Ah, March. Our promise for making it through the blustery days of January and February. The time of the year when the sun starts shining hotter, the restaurants become more lively and the traffic picks up as more and more people venture to the Emerald Coast for a bit of sand, tropical breezes and relaxation.
A lot of that activity takes place on Scenic Highway 30A, an 18-mile stretch of road that hugs the coastline from Santa Rosa Beach to Inlet Beach. If you’ve ever driven it, you know that it’s a treasure in itself, with views of state parks, nature trails, rare coastal dune lakes and, of course, the Gulf of Mexico. Peppered along this route are distinct beach communities, each as unique as the next: Alys Beach, with its white-washed Bermudian-inspired architecture; the peace and tranquility of dreamy Rosemary Beach; the oh-so-walkable Seaside, Florida; WaterColor’s Southern charm; and, the beachfront community of WaterSound Beach, with its winding boardwalks and picture-perfect views.
Whether it’s your first — or fiftieth — visit to one of these idyllic towns, there’s guaranteed to be something that will charm you, captivate you and call you back, time and time again. So, join us on a little road trip as we explore some of our favorite stops in these iconic coastal communities along the stretch of road recently named a National Scenic Byway.
If its name evokes sensations of light-filled passages and subtle brushstrokes of color, it’s for good reason. WaterColor is home to picturesque vistas, charming homes and tree-lined streets that evokes “home” as much as it does the beach.
Beat the heat and cool off in the newly-completed lazy river at Camp WaterColor, but it’s not just for kids. A new café onsite offers adult beverages, perfect for sipping in the sun while the little ones tire themselves out. Check out the sunset views from Fish Out of Water, one of only a handful of gulf-view bars on 30A. After a meal, pop into The Candy Bar for hand-spun cotton candy, ice cream and milkshakes. If you’re looking to explore the great outdoors, we’d recommend a stop at Old Florida Outfitters to get the scoop on fly fishing before exploring the dune lakes with boards from YOLO. If you’d rather stay on dry land, rent an electric bike from Pedego to see 30A without breaking a sweat.
Dotted with pastel-colored houses and white picket fences, Seaside, Florida, is everyone’s favorite walkable community. Despite its small presence, it is big on fun, with plenty of delicious eateries and delightful shops in which you can pass the time.
Make a pitstop in Sundog Books to pick up a favorite read (we’d recommend The Traveler’s Gift, written by local Gulf Coast resident Andy Andrews). Throw it way back with a visit to Central Square Records, where you can peruse a collection of vinyl offerings. Pop into The Seaside Style, home of the Seaside t-shirt and Bud the Daschund (yes, a namesake of Bud and Alley’s). Speaking of Bud and Alley’s, take in the views (and the new menu) from the newly-completed rooftop bar. Our own Bert Summerville has a shop in Seaside, Florida, as well, named Quincy Ave. Art and Things, a collection of fun and funky items. Take a short detour outside of Seaside, Florida, and check out the take-home art projects available for kids at Rock Paper Scissors 30A. Gelato at Heavenly Shortcakes & Ice Cream sounds like the perfect end to an action-packed day.
WaterSound feels like a world away, with its winding, interconnected boardwalks and its natural, untouched beaches.
The perfect family getaway, no game night is complete without grabbing a takeaway pizza from Bruno’s. The newly-renovated WaterSound Beach Club is a definite draw for vacationers with two 7,000-gallon pools, casual dining and complimentary beach setup. After a day in the sun, a stop at The Hub (“the greatest backyard party of all time”) is a must. Grab a bike rental from Salt Air or step up your quest for adventure with a one-wheel at Frankie’s Bike Shop. We highly recommend the beef nachos at Macho Taco, and if you can slip away from the kids for a bit, pop into Shore Thing Cigars, where you just might encounter owner and country music star Luke Bryan.
Alys Beach bills itself as “miles from the ordinary” and for good reason. Its bright-white structures are perfectly juxtaposed against cloudless blue skies. Alys is one of the only places around with a year-round playground for kids. (Our marketing director, Adam Pfaff, calls it that for its all-weather AstroTurf flooring.) With rolling hills and sea serpents popping out of the grass, it will delight your little ones. Even better, for parents, Raw & Juicy is close enough to grab a smoothie or light lunch while the kids play. Plan the perfect date night at Alys Beach’s newest eatery, The Citizen, with a variety of cocktails and elevated coastal cuisine. “Do-nut” forget a stop at Charlie’s Donuts for a red velvet cake pastry.
The final stop on our 30A tour is by no means one to overlook. Rosemary Beach is a quaint community with a neo-traditional design that is equal parts vibrant and cozy.
Rosemary Beach is all about the pools, with multiple options sprinkled throughout its streets, and its expansive beaches — one of the largest tracts of community beach along the Emerald Coast. Pre-teens and teenagers will enjoy having plenty of space to roam, whether on foot or a rented bike. Explore nearby Seacrest on your next Rosemary retreat. Brunch at Pescado will not disappoint, and be sure to take some selfies with the iconic Pearl hotel in the background. Kids will enjoy a stop in Gigi’s toy store and a slightly older crowd will appreciate Curate30A, an art collaboration with Vinings Gallery in Atlanta owned by Gary Handler. Make your final store at CK Feed & Supply, owned and operated by the folks behind Cowgirl Kitchen. You’ll find a perfect assortment of gourmet gifts, picnic provisions and southern souvenirs awaiting you.