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While 30A has become increasingly popular in recent years, it remains to be one of my family’s favorite vacation spots. 30A is a group of beaches, or communities, nestled in between Panama City and Destin.
You get the same sugar-sand beaches of elsewhere on the Emerald Coast, but a more local and slower-paced experience. In this guide to 30A, you’ll find everything you need to know about where to stay and the best ways to enjoy this incredibly family-friendly destination.
With world-class beaches, picturesque architecture, amazing food, and so much to do, it truly checks every box and is only a short two-hour drive from Pensacola.
Where to Stay
Each of the beaches, or communities, offers a little something unique; it really just depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. Home and condo rentals through Airbnb and VRBO are typically the best options for accommodation, and you can find lots of options within every budget. There are also campgrounds available and plenty of wonderful hotels and resorts.
When booking, it’s important to note how far away your beach access is, whether you have access to beach trolleys and whether the rental comes with access to the community’s amenities (like clubs or pools). Some rentals will also include things like bikes or golf carts for your use, and some come with credit for a number of rental items.
Dune Allen Beach
Dune Allen is arguably considered the westernmost beach of 30A (depending on who you ask!). It’s mostly residential but has a few notable restaurants, including Stinky’s Fish Camp and Vue on 30A. It’s also home to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Topsail’s campground has the most amenities of all the campgrounds on 30A and is a favorite among families who camp.
Blue Mountain Beach
Blue Mountain Beach is smaller and mostly residential but still has a handful of restaurants and shops to offer, including a local health food store. It’s also a short twenty-minute bike ride to Seaside, so you’re still very close to the heart of 30A.
Grayton Beach is one of the oldest communities on 30A and has an artsy, off-the-beaten-path vibe. This beach is consistently voted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and you’ll see lots of locals here paddleboarding or volleyballing in the warmer months. There are some great restaurants here, including the newly-rebuilt but still-famous Red Bar, and lots of art to see. If you like to camp, Grayton Beach State Park won’t disappoint.
WaterColor community consists of various-sized cottages for rent and The WaterColor Inn. Whether you’re a rental guest or staying at the Inn, you’ll get access to the WaterColor Beach Club and Camp WaterColor. This community has everything you can imagine right on the property: nine pools (including waterslides and zero-entry pools), a lazy river, tennis courts, basketball courts, parks, trails, a lakefront boathouse with water rentals, a kid’s clubhouse, a playground, and on-site restaurants. If you’re looking for a more all-inclusive experience with kids, WaterColor is where it’s at.
Seaside is known for its picture-perfect, idyllic architecture, so it’s not surprising to learn this was where the Truman Show was filmed. In addition to the beachfront area, there is an amphitheater that has live music and movies. There are lots of great shops and dining options, including a diverse line-up of airstream food trucks. And don’t forget to see the famous whitewashed Seaside Post Office. If you would like to stay here, Seaside has plenty of great home rentals to choose from.
In years past, Seagrove was known for being a more natural and untouched part of 30A. While it maintains a nature-lover vibe by hosting two of the coastal dune lakes and Deer Lake State Park, more shops and restaurants have popped up in recent years. Seagrove is also where you will find the easiest public beach access, with nearly 20 different spots to get to the water.
WaterSound is a planned community with tons of great home rentals, often at more reasonable prices than elsewhere on 30A. It’s also home to the Big Chill (formerly known as The Hub) – a small compound of great local shopping, quick eats, and a stage that hosts everything from live music to yoga.
If you’re looking to splurge, the WaterSound Inn gives guests access to the WaterSound Beach Club and two highly-rated golf courses. This higher-end resort is owned by St. Joe Hospitality which operates several other hotels and resorts in the area: WaterColor, WaterSound, The Pearl, The Lodge 30A, and Camp Creek Inn. Double-check when booking, but they typically offer access to each of their properties when you stay with them (i.e. if you stay at the Lodge30A, you’ll get access to the WaterSound Beach Club).
With brilliant white buildings, secluded courtyards, and elegant facades, you’ll forget you’re in the panhandle at Alys (pronounced “Alice”) Beach. It’s easily one of the most luxurious spots on 30A, and the home rentals are exquisite, but they do typically carry the highest price point of all the rentals on 30A. It’s also very quiet: you won’t see people just hanging around as you would elsewhere. It does have an amazing playground and is definitely worth at least walking through.
