Whether you know it as 30A, South Walton, SoWal, or you’ve never heard of it at all, this strip of Florida Gulf Coast is about to be your favorite new vacation destination.
By Lauren Phillips
1 of 12Photo: Zehnder – Jennifer Edelman
Welcome to 30A
If your checklist for a perfect beach vacation includes things like “friendly people,” “clean beaches,” and “small-town feel,” take a look at the Gulf-front beach communities of South Walton, Florida, in an area affectionately known as 30A for those in the know.
You may recognize 30A from the signature blue, white, and yellow stickers stuck on cars across the country, but now you know where the name comes from: East County Highway 30A, also known as Scenic Highway 30A, which stretches down the Florida Panhandle’s Gulf Coast from Grayton Beach to Rosemary Beach, passing through several charming beach communities along the way. This stretch of road on the southern coast of Walton County, between Destin and Panama City Beach, will lead you to your next great beach escape.
2 of 12Photo: Visit South Walton
Get to Know the Communities of 30A
The scenery along this stretch of South Walton road is enough to make you want to pull over and take a second look, but its collection of communities will make you want to stay the night (or even the week).
Check out each of them below, or click on to see where to eat, what to do, where to shop, and where to stay on 30A:
From Grayton Beach to Rosemary Beach, their charming accommodations, local food options, diverse shopping, family-friendly activities, and incomparable water views will captivate you.
3 of 12Photo: Zehnder
Where to Eat on 30A
From classic Southern fare to bustling rooftop bars to seafood dives, the restaurants scattered along 30A will satisfy (and fill up) everyone, from the most fastidious foodie to the pickiest nibbler. NEAT, a bottle shop and tasting room in Alys Beach, will expand your cocktail palate—and teach you how to make your own at home—and the simple, fresh ingredients at Grayton Beach’s Chiringo will transport you around the world with internationally inspired beach fare. For a snack to tote to the water, Seaside’s Airstream Row (pictured) has five excellent options to choose from. Whatever you choose, you can be sure that you won’t go hungry on 30A.
4 of 12Photo: John Cross
What to Do on 30A
Beyond the obvious long days on the beach, 30A is bursting with outdoor activities to help you make the most of the sunny Gulf weather. Rent bikes from the Seaside Transit Authority or the Alys Beach Bike Shop and roll across the sand or the streets. Take to the water with kayak or paddle board rentals from Yellowfin Ocean Sports; the more adventurous can hit the waves in the spring and summer with Austin Magee’s Surf School. For rainy day activities, click on for shopping options.
5 of 12Photo: Romona Robbins
Where to Shop on 30A
30A has local shops galore; visitors have their pick of clothing shops, toy stores, bookstores, and more. Beau Interiors (pictured), in Grayton Beach, can be the place you go to furnish your dream beach home (or the place you go to make your inland home feel like a beach home); Seaside’s Sundog Books will supply you with the beach read you’ve been searching for. And clothing stores across the area—including Perspicasity and Grayton Beach Gypsea—offer perfect picks for beach attire. When you’re going to 30A, forgetting to pack a bathing suit isn’t such a bad thing.
6 of 12Photo: Courtesy of Alys Beach
Where to Stay on 30A
On 30A, accommodations typically mean home or condo rentals. The WaterColor Inn & Resort, in the community of the same name, is a luxury oceanfront option with its own restaurants and shopping in addition to its 60 guest rooms. Other small inns and B&Bs are scattered across the communities of 30A, but for long stays or big groups, a rental is the best option. Options include houses for the whole family, like at 71 Nonesuch Way (pictured) in Alys Beach, which sleeps 12, and apartments perfect for a romantic getaway, like Seaside’s beachfront Firefly. For a truly special day, you can even look into renting out a house for a destination wedding.
For a funky alternative to the carefully groomed streets of Seaside and Alys Beach, head to Grayton Beach, where the unofficial motto is “Nice Dogs, Strange People.” Loud, rambunctious, and utterly entertaining, The Red Bar is known up and down 30A for its distinctive décor and live music, and Grayton Beach State Park offers opportunities for animal sightings, great boating, and a lake for kayaking and paddle boarding. Check out one of the characteristically offbeat houses in this 100-plus-year-old community for a beachside retreat full of Old Florida charm.
8 of 12Photo: Visit South Walton
Tucked between Seaside and Grayton Beach State Park’s Western Lake, WaterColor—a resort town centered on the waterfront WaterColor Inn & Resort—combines resort amenities with the homey comforts of a residential community. Shops like The Blue Giraffe provide off-sand entertainment, and a selection of restaurants, from the resort’s celebrated Fish Out of Water to casual off-site spot The Wine Bar, promises days of fresh, vacation-perfect meals without repeats. (Unless you return for an encore, of course.)
This 80-acre Gulf-front haven is more than just an idyllic vacation spot: Seaside’s carefully crafted Town Center, brick streets, and colorful cottages present a pioneer example of the New Urbanism style of architecture. A blend of original vendors like outdoor bazaar Perspicasity and newcomers like organic juice bar Raw & Juicygives this new town with old ways an exciting array of shopping and dining options. More than 35 years after its founding, Seaside has more than 300 homes, 12 restaurants, and 41 shops and galleries—finding your favorite might be the toughest part of your stay there.
Surrounded by a thick grove of trees—the source of the community’s name—Seagrove’s stretch of beach houses and sand marks a relaxed departure from the picture-perfect planned communities of Seaside and Alys Beach. The Cowgirl Kitchen Market & Cafe and The Perfect Pig have foodie takes on classic beach fare that make this stretch of 30A a must-visit, and a mindful yoga class at Balance Health Studio can give you a new perspective on your whole vacation. And don’t forget the beach: Passing under a cluster of vines to get to the ivory sand feels like stepping into another world.
From a curiously spelled name (it’s pronounced just like “Alice”) to rows of whitewashed buildings to spectacular events like Digital Graffiti, Alys Beach has all the elements of a bustling beach city. And yet, it maintains its status as a sweet waterside town, with communal courtyards for gatherings of neighbors for sunset cocktails and white paved sidewalks for bike riding. Stop by to ogle the Bermuda- and Antigua-inspired architecture and for a meal at George’s, or stay a few days for access to guest amenities like the stunning Caliza Pool.
12 of 12Photo: John Cross
Meet Rosemary Beach
“Make it a Rosemary day,” as the community’s website says, by venturing to this dreamy retreat on the east end of 30A. It may have been established in 1995, just a little more than 20 years ago, but Rosemary Beach’s pedestrian-friendly streets and balconied buildings bring classic coastal escapes like St. Augustine, New Orleans, and Charleston to mind. Beach-casual restaurants like The Summer Kitchen Café offer meals to match your laidback day on the sand, and four community pools with names like Barbados and Cabana are perfect for taking a quick dip before heading home for the night.