Why We Love the Gulf

Get to Know Florida’s 30A

Meet three Panhandle beach towns with style to spare

photo: Amy Dickerson


When Florida aficionados hear “30A,” snow-white sand and pastel sunsets leap to mind. The scenic byway winds through sixteen seaside villages, each with distinct appeal. So where should you plant your umbrella?


AMERICAN IDYLL

Seaside

A stroll along Seaside’s central square presents a utopian picture of old-fashioned summer: kids running around the grassy bowl of the Seaside Amphitheater, dripping banana-cream-pie shaved ice from Frost Bites, one in a line of food-truck Airstreams along 30A; parents sipping fresh-squeezed mimosas at Modica Market or skimming beach reads at Sundog Books. Those Airstreams may boast the longest queues in this Santa Rosa Beach neighborhood teeming with offerings, such as a Barefoot BBQ pulled-pork sandwich, or a Meltdown on 30A gussied-up grilled cheese. Saturday mornings, amble over to the Seaside Farmers Market for
a lemon-ginger kombucha from Wild Magnolia.

Live music, improv shows, and children’s productions regularly appear at the Repertory Theatre, and even adults will find glee at Duckies Shop of Fun—like unicorn-shaped squirrel feeders for the beach house. More than three hundred such homes in Easter egg hues radiate off the square, many rentable. Seaside was among the first to embrace New Urbanism—much of the town is walkable, with porches and picket fences aplenty.   seasidefl.com


PURE BLISS 

Alys Beach

The four brilliant-white minarets flanking the entrance to Alys Beach might make you wonder whether a well-appointed guard will ask for your papers, or at least give your flip-flops and cutoffs the once-over. With its tony touches and Bermuda-inspired look—the minarets are actually old butteries of the sort that once kept Bermudans’ food cold—Alys Beach feels as tranquil as a spa, its minimalist aesthetic a break from the cacophony of colors elsewhere on 30A.

Elements of the town are still under construction, but the cabanas are open for lounging at Caliza Pool, an oasis for those staying in an Alys Beach property—though anyone can snag a seat and a Strawberry Mule at the open-air restaurant. When you’re up for some action, rent a cruiser from Alys Beach Bike Shop and mosey to the butteries to spy a series of mosaic murals depicting the region’s history. Zip by local hub Fonville Press for a latte or a mix-and-match six-pack of craft beers for later. Then wend your way to the breezily refined George’s at Alys Beach, where patrons choose between “behave” and “misbehave” menu options. alysbeach.com


FREE SPIRIT

Grayton Beach

“Nice Dogs, Strange People”—that’s the unofficial slogan for this bohemian enclave set mostly inside two-thousand-acre Grayton Beach State Park. If Alys Beach is your sophisticated cousin who carries a Birkin bag, Grayton Beach is a bit more
like the funky Deadhead uncle. Modern manses may dot the landscape, but much of the 127-year-old town leans cozy, with lived-in cottages and yard art shaded by magnolias and mossy oaks.

Start the morning with fruit salad from Hibiscus Vegetarian Café, then rent a stand-up paddleboard from nearby YOLO Board + Bike, cofounded by serial entrepreneur and world traveler Jeff Archer, who fell in love with Grayton after camping there. Embark from the boat ramp at Western Lake—a rare coastal dune lake of the type seen only here and in places like Madagascar—keeping an eye out for ospreys and bald eagles.

The park’s campground offers simple tent sites, or you can rent a two-bedroom, one-bath cabin. End your night like a local at a mismatched table inside the Red Bar, an old general store turned tavern with live jazz and a chalkboard menu offering the likes of crab cakes and shrimp and crawfish. Bring cash or your checkbook—no cards, or attitudes, accepted. graytonbeach.com


>See more reasons why we love the Gulf


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