Scenic Highway 30A and South Walton
A day trip along Scenic Highway 30A through South Walton, topped off with the freshest catches for dinner? Yes please.
Share this article
If The love language of Miami is spicy, then that of northwest Florida is expressed in a syrupy coo. This quiet part of Florida (don’t call it by its old Panhandle name, please) includes Pensacola Beach, South Walton, and Scenic Highway 30A, among other laid-back beach towns that lure visitors with their natural assets. Sure, you’ll come for the dreamy beaches and sparkling coastal dune lakes, but then you’ll sample the local seafood and brewery scene and never want to leave.
Here’s what to do in Northwest Florida this winter.
The day trip (or road trip) to plan your visit around
Florida is full of places to cruise with the top down, but it’s hard to beat a Sunday (or any day) drive along Scenic Highway 30A through northwest Florida. Florida, home to a perfect stretch of beach towns known as South Walton.
The approximately 28-mile route through South Walton County hugs the coast for most of its length, taking you through beautiful Gulf residential communities like Rosemary Beach, Grayton Beach and Blue Mountain Beach. Roll down the windows and let in the emerald-hued views.
Stop to explore as well, perhaps to admire the New Urbanism architecture at Alys Beach or to swim in the clear waters of Grayton Beach State Park. (The beach here has been hailed as one of the best in the world.)
Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to at least admire, or even paddle a kayak, one of Florida’s incredible natural phenomena: the coastal dune lakes. These ancient freshwater lakes formed near the coast by the wind are only found in a handful of places in the world: Madagascar, New Zealand and, yes, Walton County.
There are 15 coastal dune lakes in Walton. West Lake, near Grayton Beach, is a good destination to visit, with on-site kayak rentals and a backdrop of coastal wetlands for your paddling pleasure. End the day at a beloved pub, Grayton Beer Co., where the prawn po’ boys are the real deal and served with a selection of 15 local beers.
The best hotels for a truly local stay
The grand dame property in these powdery sand parts is water color inn on Santa Rosa Beach, which stretches between a dune-backed beach and a freshwater coastal dune lake. (We also like to cycle through the surrounding pinus pine forests.) The hotel will launch new one- and two-bedroom family suites in the spring of 2022, along with a new zero-access family pool and indoor bar. /outside.
In nearby Rosemary Beach, The Pearl Hotel the turrets and clock tower also received a new coat of paint, and the bedrooms and living rooms also received a bright tropical refresh. Pour a glass of champagne on your balcony as the sun sets or grab a mojito on the breezy rooftop of Havana Beach & Grill. The hotel’s adult-only pool has a sophisticated vibe, and guests have direct access to the private, sandy Rosemary Beach out front.
Hotel Effiea favorite hotel, opened in 2021 on the bay side of Miramar Beach in Sandestin, facing Choctawhatchee Bay, and features a stunning rooftop pool and lounge, Ara, with views panoramic view of the gulf and the bay.
If you don’t eat seafood here you are doing something wrong
Whether you’re settling down to eat at a casual Gulf-side seafood restaurant or making a deal of white linen tablecloths, it’s all about indulging in fresh Gulf of Mexico seafood along this part of the Florida coastline.
New for 2021 in Destin’s HarborWalk Village, East Pass Seafood and Oyster House serves freshly shucked oysters overlooking the harbor and other Gulf specialties such as local shrimp, amberjack and blackened goldfish.
Classic French culinary techniques meet the riches of the Gulf at Ovid at the Effie Hotel in Sandestin, where multi-Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson revisits Southern cuisine. (Think roasted snapper with pigeon peas and rice and Thai chili emulsion.)
New and sustained efforts in terms of sustainable development
To support the health of marine life along Florida’s northwest coast, the South Walton Artificial Reef Association expanded its artificial reef program in 2021, with more than 700 artificial structures now in place at 16 different underwater sites.
Among the artificial reefs close enough to shore to explore and snorkel, consider visiting Dolphin Reef at Miramar Beach, Turtle Reef at Grayton Beach State Park, and Seahorse Reef at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. From above, the artificial reefs are shaped like the animals they are named after. Every day is different underwater here: you might spot sea turtles, pikes, nurse sharks and maybe even a manatee or octopus on any given outing.
Drawing attention to the migratory path of the monarch butterfly through Walton County, the Watersound Monarch Art Trail opened November 2021 along the 1-mile Watersound Parkway bike and walking path. Eight curated sculptures pay homage to the magnificent winged things that pass over Scenic Highway 30A each fall.
>>Next: The best beaches in Florida