Nestled between Panama City and Destin lies a sleepy stretch of freeway called 30A; home to some of the best beach towns in Florida.
The beaches in South Walton are some of the most beautiful in the country – soft sugar sand and crystal clear turquois blue water for as far as the eye can see. One visit and you’ll understand why people from all over the county flock here every summer.
On the eastern end of 30A, you have Rosemary Beach, Seacrest Beach and Alys Beach. Only minutes away from each other, each ‘town’ has it’s own unique vibe. Further down 30A, you’ll find WaterSound and Santa Rosa and then Seaside and Watercolor. Technically they are separate towns, but practically, the two blend into one another.
You can’t go wrong staying in any one of these towns, but we’ve fallen in love the sleepy, resort town feel and the tree covered boardwalks of Rosemary Beach.
Rosemary Beach is a 170-acre master planned community with three pools, tennis courts, a workout facility and its own amphitheater for summer movies and live music. More of a neighborhood than a town really, the houses are close together and everything is connected by wooden boardwalks – all of which lead to private beach entrances. It’s these tree-covered walkways and beautiful alleys that create a comforting and romantic feel everywhere you go.
This is definitely a place where you park your car and toss aside the keys for the week. You can walk or ride you bike almost anywhere.
The heart of Rosemary Beach is the town center called North Barrett Square. Spanning across the slow-moving, two-lane road called 30A, both sides are lined with local shops and restaurants. The cobblestone street winds down to the northern green and the center beach boardwalk.
Boardwalks run parallel through the town connecting everyone to each other and of course the beach. There’s something almost old fashion about swinging open your front door and letting your kiddos run down the boardwalk to the beach. Ah, #beachlife.
Bike down to the beach, relax at the pool, stop by an outdoor café for a leisurely meal, grab a drink and watch the kids run around the Eastern green. There’s really nothing else to do in Rosemary Beach. And, that’s what makes for a relaxing, almost off the grid beach vacation.
Below is a quick but hopefully helpful guide to Rosemary Beach – our favorite places to stay, play and eat!
The homes in Rosemary Beach are beautiful and in high demand. Because our kids are young, we’re able to go ‘off season’ when rates are a bit more reasonable and before it gets too crowded. If you’re new to the area, I would recommend booking through Rosemary Beach Rental Company or 360 Blue Properties. It helps to have a local contact and concierge service if you need it.
They can answer any questions and help point you in the right direction before and during your trip. Bike rentals, crib rentals, babysitters, grocery shopping (such a treat not to schlep to the grocery store while on vacation!)– anything you need to make your trip as stress free as possible (for a fee, of course).
If you know what you want and are comfortable renting houses on your own then head over to VRBO or Homeaway. Just be sure the house is actually in Rosemary Beach, if that matters to you. Lots of houses say ‘near Rosemary Beach’ – the only reason it even matters is that you need to stay in Rosemary Beach if you want to use their pools and beach access.
For an even more luxurious vacation, consider booking a room at the Pearl Hotel. It’s 30A’s only four-star hotel and it’s perfect location is steps from the beach and all of restaurants in town.
For such a small town, there’s an abundance of restaurants. Here are some of our favorites.
I love to start my day with a latte. Yes, it’s totally easy to brew coffee at home and slowly start the morning, but I love the area coffee shops so I made all kinds of excuses to go get out of the house early. Our house was not even a block from Amavida, the local family-owned coffee shop so that was usually our first stop.
But my absolute favorite spot for coffee is the Fontville Press. Maybe it’s the feel of the Alys Beach community (think all white just like the island of Mykonos) or the coffee shop music or the store’s ambiance but when I walk through those doors, I know I’m on vacation.
In my vacation dream, I then sit down at one of the white marble tables, pull out the morning paper or latest issue of Vanity Fair and relax while I sip on my latter and catch up on some reading. But I have three kids under the age of four so that ain’t ever happenin’.
But that’s ok. Its just means we’re circling back half a block to check out Charlie’s Donuts and the splash pad. They really do sell out – even in the off-season – so make sure you go early. I’m a plain donut kind of girl but if you’re up for it, try one of their crazy combinations. The truck is right behind the splash pad so you can start to wear those kids out early. (All of this is at the Alys Beach Amphitheater where they have weekly summer concerts and other activities.)
One of our favorite restaurants is La Crema Tapas & Chocolate. Last year we snuck away for an adults-only dinner and had the best time sipping sangria and chatting with the bartender. He’s the one who recommended the seafood paella and it didn’t disappoint. Greg still talks about it and of course that’s what he ordered when we headed back this year.
