Things To Do In 30A: Best Kept Beach Secret of the South

by | Jun 2, 2023 | Destinations, Family Adventures, South East, USA

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30A, with its white sand beaches and turquoise waters, is like the laid-back cousin to Panama City Beach and Destin. 30A doesn’t get caught up in all of the drama and hustle-bustle. 30A likes to take things slow, enjoys a small-town feel, and loves relaxing with the family. Most travelers have never heard of this area, a small collection of Florida beaches nicknamed the “30A.” It’s often overlooked by tourists who flock towards the more well-known close by beaches of Panama City or Destin. While 30A is located between these two major beach hubs, it doesn’t have the same party scene and is more family-focused than the typical college spring break destination.  


Beach scenes, child playin in the ocean, view of beach boardwalk- The Best Kept Beach Secret of the South



What is 30A

This area of beaches also referred to as the Emerald Coast, runs along country road 30A between Destin and Panama City along the Florida Panhandle.  These are not the typical touristy beach towns; there are no massive resorts or condos but rather boutique hotels, with most people renting vacation homes. Visitors will find local restaurants and shops rather than national chains and tourist traps. It is guaranteed that visitors will never run out of sun, ice cream, or the perfect backdrop for that family photo. 

Within 30A’s 16 beach towns are: Rosemary Beach, Seacrest Beach, Alys Beach, WaterSound, Seagrove Beach, Seascape,  WaterColor, Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Gulf Place, Dune Allen Beach, Sandestin, Miramar Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Inlet Beach and Seaside. Each of these destinations offers their own unique personality, and while some may be tiny, they are still worth a visit. All of these beach areas are relatively close together, roughly 20 miles along the coastline, so a visitor could easily rent a car to visit all of these beach communities. Although we are going to focus on our top 3 recommendations, any of these locations would be a great family vacation spot, offering a unique perspective of gulf beach life for the entire family.



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Grayton Beach – Funky and unique perspectives

One of the oldest communities, Grayton Beach, is the “soul” of 30A with the unofficial motto of “Nice Dogs, Strange People”. It’s a hidden paradise found off a quiet tree lined road. It’s eclectic vibe attracts artists, musicians, and even chefs. It’s home to the world-famous Red Bar, which is one of the most popular night attractions in the area known for its live music and beach shack vibe that attracts all kinds of patrons, including many celebrities. It’s family-friendly during the daytime, but visitors need to get a babysitter for the evenings.   


What To Do At Grayton Beach

Visitors looking for a bit more adventure can take their family kayaking in the Coastal Dune Lakes. Families can rent canoes, kayaks, or paddle boards and experience the wonders of the Western Lake, a 100-acre lake that meets with the Gulf of Mexico. These rare lakes are unique as their freshwater ecosystems sit within a few feet of the Gulf’s salt water, so this area becomes home to both fresh and saltwater species. There are only a few places on earth where this occurs, so it’s a cool feature to tell the kids to remind them how brilliant their parents  are. Additionally, there are a few state parks nearby including Grayton State Park; it’s a great place to paddleboard, and families can also rent cabins in the park for relatively cheap prices.


Where To Stay At Grayton Beach

Accommodations within the Grayton Beach area are limited, but there are private residences to check out! Or families can stay nearby in Santa Rosa or Seaside. 


Red Bar in Grayton Beach: The Best Kept Beach Secret of the South

Outside view of the famous Red Bar.  Photo: Alison Wells


Rosemary Beach – Upscale charm with old European appeal

By far, the most popular and one of the best places to visit is Rosemary Beach.  The Old World architecture resembles places like New Orleans, Charleston, and the West Indies with colorful houses, private courtyards, and large porches to better feel those ocean breezes.


What To Do At Rosemary Beach

Rosemary Beach has a more upscale feel and encourages community with an active central town square, family entertainment options, and award-winning restaurants. Check the local calendar of events for details, but typically guests can experience the 30A Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings,  Moonlight Movies & Face Painting Thursday evenings, and live music performances in the Town Center. 

Water activities are popular here, like kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, parasailing, and fishing or boat excursions. While golf carts are popular along all of 30A, bicycles reign supreme in Rosemary Beach. It’s the best way to see the area and take a ride along scenic 30A. There are paved sidewalks that are biker-friendly, and bike rentals are available throughout 30A, so don’t worry about bringing one from home. This, along with nature hikes, are some favorite family activities and a great way to take a break from the beach.  


Where To Stay At Rosemary Beach

A bit more exclusive, there are tons of vacation rentals for all sizes of families.  The only big hotel option is the boutique Pearl Hotel which is located in the center of town and includes the Havana Beach Bar and Grill, their fine dining AAA four-diamond restaurant which includes options for dining: the main dining room (a more fine dining experience), the veranda with amazing views, the Rooftop, or in the Lounge.

