Along the Florida Panhandle between Panama City and Destin runs a scenic highway called 30A. This small strip of land has become somewhat famous in the last few years thanks to the 16 beautiful beach neighborhoods of South Walton.
Usually, when you think of fall road trips you picture leaf-peeping treks along mountain roads. Here in Florida, though, we think of autumn as beach season. Many of the tourist crowds have dissipated, and we’re left with glorious weather and stunning coastlines all to ourselves.
Our family decided to take advantage of our Florida fall to road trip along 30A and check out the beach neighborhoods we had heard so much about.
Ideally, we would have parked the car at one of the many public parking lots near the beach, rented some bikes and pedaled our way through the 16 quaint beach towns that make up South Walton. However, our reality of 3 young children with a 4th on the way meant that bicycling in the hot sun all day would have been a drawn-out process full of complaints of exhaustion and thirst.
Instead, we opted to road trip our way through South Walton, stopping at whichever idyllic beach towns caught our eye.
Naturally, South Walton’s biggest draw is the sugary sand and emerald sea. Because of the calm waves and wide shoreline, the beaches are perfect for families. Miramar Beach was our first stop since we were coming from Destin and traveling eastward.
It was an ideal stop for a stroll on the beach and had we stayed longer, also a morning swim. There were few crowds and plenty of space at the public access points on the beach.
Miramar Beach also boasts the Silver Sands Premium Outlet Mall, so if shopping is your thing, you’re in luck.
Blue Mountain Beach
Blue Mountain Beach is decidedly more laid back than some of the other more upscale neighborhoods of 30A. It had a distinctly family-friendly atmosphere. We pulled into a small public parking lot with regional beach access and public restrooms. After taking in the Gulf Coast views, we took a short walk to Blue Mountain Beach Creamery, which serves Charlie’s Donuts in the morning and handmade ice cream in the afternoon.
If your family is the active type and your kids are a little older, you might enjoy renting bicycles in Blue Mountain Beach where you can access the Timpoochee Trail, the wide bike path that runs along 30A.
Blue Mountain Beach flies under the radar compared to more popular neighborhoods like Seaside and Sandestin, but the natural beauty and relaxed vibe are unparalleled. It’s definitely worth a stop, in my opinion.
We parked our car in a spacious free lot in nearby Watercolor and trekked a few blocks until we reached Seaside’s bustling downtown. Our first stop was Airstream Row, a series of gourmet food trucks lined up on 30A. We chose The Meltdown on 30A, a food truck dedicated to every variation of the grilled cheese sandwich under the sun.
We decided to work off our lunch by strolling through the shops and boutiques around the main square. There’s also an open-air market called Cabana where you’ll find beach-chic accessories, clothes and home decor.
Be sure to check out all the walkways that lead to the beach. Each pavilion is more charming than the last, and the perfect spot for beach views and group photos.
To be perfectly honest, there’s not much to do in Alys Beach, but I still recommend making a stop here. You might get out of your car and think you’ve been transported to a whitewashed Greek island. The architects designed the white stucco Bermudan style homes to reflect the surrounding natural environment.
The area is largely residential, so we simply enjoyed wandering the streets and admiring the pristine white homes. Many of the properties have courtyards, fountains, terraces and stunningly manicured gardens. You don’t need photography skills to get a beautiful picture here, so get your camera out and snap away.
If you do anything here besides meander the sidewalks, I would suggest grabbing a coffee at Fonville Park and enjoying it while your kids play in nearby Fonville park.
Rosemary Beach was the last stop on our road trip before heading home, and I’m glad it was! We had been bribing the kids with ice cream all day, and finally found our reward at The Sugar Shak. With a huge inventory of candy and myriad ice cream flavors, it was the perfect spot to stop for a sweet treat.
Take some time to wander this neighborhood and be delighted by the colorful Caribbean-style buildings, the hidden parks and the copious shopping options in the town center.
30A: The Ideal Family Beach Destination
Our time in 30A was limited, so we only discovered the tip of the iceberg of these 16 beach neighborhoods. Whether you decide to stay and play for a week or you’re only passing through, South Walton is definitely worth a stop.
The colorful buildings, innovative town planning and dreamy coastline will have you looking up real estate prices in the area because you’ll never want to leave. I’m dreaming of the next time we can make our way back, and I’ll be sure to make it longer than a quick road trip.
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