With the temperature starting to drop outside your mind might be starting to wander towards a warm and sunny getaway and whether you’re thinking of spring break or a summer vacation, South Walton Beach area along the Florida Panhandle’s 30A highway should be top on your list. We recently spent a week in October for our fall break and can’t wait to plan a return trip to this charming area between Destin and Panama City Beach.
Where we stayed
We found a great off season deal on a condo in Seagrove Beach, FL. It’s about halfway along 30A and is a little bit older and less developed than some of the other communities which means it’s even more affordable. Our 2 bed 1.5 bath condo was located in a development called Cassine Gardens and we rented through VRBO from a wonderfully sweet owner who had just recently renovated the unit. (Pro tip: we’ve enjoyed using VRBO but have found our best experiences are when we use a listing directly from the owner and not a management company) Our kids were thrilled with all the extras like games and beach toys and we loved the two adult bikes that were included in the rental.
Cassine Gardens is located directly across the street from the One Seagrove Beach public access and we had less than a five minute walk from our door. We did bring a collapsible wagon and I would recommend having something like that to haul your gear back and forth. We had no problem finding beach space and often left our chairs and blanket out for the day while we went back to the condo for meals and rests. I don’t know that you could do this during the busy season but we sure took advantage with the low crowds.
What We Did
Sit at the beach – a pretty obvious choice but if you come here and don’t enjoy the beaches you’re missing out. There is nothing softer than the white sugar sand of this area and I promise you will not see clearer water anywhere in the US. I’m not a beach person because I tend to get antsy but I was perfectly happy to sit under the umbrella (a must) and enjoy the sea breeze. My kids couldn’t get enough of the sand or the waves and the shallow beach made me feel good about letting them have a bit of freedom. We did deal with jellyfish a couple of days but it didn’t ruin our trip and from what I’ve heard they can be a common problem this time of year. Just pay attention when you are playing in the water.
Check out other beaches – Wow, we’re an exciting group! But seriously, don’t feel like you have to stay at your beach. There are several dozen public access points and we had fun checking out new places. Yes, it’s still the same water and beach but it is a change of scenery. We liked Inlet Beach on the far eastern side of 30A. There aren’t many houses and it was a huge stretch of beach with lots of free parking and restrooms onsite. Plus, we found better shells at this location.
Go bike riding – A bike path runs all along the 18 mile stretch of 30A and is a great way to get from town to town. We used it many times to avoid having to take the car. Our rental included two adult bikes and we brought our tag-along bike and trailer since we knew they fit our kids. There are plenty of bike rental places as well. Word of warning, most bikes were beach cruisers without any gears which made it a bit tougher pulling kids behind. Next time we might bring our own bikes.
Explore other towns – Each little community along 30A has its own character and vibe. We spent at least two half days exploring a few of them including Seaside, which we biked to and Rosemary Beach which we drove to. They each have a totally different feel and are full of interesting shops and unique architecture that invite you to wander without an agenda. We didn’t make it to half the towns so this could take you as many days as you’d like.
Visit the State Parks – there are several state parks and nature preserves throughout the area and while we didn’t have time to visit any on our trip, they’re high on my list for next time. They provide a much less crowded experience and include access to hiking and some of the inland lakes the area is well known for.
Where we ate
There is no shortage of restaurants to try and because the area doesn’t allow any chains, all your options are unique, but you could blow your whole budget on food if you’re not careful. Food prices are pretty high in such a tourist heavy location. We found that planning most of our meals at the condo allowed us to splurge a bit on some treats and a few special meals out. There is Publix grocery store in Watercolor so you can stock up on essentials. Here’s a few recommendations:
Airstream Row – Permanent vintages Airstreams converted to food trucks? Um, be still my heart! This quirky fixture is located in Seaside, FL and features menus like gourmet grilled cheeses, hot dogs and shaved ice. So fun and perfect for getting what everyone wants.
Modica Market – a fancy grocery store right on the Seaside square. We found the prices to be much better, especially for some deli salads that could be shared. Don’t miss the smoked tuna salad or some of their bakery specialties.
Goatfeathers Seafood Market – There are a few locations but luckily for us, one was directly across the street from our condo. Instead of heading out for dinner where our children were sure to complain, we grabbed a couple of pounds of shrimp and some crab cake mix. They will kindly steam and season any of your purchases so it couldn’t be simpler. This was fantastic fresh seafood and even our kids loved it (ok, the picky one didn’t but nothing makes him happy). Make sure you check on their hours. Most days they close by 5 or 6 so grab your shrimp early even if you’re eating a late dinner.
Donut Hut – This den of sweetness is located right new to Goatfeathers and we may or may not have made multiple trips. The lines can be long so be patient but all you need to know is Key Lime Donut. I promise your life will change.
Resources for Planning
Visit South Walton Beach – The official tourism site. I found lots of info here including reading many of their blog posts. They also have a detailed map that’s helpful and lists all the public access points.
SoWal Facebook Page – From the tourism office as well, this included a lot more up to date info on local events and was a fun page to follow as I prepped for the trip. They have fantastic photography and it’s always nice to see what the beach looks like.
SoWal Beach Cams – Another fun trip prepping tool. Take a look at the live beach cams to see what the current conditions look like. We used these both before the trip and during.
VRBO for South Walton Beaches – Easy to search and use filters to narrow down what you’re looking for. A few of the communities along 30A use a private management company instead of VRBO so make sure to do your research on where you’d like to stay.
Walton Outdoors – This was a great site about outdoor recreation in the area, including overviews of the state parks in the area.
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So what’s your favorite beach getaway? I’d love to hear where you’re daydreaming of on these cold winter days.