Road Trip to 30A
By Claire Murphy
I AM MOST CONTENT AT THE BEACH. Several years ago, my friend decided to move - with school-aged children like mine - from Roswell to a beach community along beautiful Scenic Hwy 30A in the Florida Pandhandle. At the time, I remember wondering, “Why don’t I have the courage to do that?” Today, a top Realtor with The Premier Property Group on 30A, Janet Murphy decided to promote her services here. Less than six hours from Roswell, we often road trip to 30A; but do we ever consider moving there? Or, do we conclude that’s impractical - maybe after we retire? Whether you’re heading to 30A for Spring Break, or planning to look at property, below we highlight some of the differences between the communities.
Are you looking for spring or summer break ideas for families? While the college kids head over to Panama City Beach, the grown-ups and families are headed to 30A. Among the best spring break destinations for families, this stretch of beach along the Florida panhandle has everything needed for a fun, yet peaceful vacation for all ages.
Scenic Highway 30A is a 24 mile corridor from end to end which hugs the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Northwest Florida's Walton County. Sugar-white sand beaches, rare coastal dune lakes, nature preserves, seafood rivaling Charleston and dotted with quaint neighborhoods posing as small towns. The neighborhoods of 30A differ in age, look and feel, meaning there's one for every type of traveler.
Here is a quick flyover look at the beaches and neighborhoods in this popular, family vacation destination less than six hours from Roswell.
SANTA ROSA BEACH
Technically, Santa Rosa Beach encompasses a large part of South Walton, including the smaller neighborhoods of Seaside, Watercolor, Grayton Beach and Blue Mountain Beach, although each of these sub-communities strives to keep its identity distinct and unique. The first things noticed when turning here onto Highway 30A are all the trees. Topsail Hill Preserve, one of Florida’s most treasured state parks, and characterized by 25-foot dunes, 3.2 miles of secluded beaches, and freshwater fishing is like driving through a forest. The residential areas are quiet, meant for long lazy dinners on the porch after long lazy days on the beach.
Compared to the newer 30A master-planned communities, Grayton could be considered unassuming, small enough that residents with beach pads and historic cottages of all shapes and sizes know their neighbors. Visitors notice the dense foliage, twisting oak trees, quaint shops and galleries, and fun and quirky residents. The community’s unofficial slogan is “Nice Dogs, Strange People.”
One of the Gulf Coast’s most luxurious resorts with a wide variety of activities for families, WaterColor is a massive network of attractive houses that stretches across both sides of the highway. We find nature preserves, bike trails, paddle boarding, shopping, fitness facilities, a spa, parks, award-winning dining, nearby award-winning golf courses and the Gulf of Mexico’s sugar-white beaches. Hailed as Northwest Florida’s Only Four-Diamond AAA Hotel, the resort’s WaterColor Inn was also recently honored with a “World’s Best” award from Travel+Leisure magazine.
Time Magazine once decided Seaside is perhaps “the most astounding design achievement of its era.” Seaside is credited with founding the town-planning movement known as New Urbanism. In the 80s, developer Robert Davis had a vision for an adorable, harmonious beachside town. Its “small town” design was carefully planned with nine unique beach pavilions, cobblestone streets, quaint cottages, white picket fences, its own schools, and picture-perfect parks and storefronts. The Truman Show (about a fake, “perfect” community) starring Jim Carrey was filmed here. There's a post office in the center of town, and all the houses have names.
Dune Allen offers an abundant outdoor space and a welcoming, tight-knit community with three coastal dune lakes, which are extremely rare bodies of water found in only a handful of places across the world. This beach town is a dream destination for nature lovers and eco-explorers.
Seagrove Beach has been around much longer than some of the other beach towns. It is located basically in the center of the drive across 30A and home to a variety of restaurants, shops, and other local businesses within walking or biking distance. Since it's not a master-planned development the beaches tend to be a little less crowded. Most homes are tucked away beneath stately oak trees or overlook the Gulf of Mexico.
One of South Walton’s most untouched beach neighborhoods - surrounded by 13 acres of protected dunes - Inlet Beach boasts the largest public beach access point on 30A. The community is laid-back and carefree with cozy beach cottages mixed- n with more modern homes. It is home to many restaurants, which are local favorites.
Along with the usual gorgeous beaches and natural preserves, the Gulf Place Town Center is a popular destination along 30A to eat, drink, and relax. This beach community is bustling with charming boutiques, cafes, art studios and restaurants and is considered a “diamond in the rough” for artists, young and old.
Alys shows off its “new urbanist” community with signature palm trees, a nature preserve, iconic butteries, and bright white stucco architecture set against rich greenery. This high-end (with a low-key feel) beach neighborhood is a work of art in itself and makes a strong, stylish statement to anyone who visits.
This colorful beach community is close to everything, yet still very relaxed. Bikes, flip-flops, and golf carts (loaded with kids and coolers) are the transportation of choice. Some would consider the “town center” of Seacrest the go-to village for all of South Walton, home to one of its few convenience stores, several cute shops and great restaurants.
Rosemary Beach’s 107 acre grassy stretch along 30A is a planned “new urbanist” community and an architectural feast, with influences from the West Indies, New Orleans, Charleston and St. Augustine. This town is host to a variety of outdoor festivals throughout the year, a popular farmers market, concerts and charity events. Grand homes and carriage houses are connected by pedestrian paths.
Named after the area’s brilliant blue lupine flower, Blue Mountain sits at a slight incline compared to the rest of South Walton, and this provides an unforgettable sight. In addition to the gorgeous views of turquoise water from the top of this beach neighborhood Blue Mountain Beach is home to a variety of accommodations - from cozy beach cottages to luxurious new homes. Visitors find eclectic restaurants, locally owned boutiques and art studios.
And finally, while SANDESTIN, SEASCAPE and MIRAMAR are not technically “on” 30A, they’re just minutes away - around the corner on Hwy 98 - and are often considered part of the “16 Beach Communities” of 30A.