Whether you are planning a trip or purchasing a home in one of the 30A communities, you will find that 30A has a simpler and quieter approach to beach life, with more family-friendly shops and outdoor activities than the classic bustling tourist towns. From Grayton Beach State Park’s coastal dune lakes to Miramar Beach’s various shopping outlets to Alys Beach’s optic-white architecture and matching sandy beaches, there is something for everyone in 30A.
The charming seaside 30A communities attract both new and returning visitors every year from Tennessee, Georgia and across the Southeast. You will not run out of things to do, whether you are with family or friends or planning a romantic getaway. The white beaches, seafood restaurants and beautiful views of the Gulf Coast provide a picturesque stay in 30A.
What is 30A?
The name “30A” comes from a road in South Walton County (County Road 30A) that features many unique micro-destinations. This famous two-lane highway is a 28.5-mile stretch of highway along Florida’s famous panhandle coastline.
The easternmost town along 30A, Inlet Beach, is just 20 miles away from the nearest airport, Panama City — Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP). ECP is a small, but modern airport with free Wi-Fi, parking rewards and easy check-in. Major air carriers provide daily nonstop flights from major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Houston, Nashville, etc.
On the far west side of 30A lies Destin — Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS). VPS is only a 20-minute drive to Destin beach, the westernmost town on 30A. Depending on your destination, either airport is a viable option.
If flying is out of your price range or you’re looking for a fun road trip, 30A is only a six-hour drive from the Greater Nashville area, straight down through Alabama via I-65. Since the drive will take up most of your day, here are some tips on what to pack, where to stop along the way and what will make your drive the most enjoyable. Some fun stops might include the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, the DeSoto Caverns in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains or Conecuh National Forest in southern Alabama.
Why you should come to 30A
Each community within 30A has its own unique vibe and individual personality. Highway 30A is dotted with the sweetest string of small neighborhoods, each with can’t-miss destinations, sparkling white beaches, nature preserves and mom-and-pop shops. There are four-star Forbes hotels, architectural (and urban planning) marvels and countless Instagram-worthy spots. The small neighborhoods of 30A differ in age, look and feel, guaranteeing something fun and memorable for every type of traveler.
Here are the top 5 reasons you should come to 30A:
- You are never far from the beach. Beach life in 30A revolves around a small, intimate community where beaches are only a short walk or bike ride away. Whether you bring your significant other for a romantic getaway or your whole family for vacation, visiting 30A allows families to come together and make lasting memories on the beautiful Gulf coast beaches.
- There’s a reason the area has been deemed ‘The Emerald Coast’ — it is one of the most beautiful southern coastlines in the U.S., with the water ranging from an emerald green to a crystal clear blue. The sand is white and powdery and sparkles under the warm Florida sun. 30A is home to some unique architecture and master-planned communities, like Alys Beach where every building is painted white. These neighborhoods are a sight to see!
- No other community is as welcoming and relaxing as 30A. Worries vanish in the laid back atmosphere of 30A, with smiling faces and pleasant conversations with shop owners and locals. You can schedule activities on your own time and enjoy the comforts of your luxury vacation rental, with no hurry to go anywhere or get anything done.
- 30A offers a wide range of dining options, including casual fine dining (Café Thirty-A), delicious lunch spots (Bud & Alleys), or a quirky urban street food experience (Seaside’s Airstream Row). Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar and Dewey Destin’s Seafood Restaurant provide perfect seafood eatery experiences, along with Rosemary Beach’s variety of seafood (Restaurant Paradis), Spanish (La Crema Tapas & Chocolate) and fine dining options (Pescado Seafood Grill & Rooftop Bar).
- No matter where you stay in 30A, you can get active. Sports and physical activity are popular pastimes along 30A. Visitors love to take advantage of the hiking trails, like the ones in Point Washington State Forest. You’ll see lots of people paddle boarding on the beach, or biking down the sidewalks.
