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10 Not-To-Miss Things To Do Along Highway 30A

by Chris Chatelain on August 25th, 2015
Bare tree and yellowing grasses in Campbell Lake, one of the rare dune lakes in Northwest Florida's Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

Campbell Lake, one of the area’s rare dune lakes, is in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

While most visitors are naturally drawn to the beautiful beaches when booking a stay on Highway 30A, they quickly realize that there is much more fun and adventure to be had than a simple day at the beach. This renowned location is bursting with natural beauty, serene scenery, and a playful nature.

In fact, staying at a beach cottage or a beach home in South Walton could perhaps provide the most culturally diverse and artful experience on the entire Emerald Coast. From its multiple state parks and preserves to restaurants with water views and a bike path spanning the entire 19 miles of this officially designated scenic coastal route, booking a vacation along 30A is like booking multiple trips all in one. Plan a different activity for each day, and you’ll still not run out of things to do on 30a, no matter how long you stay. Having said that, here are some of the top things that we highly recommend visitors experience while on a getaway to this gem of a location along the Emerald Coast:

Ride the 30A Bike Trail

Couple biking on 30aWhy observe the fantastic scenery from the inside of a car when you can experience the breezes through your hair and the warm sun on your skin? Highway 30A is home to a 19-mile paved bike path. Frequently referred to as the Timpoochee Trail, it parallels the entire length of the scenic road and passes through all of its famous beach communities. You’ll catch glimpses of coastal wildlife, water views, and a natural beauty that is hard to find anywhere else. Visitors who are more adventurous can try the Eastern Lake Trail within the Point Washington State Forest, which has a system of three-mile, five-mile and 10-mile trail loops. Don’t have a bike? No worries, because there are multiple places that rent and sell bikes and gear/equipment. So c’mon and get those feet pedaling and experience 30A from a different perspective.

Fish or Kayak the Rare Dune Lakes

Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare. In fact, they are only found in four countries around the world. In the United States, dune lakes are only found here along the Gulf Coast. South Walton and Highway 30A are home to an incredible 15 named coastal dune lakes. Because of the frequent exchanging of freshwater and saltwater between the dune lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, anglers can find an eclectic mixture of species in these lakes. South Walton’s coastal dune lakes, believed to be as old as 10,000 years, were formed by winds redistributing sand from the Gulf beaches and creating shallow basins. Most of the dune lakes are only about five feet deep but offer wonderful wetland landscapes filled with coastal birds and unique trees and plants.

View of wet sand and surf with plover walking through the water

A plover plays in the surf at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

Wildlife Watching at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

If you like veering off the beaten path, then you’ll surely want to set foot in Topsail. Named after the sand dunes that stand nearly 25 feet high, this park has more than three miles of sandy beaches and unobstructed views of the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico. Adventure seekers will enjoy checking out the extremely rare dune lakes and the unique plants and wildlife that call this mix of sand, woods, and wetlands home. Keep a close eye on the ground for the endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse and the other eye up above for vividly colored birds, as the Topsail Hill Preserve is a part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Visit Seaside and Live Like Truman

Enjoy a splash of Hollywood with a day in Seaside, where you can witness movie magic and visit the home (31 Natchez Street) and community that was used as the host site of the 1996 blockbuster movie The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. If you have seen the movie, you’ll instantly recognize the carefully planned small-town design with awe-inspiring architecture, cobblestone roads, white picket fences, and the quaint town center with a host of charming shops, boutiques, and galleries like the Fusion Art Glass Gallery. While there, be sure to stay the entire day and take in a sensational sunset and a marvelous meal when you hear the sunset bell at Bud and Alley’s. Then cap the day with theater performances and movies under the stars at the Seaside Repertory Theatre and the Seaside Amphitheater.

Columned and arched beachfront gazebo with four Adirondack chairs and a view of the Gulf

Beachfront gazebo at Seaside

Standup Paddleboarding

South Walton’s Gulf of Mexico is mostly calm with gentle waves, meaning it is not the best fit for surfing. However, these conditions — combined with the one-of-a-kind views of turquoise-colored waters and dune lakes —make Highway 30A absolutely perfect for stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP).  It’s safer and more enjoyable than surfing for most. And it fits in perfectly with the theme of relaxation while on a beach vacation in Northwest Florida. Take your time and soak in the views of dune lakes, or glide parallel to the beach and enjoy the gentle Gulf breezes.

It’s the best of everything — you’re enjoying the water without being in it, and you are surfing (sort of) without all the hard work. There’s nothing more soothing than gliding across the water and looking back at the landscape, so give it a try. After all, you only live once!

