As a self-proclaimed beach bum (hi, hello!), I’m always on the lookout for “best beaches” and I’ve been to quite a few (Hawaii, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, the south of France, Costa Rica, the Virgin Islands….) but in my opinion, you don’t have to go very exotic (or even get on a plane!) to spend some time catching rays at one of my VERY favorite beaches.
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. Most of the “towns” are actually preplanned communities built starting in the 80s, but they have that idyllic feeling that sometimes doesn’t quite develop naturally in tourist areas.
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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 first small boutique hotel is under construction right now) so if you want to stay here you’ll be doing a vacation rental.
At the other end of 30a is Rosemary Beach, another planned community built in the 90s. A total 180 from Seaside, Rosemary Beach has a more upscale feel conveyed through the European colonial architectural style of the Dutch West Indies. Basically, it feels very European with a beachy vibe. As do all communities along 30a, it has a big sense of community and a lot of that comes from the fact that people walk and bike everywhere.
Between Seaside and Rosemary Beach, there are a smattering of communities some more centralized than others and each with a unique vibe. 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. But first…
I’ll break down each area here and then link to some of my specific favorite vacation rentals in Seaside and Rosemary Beach at the end of this post.
Moving east from Destin, here is how the communities lay along 30a:
Grayton Beach: Not a preplanned community, Grayton was here before Seaside was built. It’s more “old Florida.” Search for Grayton Beach vacation rentals here.
Watercolor: 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.
Seaside: THE destination on 30a. Even when people don’t stay right in Seaside proper, they gravitate there in the evenings for dining, entertainment, and general milling about. Search for Seaside vacation rentals here.
Seagrove: 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. There is a wide range of accommodations from beach front houses to condos. Search Seagrove vacation rentals here.
Watersound: 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.
Alys Beach: 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.
Seacrest: 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 of up different pockets of condos. Search for Seacrest vacation rentals here.
Rosemary Beach: The end of the line on 30a, Rosemary Beach is a huge anchor point on 30a. Plenty of shops and restaurants (the restaurants tend to be higher end than other places) and community events, Rosemary Beach feels like a living breathing town, but with fewer crowds than Seaside. Search for Rosemary Beach vacation rentals here.
Where I Like to Stay on 30a
Now that you know the lay of the land, here are my two cents about where to stay on 30a:
I recommend choosing a place to stay that’s within walking distance of Seaside OR Rosemary Beach. Having to get in the car, drive, and battle for parking to get to both places will really limit how much you’re able to enjoy what the 30a has to offer.
I 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 (most recently at the Village) and really liked the location.
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.
Best 30a Hotels
Those recommendations aside, here are some hotel or inn options I like along 30a:
The Pointe: Not right on the beach, but this Wyndham Vacation property is a nice option for a more budget friendly hotel (but still SUPER SWANKY) in the Rosemary Beach area. Check pricing and read reviews here.
Watercolor Inn: An idyllic family friendly resort near Seaside. Their beach club is amazing (it really feels like a resort!) and they recently opened a water park too! Check pricing and read reviews here.
My Tips for Booking a 30a Vacation Rental
Consider what you need. What’s important to you? Are you looking for something right on the beach? Do you need a full kitchen? Reliable Wi-Fi? A full house or just a studio? Something pet friendly? Be clear about what you want before you start searching.
Read reviews. Before you even consider staying at a property, you should read up on what people who have stayed there have to say. Remember, you’ll only hear the good points from the host but reviews usually give a much more honest story. And when I’m weeding through listings, I also put a lot of weight into the photographs provided. If the photos look professional, it probably means that the owner runs their vacation rental in a professional manner and that is an indication that it’s a good place to stay.
Ask plenty of questions. When you’re seriously considering staying at a specific property, you should correspond with the owner and ask them any questions you may have.
Count the extra costs. Be sure to factor in any security deposits, cleaning fees, and booking fees.
Know the cancellation policy. Each property and owner may have different terms so know what they are before you commit.
Where I Book My 30a Vacation Rentals
So now that you know what you’re looking for…how do you find it?
