Apparently it’s a thing!
We just returned from our family trip down to Rosemary Beach and I’m a bit obsessed with this area. I’m planning to share our full itinerary soon but first I want to cover the 30A area of Florida because I had never previously heard of it. Technically, 30A [aka County Road 30A] is about a 20-mile stretch in the Florida panhandle between Destin and Panama City. It includes the boutique beach towns of Dune Allen Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Grayton Beach, Watercolor, Seaside, Seagrove Beach, WaterSound Beach, Seacrest Beach, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach and Inlet Beach.
We stayed in the Seacrest Beach neighborhood which is directly between Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach and spent the majority of our time in this area. We also visited the charming town of Seaside twice during our trip but sadly didn’t get a chance to explore the other 30A towns. What we did see though, was enough to understand what all the hype is about for this area of the Florida panhandle.
If I’m being completely honest, the phrase “red-neck Riviera” comes to mind when I think of the Florida panhandle but this stretch of the Emerald Coast couldn’t be further from that. For starters, it’s almost completely void of any big box chains, opting instead for small, locally owned restaurants, boutique shops and hotels. It also caters to families over college spring break goers. At any given time, you’re likely to find groups of middle-schoolers eating ice cream cones, children playing in the public green spaces and families out riding bikes together.
It truly looks and feels like the beach version of Pleasantville where everything is beautifully manicured and thoughtfully planned. Which makes sense since all three towns are designed by the same planners in a similar New Urbanism style that encourages pedestrian traffic, community interaction, and interdependence among neighbors, while relying on strict urban codes and regulations to ensure architectural harmony.
While each town share similarities, they also have their own distinct personality. Here’s a quick breakdown of each area that we visited and our perspective.
From our Airbnb, we were about a 5 minute walk to Rosemary Beach. This vibrant beach community draws from the architecture of the Caribbean Islands and historic New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and St. Augustine. It is overlaid with a network of footpaths and boardwalks that all lead to a park, pool, the town center or beach. Rosemary Beach has a lively downtown area featuring the town’s only hotel, The Pearl, many popular restaurants [Havana Beach Bar & Grill, La Crema, Pescado, Restaurant Paradis] and several cute shops. Of the three towns, Rosemary Beach was our favorite and we loved all of the charming homes and picturesque ivy that give the impression of an old European village even though the development is only 26 years old.
Alys Beach [pronounced Alice Beach] is STUNNING. While still under construction, the pristine white houses, cobblestone streets, colorful shutters, gas lanterns, private fountains and impeccable landscaping all reek of money. Rentals here start at $1,000/night and only go up from there. Alys Beach is undoubtedly beautiful but it also feels a little lonely. Outside of the main drag and some of the popular restaurants [Raw & Juicy, George’s], there’s not a whole lot of pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood. From our Airbnb, we could walk to Alys Beach in about 7 minutes.
We spent the least amount of time in Seaside but they have a beautiful and bustling town square complete with shopping, dining and a large green lawn filled with laughing children. In addition to several popular restaurants, food trucks line the main drag so finding something delicious to eat is a cinch. Here the houses all feel more personable. They are named for their owners and typically sport colorful facades, white picket fences and flowering trees.
Ironically, I said to Kevin while we were down there that I felt like I was in the movie, The Truman Show, because of how perfect everything appears. I probably haven’t seen or thought about this movie in 15+ years but while I was doing research for this post, I found out the movie was actually filmed in Seaside. How fitting is that?!
Anyways, if you’re looking for a lovely, picture perfect vacation spot in Florida, look no further than 30A because you’re bound to find something just right between all of the pretty and unique beachside towns. I know we will be back for sure!