If you’re from Southeastern USA, you know what 30A is. If you’re unfamiliar, let me paint you a picture: 30A is a series of darling beach towns along a 24-mile scenic highway overlooking the white sands and turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. 

The true beauty of this place is how you can seamlessly wander between towns (by bike is a must) and experience all of their different vibes, from the dreamy Dutch-inspired lanes of Rosemary Beach to the peaceful, laid-back stretch of Grayton Beach. That, my friend, is the vacation destination of your childhood – or my childhood, at least.

If you’re a first-timer on 30A but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered.

Want to check out more of Florida's beaches? These are the best

The best beach towns of Florida’s 30A

You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to choosing a town to stay in. From west to east, they are as follows: Dune Allen Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Grayton Beach, Watercolor, Seaside, Seagrove Beach, Watersound Beach, Seacrest Beach, Alys (pronounced like “Alice”) Beach, Rosemary Beach and Inlet Beach. Every town has a distinct personality (and loyal fans).

There are a limited number of hotels along the highway, like the glamorous Pearl Hotel in Rosemary and Watercolor’s gorgeous resort. But really, the area is largely made up of rentals. Try to book your accommodation through local rental companies, like official town sites or 360 Blue. Yes, you may find the same rental places on bigger sites, but you’re also running the risk of higher fees.

Here’s a deeper look at some of the highway’s best towns.

Aerial View of the Grayton Beach Outflow
Beyond its incredible beach, Grayton is also home to dune lakes where you can kayak, canoe or paddleboard © Rotorhead 30A Productions / Shutterstock

Grayton

Vibe: This is not only one of the best beaches on 30A – it’s also one of Lonely Planet’s top beaches in the US. It’s one of the oldest communities on the highway and has less of that new development feel and more of that laid-back, hippie vibe that feels so timelessly beachy. Turn off the paved highway, and the roads are sandy, and the houses are adorable beach cottages. The beach is part of Grayton Beach State Park, where dunes protect several coastal dune lakes.

Do: Take some time to explore the state park. It has a woodsy 4.5-mile trail that snakes around the lakes. You can explore those by kayak, canoe or paddleboard. You can even stay in one of the (very simple) cabins if camping is more your speed. On the first Friday of the month, Grayton’s art galleries stay open late and participate in the 30A Art Walk, where you can meet the artists and enjoy drinks and live music.

Eat: No matter where you land on 30A, you have to go to the Red Bar. Other seafood favorites include Chiringo and Stinky’s Fish Camp. Blue Mountain Beach Creamery has the best ice cream on the highway.

High angle view from wooden pavilion gazebo by beach at Gulf of Mexico at Seaside
Vacationers usually rent coastal houses as hotel accommodation is limited near 30A © Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

Seaside

Vibe: If you’ve ever watched The Truman Show, you’ll recognize the pastel cottages and brick lanes of Seaside, but it’s no longer the sleepy town from the 1998 film. This is one of those places where the town itself is the main attraction, and there’s plenty going on here, especially in the main square. But also take some time to explore the quieter lanes away from the main bustle.

Do: Wander in and out of the shops here, like Central Square Records, Sundog Books, Modica Market for gourmet southern groceries and The Art of Simple for beautiful homeware. Also, stay out after dinner for movie nights in the main square’s amphitheater.

Eat: Bud and Alley’s has kind of taken over the waterfront, with a seafood restaurant, pizza bar and taco bar – but the best table in town is on their waterfront rooftop, with unobstructed beach views and a frozen drink. An honorable mention goes to The Great Southern Café for a nice-casual lunch or dinner, and It’s Heavenly next door for ice cream.

Seagrove

Vibe: Yes, there’s a Seaside, a Seagrove and also a Seacrest, and it’s very confusing. Seagrove has plenty of more budget-friendly accommodation – and more accommodation in general. 

Do: As it’s largely residential here, the best thing to do here is enjoy the gorgeous beaches.

