Growing up in the midwest, Florida seemed as exotic and tropical as it comes. Oranges and palm trees and the OCEAN, oh my! My grandmother moved to Naples sometime in the 80s, and we would fly down to visit her and be in awe of her bougainvillea tree and fancy condo pool. (My younger sister and I were possibly the only people under retirement age at the time, but Naples has since changed and is booming!) We love Sanibel and Captiva, and the quick flight in and out of Fort Myers makes it an easy trip. This summer, however, we experienced a whole new section of Florida previously unknown to me, and it has kind of captured our hearts. Enter 30A.
“30A” is a small strip of beach towns right off of Highway 30A, from Miramar to Inlet Beach (check out the map here) including some of the more famous towns of Seaside, Watercolor, Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach. Most of the towns were founded quite recently (from the 90s until now) to create a small-town feel and they succeeded. Bikes are more prevalent than cars, and each town has a little town square with shops and restaurants. There are concerts on the greens, kids running everywhere, and swim suit coverups are all you need at even the fanciest restaurants. The beaches are full of sugar white sand and beautiful dunes, and most of the towns will set up your chairs and umbrella for you daily or by the week. Yes, life feels picture-perfect on 30A, which is exactly what we look for in a vacation. Fun fact: the movie The Truman Show was filmed in Seaside!
We had a hard time choosing which beach town to stay in, since we heard so many great reviews about all the towns. I think it’s one of those places where you can’t go wrong, and families often go back to the same area over and over again. After much crowd-sourcing and research, we chose Rosemary Beach, and fell.in.love.
Where To Stay
Definitely rent a house or cottage. You can find wonderful homes on VRBO or Flipkey, as well as many other online rental sources. Most of the houses are HUGE, so we went with a cottage which is basically a garage apartment. It was perfect for our family! A full kitchen, dining area, living room with a pull-out bed, bathroom, washer/dryer, and a full lofted bedroom. That’s all we need right now, so we’re taking advantage of it! TIP: Be sure to READ THE REVIEWS on any rental and communicate with the management company ASAP if there is an issue. There is a great hotel option called The Pearl. It’s a gorgeous building and has restaurants and a pretty pool, but I’m not sure how kid friendly it is as no kids under 18 are allowed at the pool.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at rentals is the distance to the beach. You can be either north or south of 30A and still be in walking distance, but south of 30A is a couple blocks, max. There are nine “walkovers” that bridge the dunes, A – I, so depending on where you want to be, you may want to ask where the nearest walkover is. We were near Walkover A, which is the furthest east, and we really liked it because we were a bit away from the thick of it, which is Walkover G. It took all of 5 minutes meandering down the beach to get from A to G, just for perspective.
What To Do
Our days went something like this: Beach, Eat, Pool, Eat Bike, Eat, Repeat. This is what VACATION is meant to be here on 30A. BEFORE YOU GO, be sure to reserve beach chairs and umbrellas and bike rentals, if the house you rent doesn’t come with them. We rented a trailer from Bamboo Bicycle Company and you can set the day you want the rental and they will DELIVER it for you. Easy as pie. And if any of this sounds challenging, simply reach out to Live Well 30A – an amazing concierge service that will take care of everything you need, from groceries to babysitters.
In addition to the beach, there are four community pools that allow access only to Rosemary Beach residents and guests. We were closest to the Coquina Pool, and by closest, I mean about 30 seconds away. It is a gorgeous pool, perfect for kids, and a nice way to change up your beach routine.
TIP: Bring your resident or guest pass with you everyday to the pool and beach – they DO check. Not everyday, but enough so you don’t want to have to trudge home to get it. Also, don’t lose it, or take it back to Houston with you, otherwise you’ll have to FedEx it back to the owner. Just saying, not that that happened to us, ok it did. :/
Where To Eat
I’m going to be honest with you here, and we had some really good meals, but nothing was outstanding, with the exception of our date night at George’s in Alys Beach, which is phenomenal. I’m not complaining – everything was fine – just not out of this world amazing, so it encouraged us to spend more time cooking at our rental cottage than eating out. Since we had a kitchen, we filled our fridge with breakfast items and fresh fruit, so our breakfasts, snacks and most dinners were at home. We mostly ate at restaurants for lunch, which is nice because you can pop up off the beach for a little time out of the sun, and often biked our way out for dessert. We mostly stuck to the areas in Rosemary Beach and Seacrest Beach. The drive to Seaside where there are many more restaurants and food trucks, can be up to 45 minutes at peak time, and we chose to take it easy and walk or bike everywhere we went. We tried practically every restaurant within walking/biking distance for one meal or another. Our favorite restaurants, especially for lunch were Cowgirl Kitchen, Summer Kitchen, Acme Ice House (takes reservations!), and La Crema for tapas – great for families if you sit outside. One morning we biked up to Alys Beach for their Donut Food Truck and it was worth the ride! George’s as I mentioned above was fantastic. George’s doesn’t take reservations and it’s pretty popular, so go early and be prepared to wait. And finally, our very favorite place to go, the Sugar Shak. We’d pop in every.single.day and let the kids pick out a treat, which is easy since they sell individual pieces of candy. They also have ice cream so it’s a popular dessert stop.
What to Pack
Not much. Swimsuits and coverups. Sneakers and flip flops. Some sundresses for ladies and girls and easy shorts and polos for men and boys. It’s casual and preppy, think Vineyard Vines meets Florida. During the day, a coverup is plenty even in restaurants, but the evenings are a bit dressier. Even on our fanciest night out, I still wore flat shoes so I could ride my bike. It’s a good idea to pack some beach toys and board games for evenings at the cottage, but there’s a toy store in downtown Rosemary with all your kids could ever dream of!
Have you been to 30A? Where do you stay? What’s your FAVORITE thing to do?