Our 30A Adventure
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I’m sharing all the details of my family’s trip to South Walton County Florida. Learn from our mistakes, find great referrals from our wins, have a few laughs along the way, and use our details to plan your own trip to the Scenic 30A!
A bit about 30A
According to the visitor’s guide, “SoWal is a nickname for South Walton County in the Florida Panhandle between Destin and Panama City Beach. Our area is often referred to as the Emerald Coast, Scenic 30A, and the world’s most beautiful beaches. The area is filled with vacation activities for all – live music, shopping, dining, community events, beach activities, biking, fishing, parks, state forests, dune preserves, and more.”
“Moving from East to West along the 30A corridor, our beach towns are as follows; Inlet Beach, Rosemary Beach, Seacrest Beach, Alys Beach, WaterSound, Seagrove Beach, Seaside, WaterColor, Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Gulf Place, Dune Allen Beach, Sandestin, Miramar Beach – and a bit to the north are Santa Rosa Beach, Point Washington, Freeport, and WaterSound Origins.”
travel Details – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
To kick off our trip, we flew out of the O’hare airport in Chicago. From there, we had a lay over in Houston, Texas, and finally boarded the final flight to Panama City! Upon arrival, we grabbed a rental car for the last leg of the trip – a 35 minute drive to Santa Rosa on 30A. Now, let me preface this by saying that we are in no way, shape, or form, road trip people. However, if you’re up for it, the drive is doable and may help cut down on flight and rental car costs. Next time, however, we are planning to fly into Destin, which is about a 20-minute drive to Seaside. If you followed along via Instagram, you know that our return flight ended up getting canceled due to air traffic control issues (whatever that means). As a result, we had to make the 18-hour drive home in our rental car. It was a trip for the ages, HA! BUT we made it with all our good memories intact.
where we stayed
We used Vacasa Vacation Rentals and stayed in Santa Rosa, at this property. We found everything very clean, and they even provided a few simple starter items: dish tabs, one packet of detergent, hand soap, small dish soap, toilet paper, and all-purpose spray. Along with being an easy 3-minute drive to the nearby Blue Mountain Beach and just 15 minutes from the seaside, the property also featured a lovely gated community with 2 smaller swimming pools and tennis courts. In hindsight, this property was too big for a family of 5 but would perfect if you have a larger family, are sharing with another family, bringing along some grandparents, or even planning a fun girl’s weekend.
All Our 30A Adventures!
All about the BEACHes
There are so many amazing beaches to choose from! They are all covered in soft white sand and crystal blue water. Even better, they’re extremely clean. We spent a good amount of time at Blue Mountain Beach because it was so close. Due to strong currents during our stay, we couldn’t spend much time in the water. However, that didn’t stop us from spending a number of hours on the beach building sandcastles, playing football, and splashing in the waves! All in all the boys had a blast.
Since we didn’t drive, we did not pack any beach gear on the plane. Luckily, we were able to rent everything we needed from 30A Escapes. From beach chairs, umbrellas, coolers, paddleboards, bonfires, bikes, and more, they had it all! It made the trip a breeze and allowed us to stay entertained all day long. The beach and surrounding area is also a highly bikeable place and had paths leading along the coast into town.
Seaside is such a magical spot! In fact, it looks so picture-perfect, it’s actually where the Truman Show was filmed. This planned beach town has been around since the early 1980s. It has a great food scene, adorable shops, and stunning views. It also has a number of rental properties centered around the town. So, you can easily walk or bike wherever you need to go. We plan to stay here next time to make it easier to get around, as we learned parking can be a bit challenging.
Note: There is paid parking available on Somalian Circle. In this area, there is a farmer’s market on the weekend, plenty of dreamy views (like this picture-perfect post office), and a great collection of restaurants that we plan to visit next time! Below are a few of the spots we were able to hit on this trip.
We really enjoyed Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs! Their wagu hotdogs were DELICIOUS!