Eat: When it comes to 30A restaurants, Seagrove has so many staples. Café Thirty-A has been around since 1995 (that’s old for 30A!) and is a go-to for casual fine dining. Old Florida Fish House brings the coastal vibes, sitting right off the highway on Eastern Lake. There will probably be live music when you go. Goatfeathers is another beloved seafood restaurant, but I like to stop by their market to pick up some fresh Gulf seafood and cook it myself.

Picturesque street scene in Alys Beach on the Emerald Coast in Florida
Stop by Alys to admire the architecture of this exclusive enclave along 30A © Wirestock / Getty Images

Alys

Vibe: The poshest, swankiest, most exclusive beach of the bunch. So exclusive, you won’t see very many people out and about, but don’t let that discourage you from wandering through if you’re not staying here. Admire the mostly stark-white architecture with Grecian and Moorish influences, private courtyards, glamorous pools and cobblestone streets – perfect for cycling through with your jaw down to your handlebars. 

Do: Walk or cycle the hidden, peaceful nature trail at the furthest end of the town from 30A.

Eat: There are not many options in Alys, but George’s is one of the best seafood spots on the highway. Go for dinner and enjoy your crab cakes on their patio. Or you can sip palomas during the daytime and watch the bikers roll past.

Colorful streetscape view of Rosemary Beach, FL
One of the best things to do in Rosemary Beach: wander through its colorful downtown © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

Rosemary 

Vibe: Simply: charming. Dutch-inspired architecture, hidden alleyways framed by scrub oak trees, woodsy courtyards, fabulous restaurants and an adorable town square. 

Do: Meander in and out of the shops in the town square, like The Hidden Lantern for your next beach read or Ex Voto for their custom antique jewelry. If you’re staying in Rosemary, you also have access to four pools (one indoor), the fitness center and the tennis courts.

Eat: Grab your morning coffee from Amavida (they have a few locations along the highway). Rosemary has some excellent fine dining, like Pescado’s rooftop bar, which has incredible views up the coast. There’s also Gallion’s, where you’ll find stellar seafood but also butter candles and tomahawk steaks.

Inlet

Vibe: Inlet is right on the cusp of 30A, but this was my family’s go-to when I was a kid. Massive beach mansions sit on many of the once-empty lots, but there’s still an off-the-beaten-path feel. The beaches tend to be less busy, so you’ll have a bigger stretch of sand to yourself.

Do: There’s no real “town” in Inlet, so the best thing to do is enjoy its open beaches. Or bike a bit further down the road towards Panama City Beach to Camp Helen State Park for swimming, kayaking, nature trails and more.

Eat: Shades Bar and Grill is the spot for beachy bar food and beer. Or cross Hwy 98 and pick up a sweet breakfast from the Donut Hole – and go early because the line gets long and they start running out of certain flavors. Their old-fashioned sour cream cake donuts are simply marvelous.

A woman in a white bikini on white sandy beach emerald waters of the emerald coast the Gulf Of Mexico with a hat and a drink and beach bag ;
Ditch the car and explore the white-sand beaches and coastal hamlets by bike or foot © Brenda Popovitz / Shutterstock

When should I go to 30A?

Having visited during every season, I can’t stress enough how wackadoodle this place gets during the US spring break season (mid-March to early April). Accommodation is pricey, the crowds are out of control, and restaurant reservations are the most competitive. 

Summer is peak fun, with 4th of July celebrations, outdoor concerts, farmers markets and events like movie nights in Seaside’s amphitheater happening more frequently. And don’t discount the colder months (November to February. Holiday lights, sunny bike rides, easier-to-get reservations, sweater-on-the-beach weather – you can’t go wrong.

Book a late spring (May to June) or even a fall trip (September to November), and you’ll still be able to enjoy that fantastic Florida sunshine with lower rates. But be warned, there may be a few storms. These typically blow over quickly, so you can be back on the beach in no time.

How much time should I spend on 30A?

