If you imagine your dream beach vacation, you probably think of blue skies, soft sand, warm weather, and spectacular views. The beaches along Highway 30A in the Florida panhandle capture exactly that. Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, Santa Rosa, Grayton Beach, and Seaside, FL are sometimes referred to as ‘sister beaches’ because they are similar in concept but have their own personalities. The Montclair Girl took a trip down to 30A to see what it’s all about. Read on for tips and suggestions to plan your 30A vacation to Rosemary Beach.
About the Area
Thinking about the Florida panhandle probably doesn’t conjure up images of sugar-sand beaches with European-inspired architecture, but that’s exactly what visitors will find on the 30A beaches. While Santa Rosa Beach and Grayton Beach have been around for a while, the communities of Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, and Seaside are relatively new. Both Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach are planned communities that were built in the mid-1990s by a New York-based developer, and Seaside was built in the early 1980s.
These communities were built with a strong influence of New Urbanism Design which emphasizes walkable, environmentally-friendly areas with mixed-use buildings and green spaces. This deliberate design means visitors can walk or bike to the variety of amenities nearby.
All of the beaches along 30A have white sand that many would associate with a tropical beach. Rosemary Beach is designed in the style of a European town, with cobblestone streets and a heavy thread of Tudor influence in the buildings. The tree-lined streets and many parks and greens make it feel like the town has been there forever.
Alys Beach is a vision with white stucco buildings built with European and Mediterranean influences. A bright sunny day gives a similar effect to the seaside in Greece, with the white stone contrasting against the blue sky. Seaside looks like the platonic ideal of a quaint little town, so much so that The Truman Show was filmed here in 1998. A wide, flat bike path connects all of the 30A beaches, so it’s easy to visit them all.
The abundance of great restaurants, quality lodgings, and access to the beautiful beaches make the 30A beach towns a fun and different choice for a quick weekend getaway or a longer vacation. These beaches have been a well-kept secret of the South, so many of your fellow beachgoers will be from nearby states of Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. But in recent years, the 30A area has drawn more attention nationwide. Even The Points Guy likes it and ranks the beaches among the best in the world.
Rosemary Beach and other 30A beaches are easily accessible from either the Destin/Fort Walton Airport or the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. There are several airport shuttle services available as well as Uber. Once visitors arrive at the beach, a car isn’t necessary — everything is walkable or bike-able. Bike and golf cart rentals are abundantly available and may even come with your rental.
Where to Stay
In addition to several comfortable hotels, there are many rental properties available on 30A. Since all of the beaches are private, the rentals come with beach access passes.
The Court | 215 Quincy Circle, Seaside
(Photo credit: @thecourtseaside)
The Court is a newly-renovated boutique hotel. It was formerly called the Motorcourt and was a roadside motel later called the No Tell Motel. The property had another incarnation as administrative buildings, and in its current stage is an eight-room boutique hotel designed by an award-winning architect. All of the rooms overlook The Lawn, a manicured central green space; have a private patio; and are furnished with designer items from Serena & Lily. The rooms range from queen-sized suites to a carriage house and even a tower. All guests are welcome to use the Court’s fleet of bicycles during their stay.
The Pearl Hotel | 63 Main Street, Rosemary Beach
The Pearl is at the center of Rosemary Beach. It is a luxury, boutique hotel that is also a Forbes Four-Star and AAA-Four-Diamond hotel. At the same time, it’s still a beach hotel which means you’ll see children in the lobby, flip flops on guests, and other real-life touches. Guests at the Pearl have access to the Pearl’s private beach, which is signaled by the black-and-white striped beach umbrellas, matching the hotel’s awnings. The hotel restaurant, the Havana Beach Bar and Grill, is open to the public, and the rooftop bar is an unmatched spot to watch the sunset.
The Pointe on 30A | 10711 E County Hwy 30A, Rosemary Beach
(Photo credit: @thepointeon30a)
If guests can somehow tear themselves away from the Restoration Hardware-furnished suites, they will find a resort-style pool with cabanas, a rooftop bar, and a wine cellar at The Pointe. This is a boutique resort that is all two- and three-bedroom suites. While The Pointe is not directly on the beach, it’s just a short bike ride away on one of the property’s complimentary beach cruisers.
The Rosemary Beach Inn | 78 Main Street, Rosemary Beach
(Photo credit: @therosemarybeachinn)
The Inn is a boutique hotel in every sense of the word. With only 11 rooms on the property, located in the heart of Rosemary Beach, guests will feel like locals by the end of their stay. The Inn has reserved beach chairs for guests, and with Summer Kitchen Cafe on the first floor, guests can enjoy a delicious snack or drink any time of day.
