Whenever I think of “The Beach” – my heart, soul, and spirit immediately go to beaches of Florida’s panhandle. I grew up spending time at my grandparents Perdido Key, FL condo and I have countless memories of frolicking in the emerald waves with my sisters and cousins.
Maybe because of all of those great memories or maybe because the beaches there are some of the prettiest in the world…but whatever the reason, whenever my husband and I get a break in our schedules we head down to “the beach”. Which always means the beaches of the Florida Panhandle.
Highway 30A rests along the Gulf of Mexico and is dotted with idyllic beach towns, including Grayton Beach, Watercolor, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach, and Seaside (made famous by the movie “The Truman Show” – you know, the movie where Jim Carrey’s character lives a perfect life in a perfect town but it’s actually a tv show?? Yeah, Seaside is that town.) The beaches are pristine, the water is a shade of sparkling jade, the restaurants are chic and relaxed with outstanding food, and the people are friendly. If you ever have a chance to visit The Beaches of South Walton, do it. I can pretty much promise you, it won’t be your last vacation to the area.
Here is the official “Womanista Guide” to the beaches along Highway 30A:
Where to Stay -
The Watercolor Inn: This classic beach “inn” is so much more than just a place to lay your head. It is consistently listed as one of the “World’s Best Hotels” by Travel & Leisure and offers free breakfast, ocean views, and complimentary bikes, kayaks, and tennis during your stay. The hotel also features a beach club on property where you can lounge poolside and sip a margarita. Heaven.
Rent a House: This can be the best fit for a family (or a group of friends!) Beach Rentals of Florida has some great options at various locations along 30A. Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach, and Seaside also have amazing rentals. Or you can always search VRBO.com for the perfect place that fits your needs.
Where to Eat -
La Crema Tapas & Chocolate: This Rosemary Beach gem is one of my favorite restaurants along 30A. La Crema blends amazing Spanish tapas and chocolate with a crisp, relaxed atmosphere for an out-of-this world dinner experience. Relax al fresco and sip your favorite organic spanish red wine, nibble on prosciutto-wrapped figs, and finish off your meal with chocolate fondue while listening to the cool tunes of John Mayer, Florence + The Machine, and the beachy beats of Jack Johnson. Perfection.
George’s: George and Ann Hartley have created a beach dining staple in their signature restaurant, George’s. It’s a picturesque cottage in Alys Beach nestled cozily along 30A. They serve up some of the best asian-inspired gulf seafood and wine. You can’t miss the Salmon BLT wrap at lunch paired with a chilled glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – literally my husband’s favorite meal.
Caliza: The poolside bistro in Alys Beach is only open to residents and their guests for lunch, but book a reservation for dinner to sit inside a cozy, candlelit cabana. The menu is mediterranean-inspired coastal cuisine, and the grouper is to-die for. This is also one of the few restaurants in the area that offers a full bar. Take advantage of it by ordering “The Mexican” – a skinny margarita that wows. The architecture and decor of the space feel more like you are in Miami or Santorini and the service is outstanding.
Amavida Coffee: This beachy coffee house also serves up freshly baked pastries and sandwiches from its locations in Rosemary Beach and Seaside. The real draw, though, is the incredible coffee. The house blend is smoky, chocolatey, and rich. Pick up a to-go cup and take a stroll down the beach – the perfect way to get your morning started right.
V Seagrove: One of 30A’s newest hotspots offers beach views and inventive coastal cuisine, as well as some delicious cocktails. Don’t pass up the raw bar, which features juicy gulf coast oysters in season. V also serves an outstanding brunch on the weekends.
Bud n’ Alley’s: Bud n’ Alley’s is a 30A icon. They have been serving up delicious fare and sunset cocktails from prime beach real estate in Seaside since the 80′s, with no signs of slowing down. The casual, relaxed atmosphere makes it a favorite among vacationers and it reigns as one of the best places to watch the sun go down along the gulf coast.
The Red Bar: This kitschy bar and restaurant is decked out with red christmas lights and various other local garb and is nestled along the dunes in hippie-chic Grayton Beach. It’s a dive that is as cool as it is fun, and you can catch “The Red Bar Jazz Band” playing Wednesday-Saturday nights. The menu varies from seafood to pasta, and everything is good. Insider tip: The Red Bar only accepts cash, so make sure to stop by the ATM before you go.
