Things to Do on 30a: The Florida Panhandle’s Idyllic Scenic Highway
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.
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 (try ECP-Panama City or VPS-Destin/Fort Walton) and the 30a has become a booming vacation destination.
By now you’ve probably already booked your trip, but if you need more convincing, here are my favorite things to do on 30a:
Things to Do on 30a
The beach!: 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 provides 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.
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 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.
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. Read more about Alys Beach here.
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.
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.
Watch sunset at Bud & Alley’s: Bud & Alley’s is Seaside’s iconic beachside bar and grill and it’s a definite must while you’re in the area. It’s not very big and it gets crowded in the evenings but it’s a fun place to be. With it’s rooftop location right smack in the middle of Seaside Beach, it’s probably the best sunset view on 30a.
Play tennis: 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, Read more about playing tennis on 30a here.
Go to the farmers markets: There’s a farmers market every Saturday in Seaside and every Sunday in Rosemary Beach.
Grayton Beach State Park: Sure, it’s a pristine beach, but Grayton Beach State Park is also the gateway to Western Lake, one of the few coastal dune lakes in the US. Find out more about Grayton Beach State Park (including kayaking and paddle boarding on the lake) here.
Seaside’s Airstream Row: Seaside is famous for its row of food trucks (converted Airstream trailers) fronting the beach. For a healthy pick me up (and a lot of Vegan options) try anything at Raw and Juicy. They specialize in cold pressed organic, raw, and vegan juices and smoothies as well as some café offerings. The Meltdown on 30a is my favorite place to grab lunch and they can make your grilled cheese any way you like it. There’s also BBQ, hot dogs, crepes, and of course Frost Bites, the best place in town for shaved ice and frozen custard.
Marvel at the architecture of Alys Beach: All of the little communities along 30a are special in their own way, but Alys Beach has the most stunning architecture by far. I like to stop by George’s for dinner and take a stroll around and do a little sightseeing. Or go early in the morning to hit the Charlie’s Donuts truck. Read more about Alys Beach here.
Browse the bookstores: The beach and books go together like pb&j (for me anyways) so I always like to spend some time browsing the shelves of the local book shops. Sundog Books is a Seaside staple (and my favorite!). It’s the kind of place with sandy floors, double stacked book shelves, and staff that are super enthusiastic about helping you find the perfect book. I also really like the Hidden Lantern Bookstore in Rosemary Beach although it couldn’t be more different. It’s a little more refined and buttoned up, but they’ve got a great selection and layout.
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.
Early morning donut run: For the classic donut run, you can’t beat Charlie’s. They’ve got a truck in Alys Beach, a stand in Seacrest, and a shop in Rosemary Beach. If you want a full breakfast, try the Donut Hole in Inlet Beach.
Count the Seaside beach pavilions: All of the Seaside beach entrances have a unique pavilion designed by a different architect. Take a walk and spot them all either from the beach or from the trail along 30a.
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.
Indulge in some retail therapy: The towns along 30a have some of the best shopping I’ve found in any beach towns in Florida. I think Seaside, WaterColor, and Rosemary Beach have the best shops, but see for yourself. Read more about my favorite shopping on 30a here.
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.
RELATED: 30a Travel Guide: All of My Favorite Spots
A Review of The Pearl at Rosemary Beach
See what’s happening at the Seaside Amphitheater: Seaside’s little town revolves around an amphitheater/green space that’s home to all kinds of events from movies to live music to every kind of performance you can think of. Check the schedule while you’re in town to see what’s going on.
Play golf: This particular area of Florida isn’t well known for its golf, but you’ve got options. Try the Santa Rosa Golf Club, the Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, or the Camp Creek Golf Club.
Have a spa day: If the beach isn’t relaxing enough for you, head to the spa at the Pearl in Rosemary Beach. This super luxurious boutique hotel right in the heart of Rosemary Beach is home to one of the best spas in the area, and I think the prices are pretty reasonable. Read more about the Pearl’s spa services here.
Camp at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park: If you have an RV and you’re looking for a place on the beach, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place than this.
Deer Lake State Park: Hike, kayak, or paddle board the coastal dune lakes at Deer Lake State Park. Coastal dune lakes are unique to this part of Florida and are only found in one other state…Oregon! Deer Lake State Park is currently closed for improvements, but stay updated here.
Eden Gardens State Park: Get all the Gone with the Wind vibes at this elegant historic home set in a picturesque park. Spanish moss, a wrap around porch, stately columns, this place has it all. Find more info here.
Things to Do Near 30a
Both Destin and Panama City Beach are in the 30a area and they’re both sizable beach towns that have all the draws of big, touristy areas.
Destin: If you’re going to venture beyond 30a for entertainment, I’d pick Destin over Panama City Beach every time. Destin has gotten really built up over the last few years and has TONS of restaurants, shopping and activities. And for the most part, it’s pretty nice. Everything is pretty bright and shiny and they’ve done a lot with the roads to manage traffic. For shopping, head to the Grand Boulevard at Sandestin. Baytowne Wharf has good shopping and activities, and I think the Fish Bowl (themed bowling alley) at Bass Pro looks like fun.
Panama City Beach: If you’re staying down at the Rosemary Beach end of 30a, you’re much closer to PCB than to Destin. PCB has the Pier Park and a nice movie theater if you need somewhere to get out of the sun.
RELATED: Destin vs Panama City Beach vs Pensacola
Day Trips from 30a
Visit some of Florida’s famous natural springs: If you’re willing to drive, Ponce de Leon State Park, Morrison Springs County Park, Williford Spring Recreation Area and Pitt and Sylvan Springs (connected by a mile long hiking trail) are all under an hour’s drive from the 30a area.
Day Trip to Apalachicola: This one’s a bit further (about a 2 hour drive from Rosemary Beach), but “Apalach” is the CUTEST southern town. Stop by the Gibson Inn for drinks at the lobby bar, have lunch at the Apalachicola Seafood Grill, visit the shops, and drive over the bridge to St George Island to see the historic lighthouse. While you’re over there, don’t miss the drive through St George Island State Park. It has the prettiest (and biggest) stretch of dunes I’ve ever seen. Read more about a day trip to Apalach and St George Island here.
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