30A is the perfect weekend getaway for southerners, but if you’re coming from further afield, I’d recommend at least five days to fully explore the highway and get in some beach time. If you only have a weekend, get to know one or two towns. For example, you could base yourself in Rosemary and venture over to Alys or Inlet for some meals and beautiful bike paths.

Is it easy to get in and around 30A?

Yes and no. If you’re flying, Northwest Florida Beaches Airport (ECP) in Panama City Beach is your best option – it’s just a 30-minute drive from the easternmost end of the highway. There are direct flights here from many major US cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Dallas and Washington, DC. There’s also the Destin Ft Walton Beach Airport, which has direct flights from major cities, but it’s a bit further out – about a one-hour drive to Seaside.

Driving in (especially during the summer), you’ll hit bumper-to-bumper traffic along the highway. But once you’ve parked and settled in, you probably won’t need to use the car for the rest of your trip. 

Pro tip: Stock up on groceries (probably from Publix) before you check into your accommodation so you won’t have to hop back in the car again. 

Most people bring or rent cars, but theoretically, you could catch a rideshare or shuttle to where you’re staying and not need a car for your entire stay. This is because 30A is highly walkable and bikeable. If you don’t have your own bike, that’s very normal. There are rental shops in every town, like Bamboo Bicycle Company in Rosemary and Seaside Transit Authority Bike Rentals. Some accommodations also come with golf carts – or you can rent one – which is another popular way of navigating the traffic.

My favorite thing to do on 30A

When I’m not relaxing on the white Gulf sands, I’m probably on a bike. This place is truly special because of how bike-friendly it is – for every car you see, there are seemingly ten bikes. You can cycle the whole highway on the smooth, paved bike path, but I really love pulling off into a different neighborhood and cycling aimlessly, admiring the beautiful homes and enjoying the salty Florida air.

How much money do I need for 30A?

These estimates reflect peak summertime prices – you will find much better deals in the fall, winter and spring, excluding spring break.

  • Rental house or condo that sleeps four: $250+ per night
  • Upscale hotel room: $700+ per night
  • Taxi from the Panama City Beach airport: $40+
  • 3-day bike rental: $53
  • Coffee: $4.50
  • Sandwich (aka, a Pub Sub from Publix): $8.50
  • Cocktail: $12
  • An upscale seafood dinner for two: $100+

Is 30A a pricey place? Yes. Is it splurgeworthy? Also yes, if you know how to spend your money. But the main reason to come here (for the gorgeous beaches) is completely free to enjoy.

Ocean view on the Emerald Coast, Florida at sunset
Winter is the time for sunset beach walks wrapped in cozy sweaters and the beach to yourself © kimberford / Getty Images

FAQs

Parking is limited

Check that where you’re staying has on-site parking. It’s a headache in busier towns like Rosemary and Seaside, as well as beach access points. The best option is to ride your bike to the beach and lock it up on one of the racks.

Check for rental perks

Ask your rental agency if your accommodation comes with chairs or an umbrella. It’s one less (kind of major) thing that you don’t have to worry about packing. Bonus points if there’s a wagon that you can cart it all to the beach in.

Yes, you can drink on the beach here

As long as you’re of legal drinking age, non-glass open containers are allowed on 30A’s beaches (with one exception: you cannot drink on beaches in state parks).

Make your restaurant reservations early

Always make your reservations a few weeks out as a rule of thumb, but this especially applies to spring break season, summer, Thanksgiving week and the Christmas holiday period (the week between Christmas and New Year’s draws a big crowd).

Believe it or not, people do live here year-round

30A is known as a vacation spot, and there have been issues in the past with spring breakers and other vacationers behaving too rowdily. Remember that there is a local community who lives here, and as with any destination, always be respectful to their home.

Planning a trip to Florida? Here’s more of our expert advice:

These places should be on your itinerary
From beaches to theme parks, don’t miss Florida's top experiences
Here’s when the Sunshine State gets the most sunshine (and other great times to visit)
Check out these budget-friendly tips before you book

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