Paradis: If you want a great steak, Paradis is definitely your place. This boutique steakhouse and seafood outpost is dimly lit and delicious. The cozy tuscan-inspired dining room is a great place for an intimate chat while you sip a chilled dirty martini. One can’t-miss menu item? The crispy and creamy filet and blue cheese tortellini appetizer – it’s absolutely mouth-watering.
Crabby Steve’s: This is the ultimate, no-frills, beach bar. The seafood is fresh and the drinks are cold and strong. You can walk straight up from the beach and settle in for the sunset and a specialty cocktail. Insider tip: Ask bartender Rhonda to surprise you with a drink – anything she whips up on a whim is delicious!
What to Do -
YOLO Boarding: This is one of the original outposts for stand-up paddle boarding. Before taking your board to the ocean waves, hone your skills by the boathouse in Watercolor. Not only is it fun, it’s an amazing workout (my abs have never been so sore!)
Balance Health Studio: Find your inner yoga goddess or amp up your heart rate with a spin class at this locally owned health studio. They also offer chiropractic services from owner Dr. Bart Precourt (which can snap your joints back into shape after a long trip!) and massage therapy. Plus, you can stock up on lululemon workout wear and cozy yoga pants at the on-site boutique (which will also be carrying more lifestyle clothing starting this fall!)
Live Well Concierge: Relax, and let the experts take care of everything for you. Need a ride from the airport? A Bike rental? Want your refrigerator stocked with groceries when you arrive? Done. A restaurant reservation? Easy. Don’t feel like hauling chairs and an umbrella to the beach? Live Well Concierge will have chairs, an umbrella, and a cooler of beer and snacks awaiting your arrival. They can even plan a beach bonfire complete with cocktails and BBQ for you, or help you host a dinner party for 20. No detail is left to chance. They make beach living easy, people. Email Matt@livewellbikes.com with your whimsy.
Where to Shop -
Willow Boutique: With outposts in both Seaside and Rosemary Beach, you can pick up trendy, fashion-forward finds from brands like Tucker, Rachel Zoe, Haute Hippie, Current/Elliot, and Vince. The perfect shop to pick up a chic outfit for a beachside dinner.
Tracery Interiors: The ladies of the Tracery have an eye for high style when it comes to interior design – in fact, I don’t think they have ever carried one piece that I haven’t loved! Their focus is on easy, stylish, drool-worthy home decor. Pick up a pretty candle or a printed throw pillow to remember your travels.
Elliott Boutique: The mother-daughter team that owns this stylish boutique stock up on one-of-a-kind designs and chic beachside wear. Pick up cool hats, shoes and jewelry at this Seaside, FL shop.
Teely’s: Owners Tara and Neely left Nashville’s “Posh Boutique” to head down to the beach and open up a breezy boutique inside a stylish hut in Seacrest Beach. They offer perfectly edited beach finds from printed maxi-dresses to turquoise earrings at insanely reasonable prices. Plus, they are super-friendly and helpful! Stop in for a gorgeous find that won’t break the bank.
Modica Market: This gourmet grocery in Seaside offers specialty meats, spices, and fine wines for culinary beach-goers. It has been family-owned and operated for nearly 25 years. One of the convenient perks? You can order online and have your goods delivered directly to your cottage so you won’t miss a second of beach time.
Goatfeather’s Seafood Market: When you want to grill up some freshly caught gulf shrimp or grouper, head to Goatfeather’s for some of the best gulf seafood, short of catching it yourself! They also make in-house “tuna dip” – a favorite among the locals that makes for a perfect appetizer.
Wine World at Watercolor: This specialty shop features wines and cheeses from around the world. The Italian red selection is perfectly edited and offers great values. Plus, they feature an amazing happy hour and tastings from 5-7.
How to Get There -
Southwest Airlines has direct flights to Panama City Airport (ECP) from Houston Hobby, Nashville, Orlando, and Baltimore. Delta Airlines flies direct from Atlanta into ECP. Once you land, you can catch a cab and be at the beach in about 30 Mins.
Or you can always drive! It’s about 7.5 hours from Nashville, and the trip really does fly by!
Happy visiting the “emerald coast”, womanistas! Did I miss any of your favorite 30A hotspots? Let me know!
xo, the Womanista