I think the best place to find (and book) 30a vacation rentals is Vrbo. They’ve been around forever and are probably the most reputable booking platform online (with owners and vacationers alike), which means that you’ll find more quality properties listed on Vrbo than anywhere else online. I used to book more often with Airbnb, but I’ve begun to find that they often don’t have what I’m looking for (plus I had a less than great experience dealing with corporate last time I used them).
Overall on Vrbo you’re going to find properties listed by owners who take their rental business very seriously and are committed to providing you the best accommodations possible.
How does it work? By doing a simple search by specific area (in this case Rosemary Beach, Seaside, Seacrest, Watercolor, etc.), you’ll be able to find a wide (price and type) range of accommodations. You can refine your search to fit certain criteria (price, space, style, etc.) before you start weeding through specific properties.
The number of search results you’ll find can be extremely overwhelming, so I would suggest putting as many filters as possible (especially price and number of bedrooms) and then viewing the results on a map so you can get an idea for where everything is located.
A few more posts about the 30a area:
7 Dreamy Seaside Florida Vacation Rentals
Seaside has the most charming colorful cottages you’ll find anywhere, but there are so many that it can be kind of overwhelming narrowing it down. So I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Seaside vacation rentals here:
Luxurious 5 Bedroom Beachfront Stunner! Yowzer…I know what I’ll be booking for our next extended family vacation. Sleeps 18!
Cozy 2 Bedroom with a Big Deck! The inside of this one is suuuuper cute. Quiet location close to town and the beach.
Coastal Cottage with Ocean Views! Cozy little coastal cottage interior with views out over the ocean. Right above the town center.
Dog Friendly 1 Bedroom Cottage! Comes with a shared pool.
Family & Dog Friendly 4 Bedroom/3 Bath! Super cool architecture on the inside plus amazing porch. Very southern.
One Bedroom “Dreamboat” Across from Beach! The house is called the “Dreamboat.” Enough said.
Three Bedroom Beach House of My DREAMS! There’s just no way to describe it. Check out the pictures! Sleeps 9.
All of the cottages/rentals I’ve linked to above are in what’s considered Seaside “proper” (which a lot of the listings tout). This means they’re in the official township of Seaside (which isn’t very big). It’s kind of like being in an exclusive club. Real estate in Seaside is finite and it’s a real bragging point to be “in Seaside” instead of Seagrove or Watercolor (which could just be a block or two away). Aside from it being a “thing,” there’s not necessarily much benefit from staying “in” Seaside or “in” Seagrove. But if you’re wanting to mostly walk, definitely check the distances to Seaside’s town square (where all the shops and restaurants are) as Seagrove is MUCH more spreadout than Seaside and you could end up being several miles away. I’ll do another post with my favorite rentals in Seagrove.
These are just 7 dreamy Seaside vacation rentals but THERE. ARE. SO. MANY. Hundreds. So click here and put in your search parameters (price, # of bedrooms, etc.) and I guarantee that you will find something PERFECT for you!
5 Swoon Worthy Rosemary Beach Florida Vacation Rentals
There is only one hotel in Rosemary Beach (The Pearl) so most people end up staying in vacation rentals. The architectural style of Rosemary Beach is very distinct and all of the beach houses are incredibly swoon worthy, but there are a LOT of them. So I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Rosemary Beach vacation rentals here:
2 Bedroom Close to the Beach! Cute interior and exterior, close to the beach.
Luxury Carriage House with Gulf Views! 1 Bedroom, 2 bathrooms, 30 second walk to the beach.
Southern Style “Casita”! 2 Bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and pet friendly.
Luxury Cottage with Private Pool! This place looks incredible! 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths and a whole lot of awesome.
2 Bedroom Carriage House with Gulf Views! Private parking and access to community pools.
All of the cottages/rentals I’ve linked to above are in what’s considered Rosemary Beach “proper”. If you’re having trouble finding a place in your budget “in” Rosemary Beach, try searching in neighboring Seacrest instead. It’s literally just a block over and in some cases could be even closer walking distance to the beach or to the central town area than some houses in Rosemary Beach.
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