With its 26 miles of white sand beaches, turquoise water and myriad of beach neighborhoods, South Walton County is an easily accessible dream destination for road tripping Texans. Just set the Sat Nav to Highway 30A in northwest Florida and settle down for an 11-ish hour drive.
Texans love the beaches, the fresh seafood and the laid-back vibe of this part of Florida. After Destination Destin last week, we’re now headed further east into this road trip heaven. Here, you’ll find a magical land that you must “sea” to believe. I call it my happy place, as I’ve been to the area several times and just can’t get enough.
Scenic Highway 30A
Do you long to take your family to a tiny town of days gone by, equipped with luxury custom beach homes and cobblestone streets where the primary mode of transportation are cruiser bikes for young and old alike? Where you’re blocks from the crystal white sand beaches and the town center offers restaurants overlooking the sea? Then, you want to travel to one of the 16 beach communities along South Walton County’s 30A (the name of the highway that connects these communities).
Each of them offers a very distinct personality and you are sure to find one that suits you. The sweet 16 are Seascape, Miramar Beach, Sandestin, Dune Allen, Santa Rosa, Blue Mountain, Grayton, WaterColor, Seaside, Seagrove, WaterSound, Seacrest, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach and Inlet Beach.
The epicenter of 30A is the whimsically named WaterColor, home to WaterColor Inn & Resort, a coastal retreat with a strong Southern accent. WaterColor Inn sits on the flour-white beachfront and offers all the amenities that you’ll need. There’s a large family-style restaurant and bar, FOOW, and The Gathering Spot, a cozy lounge/bar area with a menu of small plates and handcrafted cocktails. You’ll also find complimentary cruiser bikes, pools and fabulous beach access. But, the hero of the house is the view from your room, over the patio—a wide open view of the white sand beach and beautiful water!
During your stay in WaterColor, enjoy bike riding through miles of paved trails, nature walks, galleries, markets, and a marina surrounding the beautiful and lush Cerulean Park in the center of town.
Right next door to WaterColor is the backdrop for the Jim Carrey movie, “The Truman Show,” Seaside—straight out of a Hollywood sound stage. With quaint and colorful beach-style homes nestled together along white picket fence-lined streets, Seaside is the epitome of Americana. Seaside was built around the concept of “socialization by design”— front porches to encourage human interaction and a true community to get back to the basics. There are approximately 400 homes, 250 of which are rental homes, all with wooden signs hanging on their fences stating the owners’ name and hometown.
At Seaside, you can enjoy some of the most amazing food served out of an airstream trailer, like The Meltdown, serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Here, you can savor a Sloppy Joe melt, a Strawberry Goat Forever melt (yes, goat cheese and strawberry preserve) or a bacon and brie This Little Figgy melt, among others. And, you can buy the t-shirt that says “I had a Meltdown on 30A.”
Head down the 18.6-mile Timpoochee Trail on your cruiser and you’ll pass The Hub, which is an uber cool open market surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops. In the center of The Hub is an outdoor lawn with the biggest TV screen you’ve seen, ideal for football game viewing while sipping on a cold craft beer and inhaling pork nachos.
Keep going down the trail to visit Dutch-inspired Rosemary Beach (WaterColor to Rosemary is approximately 8 miles). Here is where you’ll find the 55-room boutique hotel, The Pearl (a family from Fort Worth owns the property). The West Indies colonial style abounds in this four-story property that features a day spa and pool.
Dining at The Pearl
At The Pearl, you’ll find my favorite restaurant on 30A, Havana Beach Bar & Grill, where the service is impeccable and the meal lingers in your mind for years. You know you’re going to enjoy a great meal when the expertly-curated bread basket is enough to keep you coming back, with four distinctly different choices including a cheese grit muffin. I chose to enjoy a 2016 Bell Winery cabernet sauvignon from the Napa Valley, but if you’re Daddy Warbucks, you might prefer to order off the “Millionaire’s Cocktail Menu” where a high-roller can imbibe on an $800 sidecar, a $200 margarita, or a $125 rum old fashioned.
Start with the divine jumbo lump crab hash with local crawfish, sweet potatoes, green onions, tasso ham and shellfish cream sauce. Then, move on to the purely Southern Gulf Coast shrimp and grits or the delectable Havana Beach whole grain risotto with smoked wild mushrooms and Shishito peppers. Dessert will involve dark chocolate, bread pudding or some other impressive creation.
A vacation to this area isn’t about what you’ll gain, but more about what you’ll lose: stress, anxiety… yourself.
Cover photo courtesy Visit South Walton Florida
Marika Flatt is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. Hear her “Weekend Trip Tips” on the statewide NPR show, Texas Standard. She always relishes a Florida beach trip where she can indulge her love for glistening sands, sparkling water and a laid-back vibe.