Destination 30A- A Woodlander’s Guide to the Emerald Coast

If you live in Texas or really anywhere in the South, you have probably seen the iconic round blue and yellow “30A” sticker adorning cars. Many know exactly what it stands for and some may wonder what this place called “30A” is all about and why it has a strong enough following for people to slap a sticker on their car to showcase their love for it.

30A is a 19.1 mile stretch of beach communities along the Emerald Coast of the Florida Panhandle, arguably the most beautiful span of beaches in the U.S. The pristine blue and green waters rival the Caribbean and the pure white sand is like no other in the world. The iconic 30A is a gem in its own right and offers unique and quaint communities throughout. Each one of these communities stand alone with their own distinct personalities, yet will always share one common denominator, the magical blue and green waters that fade into the white powder sand.

Many potential 30A visitors are overwhelmed by the decisions to make before booking their trip due to the numerous options including how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and what to do. Good news! I have some great insight to help you make your 30A experience memorable enough to slap a sticker on your car when you leave!

How to Get There…

If you choose to fly, 30A is a quick 1.5-hour flight from Houston to Panama City.  Once in Panama City, you have a 30-minute drive to 30A. The airport is small and easy to navigate. There are plenty of Ubers and rental cars available at Panama City Airport.

If you decide to make the 9.5-hour drive to 30A from The Woodlands, you know that a few stops will be necessary. However, they don’t have to be painful. Most rentals along 30A are from Saturday to Saturday which means the traffic coming and going during the peak season is a sure thing, especially as you get closer to your destination. So for most of you renting during that period, this information can make your trip just a bit easier.

Leave early and make it to Baton Rouge for an early lunch. There is a great spot just off the interstate, rightfully named City Pork (Hollydale location). Call ahead and order lunch to go. They offer easy lunches that meet Louisiana flavor standards, trust me, I’m from New Orleans, and I approve. They will conveniently package it for you to take on the road.

Once you arrive in Mobile, you are guaranteed to feel the “beach traffic.”The mobile tunnel is a dreaded landmark for many seasoned beachgoers. It is slow moving and can add up to an hour to your trip if you get there at the wrong time. Avoid rush hour and try to plan your trip to arrive in Mobile as early as possible. If you choose to split the trip, I suggest staying overnight in Mobile at The Battle House Hotel and doing a quick tour of the U.S.S Alabama in the morning (you can’t check in to your beach house until 4 pm anyway). The battleship deserves a walkthrough. We took our kids to this museum last year, and our kids still talk about it today and bonus, our kids can’t ask what that ship is all about every single time we pass it.

The upside…once you get through Mobile you are only 2.5 hours from your happy place! To ease the last leg of the trip, Texas’ beloved destination/gas station, Buc-ee’s is in your future as they just opened their first out of state MASSIVE establishment about 30 miles east of Mobile so HOLD IT!

And before you know it, there it is…the highly anticipated exit 85! The last leg of your trip! You are only 30 minutes away from your vacation. Your kids are hungry, and you are thirsty. Don’t bother with the grocery stores on Saturday because everyone else is. We order pizzas from Pizza by the Sea (there are several locations) and pick it up on our way in town. You’re welcome!

So now you know how to get there. The other big question is, “where am I staying?” While 30A offers endless options that are sure to provide everyone with their “perfect spot,”it is helpful to be well versed on your options.

A Few of the Popular 30A Communities

Watercolor Beach

This resort planned community is ideal for the active lifestyle. Here you can take advantage of the miles of walking and biking trails that preserve the nature and beauty of the woods. Western Lake, the county’s largest natural dune lake calls Watercolor it’s home offering stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Additionally, there are several beautiful wooden footbridges that crossover Western Lake and are a photographer’s dream come true! Watercolor also offers a children’s summer camp, five community pools, a lazy river and a beachfront beach club that is currently under renovation and is slated to be complete this summer. Be sure to stop at Fish Out Of Water for an ocean view lunch or dinner and make sure you order the warm pimento cheese!