Duckies was a blast. They had so many cute, unique, and fun toys and gifts. The boys each grabbed their souvenirs here. This surfer was our favorite! I also enjoyed The Seaside Store. It’s an adorable beach boutique with plenty of fun clothing options and trendy home-good items. We also LOVED Sundog Bookstore and grabbed a few books for our travel home.
A few of our favorite places included Great Southern Cafe, It’s Heavenly Ice Cream, and Dawson’s Yogurt. While they were all great, we preferred It’s Heavenly for a sweet treat, just in case you were wondering.
Kid-Friendly FISHING & THE ISLAND PIER WHARF
We used TripShock to book our fishing trip. The docking spot was at The Island Pier which is about 20-25 minutes away from Seaside. This was such a fun experience, and the captain was great with the kids. He provided swim jackets for our 3-year-old, but they were not required for our 7 and 9-year-old. The wharf also has so many family-friendly activities, restaurants, and even a beach area to enjoy! This is a great spot for an all-day family adventure. In addition to fishing, the boys enjoyed some treats and a rock-climbing wall, too!
Our vacation rental property had two swimming pools (one heated). This was a lifesaver given that the beach flags prevented us from swimming in the ocean for a few days. We still had a blast and the boys were able to splash to their heart’s content!
This. Place. Is. Fantastic. It’s such a fun spot that we wish we had gone to sooner on our trip. Described as “The Greatest Backyard Party of All Time”. The Hub has quite a number of food options, plenty of seating, live music, treat shops, and other fun boutiques that make it such a memorable time. I love the idea of this spot after a long beach day, when you (but mostly the kids) don’t quite feel like a restaurant, and prefer a casual and fun spot where the food is good, and the kids can run off their sillies after a skipped nap (or two).
Our Plan for Next Time
- We’ll make more dinner reservations! It saves time and prevents the dreaded hanger from sun-filled days at the beach and long waitlists
- We’ll book sandcastle lessons. Actually, we tried to score a spot at Beach and Sand Sculptures , but it was fully booked. That has to mean it’s good, right?!
- We want to rent a boat on our own. We feel that this would be such a great way to explore some of the sand dunes along with Shell Island.
- Without a doubt, we’ll make a full day out of adventuring at the Island Peir Wharf.
- We plan to stay closer or in Seaside. That way we can skip the driving and parking for biking and walking instead.
- I want to be sure to hit up Rosemary Beach.
- Per a friend’s recommendation, we will plan an evening walk through Watercolor.
- As suggested by another friend, we plan to walk around Alys Beach and Rosemary.
- I also want to hire a photographer for family photos. The area is such a magical spot, and I love the idea of capturing it professionally!
What You Should Know Before You Plan Your Trip
- Pay attention to beach flags and be willing to adjust your day’s schedule if needed. You can either search online via Google or drive by to see the flags in person. Their presence will determine whether or not you can go out into the water.
- If you don’t want to lug all your beach gear, there are plenty of beach gear rental spots (think chairs, umbrellas, coolers, etc.) Trust me, it’s a lifesaver!
- Baby and kid gear rental. Just do it, okay? Ha!
- Opt for Bike Rentals. This is a highly bikeable place with plenty of paths to get from town to town, and beach to beach. This cuts down the need for a car and paying for parking and is a great way to see even more sights.
- Bringer cooler weather clothing options. Think sweatshirts and sweaters for the evening,
- Having a kitchen in your rental will help keep you from eating out for all meals. There are plenty of grocery and big box stores within minutes as well as grocery delivery options like Shipt or Prime.
- Don’t forget about downtime. We love to travel with our kids, and one of THE BEST ways to make the trip enjoyable is to travel with kids that are already well-rested. This creates more flexibility for skipped naps, later bedtimes, and less routine.
- Per recommendations, you’ll want to eat at Shunk Gully’s, Shrimp Shack, and Pescado.
Well, folks, that’s all I’ve got for now! All in all, we loved our adventure in 30A! We most definitely plan to go back, and I can’t wait to continue exploring and making more memories. If you have any 30A musts, please be sure to share in the comments below.
In the meantime, enjoy!