Sunday, July 18, 2021

30A Travel Guide

Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach and Seaside, Florida for Families


We recently returned from a vacation that has long been a dream of mine – scenic highway 30A in Florida. I first heard about it about 10 years ago and have been dreaming of its idyllic scenery and sugar sand beaches ever since. It's only grown in popularity since that time, and now is a bustling vacation spot. We traveled with our two young kids, ages 5.5 and nearly 3, so in this post I'll share about what we did and tips for going with family, as well as what I would recommend for an adults-only vacation.

30A is the highway that runs for a few miles along the coastline of Florida's panhandle, between the larger cities of Destin and Panama City. Along this stretch of highway, there are little beach communities, each unique in their own way, that make up 30A. So this post will be divided by beach town to help you navigate, though it's very easy to walk, bike or drive from one town to the next. 
 

Where to Stay on 30A
There are not really hotels here (except The Pearl at Rosemary beach, which is amazing but pretty much adults-only), but there are thousands of rentals and condos. It's easy to book a home or condo through AirBNB or VRBO, and there are also specialty companies like Cottage Rental Agency and many more.
 

Beach Access on 30A
I learned that most condos come with access to a specific private beach. At least where we stayed, that beach was half for rented chairs and umbrellas (which are pricey), and half for personal gear. Our beach was very crowded, as I heard many others were. If you want to rent chairs for the day or week, you can schedule in advance or go down the day of and see if any are still available. The chair rental companies will not let you put any personal gear on the rental side, and the open side fills up quickly. Matt went down at 7 a.m. to put our chairs out and still only got the fifth row back from the shoreline. We didn't try public beach access so I'm not sure how those are. 
 
 
Pro tip - the beaches are very busy during the day but seem nearly deserted in the evenings. One of our favorite things was to head to the beach after dinner, enjoy the beautiful dusk lighting and views, and pick up seashells along the shore. Our kids actually liked this better than going to the crowded beaches during the day.


Seacrest Beach
Seacrest Beach is where we stayed and where I would recommend staying if you're coming with a young family. It has the most conveniences, in my opinion. Seacrest is filled with classic beach homes painted in pastel colors, so it's very charming, but also features the most centrally located restaurants and businesses. 
 
 
We stayed right behind what is the heart of Seacrest called Peddler's Pavilion. In Peddler's Pavilion you can rent bikes and it's so easy to grab coffee, donuts, a beer, or a meal at one of the many restaurants or the cute little pavilion huts set up in a semi-circle. There is also live music every night. The walk to our beach was about 10 minutes, or there is a tram to take you there and back, which is so convenient with little ones and lots of gear.
 
 
Where to Eat in Seacrest
  • Pizza by the Sea - casual, family-friendly pizza joint. We ate there twice and the pizza is very good.

  • LaCo - Latin Coastal kitchen which usually didn't have a very long wait like most restaurants.
  • Charlie's (hut) – Charlie's is a popular donut and breakfast place, and this location is one of the small huts around the pavilion. Hurry - they usually sell out of donuts before 9! There are also sandwiches for lunch.

  • Sweet Peddler's - This was our go-to spot for our nightly ice cream. It's such a cute little candy and treat store right on the pavilion. 

  • Others - There is a Starbucks, Chicken Salad Chick, a cupcake shop, a hut where you can get beer and alcohol, a small grocery store, and several retail stores selling apparel and beach goods, and probably a few I'm forgetting. Everything you could need!

Rosemary Beach
Right next door to Seacrest (about a 2 minute walk from Peddler's Pavilion) is Rosemary Beach, and my personal favorite town on 30A. You could certainly stay there with a family, but I would definitely choose it if I were doing an adults-only trip. Rosemary has a European feel to it, with gorgeous architecture, open green spaces surrounded by olive trees and lots of white washed stucco buildings. 
 
 
It also has plenty of shops and restaurants, though all are a bit more formal and pricey compared to Seacrest's more casual atmosphere. Just being in Rosemary is such an experience because the architecture and grounds are breathtaking. I never wanted to leave!