Fun, family-friendly activities at 30A
Play at one of the many 30A beaches
The most basic, yet most fundamental family attraction is of course visiting any of the beaches that line highway 30A. Your children will love running wild across the sugar-white sands and splashing in the emerald-green waters. Aside from simply basking in the sunshine, you can build a beach bonfire, create immaculate sandcastles or take the opportunity to capture picturesque family photos for your upcoming Christmas cards.
Get creative at Fired Up!
If your children want to channel their creativity into something they can take back home, take them to Fired Up! This pottery studio in Seaside makes for a perfect way to create affordable memories. With prices starting at around $14, your children will spend a few hours making a masterpiece, then come back the next day to enjoy the finished product. You can paint your “art” on over 500 unique pottery pieces.
Go for a bike ride
When your children (and let’s be honest – you and your spouse, too) are so filled with excitement that you need a way to get all that energy out, a family bike ride could be the cure. 30A has an impressive network of 30A bike trails and scenic views, making it one of the best places on the Gulf Coast for biking. Local bike rentals can provide your whole group with everything you need, from bicycles to helmets to beach gear.
See creatures of the sea at Gulf World
Gulf World Marine Park is a perfect stop for all ages, showcasing indoor and outdoor tropical gardens as well as several animal exhibits, including penguins, flamingos, sharks, sea turtles, etc. It is a fun and educational experience for your children. You can attend a daily show, feed the animals or even swim with dolphins, seals or stingrays.
Visit a 30A Farmers Market
Seaside Farmers Market, 30A Farmers Market Rosemary Beach, Palm Plaza and Grand Boulevard Farmers Market at Sandestin offer family-friendly atmospheres with a mission to provide fresh, consciously produced and sustainable products. Vendors include farmers, bakers and craftspeople. In true farm-to-table fashion, farmers markets offer the chance for both you and your family to learn about sustainable farming and where your food comes from.
Experience adventure at The Village of Baytowne Wharf
The Village of Baytowne Wharf in Miramar Beach is the perfect combination of fun activities for both children and adults! The children will love climbing rock walls, going zip lining, playing in the water features and attending magic shows. The adults will enjoy the countless boutiques here offering upscale ladies’ clothing, beachwear, fishing gear, etc.
Expansion of 30A
The real estate market in the sunshine state is shining bright! Florida ranks No. 12 in the U.S. with year-over-year price growth, sitting at 7.1% (the national housing appreciation rate sat at 5.7% for the same period).
Short term rentals and the travel industry are booming in the panhandle of Florida, where the economic impact of Florida’s vacation rentals totals approximately $27 billion and supports about 115,000 jobs. Whether it’s single-family homes, condos, or short term rentals, there is clearly a demand for Florida real estate.
30A is experiencing massive expansion through the Bay-Walton Sector Plan, established in 2015. The primary purpose of the Bay-Walton Sector Plan is to establish a long term land use framework on 110,500 acres of land, which will accomplish a lot for eastern Walton County and western Bay County.
The Bay-Walton Sector Plan will add a significant active adult community component and provide the amenities, recreation, entertainment and medical facilities required for a successful active adult community. The plan will connect the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and its surrounding commercial properties with Bay County and Walton County for a well-planned and cohesive development.
The plan will also create policies to establish urban form planning concepts for walkable communities that encourage multiple transportation modes including walking, biking and golf carts. It will also coordinate and facilitate the planning of regional infrastructure like the West Bay Parkway.
Various environmental authorizations and agreements have also been issued and executed within the boundary of the Bay-Walton Sector Plan. It will create a regionally significant water-shed level environmental framework that contains 53,229 acres (or 48 percent) of a series of well-connected conservation and preservation areas.
If you like your vacations slower-paced and more laid-back than well-known beach towns, 30A is thriving and becoming a well-known travel spot. The Gulf Front beaches of the Emerald Coast are beautiful, community-oriented and worth visiting with loved ones.