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4 Beach Towns to Visit Along Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A

Check out some of the top beach towns in Florida, from Alys Beach to Seaside

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The picturesque beach towns along Florida’s scenic 30A are worth the trip.
Courtesy Walton County Tourism Department

I’ve never met a scenic drive I didn’t like, an appreciation inherited from my dad. There’s just something about the long way home and taking the time to enjoy the journey. The miles slide by while fingers drum on the steering wheel, conversation flowing freely then fading comfortably. 

On Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A, the ride sounds a little different. Jimmy Buffett croons through the speakers … at least in my rented mid-level SUV, where my husband, Skip, commandeers the playlist with no mercy. My son, Bob, babbles in the back seat, his current favorite words on repeat. 

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The speed limit doesn’t exceed 35 mph, with cars and golf carts slowing to a crawl so families can safely cross to the beach and stroll through picturesque town squares. At 24 miles total, 30A hugs the Emerald Coast, slicing through 12 beach communities in this formerly sleepy section of the Panhandle. 30A is both a national scenic byway and Florida scenic highway, recognized for its pretty views of blue-green Gulf waters, coastal sand dunes and charming towns. 

We return here, time and time again, to craft family traditions, hang with multiple generations in the same house, and watch our family play in the sea and soak up the sun. It feels like the least Florida part of Florida, in the politest way possible. No rodent-themed parks, no endless skyscrapers, just sugar sand beaches and walkable towns with structures usually no more than four stories high. 

“There is magic on the 24-mile scenic byway known as 30A,” says Carrie Honaker, 51, a travel writer and Florida expert based in Panama City Beach, adjacent to 30A. “Spanish moss drapes the two-lane road in Rosemary Beach … [and] live music fills the air in funky Grayton Beach, where a stop at The Red Bar is a badge of honor.

“Each neighborhood has a unique personality and a little something different to offer visitors,” she says. 

Visitors to 30A overwhelmingly stay in short-term rentals. Sites like Vrbo and Airbnb provide plenty of options, but an area-specific vendor such as 30A Escapes or Panhandle Getaways is probably a better bet. 

Explore these four beach towns along 30A, traveling from east to west, and discover why they’re well worth a trip.

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The Pearl is a boutique 55-room hotel in Rosemary Beach.
Courtesy Walton County Tourism Department

Rosemary Beach

The most well-known beach town in the area, Rosemary Beach sits at the east end of 30A. With a distinct look reminiscent of European colonial architecture in the Dutch West Indies, a large public beach and loads of green space, it’s the ideal jumping-off point for exploring the region. Get active with a bike ride, the preferred mode of transport in the area. Rent by the day or the week for pickup or delivery to your accommodations. Or consider a quick game of tennis at the Racquet Club, which allows either day passes or weekly passes for nonmembers. End the night with a private beach bonfire coordinated by Rosemary Beach Service, a cherry on top of a perfect day. 

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Stay: Lay your head at The Pearl for ultimate walkability and ocean views. This boutique, 55-room hotel makes for an upscale getaway in the heart of it all. “For a luxury stay at 30A, look no further than The Pearl,” says travel adviser Abbie Synan. “Consistently ranked one of the best hotels in America, the property delivers with a spa, on-site dining, [and] beach access,” she says. 

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Alys Beach is an ivory-hued planned community. A digital projection festival allows artists to showcase their work on the buildings.
Courtesy Walton County Tourism Department

Alys Beach

Rosemary’s posh sister, Alys Beach, is an ivory-hued planned community. Start your day with fresh, cold-pressed juice and organic coffee from Raw & Juicy. If you’re with little ones, pop over to the inventive, petite park next door. (There’s a trail through the 20-acre nature reserve on the north side of town if you really want to stretch your legs.) Don’t skimp on the seafood when in an oceanfront community. Freshly shucked oysters at the Citizen and the lobster quesadilla at George’s are two popular picks. “Alys Beach is the chic enclave that hosts the best parties and festivals,” Honaker says. 

Stay: The town has no hotel, but vacation rentals are an option.

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Seaside is a busy, family-friendly destination along 30A.
Courtesy Walton County Tourism Department

Seaside

Eagle-eyed movie fans may recognize this colorful hamlet as the filming location of The Truman Show (1998). It’s also home to a legendary farmers market, open each Tuesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Centered on a public park and Airstream Row — a grouping of gourmet food trucks — this town is a busy, family-friendly destination on 30A. Scoop some souvenirs at Duckie’s Shop of Fun, which offers contemporary and vintage toys. Don’t miss Sundog Books, which features bestsellers and works from area authors. Get out on the water with a lesson at nearby Austin Magee’s Surf School. After dinner at Bud & Alley’s, consider a beverage at the Daytrader, famous for wild tiki drinks. 

Stay: A more romantic pick for lodging is the Court, an adults-only luxury offering. “The Court is a clean, crisp boutique property in Seaside. With only eight rooms, it’s an ideal accommodation if you’re looking to book a small group getaway,” Synan says.

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The Underwater Museum of Art is located less than a mile off the shore of Grayton Beach.
Courtesy Visit Florida

Grayton Beach

“Grayton delivers funky vibes with all of its fiercely independent artists and musicians,” Honaker says. One artsy draw is North America’s first permanent underwater sculpture garden — the Underwater Museum of Art. Located less than a mile offshore, the garden consists of sculptures from artists around the world; these works of art create a habitat for aquatic life and draw divers to observe the beauty of the new living reef. Create something during a class at the Shard Shop, which is known for art made from repurposed glass. Make it a family affair, as ages 6 and up are invited to participate. Delight in breakfast and coffee at Black Bear Bread Co., a Parisian-style café and bakery. Across the parking lot, visit the Studio Gallery to view works from established and emerging Southeastern artists. For outdoor enthusiasts, Grayton Beach State Park boasts nearly 2,000 acres of nature to explore and is a stop on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Back in town, sip on local brews at Grayton Beer Co. 

Stay: For a quirkier vibe, try the Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse. With its 12 rooms, 1950s Florida flavor, plus breakfast included, it’s a fun option for those wanting Grayton Beach as their home base. “The charming 12-room property has a bit of a vintage flair, hearkening back to the olden, golden days of 30A,” Synan says.

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