Grayton Beach

The local vibe is alive and well in this eclectic community. Here, the locals will welcome you with open arms, sandy feet, and a cold beverage! This beach allows permitted vehicles to drive right on the beach adding to its laid back attitude. A coastal dune lake borders one side of this town offering the chance to jump on a paddle board and cruise through the still waters that often connect to the Gulf of Mexico. Off the beaten path, you can enjoy the unique Shops at Grayton Beach. Stop in for breakfast at Black Bear and treat yourself to a piece of art from one of the local galleries. Grayton is home to Chiringo, a fun and festive beach bar and restaurant that has been known to turn into an energetic nightlife scene. On rainy days, grab the kids and head to Shards for a fun glass art project that you can take home as a souvenir.

Blue Mountain Beach

Considered one of the less-developed communities on 30A, Blue Mountain Beach still attracts many visitors for this very reason. This area happens to have the highest elevation along Florida’s Gulf Coast, allowing breathtaking views. The famous Blue Mountain Creamery is a must for an afternoon treat.  Grab dinner at Stinky’s Fish Camp for the perfect family-friendly night out. If there is a wait, head over to Stinky’s bait shop for a drink and live music to pass the time. You can’t leave Blue Mountain without visiting the ultra-popular Justin Gaffrey art gallery. Here you will discover the vast mediums Justin uses to express his vision. His work is truly unparalleled.

Seaside

This cozy community is picture perfect. The quaint cottages wrapped with white picket fences, cobblestone streets, and unique storefronts give you the feeling you are walking through a movie set, and you are! The famous Truman Show starring Jim Carrey was filmed here and released in 1998. Seaside offers a surreal environment that has its visitors coming back for more year after year. From the movies under the stars to the unique book store (Sundog Books) and the town grocery (Modica Market), one can’t help but be drawn to this town. Breakfast at Great Southern Cafe and dinner on the rooftop deck at Bud & Alley’s is a must!

 

Alys Beach

Here, the brilliant-white homes and villas are what allows Alys to hold the bragging rights as being the most striking community along 30A. A stroll down this iconic stretch flanked with tropical palms will stay with you forever. Lunch at Georges is always a good idea. Finish off your evening poolside at one of the most beautiful outdoor restaurants in the area, Caliza with luxurious cabanas and where coastal cuisine is taken very seriously. Alys Beach has high standards, and it shows.

 

Rosemary Beach

Flickering lanterns and wood planked pathways guide you through this charming community. Rosemary offers one of the larger shopping experiences on 30A including the popular hidden Lantern Bookstore, Willow Clothing, and Patchouliesto name a few and of course, the obligatory visit to the Sugar Shack will be on your daily agenda. New to this area is Pescado that offers highly sought after seats on their deck with breathtaking views. Be sure to plan ahead to partake in this unforgettable experience as reservations are almost always necessary and it is an adult only establishment.

 

Wanting more?

 

30A truly is a way of “vacation” life, and for some, it’s a way of “real” life. If you decide you want a piece of this paradise to call your own, the local realtors are as warm and welcoming as the beaches that drew you here. Stop by The Beach Group and ask for James Watts. His team is the best in the area and can help you find your happy place.

Other 30A “Must Do’s”

Take a surf lesson with Austin Magee at Austin Magee Surf School in Seaside.

Hike through the Point Washington State Forest.

Visit Eden State Park and Plantation.

Charter a deep sea fishing trip off of Grayton Beach.

Take a paddleboard yoga class at the Boathouse in Watercolor.

Visit one of the many Farmers Markets.

Book a trip during Songwriters Festival, Seeing Red Wine Festival and Watercolor’s Christmas festival.

Grab a blanket and head to the beach for the sunset…look for the green flash.

Rent bikes and explore the towns around you.

I hope this helps to make your 30A experience an unforgettable one that will keep you going back for more and when you go, you will understand why most people can’t say they have only visited 30A once.   There is a reason why my family and 3.5 million visitors call 30A their vacation spot every year…go find out for yourself!

 

Courtesy Christine Mitchell Photography

Nicole Murphy

Owner, Mersea Watercolor

Nicole Murphy has lived in The Woodlands with her husband and two children for 14 years. She is passionate about giving back to several local charities where she is highly involved. Nicole enjoys traveling to her beach home in watercolor Florida with her husband, children, and friends.