Picnic at Deer Lake State Park

Visitors looking to get away from the crowds and enjoy isolation on the sugar-white sandy beaches need to pack a lunch and plan a picnic at pristine Deer Lake State Park. About the only sounds you are likely to hear here are the rustling of the tropical breezes through the palms and the chirps of cheery sea gulls and snowy plovers. Before your picnic, work up an appetite with a walk that is likely to yield views of rare coastal plants, colorful wildflowers, and migratory birds and butterflies. Or take a stroll up and down the quarter-mile dune boardwalk and enjoy a world of beauty from the higher vantage point of this delightful dune ecosystem.

Visit the Red Bar in Grayton Beach

For nightlife, libations, and good food, visitors and locals alike flock to the Red Bar for unmatched fun in a lively atmosphere that truly celebrates the good life. Here, you’ll enjoy a cold beverage, an eclectic décor, and a house band that entertains with funky jazz and blues.  Featuring a menu that is as varied as its décor, the Red Bar serves everything from crawfish and shrimp pasta to chicken and potatoes. Adding to the atmosphere, the location is a former town general store from the early 1900s, so you know the place has character. You came to Florida to kick back and have fun, right? That’s why this hot spot — at which celebrities have been known to mix it up with the locals — has to be on your list. Come for the food and drinks, but stay for the atmosphere.

Table and lighted crystal chandelier inside the Red Bar in Grayton Beach

The iconic Red Bar in Grayton Beach

Go Fishing

The Emerald Coast is well known for being home to some of the best sport fishing in the world. As a part of that, a vacation rental on Highway 30A can accommodate anxious anglers just dying to catch their own dinner. Though there are no harbors here, 30a fishing charters depart directly from the sands at Grayton Beach. On the boat and out at sea, fisherman are quite likely to return with an impressive haul of a host of species including grouper, cobia, wahoo, red snapper, king mackerel, flounder, Jack Crevalle, amberjack, triggerfish, Spanish mackerel, blackfin tuna, mahi mahi, and others. Don’t want to leave the shore? Just get yourself a pole, and you’ll be in line to catch some fresh pompano while catching some sun on the beach. Or try your hand at kayak fishing in the adjacent Choctawhatchee Bay, which is home to redfish, flounder, and speckled trout.

Play Golf

For sports enthusiasts and those who can’t imagine leaving your clubs behind for extended periods, there are golfing options along Highway 30A that feature views so serene and breathtaking that you might just forget about the scorecard. There is a public course, Origins, that was designed by Davis Love III and is intended to be simple and fun for golfers of all ages and skills. Then there is the Camp Creek Golf Club, designed by famed Tom Fazio, and the Shark’s Tooth Golf Club, designed by legendary Greg Norman. Both of these feature the area’s famous natural beauty, but are private or offer limited access. Check for South Walton vacation rental packages that include guest membership to these incredible courses, which have hosted U.S. Open Qualifiers and are constantly recognized by national publications and organizations for their quality. Access to some or all of these courses is often granted when you stay at specific hotels or condos on Highway 30A, so be sure to research accommodations adjacent to these fantastic fairways and gorgeous greens.

Dinner With a View

Nothing is more romantic than beachside or waterfront dining. Being a string of coastal communities also means that the seafood is the freshest you’ll ever have, so it’s a natural thing to want to savor some succulent seafood while enjoying a spectacular sunset or watching a pod of dolphins playing in the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, there are numerous spots for dining on 30a that can accommodate your cravings. On the west end of Highway 30A, there’s Stinky’s Fish Camp, offering a view of a dune lake, and the Vue on 30A, offering American café-style dining with perhaps the best Gulf views of the entire region. At about the midway point of 30A sits a cluster of great restaurant choices, including the Old Florida Fish House and Sushi Bar, overlooking another dune lake, and Bud and Alley’s , a Gulfside grill with plenty of character that also offers a pizza bar to satisfy everyone in the family.  Two seafood restaurants located within hotels — Fish Out of Water in the WaterColor Inn and Resort and the V Seagrove restaurant within the Hotel Viridian, offer luxurious dining experiences paired with breathtaking views of the Emerald Coast. Oh, and the Sugar Shack, located in Rosemary Beach on the east end of Highway 30A is a candy store that brings families and sweet views together. In other words, it’s a great place to finish if you still have room for dessert!

Visit our site for more fun things to do on Highway 30a.

Sunset view of the columned gazebo, a few diners, and servers at Bud and Alley's in Seaside

Getting ready for the evening crowd at Bud and Alley’s in Seaside

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