Where to Eat in Rosemary Beach
 
  • LaCrema Tapas - we ate here for lunch. I will say I thought it was pretty pricey for the portion size, and we didn't get dessert which I hear is the best part. I've been told the chocolate fondu is out of this world. Gorgeous patio seating!

  • Sugar Shack - We grabbed ice cream at this sweet and candy shop and took it down to the village green to watch a movie on the lawn. So fun!
  • Others - Cowgirl Kitchen, Edwards, Summer Kitchen Cafe - all nestled on the main street of Rosemary, but know they're all small and usually have long wait times.
  • If I were going on an adults-only trip - Pescado and Paradis are legendary for their food, atmosphere and beautiful views. 

  • Charlie's Cafe - we ate here several times and it's just darling! Donuts, coffee and breakfast items

  • Amavida Coffee - such a cute coffee place where you can also grab breakfast. It's across the square from Charlie's.

Where to Shop in Rosemary Beach
There is such fun shopping in Rosemary Beach! The high end stores are curated and gorgeous with plenty of eye candy and treasures to bring home.
 
  • Rosemary Beach Collection + Kids - this was probably my favorite store for their beautiful neutral displays. They also sell Rosemary Beach merch, and I grabbed my souvenir sweatshirt here.
  • Gigi's - I forgot to grab a photo but this kids store is too cute! I let the kids each pick out a few little things and they were in heaven looking at all the toys and deciding what to choose.


  • Parish – I've followed designer Ashley Gilbreath for years so it was so fun to get to see her retail store in person. Gorgeous curated homewares!
  • Rosemary Beach Trading Co - This is where you get your Rosemary souvenirs, but they're not cheesy. It's a fun little boutique with a mix of home items and curated Rosemary Beach wares like paintings by local artists, candles, magnets and the signature shirts and sweatshirts. I snagged a Rosemary Beach candle that smells amazing and will always remind me of our time there!
  • The Hidden Lantern Bookstore - Right next to Amavida is the sweetest bookstore with a great selection of books about 30A, from kids books to novels set there. I picked up a book on Rosemary Beach architecture which I adore. They also have story time for the kids.
  • Others – Tracery Interiors, Luminary, Disco 30A - all fun boutiques

Alys Beach
Alys Beach almost doesn't feel real it is so beautiful. Simply wandering the streets looking at the architecture was a trip highlight for me. It's very high end and exclusive, and everything is perfectly curated in a palette of white. My heaven! 
 
We went there several times to let the kids play at the most darling park, Fonville Park - it's right behind the restaurant Raw and Juicy. 

Where to Eat in Rosemary Beach
 

  • Raw and Juicy - organic smoothies and breakfast staples in a gorgeous indoor-outdoor setting. Fonville Park is attached to it.
  • George's - We didn't get to eat here but it's a 30A classic. Get there early - the line gets long for dinner and they don't take reservations.

  • The Citizen - We tried to snag a table here but our kids were hungry and couldn't handle the wait time. It is quite literally the most beautiful restaurant I've ever laid eyes on and it should absolutely be on your list, especially for an adults-only trip. The use of cane, simple gray and white color palette, perfect branding and elevated interior was all breathtaking! I'm glad I at least got a peek at it.

Seaside
 Our brief trip into Seaside was not all I had hoped it would be, so I can't wait to go back someday soon. Seaside is a beautiful, idyllic town in classic Americana style, with darling beach bungalows. It's where the Truman Show was filmed and has become very, very popular. When we went it was so crowded we could not find parking and had to miss our lunch reservations at Great Southern restaurant – I was so disappointed! There is limited public parking, which you must pay for if you can find a spot, so just be aware of that. We did spend an hour or so in the town and it was fun to see, but I'm bummed it's so crowded now. We were also there the week after Fourth of July so I think that had a lot to do with it. (Pro tip - someone told me afterward that you can park in Grayton Beach and there is a shuttle into Seaside. I would have done that had I known!)

