Exploring the Florida Panhandle: Highway 30A

Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle has quietly gained a reputation as one of the best places in the U.S. for a beach vacation. Featuring more than 200 miles of sugar-white beaches, the Panhandle offers a more peaceful, family-friendly alternative to South Florida.  Perhaps no part of the region epitomizes that as well as Highway 30A.

One of the most scenic drives in Florida, Highway 30A is a 24-mile stretch of beautiful beachfront coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. You won’t find high-rise hotels or amusement parks here. Highway 30A is known for a string of charming small towns, each with its own character.  Here are some of our favorite towns along 30A.

Gulf Place

We begin at Gulf Place, which is one of the northwestern-most beach towns along Highway 30A. It’s located between the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and the Grayton Beach State Park if you like hiking and outdoor activities. Here you can enjoy shopping, beaches, water fun, dining, and other family activities. The Perfect Pig at Gulf Place (“Praise the Lard” is their motto), La Playa (live music every Saturday night), and Pizza By the Sea (voted Best Pizza in SoWal) are just a few dining options in Gulf Place. If you prefer to experience some cultural events while on vacation, visit the Artists at Gulf Place and peruse handcrafted jewelry, paintings, and other unique offerings throughout eight different galleries. You can also visit three outdoor art installations that are available throughout the small community – three large turtle sculptures that have been painted by three very talented local artists.“Miss Lucy,” “Manualita,” and “Horace” provide a colorful surprise to your time at Gulf Place!

Santa Rosa BeachBlue Mountain

Another nice, laid back community is Blue Mountain. Here you can enjoy the white sands and an actual blue “mountain.” At a low 65 feet above sea leavel, this community has the highest elevation in South Walton and it is covered in beautiful lupine flowers that give it a bluish hue. Blue Mountain also has two coastal dune lakes (only four destinations in the world have these!) and many nature and bike trails if outdoor activities are your desire. Things to do include various eateries such as Basmati’s Asian Cuisine, Blue Mountain Beach Creamery, Johnny McTighe’s Irish Pub (30A’s only Irish pub), Nick’s On the Beach, and of course the gorgeous beaches and ocean waves.

Seaside – The Heart of 30A

There are many resort towns along the Gulf Coast, but Seaside is definitely the most special. It not only has the perfect casual beach town atmosphere, it also has a sense of community that you experience whether a resident or a guest at one of Seaside’s charming vacation rentals. There is a unique mix of the old and new in Seaside…its intimate charm is apparent around every corner, but the town is also credited with founding a global town-planning movement known as New Urbanism.This means it is a very walkable and bikeable community; no need to use your car or worry about parking.

Seaside features a perfect blend of gorgeous white cottages, delicious restaurants such as Bud & Alley’s and Meltdown On 30A, and delightful shops where local shopkeepers live above their stores. Don’t even think about leaving Seaside without getting a Hawaiian shave ice or frozen custard at the local favorite Frost Bites, the only vintage Jetstream in Seaside that serves cold treats. Another must-see is the Modica Market, which is family-owned grocery that has been in Seaside for 15 years and was featured in Jim Carrey’s movie “The Truman Show” in 1998 (much of the movie was even filmed in Seaside).In addition, this picture-perfect community has the largest beachfront of ANY community along Highway 30A. The beach is a 5-minute walk right out your door and you might even be alone on that gorgeous beach.

Santa_Rosa_Area_beachRosemary Beach

Rosemary Beach is also a charming neighborhood with a West Indies vibe on the southeastern part of 30A. The Town Center contains plentiful shopping, including a quaint bookstore called The Hidden Lantern, the Rosemary Beach Trading Company where you can find the perfect beachwear, several children’s and women’s exclusive boutiques, and the 30A Store that sells 30A lifestyle gear and apparel. Fine dining is also the focus here, with everything from The Pearl’s Havana Beach Bar & Grill (Gulf Coast cuisine with a Caribbean influence) to Cowgirl Kitchen (casual dining and notable Bloody Mary’s). Walkable, romantic and full of things to do, Rosemary Beach is a smaller community to relax in and enjoy.

Whatever you choose to do on vacation, remember to bring your camera because you won’t want to forget one single moment of your time exploring the heart of Highway 30A.


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