The best beaches in the continental USA are along the panhandle of Florida, and Destin is praised above all others for its idyllic shoreline. Nonetheless, many argue the creme de la creme of Florida’s Emerald Coast is the eighteen-mile-stretch south of Destin known as the Highway 30A Florida. These 30A Beaches and Towns are some of the most luxurious and capricious you’ll find anywhere in the nation.
We don’t want to take anything away from the surrounding Gulf Coast beaches. All along the Florida panhandle — from Pensacola to Panama City — the beach is amazing for 80 miles. The water is postcard blue and the sand is white and fluffy throughout this mesmerizing coast.
But because the 30A highway is an incredibly wealthy area, everything is more pleasing to the eye. And we all know that means the average schmuck is priced out of contention.
Yes, this is another one of our Honest Reviews. With such exclusivity and the loathsome personality trappings that accompany it, how could it not be?
In fact, this is our #1 go-to vacation spot when cold weather gets us down. The way we see it, if we’re gonna spread sunshine all year, we need to recharge on the 30A beaches every now and again.
When you find yourself visiting this part of the country, be sure to check out the 30-A Highway. Pensacola is nice and all, but we think you’ll find the 30A Beaches and towns irresistibly charming.
Here’s a Map of the 30A Beaches and Towns:
Your best bet is to come in the shoulder season.
April and May have mid-70’s to mid-80’s weather. Sept-Oct-Nov. are good as well.
June, July, and August host opprobrious crowds. The heat can be abusive and folks get surly.
December through March is fine, but you might not get beach weather.
Destin draws 3.4 million annual visitors and many of them make their way to the 30A beaches. As a result, traffic on the two-lane road can be hellacious during the summer months.
Also worth mentioning is, privileged teens blasting rap from their golf carts notoriously irk beachgoers by clogging the streets and ignoring everyone but themselves.
Moreover, the umbrella and beach chair mafia have taken over beaches like Seagrove and Rosemary Beach. Beachgoers are stacked five rows deep and forced to pay $160-170 daily rental rates.
Additionally, those who bring their own chairs and umbrellas are forced into roped-off beach boxes even if they paid thousands to rent a condo across the street!
These two things have folks downright angry these days. Just read Trip Advisor reviews: “Seaside isn’t what it used to be! Boycott Rosemary Beach! Who raised these teenagers?!!”
And to them that complain, we say: Go to the right beaches during the school year.
In all honesty, the exclusivity is legit. Those that make the rules have rigged the game in recent years to run off the riff-raff and set their kids about fancy free. Hooded sweatshirts need not apply, if you know what we mean.
It is discouraging to some. But not us! We will darken their sidewalks, and give sideways glances to their thoughtless progeny, and thumb through their overpriced books (yet not buy anything), and walk the full length of their beaches, whether they like it or not.
Here are the ten absolute best things to do on the 30A Highway!
Must-Do attractions are typically the reason we’ve decided to visit.
This might just be the best beach in the continental United States. The sand and water are perfect and the coastline rambles like a Grateful Dead medley.
The hours are 8 AM to Sundown, 365 days a year. The cost is $5 per car. Cabins and campsites are available at affordable prices — Be sure to book FAR in advance.
In addition to a beautiful and pristine beach, Western Lake offers fishing and paddling, and those who want to explore on foot have 4 miles of trails to traverse through a coastal forest.
Lakes and hiking are great for breaking up the time, but you’re likely here for the surf and solitude.
Be sure to bring your fishing pole, too. Ocean fishing is a great way to pass those lazy Florida days.
Topsail Hill Preserve is one of four incredible State Parks on the Emerald Coast. This is the perfect place to anchor your vacation.
Topsail is close to US Highway 98, which gives good access to the beautiful trappings of the 30A as well as the convenient shopping and restaurants near Destin.
The campground and facilities are located about a mile from the beach, so the park operates a continual shuttle to the shore and back.
Related Article: A Complete Guide to the Emerald Coast
Throughout the park are 15 miles of hiking trails. Other activities include swimming, paddling, bike riding, geocaching, birding and fishing.
The combination of beach, campground, activities, and location makes Topsail Hill Preserve State Park one of the very best things to do on the 30A beaches highway.
If you’re driving the 30A Highway you’re going to visit the town of Seaside.
This is the most obvious place to stop along the road, a picture-perfect holiday setting boasting wood framed cottages and wide bike lanes.
Seaside and 30A Seagrove Beach are the perfect places to anchor your getaway — if you can afford the smash-and-grab rent.
The city center is a horseshoe circle of businesses surrounding an amphitheater. Everything from wine markets to food trucks draw huge crowds of good looking, well dressed wayfarers.
Bicycle and golf cart rentals are abundant — the constant flow of low-speed-vehicles and beach cruisers adds to the chillaxed luxury ambiance.
FWIW: If you are renting in Seaside, Watercolor, or Seagrove Beach, you will have beach access. If you cannot prove you are staying nearby, you will be required to pay tribute with a $160 beach chair/umbrella rental to set foot on the beach.
The town of Seaside has placed fences atop the dune to block views of the beach, and stationed frat-ish, Cabana-boy sentinels on the stairways to expel the marauding bar-bars.
Vallum Hadriani it is not. Yet it is a formidable, frosty-tipped barrier.
Some folks are upset the proletariat is allowed to shop in the highfalutin markets but forbidden from denigrating the beaches.
We don’t care. The town of Seaside will always be one of the best things to do on the 30A Highway. We’ll just spend our 30A beach hours at Grayton, Topsail, Ed Walline, etc.
Should-Do attractions receive a strong recommend.
The 30A beaches have no shortage of fancy towns with posh housing and overpriced trinkets. This is part of the reason we love it so much!
