Rambling along Florida’s Emerald Coast, Highway 30A darts amid the dunes, stringing together some of the south’s most charming beachfront colonies. Bordered by aquamarine waters as clear as a March birthstone, Grayton Beach, WaterColor, Seaside, Alys Beach, and Rosemary Beach beckon, each with its own distinct personality. Read on, and let me help find the spot that’s perfect for you.
With its idyllic picket-fence-lined neighborhoods, grassy amphitheater, and a grand horseshoe drive lined with boutiques and restaurants, this outpost is the iconic capital of 30A.
Across the street from the Seaside post office (and also down in Rosemary Beach), this cubbyhole of a coffee shop is worth ducking into after your early morning beach walk. Not only is every cup brewed to perfection by their talented baristas, every bean is responsibly sourced to protect and support the farmers who grow them. It’s coffee you can feel good about—really good about.
2236 E. County Hwy. 30A
Tucked in the crescent of shops and restaurants around the perimeter of the Seaside amphitheater, Modica Market is a great spot for grabbing a breakfast sandwich, a mimosa, or provisions for the perfect beach picnic.
109 Seaside Central Square
Bud & Alley’s
While the Roof Deck Bar is the quintessential sunset-watching spot on 30A, their downstairs Taco Bar and Pizza Bar aren’t to be missed for a casual bite.
2236 E. County Hwy. 30A
Plucked from the vacation postcards of your memory, these vintage airstream trailers have been retrofitted to house mini restaurants that serve up a variety of grab-and-go nibbles. There’s smoked pork, chicken, and classic sides at Barefoot B-B-Q, gourmet franks at Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs, Southeast Asian street food at Song, gooey grilled-cheese goodness at The Meltdown, and all-natural juices, smoothies, and snacks at Raw & Juicy. Just stroll down the sidewalk and find what suits your fancy.
2235-2255 E. County Hwy. 30A
Farthest to the east, Rosemary is a newer community with a strong family focus. Cobblestone streets wind through the “town,” which is peppered with quaint shops and restaurants.
Inspired by the restaurants and chocolatiers of Madrid and Barcelona, this tiny tapas bar is tucked into an alcove right off the main thoroughfare. It’s the perfect spot to while away the afternoon over a bottle of Spanish wine and several rounds of small plates and dreamy desserts. Two words: chocolate bacon.
38 Main St.
Finally open after years of planning and development, this boutique hotel has quickly become the hub of Rosemary. Gorgeous well-appointed rooms open up to pool and Gulf views, and the dining at the Havana Beach Bar and Grill is top notch. It has all the heady character of a Hemingway haunt, with Latin-spiced dishes to spare.
63 Main St
Everything’s relaxed on 30A, but Grayton is totally laid back. Filled with folksy, artistic charm, this hamlet is like Seaside’s hippie brother; cool, quirky, and definitely chilled out.
The Red Bar
Nestled in the dunes of “downtown” Grayton, this ramshackle dive oozes genuine coastal kitsch. Bedecked in mounds of memorabilia, this bar does more than sling drinks and host local musicians—they also serve up some darn good food. Waiters drag chalkboards to your table with the day’s specials, including my favorite panné chicken, swimming in lemon caper butter. Hit the ATM before you come; Red Bar is an old-school cash-only place.
70 Hotz Ave.
Alys is definitely the most glamorous of the 30A colonies, with its elegant architecture and crisp white Bermudan facades. After winding along the highway, you break out into a straight stretch lined with towering palm trees; you’d swear you were in Hollywood.
You’ve never experienced poolside dining quite like this. Breezy, exotic, and uber-chic, this upscale restaurant hums with a refined ambience. Chef Kevin Korman starts with fresh Gulf seafood, sustainably raised meats, and local vegetables, which he transforms into familiar yet surprising dishes that would take you hours to prepare at home. Every dish is a work of art, and every bite is a delight.
23 Nonesuch Way
Just a short stroll from Caliza, this cottage-turned-restaurant is wrapped in porches and patios that offer perfect seats for taking in the sunset. George’s artfully balances a playful yet impeccably crafted menu with a casual, dressed-up beach bum vibe; it’s a restaurant that takes itself very seriously without making you return the favor.
30 Castle Harbour Dr.
Take a short jaunt down 30A toward Destin to Santa Rosa Beach for this gem tucked back in the trees. From curries to sushi to pan-seared fresh catches, rich Asian flavors infuse and perfume every dish, offering a nice change of pace from the classic fried seafood platter.
3295 W. County Hwy. 30A
Year-round, local farmers set up shop in several towns to share the fruits of their labor. In particular, Rosemary Beach and Seaside boast bustling Saturday markets, with vendors offering everything from heirloom watermelons and tomatoes to homemade calzones and carrot cake jam.
Fish Out of Water
Tucked between Grayton and Seaside is the resort community of WaterColor. There you’ll find Fish Out of Water, a charming beachside restaurant serving elegant renditions of local surf and turf. The only thing better than the service is the view.
34 Goldenrod Circle
By Brian Hart Hoffman