Where to Eat in Seaside
  • Great Southern Cafe - this is where we had reservations and is a Seaside classic serving yummy breakfast and lunch.
  • Airstream Row - Missing our reservations was no big deal thanks to airstream row! This line of food trucks is perfect for grabbing a quick lunch on the square. We chose crepes!
  • Bud and Alley's - ocean views make this place super popular, so call ahead to get a reservation.
  • Pickles - Burgers and shakes right on the main street.

Where to Shop in Seaside
  • The Seaside Style - this is the most popular boutique selling the iconic Seaside tshirts and sweatshirts. The line was very long when we were there, probably over an hour, so I didn't try to shop there, but would love to go back! There's also a smaller version across the street which had shorter lines.
  • The Seaside Style Kids - There was no line to get into the kids boutique and it was so cute and cheery inside! Painted floors, curated kids toys and the classic Seaside shirts for kids. 

  • The Cabanas - These were so fun! Open air cabanas filled with gorgeous boutique wares. We loved looking around and they have beautiful women's clothes and accessories.
  • Modica Market - a curated grocery store that has a bit of everything. Perfect to grab a sandwich or all the makings of a beach picnic.
  • And make sure to snap a picture in front of the iconic Seaside Post Office! (Pro tip - the public restrooms are right behind the post office)


Other Fun Places Along 30A
 

Old Florida Fish House - This was our favorite place we ate on the trip! It's not quite like anything I've ever seen. You walk along a long covered path strung with twinkle lights and grape vines until you reach the Fish House - a cool old building turned restaurant, and then an absolutely huge outdoor seating area with pretty turf and tropical plants. Along the covered path are little beach bungalows turned into shops selling beach wares, drinks and ice cream. The ambiance is amazing! The large outdoor space is connected to a neighboring (and equally adorable) old house that houses a coffee shop and bar, and in the shared outdoor space there are tons of games like corn hole, connect four, ping pong and more. The whole thing overlooks a coastal lake, and there's a raised dock you can climb to see out into the ocean. We absolutely loved it here and it was great for families. (Pro tip - Old Florida Fish House is one of the few places that does take reservations and that's highly recommended!)

 
30Avenue - 30Avenue is a swanky shopping complex at the corner of Highway 98 and 30A (just past Rosemary, we could have walked from our condo). It's a beautiful spot with gas lanterns and a green space with outdoor games and live music. There are lots of boutiques and interior stores, as well as several restaurants. The most popular seemed to be Amigos and Amici - sister restaurants right next to each other, one serving Mexican and the other Italian. We ate at Amici and it was probably my favorite food on the trip. Wait times are long so be prepared, but you can play in the green space and browse the shops while you wait.
 

The Donut Hole - this is a 30A staple with several locations in the area. We ate at the newest one at Highway 98 and 30A and it did not disappoint! It's such a darling building with outdoor activities while you wait. You can walk up and get donuts or wait in line to sit and eat a big breakfast. We chose to do the sit-down option and we all loved our pancakes and waffles! (Pro tip - the line got really long starting around 9 a.m. so go early!)
 
Shades 30A - Also at Highway 98 and 30A is a bar and grill called Shades. This is a good option for families as it's casual and serves favorite American foods like burgers and wings. I didn't think the ambiance was particularly special, but it's good for little ones and big groups. 
 

Blue Mountain Beach Creamery - We stopped here after our family beach photos and it's a cute place with yummy ice cream and shakes.
 

The Hub 30A - This is a must especially if you're with kids and family! The Hub is a fun complex built around an open grassy area. It has tons of restaurants and shops and lots of entertainment. It's a very fun and casual atmosphere. The shops we enjoyed were Fiddle Haus for home decor and some fashion, Mermaids of 30A for seashells and souvenirs (Lexie loved it), 30A General store for boutique-style souvenirs, OKO for men, women and kids fashion, and Sugar Wave for sweets and toys. There are lots more but those were our highlights.

That wraps up my 30A Guide, but let me know in the comments if you have any questions! Or if you've traveled there, if you'd add anything. I know we certainly didn't see and try everything, so there are probably even more great spots! If you want to see videos and behind-the-scenes peeks from our trip, be sure to check out my 30A highlights on Instagram.

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