Getaway to 30A
No Need to Travel to Paradise, You're Already Here
There’s an old chestnut that goes something like “getting there is half the fun.”
These days, unless you’ve got the Gulfstream fueled and ready to go on the tarmac, getting there (and back) is pretty much zero fun, while eating into precious vacation time with a day or two of aggravation, boredom and expense.
Why not ditch the airports and highways and enjoy a “staycation” at one of the communities and resorts in South Walton instead? The off-season months offer a perfect opportunity to check out of your workaday world and check in to a beach getaway less than an hour later. The weather and water can be practically perfect, the rates are low and the crowds are just a memory.
No need to work around school schedules; it’s easy to pack plenty of good times into a weekend when you eliminate traveling. There’s no need to rush from one activity to another, or try to pack in activities to please each and every family member — after all, if you don’t get to everything in one weekend, there are lots of other weekends in the year!
Elegant Alys Beach offers “green” luxury vacation rentals from $300 in the spring (two-bedroom)
There are 15 beach communities along the 26-mile South Walton coast, offering a wide array of experiences. Take the family to a larger resort and it’s quite possible to park the car when you arrive and forget about it until it’s time to leave. In addition to sand and surf fun, Sandestin has miles of bike trails, playgrounds, shopping, kayaking and other water sports, restaurants and a full calendar of special events.
Or, base yourself in a more eclectic community such as Grayton Beach or Dune Allen and find amusements as you hopscotch along 30A — a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich served from a classic Airstream trailer at Meltdown on 30A in Seaside, a visit to 2011 Artist of the Year Allison Wickey’s World Six Gallery in Rosemary Beach, a complimentary (tip, please) rickshaw ride courtesy of 30A Coastal Cruisers.
While cruising the highway in your car is enjoyable, seeing the sights on a bicycle can turn the ride into an all-day adventure. Ride the length of the paved, 19-mile-long Timpoochee Trail or visit a community or two at a time. Bicycling makes it easy to stop at one of the area’s dune lakes or a funky shop, or to grab a meal or an ice cream cone. If you need a little help trying to figure out where to begin, the Scenic 30-A website (discover30a.com) includes a Virtual Bike Tour. You’ll find a history of each community and sights of interest as well as 200 photos of what you can expect to see along the way.
No bike? No problem! There are rental companies along the beachfront with bikes for every member of the family, including beach cruisers, mountain bikes, tri-wheels, pint-sized bikes with training wheels and baby seats and trailers. Sunny Days in Santa Rosa Beach will deliver your rental to your door. Other companies include SoWalBikes, Seaside Bike Shop, Bamboo Bicycle Company (Rosemary Beach) and Big Daddy’s (Blue Mountain Beach).
The ideal place for a romantic getaway is the still-growing Alys Beach community. Driving past the sculptural entrance, you realize that, with its blinding-white houses contrasting with the occasional green lawn, this place is different. From a distance, the community looks very simple, but Alys Beach is the result of painstaking planning. Its walkways are oriented to capture the coastal breezes, and a stroll hand-in-hand with your sweetheart offers pleasant surprises. It’s fun to peek through open doorways to see very colorful island-style courtyards reminiscent of Bermuda or Antigua. Homeowners there participate in a particularly charming tradition: Outside of most homes is a “gift” to the community. It might be a small fountain, a vine-covered pot or even a whimsical stone divan.
The 7,200-square-foot Caliza Pool will carry you away with its Morocco-meets-South Beach vibe that includes billowing sunshades, hammocks and secluded cabanas just perfect for a romantic tete-a-tete. The pool deck is surrounded by the Caliza Restaurant, just the spot for an alfresco dinner. If you’re looking for a more casual bite, stroll on over to 30A and hang out at the beachy George’s at Alys Beach and choose between their healthful “Behave” menu or the heavy-on-the-fried-food “Misbehave” choices.
Alys Beach’s white walls become the canvas for a spectacular art show during Digital Graffiti. Drawing digital artists from around the world, it has grown to be a two-day event, set this year for June 8–9.
Whether it’s Mom, Dad and a couple of youngsters, or a full-blown family reunion, the WaterColor Inn and Resort is a great place to visit. The Inn features 60 luxurious hotel-style rooms, designed to capture beautiful Gulf views — even from the shower! But for a large group or a more home-like experience, there are also villas and homes for rent.
There are the typical beach amenities — sand, surf, pool — as well as access to Western Lake at The BoatDock. It’s the perfect place to learn stand-up paddle boarding, or sign up for an ecotour via kayak, YOLO board, YOLO-yak (a combo of YOLO and kayak) or canoe. Master Naturalist Murray Balkcom of Walco Eco Tours helps you see what may not be obvious at first glance. For example, he points out ghost crab tracks and shows that what at first glance look like scrubby bushes are actually the tip-tops of live oak and magnolia trees almost completely covered by sand dunes.
Be sure to set aside an afternoon for a visit to the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center on Highway 20 East near Freeport. During the week, its purpose is to bump up the environmental knowledge of students prepping for the FCAT, but this fabulous resource is open every Saturday (and on Fridays and Sundays in the summer). Kids will have fun with the hands-on exhibits — including a gopher tortoise hole they can crawl through and a jump-on “piano” where they can play a symphony of animal sounds. Offerings also include lectures and live animal show-and-tells.
Base yourself in a Rosemary Beach loft or at the Vera Bradley Inn by the Sea in Seaside and eat your way up and down the coastline. Many of the chefs in upscale restaurants serve locally sourced food, but new Chef Wayne Alcaide, chef de cuisine at WaterColor’s Fish Out of Water restaurant, takes the practice to its highest level. On a recent evening, patrons were able to enjoy a filet of not-often-available cobia procured from a local sport fisherman.
It’s a given that one of the area’s newest upscale eateries, V Seagrove restaurant, boasts a menu full of creative, fresh plates prepared by the talented Chef David Cunningham. What makes this experience extra-special is the venue, a new space decorated in sea glass shades of aqua and turquoise with indoor and outdoor dining for dinner and Sunday brunch. No reservations, though, so come early or be ready to spend some quality time in the bar.
V Seagrove Restaurant is the newest hot spot on 30A for dishing and dining
For ultra-casual dining in Santa Rosa Beach, try the Smiling Fish Café in the Gulf Place center. In addition to good food, there’s great entertainment in the form of people watching when you dine on the patio. Gulf Place is also home to Restaurant Fire, which features seasonal fine, but casual, dining for breakfast, lunch and an amazing brunch.
The name doesn’t sound too appetizing, but Stinky’s Fish Camp, also in Santa Rosa Beach, is the place to go for breakfast and great po’boys. You’ll also find Basmati’s here, which features great drink specials during Happy Hour and the best sushi on 30A.
Feel free to stay awhile at La Crema Tapas and Chocolate. Its casual attitude, small plate menu and sunny dining room bring a little bit of Spain to Rosemary Beach.
For a fine dining experience at Rosemary Beach, nothing beats Restaurant Paradis. The small restaurant’s wine country ambiance is perfect for a romantic dinner for two or a gathering of friends. It’s open for dinner and features a full-service bar that includes a martini menu with delightful offerings such as the “French Kiss” and “Desperate Housewife.”
For more inspiration, do what the snowbirds do and go to visitsouthwalton.com. It features an exhaustive list of places to stay and things to do.