Seacrest Beach has been a family favorite of ours because there is so much within walking distance, and is a little more reasonable in price than some other areas to the west. Our favorite rentals have been in the Seacrest Beach Community. There are lots of different-sized rental homes to choose from; you are steps away from a huge resort-style pool, about a five-minute walk to the beach, and less than a ten minute walk to downtown Rosemary Beach. The Village of South Walton is next door to the community and has a good selection of bars, restaurants, and shops, and there is also an outdoor pavilion for live music.
Rosemary Beach is one of the more popular communities to stay in and can get fairly crowded. The adorable downtown area is one of the most expansive on 30A and has a number of great restaurants and shops. However, most of the beach here is private, and you’ll most likely have to secure private beach rentals to be near the water. If you are leaving the kids at home, consider The Pearl Hotel for a five-star experience.
Inlet Beach consists of homes among 13 acres of protected dunes and is home to Camp Helen State Park and Lake Powell: the largest coastal dune lake in the state! This part of 30A is on the quieter side as there is not much in area of restaurants or shops: but it is absolutely beautiful and about a five-minute bike ride to Rosemary Beach.
What to Do
Beach or Pool
The obvious choices for a beach trip! Note that beach access can sometimes be tricky as many spots on the beach have become private. Many of the public beach areas will fill up very early in the morning at the more popular entry points, so you could end up further from the water than you planned. Another option is to reserve beach chairs through a private company for your stay.
Random beach hack: if you have littles that are too small for the crashing Gulf waves, bring a small blow-up pool for them to play in! Check out more beach hacks here: The 5 Best Beach Day Hacks.
Sandcastle Building Lesson
You’ll want a fairly able-bodied group for a sandcastle-building lesson as it does involve hauling wet sand, but learning the techniques to build something so fantastic was an incredible amount of fun and will make for some pretty epic pictures.
Have a Bonfire
Bonfires on the beach are very popular on 30A. In fact, it’s one of the few beaches where it’s still legal to have them right on the water! If you want the fun without the hassle – consider hiring a company like 30A Blaze to take care of the set-up for you.
As mentioned, the communities on 30A are extremely bike-friendly. Check out this mile-by-mile guide: SoWal Scenic 30A Bike Trail.
Explore the Coastal Dune Lakes
Coastal Dune Lakes are defined as a body of water located less than two miles from a shoreline. They are extremely rare – only a handful of other places in the world have them – and 30A hosts fifteen of them, making it the largest concentration of Coastal Dune Lakes in the world! You can explore them by hiking, paddle boarding, or kayaking.
Enjoy the Towns
As described, each of the towns has beautiful areas to explore packed with shopping, restaurants, and art galleries. Check out this local calendar of events to find live music, markets, art shows, karaoke, food and wine tastings, trivia nights, outdoor movies, kids camps, tours, outdoor sports meet-ups, and so much more.
Alys Beach Playground
This nature-based playground is absolutely beautiful. There are things to do for walkers and up. Be sure to check out the smoothie shop right next door!
The Big Chill
The Big Chill (formerly known as The Hub) has a handful of local shops to peruse and counter-service restaurants to taste. It’s centered around an outdoor pavilion that hosts live music and even yoga. If you need a break from the beach, it’s a great place to gather, eat, and let the kids run around.
Where to Eat
Sugar Shak – famous candy store and ice cream shop in downtown Rosemary Beach.
Donut Hole – donuts and classic breakfast.
Stinky’s Fish Camp – casual seafood.
Red Bar – casual southern fare and live music.
Cowgirl Kitchen – known for hearty breakfasts, and their Blue Mountain Beach location has a market for all your beach picnic needs!
Airstream Row – row of airstream food trucks in Seaside offering BBQ, hot dogs, grilled cheese, gyros, donuts, crepes, and snow cones.
The Big Chill – casual grouping of counter-service, outdoor restaurants and bars offering burgers, BBQ, tacos, seafood, ice cream, and coffee.
The Perfect Pig – kid-friendly bistro with multiple locations.
Cafe 30A – casual, fine dining.
Restaurant Paradis – high-end dining, reservations recommended.
La Crema – tapas and fondue, walk-in only.
Pescado – adult-only seafood with a rooftop bar.
Hello Clementine is a wonderful babysitting service that we have used several times. You simply create an account with your family’s information, and a sitter (or sitters) will come to you!
What is your family’s favorite way to enjoy 30A?
And be sure to check out our friends at Destin 30A Moms for more great resources, including what to do on a rainy day!