The Ultimate Guide to Florida's 30A—The South's Best-Kept Beach Secret

Including where to eat, stay, and play along these scenic beach communities.

Photo: Robbie Caponetto

At first, beachgoers landed on Scenic Highway 30A the same way sand settles on the seashore: slowly and without much fanfare. But then a wave began to build and—bam!—all of a sudden, this unassuming stretch of roadway, just 24 miles long, was one of the most popular destinations in the South. These picture-perfect towns are welcome sights for weary Southern travelers, some of whom have been driving for hours amid crumpled potato chip bags, empty sippy cups, and restless children in car seats. A greeting of powdery-white sand, clear cerulean water, and a decidedly sunny disposition instantly gets you in vacation mode.

The beaches of 30A are Florida's best-kept secret. Wander from one town to the next, and your view of this Southern coast will constantly change. Here's our beginner's guide to the beloved destination and its scenic communities.

Where Is 30A?

Robbie Caponetto

Perched on the northwest Gulf Coast of Florida, the beaches along Highway 30A are easily accessible from nearby Southern states. (The area is also referred to as the Florida Panhandle.) The namesake 30A comes from the actual local road in South Walton County, known as County Road 30A, where the beach towns sit. It spans roughly 20 miles along the Florida coastline and is located smack in the middle of the stretch between Destin and Panama City. The closest airport to 30A is the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) in Panama City. Another nearby option is the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS).

Get to Know the Communities of 30A

The sugar-white sands of Grayton Beach are set along Florida’s iconic Highway 30A and adjacent to Grayton Beach State Park. It’s a prime destination for fishing, boating, walking, gazing out into the turquoise waters of the Gulf, and yes—driving on the be
David Tsay

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 our guides to its beloved beach communities below, or read on to see where to eat, what to do, where to shop, and where to stay on 30A:

Plus, other popular communities such as WaterColor and Seagrove. All of 30A's towns feature charming accommodations, local food options, diverse shopping, family-friendly activities, and incomparable water views that will captivate you. Here are our best recommendations.

Where To Eat on 30A

Black Bear Bread Co
Robbie Caponetto

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—while 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 has five excellent options to choose from. Take in the morning rays at Black Bear Bread Co. (pictured) in Grayton Beach, and enjoy the pastel swirls of sunset at Pescado's rooftop in Rosemary Beach. Whatever you choose, you can be sure that you won't go hungry on 30A.

What To Do on 30A

Austin McGee’s Surf School
Robbie Caponetto

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 classic bikes at one of many rental agencies up and down the highway, or go for an easy-breezy electric bike from Pedego 30A to roll across the sand or the streets with no problem. Take to the water with kayak or paddle board rentals from Yellowfin Ocean Sports, and the more adventurous can hit the waves in the spring and summer with Austin Magee's Surf School.

Where To Shop on 30A

Sundog Books
Robbie Caponetto

Visitors have their pick of clothing shops, toy stores, bookstores, and more. Beau Interiors 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 (pictured) will supply you with the beach read you've been searching for—make sure to check out the record store upstairs—and unique boutiques across the area—including The Art of Simple and Patchouli's—offer plenty of gifts and goodies to take home. When you're going to 30A, forgetting to pack a bathing suit isn't such a bad thing.

Where To Stay on 30A

The Pearl
Robbie Capponetto

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; and The Pearl in Rosemary Beach (pictured) offers recently refreshed accommodations that are beyond dreamy. In Grayton Beach, book a room at the charming Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse.

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.

Grayton Beach: The Relaxed Village with Nowhere to Be

Grayton Beach
Robbie Caponetto

If a typical beach town is laid-back, then Grayton Beach is fully reclining—in a hammock, with an ice-cold margarita in hand. In fact, this beach village even comes with an unofficial slogan: "Nice dogs, strange people."

Read more for recommendations: Grayton Beach, Florida: What to Do in This Tiny Beach Town with a Groovy Soul

Seaside: The Happy Town with an Old Soul

Seaside, FL
Robbie Caponetto

The 1998 cult-classic film The Truman Show, shot in Seaside, features a town so idyllic that it could exist in a movie. This place, however, is absolutely real—from the pristine amphitheater lawn to a charming string of food trucks to the crisp white, Instagrammable Seaside Post Office.

Read more for recommendations: The Perfect Beach Town: Our Favorite Things to Do in Seaside, Florida, This Summer

Alys Beach: The Worldly Sophisticate

Alys Beach
Robbie Caponetto

Four gleaming minaret-style towers welcome visitors to Alys Beach and a stretch of the scenic highway flanked by towering palm trees. In case the sophisticated surroundings tempt you to put on airs, remember that this beach town was named after its original developer's wife. That's like naming your firstborn after your mama, and we all know it doesn't get more relatable—or Southern—than that.

Read more for recommendations: Dreaming of a Caribbean Getaway? Alys Beach, Florida, Is Basically That—But Way Closer

Rosemary Beach: The Charming Spot with a Quiet Side

Rosemary Beach
Robbie Caponetto

With the same sugar-white sand and thoughtfully planned layout as its due-west counterparts, Rosemary Beach makes a play for the distinction of "miss congeniality." In between boogie boarding and bike rides, don't be surprised if you stumble upon a nicely shaded, secluded bench. In fact, you might find yourself sitting a spell. This place has that kind of effect.

The town itself is bursting with restaurants and shops to explore, but make sure to hit Edward's Fine Food & Wine for deviled eggs and crab cakes, as well as La Crema Tapas & Chocolate for a whimsical dessert.

WaterColor: A Cheerful Family-friendly Community

Maison Studio WaterColor, FL Mint Green Beach House Front Exterior with Bike
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

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.)

Seagrove: An Old Florida Feel That Can't Be Beat

Public beach access in Seagrove, Florida, on 30A in South Walton.
Dawn Chapman Whitty

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.

More Beach Towns To Visit

More Beach Towns to Visit
Robbie Caponetto

But, wait: Highway 30A is much more than just these few favorites. Take a drive and explore in-between beaches, from Blue Mountain Beach to WaterSound Beach and beyond. With plenty of cottages to rent and seafood dives to hit, you won't dare miss out on everything that Florida's Highway 30A has to offer.

Get To Know The Beaches of Florida's 30A

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