lawn.
Cocktail Hour & Nightlife
Bud & Alley’s: The best place for a sunset drink on 30a, but (like every place on 30a) it’s not very big.
Neat: Alys Beach’s fancy schmancy craft cocktail bar is the place to go if you’re an aficionado.
Red Bar: The hub of 30a’s nightlife…the vibe here is more neighborhood bar with great live music. Come for dinner and stay for the dancing. In Grayton Beach.
Dinner with a View
Bud & Alley’s: Yes, Bud & Alley’s again. Best view on 30a with decent food.
Pescado: 100% more high end with views of Rosemary Beach in the distance. Make reservations if you want to eat in the dining room or take your chance at the bar.
Fish Out of Water: I haven’t had a chance to eat here yet, but I did walk through on my last trip and honestly if the food is even halfway decent, this place is worth a dinner spot. It’s a bright and airy, well designed restaurant with GREAT views. It’s pretty large too and has an elevator for accessibility.
Nice Dinner Out
After a long day at the beach (and usually with kids in tow), a fancy restaurant is not usually high on my priority list, but of course you’ve got options (also keep in mind that “nice” is relative…30a is pretty casual no matter where you are):
Surfing Deer (Seagrove) is at the tippy top of my list for dinner on my next trip.
George’s (Alys Beach): Love this place! Good food and relaxed (but refined). If you want to check out Alys Beach, this is the best place for dinner.
Places I Want to Try: Edward’s Fine Food & Wine in Rosemary Beach and Citizen Alys Beach
La Crema Tapas & Chocolate: For a fancy dessert and dinner combo, have some chocolate fondue after your tapas. In Rosemary Beach.
Heavenly’s in Seaside: THIS IS MY SPOT. Everybody just goes for ice cream, but they have REALLY good strawberry shortcake…like with actual shortcakes, not angel cake.
Frost Bites: Frozen custard & shave ice on Seaside’s Airstream Row
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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