One thing to note is that Rosemary beaches are “private,” which gives guests an additional sense of privacy. They are only accessible to people who are staying in Rosemary and have a code or a wristband to allow entrance to the beach.


woman on bike: Best Kept Beach Secret of the Soith

Bikes are a must in Rosemary Beach!
Photo: Kirk Thornton


Santa Rosa Beach– Cool colors and casual vibes

Our personal favorite is Santa Rosa Beach. It has a casual feel with cute colorful houses and décor. The Gulf Place Town Center serves as the central hub and includes a coffee shop, restaurants, and local boutiques. Golf carts are extremely popular, and many house rentals provide one ( if not, travelers can rent one).


What To Do At Santa Rosa Beach

My family walked to most places, but we did drive a car down to the Town Center as well as go to the neighboring area of Waterscape for dinner one evening. This area is not as crowded as Rosemary Beach, and while Santa Rosa has restaurants and bars, they tend to close around 8 or 9 pm. If a person is looking for nightlife, they’ll need to look elsewhere. 

While this city area has all the water sports, it also is another great opportunity for outdoor activities. Families can visit nearby Deer Lake State Park and walk the ¼ mile beach boardwalk to view the sand dunes (the sugar-white sand is sometimes called  Florida snow). There is also the Timpoochee Trail which is a paved 18-mile path great for family bike trips in which visitors pass through numerous towns, beaches, and beautiful natural areas. Don’t worry about getting tired; there’s restaurants, shops, and rest stops along the way to make this a very fun scenic ride.




couple on beach: The Best Kept Beach Secret of the South

Who wouldn’t be happy walking in this sunset! Photo: Alison Wells


Where To Stay In Santa Rosa Beach

Most of the lodging consists of vacation rentals. There won’t be chain hotels or high-rise resorts in 30A. The rentals we have used have all been very family-friendly, offering items like pack-n-plays, high chairs, wagons, and beach toys. One quick word of advice, double check what amenities the rental includes so you know what to pack – a portable wagon to trek to the beach is a must-have!

There are boutique hotels such as the Watercolor Inn, where a standard room starts at around $500 (pending the season). Most people book a full week (Saturday to Saturday), so many of the house rentals may require a week’s stay during the busy summer season. Prices will usually significantly drop outside the summer months, which makes May, late August, and September great times to visit.



Santa Rosa beach boardwalk with child and adult male: The Best Kept Beach Secret of the South

Santa Rosa boardwalk to the beach- strollers are a must! Photo: Alison Wells


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Regardless of what beach families selected, make sure to take a little time to sightsee all of 30A. It’s called the “scenic highway” for a reason, so gather the kids, get the snacks ready, and take a slow stroll along 30A to enjoy cute shops, unique art galleries, natural beauty, and even some egrets and alligators. Whether a visitor wants an upscale boutique hotel or a state park Cabin, 30A has a little bit to offer everyone. It’s a celebration of the best things of small-town life and an appreciation of taking things a bit slower. It’s the secret of the South that is slowly gaining popularity with families across the United States and may be the perfect place for your family’s next beach vacation.


To get discounts on tours in the area, we recommend Get Your Guide or Viator (which offers 51% off last-minute tours!).


When You Go


Getting To 30A from Los Angeles

Fly into Panama City’s Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), which is approximately 35 miles from the 30A area.  All major airlines use this airport, including Southwest, Delta, United, and American Airlines. The other option is the Destin-Fort Walton Airport (VPS), but that also includes a 1-2-hour drive to the 30A area. Many people don’t mind driving the extra distance if they can get a cheaper flight from VPS plus, it’s a smaller airport, so it is usually not as crowded as other Florida airports.

Regardless of which airport visitors use, nonstop flights are hard to find from Los Angeles as most flights include a layover in Dallas, Houston, or even Atlanta. For the brave souls that chose to drive, it’s about a 32-hour drive from Los Angeles to Rosemary Beach. While I don’t think I would survive, this could make for an epic road trip for the family that has the time and sanity. 

An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!



Beach scene and child sitting on beach by water: The Best Kept Beach Secret of the South

Nothing like a little relaxation on vacation! Photos: Jennifer Bradford


Alison, a Texas native, lives in Baton Rouge with her husband, Caleb, two daughters, one son, and newly adopted puppy, Cinnamon. Lover of Tex-Mex, coffee, and house-hunting, Alison keeps busy working full-time in higher education and wrangling three littles. In her “free” time, she enjoys reading, redecorating her house (much to the dismay of her husband), and of course, traveling. For more family fun and adventures, follow Alison @bonlsu