Rosemary Beach is the major installation on the southern end of the 30A highway. For one reason or another, Rosemary feels less bright and airy than Seaside, with a more subdued vibe and darker, more classical tones in the architecture.
We prefer Seaside, but both towns are gorgeous.
Like Seaside, the beach at Rosemary Beach is private/public, which means they require confiscatory tribute if you aren’t staying here.
Don’t pay it. Screw the man.
Also like Seaside, Rosemary Beach has overprivileged personalities that dominate the landscape. It can become obnoxious with pretense, especially when the self-centered jags are fourteen-year-old kids.
Always remember — and embrace — this is a playground for the rich. It’s why you don’t see gomers smoking blunts and spilling profanity into the marketplace.
If rich douchebags are too much to handle on your vacation, or the umbrella mafia rankles your sensibilities — we get it — you might want to pass on Rosemary Beach.
In other news, the place is beautiful, with sumptuous stores to unload your guffaws and restaurants to dump burdensome cash.
Our Best Advice: Walk beyond the small horseshoe of shops on the ocean side of 30A. You’ll find a hidden street drops over the hillside toward the 30A beaches. There is a park at the bottom and stunning shops on both sides.
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A suburb of Seaside, Watercolor is a charming town full of monied, earthy types that forsook city living for a beachier lifestyle.
The architecture is something to behold. They have an enviable little school.
We strongly recommend getting lost walking the neighborhoods of Watercolor. It is one of the best things to do along the 30A beaches.
As you wander about you’ll surely come across Cerulean Park. A pool with a fountain typically catches the eye, then the colorful gardens along the path that runs beneath picturesque trees.
Feel free to stroll the entire length of the park. Eventually it terminates in a neighborhood of pleasant homes. From here you can turn south (right) and perambulate to your heart’s content.
You’ll see some of the most amazing porches this side of Charleston in Watercolor.
Eventually you’ll find yourself back in Seaside, or somewhere equally pleasing. It doesn’t really matter. This is a good place to get lost.
Should-Do attractions receive a strong recommend.
The regional beach called Ed Walline is one of the best things to do on the 30A Highway. A small parking lot with a boardwalk ramp is about all you’ll notice from the road (see map at top for location). You will have to park elsewhere if you arrive after morning.
This beach option is one of many 30A beach options, better than most, but not the best.
Tell you what though: I would sit on this beach 100 times before I would pay $160 to sit on a beach in Seaside or Rosemary Beach.
Across the street from the parking lot are a few nice restaurants, a pizza place, an ice cream shop, and a candy store.
Every child’s beach memory includes a candy store or ice cream shop. Hopefully both (we wouldn’t want children getting cheated on their memories).
Somewhere between Topsail and Grayton Beach is the Blue Mountain Beach Creamery ice cream shop and candy store. You’ll see it from the Highway 30A Florida, about a block away from the beach.
If you like to keep it simple, you could rent a condo in Blue Mountain, hang at the beach, and grab a cone when it gets too hot.
Sand. Sherbet. Shrimp. Sunset. Sleep. Repeat tomorrow.
Alys Beach might be the most stunning thing you’ll notice along the 30A highway.
The houses are magnificent — as if the Pueblos Blancos of Spain were remodeled by rich Americans. One house in particular might be the most fantastic-looking space-age aquarium you’ll ever see.
Spend a few minutes walking around here and you’ll be flabbergasted at the affluence.
The problem is, there’s nothing to do here but gawk. That’s fun for twenty minutes, but eventually you’re going to get bored and go looking for boiled peanuts or some other proletariat snack and Alys Beach will fail to deliver the goods.
This is all by design. We must accept that some people are rich beyond belief, and they don’t want us lingering at mini-marts, bringing down the property values.
Dune Allen Beach might be the victim of 30A beach fatigue The sand and water here are basically as good as any of the other 30A beaches, and there’s less competition for the real estate.
But there’s not much here, honestly — Stinky’s Fishcamp is across the street. You can walk a few blocks to Ed Walline Beach.
You might notice in the above photo that there is sea grass on the beach. This can happen during the late spring and summer. We’d visited a few times and this had never happened.
On our most recent trip a whole mess of grass landed the day after we arrived and it hung around for two weeks. We didn’t love it, but what are you gonna do?
We couldn’t make a list of things to do without recommending a restaurant, so here it is. The Old Florida Fish House is like a family compound with an assortment of activities in addition to food.
Here is what they have to say for themselves: “Old Florida soul in the heart of 30A nestled on Eastern Lake showcasing coastal flair. Whether you are looking for a lunch with a view, a sushi experience like no other, or a traditional Old Florida fresh seafood dinner, we have something for everyone at Old Florida Fish House.”
We didn’t intend this to be a commercial, but if you want a memorable meal along the 30A beaches, this is a great place to have one.
Once upon a time the 30A beaches were a secret vacation spot. Local families treasured the clean towns and pristine beaches they had to themselves. Those same families are the ones today lamenting the cabana boy bouncers, OR they’re the one’s who installed them.
Can’t say we blame them. Our favorite hush-hush holiday jaunt — Cannon Beach, Oregon — suffered the same fate 20 years ago when the Microsoft hipster crowd arrived and jacked the place up. Now every hotel is fru-fru and the candy is priced for aneurism.
Perhaps Don Henley said it best, “Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.”
Thankfully, the 30A beaches are alive and well and beautiful as ever. You just have to know how to play the modern game.
We still view the Emerald Coast as a family treasure, even though we are part of the congestion.
If you can’t avoid the summer months, just start your days early to get parking and utilize the state parks for your beach excursions.
We hope you enjoyed reading our Honest Review about the 30A beaches and towns. Here are some other articles worth checking out:
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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