The Watercolor Inn | 34 Goldenrod Circle, Santa Rosa
(Photo credit: @watercolorinn)
The Watercolor Inn may be the best of both worlds. It has the spacious accommodations of a beach rental but with the service and amenities of a luxury hotel. This hotel is located on a 500-acre planned community with its own private beachfront. The many suites available make it a great choice for families. There is even the family-focused Camp Watercolor, a private pool and recreation area for hotel guests and community members.
Where to Eat
Lola’s Coastal Italian | 10343 Coastal Highway 30A, Rosemary Beach
It takes a lot to recommend an out-of-state Italian restaurant to a readership of New Jerseyans but we’re willing to risk it with Lola’s. After all, Lola’s offers wood-fired pizza, fresh-caught seafood, and housemade Italian classics like meatballs in red sauce. The food at Lola’s tastes like a white-tablecloth experience but the vibe is the complete opposite: it’s a laid-back, family-friendly place with long wooden tables inside and picnic tables outside. The full-service bar is simply the icing on the cake.
Raw + Juicy | 157 West La Garza Lane, Alys Beach
Breakfast is served all day at this healthful spot. While there are plenty of juices, smoothies, and acai bowls on the menu, there are also sandwiches, flatbreads, and other savory items. There is a full-service coffee bar inside and a full-service bar outside. There is frequently live music playing in the courtyard where most of the seating is. The courtyard flows into a play area for kids that is the perfect spot for little ones to let off some steam. The prepared foods in the deli and bakery case would make for an excellent beachside picnic.
Seaside Airstreams | 2235 Coastal Highway 30A, Seaside
Visitors can get a tour of tastes at the Seaside Airstreams. Airstream Row is a row of food trucks, in the form of vintage Airstream trailers, parked along the town green in Seaside. Some of the trucks include Crêpes du Soleil, offering sweet and savory crepes; Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs, offering hot dogs and giant pretzels; and Frost Bites, offering ice cream and sweet treats. There are plenty of tables available to enjoy a treat and people watch.
Summer Kitchen Cafe | 78 Main Street, Rosemary Beach
(Photo credit: @summerkitchenrb)
Summer Kitchen Cafe holds the title of being the first restaurant in Rosemary Beach. What started off as a tiny shack is now a full-fledged restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s great for a visit any time, but we like going for breakfast when Southern cuisine really shines. Diners can sit inside or on the patio overlooking one of the town greens in Rosemary Beach.
The Shrimp Shack | 2236 County Highway 30A, Seaside
The Shrimp Shack is located on the boardwalk in Seaside across the street from the Airstreams. Patrons place their orders inside, and then sit at one of the tables outside to eat. But don’t let the Shrimp Shack’s petite size deceive you — it offers a full bar, including cocktails, as well as a wide variety of seafood specialties. The grouper sandwich is a crowd favorite, and the peel-and-eat shrimp are a must on any Gulf Coast trip. And, if you want to host a traditional seafood meal at your rental or enjoy it directly to your beach chair, the Shrimp Shack team can deliver shrimp and sides by the pound.
What to Do
The only thing better than a beach bonfire would be a beach bonfire without the hassle of setting it up and cleaning up afterwards. There are several companies along 30A that will handle all that for you, and some will even bring the s’mores ingredients. From the required county permit and decorations, to a speaker and trash cans, there’s really no detail left unaddressed. Some popular companies include: 30A Ablaze; Light Me Up 30A; Bonfires at the Beach 30A; and Rosemary Beach Service. While each company offers several packages with set inclusions, they are all happy to work with you to coordinate something extra special.
Seaside Farmers Market | 2235 E. County Highway 30A, Seaside
(Photo credit: @seasideflfarmersmarket)
On Saturdays from 9AM-1PM, vendors fill the Seaside Amphitheater with freshly caught, picked, and baked goods. There is often live music performed. The Seaside Farmers Market was started with the goal of educating community members about seasonality and sustainable farming practices.
Rosemary Beach Farmers Market | 28 N. Barrett Square, Rosemary Beach
This market is located in the heart of Rosemary Beach. On Sundays from 9AM – 1PM, visitors can stop by and pick up organic meats, fresh-caught seafood, chef-quality baked goods, and even gourmet dog treats. Selecting fresh produce under the shade of the live oaks is a moment to treasure.
