If you don’t live on the Eastern seaboard, then chances are you’ll be heading south for blue waters this summer. Florida is a natural destination, with thousands of miles of beaches and delightful scenery. And if you’re going in the Gulf Coast direction of the Sunshine State, you’ll undoubtedly spend some time on 30A. The scenic highway in the Florida panhandle traverses an isthmus of white sand and colorful waterfront homes while, at the same time, shows off the kind of laid-back beach attitude you’d hope to find on vacation. Located just a few miles from Panama City Beach, 30A stretches from Destin some 28.5 miles to Rosemary Beach, with several lovely stops in between. So, reserve a rental car and lock in a few addresses in your GPS; it’s time to see all that you can see along this beautiful byway.
Reserve a room at The Pearl Hotel, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property on Rosemary Beach. The Beach Escape package offers a 50 percent discount off the second night of your stay. With complimentary beach chairs, umbrellas and valet parking as a part of the deal, all you’ll need to do is unpack a bathing suit and sunglasses to get your vacation started on the resort’s private beach.
After you’ve washed off the sand accumulated from an afternoon of sunbathing, hit 30A and drive five miles west to Grayton Beer Company, a brewery and taproom founded by Jamey Price. Open Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., Grayton Beer Company specializes in small-batch beers like the acclaimed Redneck Rye-viera, a rye double IPA that you can taste right in the taproom, alongside 24 other brews on tap.
When you are through enjoying your pours, end the evening at Bud & Alley’s, a waterfront restaurant located at Santa Rosa Beach. With a casual rooftop bar upstairs and fine dining downstairs, you can get the perfect view of the sunset while nibbling on classic peel-and-eat shrimp or grilled Gulf snapper served with a lima-bean-and-corn succotash, basmati rice and lemon aioli.
Begin your morning outdoors with WOW Paddleboards. Owner Gabriel Gray is an acclaimed river preservationist who founded The Fight to SOAR (Save Our American Rivers) project, and leads regular excursions across the panhandle at Lake Powell and some within nearby St. Andrews State Park.
Your arms will have earned a break, so dine like a local by having an early lunch at The Red Bar, a beach shack that’s known among celebrities and natives alike as one of the best places in the world for crab cakes. But since you’re there for lunch — the cakes are only available on Friday and Saturday nights, sorry — you won’t be disappointed with the seafood gumbo or shrimp po’ boy. It only takes cash, and the line is bound to be long, so plan ahead and keep a snack in your bag just in case.
If you’re traveling with kids, make sure to stop in at Duckie’s Shop of Fun for beach toys, clothing and souvenirs. From soccer and footballs to rubber duckies and child-sized sunglasses, this place can stock you up with things to do in the sand, or the puzzles and games needed for a rainy day.
After some shopping, head back to the hotel for dinner. Havana Beach Bar & Grill chef Greggory Smith took the helm in 2014, and is updating the nightly menu with some expected flavors of Northwest Florida (grouper-, scallop- and shrimp-filled paella) and a few surprise delicacies (house-cured pork belly served with cilantro salad, avocado crème and plantains). Whether you finish the day with dessert at your table or a cool drink by the pool, you’ll have earned a good night’s rest.
Spend your final morning soaking in the sun on the stretch of beautiful beach right outside your room door. If you’re in need of an indulgence, take the 30-minute ride to Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa for a facial, massage or body treatment administered by the attentive staff at Serenity by the Sea. Ask the concierge about specials — the full-day Total Indulgence package certainly sounds like a winner — to ensure an experience to remember.
For lunch, nothing beats the amberjack sandwich at The Back Porch, a local favorite that has been serving the same, perfectly charred grilled fish sandwich since 1974. In addition to that must-try menu item, The Back Porch turns out raw oysters and an assortment of other seafood, while delivering a remarkable view of Destin’s white sands and blue waters.
With just a few hours left on 30A, spend the late afternoon soaking in the sun’s last rays from Choctawhatchee Bay at the southernmost point of the U.S. 331 highway bridge. It’s the perfect spot to relax and reminisce over the past three days on 30A.