What’s New in 30A: Where to Stay & Eat

Editor’s Note: On the heels of Hurricane Nicole, we are able to report that luckily, the neighborhoods mentioned in the article below were not affected by the storms. Our hearts go out to victims in other parts of the state — to learn more about disaster relief efforts in Florida, visit redcross.org.

It’s no wonder folks love the beach neighborhoods along Florida’s Panhandle, well known by now for turquoise ocean views, stretches of soft white sand, and upscale shops and restaurants galore. Technically, the 26-mile stretch of beaches in South Walton County isn’t found entirely along Highway 30A, but somewhere along the way, calling the entire area “30A” just stuck.

First, a primer on 30A: Though the entire area answers to a single familiar name, there’s not just one beach. Many may be familiar with Destin to the west of the highway and Panama City on the eastern side, but the beaches of 30A include a diverse collection of smaller beach towns in between, each with its own personality.

No matter which neighborhood you prefer, 30A promises soft white sand beaches.

Sandestin and Miramar Beach have golf courses, mid-rise condos, and a popular outlet mall, while Grayton Beach is known for its “hippie vibe.” Alys Beach exudes the sleek architecture of Greece and the Caribbean, and the porch-friendly neighborhoods of Seaside, Watercolor, Rosemary Beach, Santa Rosa, and Seacrest each have their own charms. The area is easy to access from so many Southeastern cities by car, although the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is nearby for those who want to fly.

The area is known for beaches that rival the Caribbean. Still, there are plenty of other attractions for families and couples, from paddle-boarding, golf, and hiking to state parks, coastal dune lakes, musical events, wine-tasting weekends, and spas. Insider tip: Aim for off-season times since spring break and summer seasons can bring in loads of visitors. Prices are better in the off-season, too.

WHERE TO STAY

The new Hotel Effie isn’t on the beach, but its setting along Choctawhatchee Bay and the well-manicured golf neighborhoods in Sandestin offers plenty of coastal charm. This is the sort of luxury hotel where you come for a couple’s getaway or girlfriend weekend — not a child-centered vacation. Think rooftop bar cocktails, spa treatments, and a round of golf, followed by a sophisticated dinner at the hotel’s signature restaurant. Ovide is a destination restaurant itself, with the culinary skills of Chef Hugh Acheson behind it.

View of Hotel Effie from a dock.

Hotel Effie’s location on the bay offers spots for exploring, including bike trails, a marina, and the shops and restaurants at Baytowne Wharf. A welcome cocktail and afternoon cookies are nice touches at check-in.

Interior of Overide at Hotel Effie.

Multiple James Beard-winning chef Hugh Acheson brings his creativity to Ovide, a signature restaurant in the Sandestin newcomer, Hotel Effie. The chic lunch and dinner spot is known for coastal favorites with a bit of a French twist.

Although not technically new, The Pearl in Rosemary Beach received a room redo earlier in 2022, making it fresh and even more chic. This boutique hotel right in the heart of town has been named one of Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Hotels, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The architecture reflects elements from the West Indies — black-and-white awnings and turrets — and that view of the Gulf of Mexico … wow.

Some rooms overlook the cobblestone streets of Rosemary Beach, bustling with restaurants and dining al fresco, along with families riding by on their bikes. Speaking of which, complimentary bikes (also offered at Hotel Effie) are a great perk to explore the area. Other charms include a free beach set-up, snacks and complimentary cocktails at check-in, and valet parking at no charge.

The front facade of The Pearl hotel in 30A.

The distinctive architecture and friendly location in the heart of Rosemary Beach make The Pearl a bucket-list place to spend a couple of nights. The experience includes beach-side chair and umbrella set-ups a block away, a quiet adults-only pool, a rooftop bar, and extras galore in the form of beverages and snacks for guests.

View from a hotel room at The Pearl in 30A.

Rooms at The Pearl in Rosemary Beach often come with this mighty view of the Gulf of Mexico, the hotel’s pool, and the rooftops of this charming little coastal town.

Local made pimento cheese and bread in wooden box.

An afternoon snack delivered to the room at The Pearl came just about the time hunger set in, and the locally made pimento cheese was just about the best ever.

Interior of the Havana Beach Lounge in The Pearl

Tucked into the back behind the main restaurant at The Pearl, the Havana Beach Lounge might even get missed by visitors, but it’s a must-visit, both for its new chic decor and as a cozy place to sip on a cocktail (a mojito if you’re following the theme). Saturated colors and rich woods contribute to its Cuban-inspired look.

WHERE TO EAT

New restaurants are constantly popping up since 30A-goers love to eat out. The Parisian-style Black Bear Bread Co. has been wowing customers in Grayton Beach for years with its pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and more, but it now has two other locations in Grand Boulevard/Miramar Beach and Seaside. Swanky Alys Beach now has a new destination: The Citizen features a raw bar but also serves up coastal cuisine for brunch, dinner, and lunch. Convenient with its location right in the heart of Rosemary Beach, Gallion’s has small plates and casual fare at lunch then becomes more serious at night with dishes such as spiny lobster or a grilled Gulf-caught grouper with colorful sides.

Avocado toast from Black Bear Bread Co. in 30A

Avocado toast and a homemade pop-tart? Yes, please! Tasty forget-the-calories treats at the Black Bear Bread Co. are now available in more locations: Grand Boulevard/Sandestin and Seaside, as well as the original Grayton Beach location.

A quiche and salad from The Citizen in 30A.

Head to brunch at the new Alys Beach restaurant, The Citizen, where Paris-worthy quiches and decadent French toast await. Stroll or drive around Alys Beach afterward to take in all the architecture in this award-winning neighborhood.

Exterior of Gallion's, a new restaurant in 30A

The new Gallion’s restaurant and bar in Rosemary Beach is gaining popularity because of its coastal menu and cocktails, with a nod to the interior design by local designer Erika Page of Urban Grace Interiors.

Murals outside of Red Bar in 30A.

Grayton Beach has been rebuilding since a fire a few years ago, with the iconic Red Bar now back up and running. A funky wall devoted to local art was also damaged but is now thriving, so don’t miss a pilgrimage to see the new folk-art display.

For more information, go to visitsouthwalton.com.

All photography by Lisa Mowry.

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