30A: Florida’s True Best-Kept Secret
April 14, 2023
OPINION — It is no secret that the coast of Northwest Florida has some of the best (if not the best) beaches in the world. With sugar-white sands and crystalline turquoise waters, millions of people flock to this particular destination for a dream getaway. What is less talked about, however, are the beach towns that make up the coast of Northwest Florida. With around 16 towns nestled along the 26-mile scenic route, the state road, known as 30a, is an up-and-coming treasure and premier travel destination. This article will delve into some of the towns of 30a and what each has to offer.
30a is more than just a spring break hotspot for families and college students alike. Here along the white beaches and tall pines are towns that host temporary and local residents. These residents make up a huge part of what 30a is. 30a, like the rest of Florida, relies mostly on tourism. The people of 30a make up a huge part of what makes these serene towns so great.
Arguably the most popular destination along 30a, there is a reason why Seaside sees the most traction of all the towns. Seaside was founded in 1981, and is known for being one of the most popular spring break spots in the United States, as well as the iconic backdrop for the movie “The Truman Show.” While starting out as one of Florida’s best-kept secrets, Seaside is now a thriving tourist hotspot and home to around 2,830 residents. Seaside is filled with iconic and breathtaking architectural structures, such as the Seaside Chapel and SunDog Bookstore. Not to mention the cozy cottages that line up and down the road overlooking the beach.
Apart from the shopping, nature trails, stunning building views and great restaurants; it is important to note what Seaside is most famous for: its beaches. Visitors can take their pick from Seaside beach itself, or close-by neighbors. This includes Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain Beach and others. So whether beach-goers just want the sandy luxury of Seaside’s beautiful shores or what the town itself has to offer, it is unlikely that both residents and tourists will ever be bored in this picturesque Floridian paradise.
Known for its Greecian style architecture inspired by the white coastal towns of Mykonos and Santorini, Alys Beach is one of the most sought after and expensive places in Northwest Florida, and understandably so. Starting prices for these idyllic homes are around $2 million. What makes this dreamy little town truly unique, though, is the fact that not only is it Greek-inspired, but their website states that, “all of Alys Beach’s 158 acres are within a short and pleasant walk of the beach, and all designed to be walkable, with easy access to the town center’s many shops and restaurants,” and that “the original vision of Alys Beach has its foundation in Moorish and Mediterranean flairs, with architectural styles founded in the beauty of Bermuda, and with courtyards inspired by homes in Antigua, Guatemala. A combination and experience you will have to see to believe.”
From visiting Charlie’s Donuts food truck to the spacey amphitheater, Alys Beach is one of those too good to be true places you’ll have to visit for yourself to believe.
Taken out of a story book itself, the building structures and cobblestone streets of Rosemary Beach resemble the likes of tales as old as time. With a Romantic European ambience within the tall side-by-side buildings and an iridescent glow that surrounds the town, it is no wonder the town was voted “One of America’s Best Beaches” by CNN. Unlike the other beach towns mentioned in this article, Rosemary is more condensed and laid out in a close-knit European style where riding a bike versus driving a car would be more optimal. The architecture of Rosemary Beach takes a twist on new Urbanism with sprinkles of West Indies inspiration. You can find any building on the Main Square adorned with a nice patio and balcony to overlook the shiny streets that glitter in the sun.
What really draws people to the town straight out of a movie is the design itself. The plan to construct and design Rosemary following the success of Seaside started in 1980. Instead of implementing Key West’s coastal and pastel designs, Rosemary’s architects focused more on dark woods and nature preserves seen throughout the town. Designers took in more earthy tones such as notes from the Caribbean when designing buildings. With wooden boardwalks and interesting pathways that direct towards the beach, each visit to Rosemary will surprise its guest more than the first time.
Inlet Beach may be one of the more quieter beach towns on 30a, but not any less beautiful. Known for its more classic Floridian approach compared to its predecessors, Inlet Beach lies on the west side of the Florida Panhandle, neighboring a quiet and laid-back community. Per the 30a website, “Inlet Beach is just about as authentic ‘Old Florida’ as you’ll find in South Walton, and perhaps anywhere. Quiet and bordered by 13-acres of protected dunes, this pristine beach neighborhood feels as if time somehow forgot it. Once known as “Soldiers Beach” (named after World War II vets who purchased land in this area through a government homestead program), the dunes often soar to massive heights here, and the extra long neighborhood walkovers allow for some pretty spectacular photography.”
Things to do on this historical beach include visiting Camp Helen State Park, Lake Powell and the largest coastal dune in all of Florida. Unfortunately, back in March of 2022, officials cleared the remains of the historical remnants of Inlet Beach. But the small neighborhood will always remember the pieces of history left behind.
The last 30a town that will be mentioned in this article is also another more quiet town. Even though it sees less tourism than the other beach towns, Laguna Beach isn’t any less exciting.
Though Laguna Beach, California is one of the most popular beaches in the United States, Laguna Beach, Florida is one of 30a’s biggest hidden gems. Located west of Panama City, Laguna Beach acts as the mediator between the end of 30a into the beginning of one of Florida’s largest cities. For spring breakers and local beachgoers who may want to escape the hustle and bustle of Panama City Beach, a quick walk over to Laguna Beach is an answer to their prayers.
Though it may be one of the more underdeveloped parts of 30a, there are still a bucket of things to see and do on this quaint little beach. Walk along Laguna Beach Pier in hopes of seeing a sea turtle or two, stay in a small, locally owned hotel where it feels like family or make a quick trip from Panama City.
30a is one of Florida’s greatest hidden gems, if not the state’s greatest, for so many different reasons. From the white coastal serenity of Seaside to the quiet and peaceful Laguna Beach, 30a is filled with so many treasures. Visit this stunning road for your next beach getaway, or plan to make a move to spend the rest of your days on the crystal-white sands and clear tides. Beneath the tall pines and under the Florida sun lies a scenic highway filled with towns inspired by hopes and dreams. There are so many reasons as to why 30a is Florida’s most prized gem.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify the location of Laguna Beach and to specify that 30A is a scenic highway/state road.