This time we brought our kids along for a lunch break. There really is nothing better than taking a beach break with a glass of rose and a tapas lunch.
And if you want to treat yourself, don’t miss out on Havana Beach Bar and Grill at the Pearl Hotel. The food is wonderful, the drinks are fresh and interesting, and it’s in the heart of the town overlooking the East Green and the tip of the beach. If you have the time, grab a drink at the bar, have a leisurely dinner, and enjoy the sights and sounds of RB at night.
We had a slight change of plans and ended up securing an early reservation and brought the kiddos. (This really is a nice restaurant so if you’re going to bring the littles come early and make sure it’s going to be a good night.) We went at 5:45 before the crowds and lucked out with the best table overlooking the green area, and the view provided all kinds of entertainment. The staff couldn’t have been nicer. Our waiter was patient and kind with the kids – he brought them paper and crayons; he encouraged our adventurous eater to try the amuse bouche which B loved, did a great job timing the adult meals and kids meals, and even brought out little take away bags of hotel cookies for each of them.
Almost every evening ends at The Sugar Shack. The name says it all. Every kind of candy or ice cream you could possibly want. With so many kids on vacation, it’s usually the busiest place in town.
George’s in Alys Beach is another favorite.
Other restaurants in the area include:
- Paradise – Upscale wine-country inspired dining. Heavy on the steak and seafood.
- The Summer Kitchen Café – Casual restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Wild Olives – Fun little wine bar and full service bistro
- Edward’s – Dinner only; Fresh seafood and live music
- CK Feed and Supply – Not really a restaurant but besides the grocery store its really the best place to pick up a few foodie type supplies.
If you’re up for exploring, don’t hesitate to drive up the road into Seaside or Watercolor. The Seaside food trucks are always fun and provide lots of easy options.
Or, if you’re looking for something a little nicer try Bud & Alley’s. It’s one of the few restaurants with an ocean view.
Just know that parking is always a hassle, so it’s best to be flexible. One night we just gave up, and drove back home because I just couldn’t deal with finding a parking spot with a car full of hangry hungry people. But half way to Rosemary Beach, we stopped at a local pizza joint and it was perfect.
This year we discovered The Hub, just a few minutes down the road in WaterSound. Billed as the ‘greatest backyard party of all time’, it’s really the perfect addition to the area. I love their line about families not having to choose between fine and fussy fare. Fancy food trucks and pop-up style restaurants surround a big open area filled with picnic tables, couches, and lounge chairs. With different entertainment options every night – it’s a fun place to eat, drink, dance around and enjoy summer living.
And since you are on the ocean after all, what’s a vacation without grilling up some fresh fish! Head down the road to Goatfeathers Seafood Market in Santa Rosa. It’s not much to look at but it has the best selection of fresh seafood in the area.
With beaches like these, what more do you need! Well, there usually does comes a time when you need a bit of a sun, or beach break.
The community of Rosemary Beach has four pools available for their guests. (Most of the towns up and down 30A have community only pools.) And if we would have allowed it – I think our kids would have stayed here every day.
There’s plenty of shopping, too. The stores in RB are adorable and could hold their own with any big city boutique. But like all vacation shopping, they are not easy on the wallet. Best to just remind yourself that your on vacation and not try to compare.
Gigi’s and Fitz and Emme are the two children’s shops – mostly really cute clothes (Pink Chicken, Kissy Kissy, etc.) with a few toys mixed in.
Feeling like what you packed just isn’t cutting it? Pop into Willow for the latest trends in clothes, shoes and jewelry. For some reason I feel less guilty about shopping on vacation then when at home.
Pish Posh Patchouli’s is a local apothecary that make it’s own bath and body products but also stocks high-end lotion, skincare and cosmetics.
Bikes are a must! Order from Bamboo Bicycle Company (you can also rent cribs, strollers, etc.) and the bikes will be at yoru house when you arrive. It’s the quickest away around town and the best way to checkout what’s around.
An on the weekend, don’t miss the Rosemary Beach Farmer’s Market. Folks for all around set up shop, selling fresh fruits and vegetables but also things like pies, breads, the best hushpuppies and homemade pimento cheese!
Lots of people from Texas and the surrounding states drive, but there’s also a regional airport in Panama City, FL. It’s a direct flight from Dallas – in just a few hours you can be digging your toes in the sugar sand. If you do flight and want to rent a car, just be sure to reserve exactly what you need. It’s a small airport and an even smaller car rental operation.
Ok friends, did I miss anything? Are you ready to go? We’re already planning next years trip!