Eden Gardens State Park | 181 Eden Gardens Road, Santa Rosa Beach
(Photo credit: @edengardensfl)
This is a 163-acre park that is part of a historic homestead known as the Wesley Homestead. Visitors can access the grounds, which include a waterfront recreational and fishing area, as well as the historic home at the center of the property. The home was built in 1897 and belonged to the Wesley family, who operated a lumber mill. A guided tour of the home will inform visitors about the home’s history and architecture. Many of the homes original features remain, including the original flooring.
Point Washington State Forest | 5865 E. U.S. Highway 98, Santa Rosa Beach, FL
The green and lush forest in this park presents a wholly different side of the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem. There are hiking and biking trails available, and there is parking available at each trailhead — as well as a restroom. The park encompasses 15,000 acres and has several endangered species living within its bounds.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park | 7525 W. County Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach
(Photo credit: @topsailhillpreservestatepark)
The sail-like dunes made of quartz-white sand are what give this park its name. This park is just over 1,600 acres in size and is full of activities for any kind of explorer. Sure, there are the usual park activities of hiking, wildlife observation, and picnicking, but at this park guests can also fish, swim, paddle, boat, ride bikes, camp, and even glamp. There is a year-round glamping setup at this park hosted by FancyCamps, a company specializing in glamping. What makes this park extra special is the secluded aspect of the beaches. It’s the same white sand and clear waters as the rest of the 30A area, but way less crowded.
In addition to having wide, flat paths for biking, there two other interesting bike trails near Rosemary Beach. The Longleaf Greenway Trail is a mostly flat path that is a total of 27 miles across its three sections (East, West, and Middle). The majority of the trail is within the Point Washington State Forest, so riders will get a personal view of the flora and fauna of the area.
Timpoochee Trail is another mostly flat path that runs parallel to 30A. It is 18.6 miles long and a ride along this trail is a great way to see all of the 30A beaches up close. There are several bike rental companies along 30A, and several will even deliver to your lodgings, and have helmets and child seats available.
There is always something to see and do around the 30A beaches. From live music at bars and restaurants to art festivals to an outdoor movie night, each community keeps things interesting. There are yearly food festivals and fishing tournaments. Check the calendar to see what’s on tap during your visit.
See More: Family-Friendly Beaches in New Jersey
Where to Shop
Disco | 46 N. Barrett Square, Suite 102, Rosemary Beach
What’s for sale at Disco is as fun as the name implies. This female-focused shop has all kinds of pretty things, from dresses to shoes to accessories. Walking into the shop feels like visiting your best-dressed friend’s closet, as the shop showcases beautiful things in a laid-back, welcoming environment. It’s more than likely you’ll walk out with something you didn’t even know you needed.
Duckie’s Shop of Fun | 45 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach
(Photo credit: @duckiesseaside)
This cheerful shop has a little bit of everything. Of course, there is plenty of 30A branded gear, but also gifts and treats for kids. For women, there is Barefoot Dreams loungewear in addition to fun accessories. For men, there are t-shirts and small leather goods like wallets. Duckie’s is a sister shop to Disco, and it has the same welcoming feeling.
Gigi’s Fabulous Kids Fashions + Toys | 62 Main Street, Rosemary Beach
(Photo credit: @gigisfabkids)
Since 2003, this boutique has been outfitting kids and their toy boxes. The store is full of charming clothing and interesting toys. As cute as the clothes are, they aren’t so precious that you’d be afraid to put an actual child in them. We like the beachwear selections: the swimsuits, cover-ups, and rash guards come in so many fun colors and prints that you won’t find elsewhere.
Hidden Lantern Bookstore | 84 N. Barrett Square, Rosemary Beach
A walk into Hidden Lantern Bookstore will have you wondering why you don’t visit bookstores IRL anymore. While the dark wood shelves and deep blue carpet give an aura of formality, the creative displays, and variety of other gift items and artwork signal that this bookshop doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s really something for everyone here: from the YA beach read for a teen to a family-friendly board game for after dinner, to the NYT bestseller list for the grown-ups.
Huck + Harlow | 16, 611518 South Barrett Square, Unit C4, Rosemary Beach
There are plenty of dogs accompanying their humans on vacation in 30A. Even if your pup didn’t make the trip, there’s no reason she can’t have a gorgeous goodie to memorialize the trip. Huck and Harlow sells high-end dog supplies, including beds, treats, leashes, harnesses, and other accessories like a collapsible water bowl. There are also gifts for the dog lovers in your life, including home goods, books, mugs, and t-shirts.