Discover the Beautiful Beaches Along Florida’s Emerald Coast
My husband and I vacation differently, very differently. Since I grew up on the beach, my entire childhood revolved around always having sand on my scalp, even more sand masterfully embedded under my fingernails, and the most perfect natural sun-kissed highlights in my permanently sandy hair.
For me, the beach was synonymous with playing, whether it was volleyball, surfing, boogie-boarding, body surfing, digging holes to the other side of the world, or building countless sand castles. I was literally a human sugar cookie until I was in the 8th grade.
Fast forward to today and now that I have kids, the beach has taken on a whole new meaning: relaxation. We recently spent a family vacation at Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa just outside of Destin, Florida. To be honest, I could have spent the entire time sitting on the beach and by the pool soaking in harmful UV rays that I will one day regret absorbing.
My husband on the other hand sees the beach as I did as a child and needs adventure and exercise. So, I humor him; partly because I still secretly enjoy the adventures but also so he’ll quit interrupting my relaxation time!
Certainly one of the most beautiful stretches of sand and water in the U.S. is found along Highway 30A in the northwest Florida panhandle stretching from Destin eastward to Panama City Beach. Highway 30A covers many beautiful vacation spots like Seaside, Rosemary Beach, and Grayton Beach.
Luckily, we currently live along this beautiful coast and are fortunate to be able to visit these pillowy-soft beaches on a regular basis. Here is a brief itinerary of how we like to explore the sugar sand beaches and blue-green waters of Florida’s Emerald Coast by bicycle.
Bike the Timpoochee Trail to Explore The Emerald Coast Beaches
There is a 20-mile bike path that traces Highway 30A along Florida’s Emerald Coast. Officially, it is called the Timpoochee Trail, but all the locals simply refer to it as the 30A bike trail.
Santa Rosa Beach Bike Rentals
On the western end of 30A in Blue Mountain Beach (Milepost 5), you will find Big Daddy’s Bike Shop where you can rent almost any form of human-powered, wheeled transportation. They have an impressive array of beach cruisers, hybrid town bikes, kid trailers and even tandem bikes.
Big Daddy’s has an awesome park-and-ride offer that we recently took advantage of when we rented a tandem bike for the day. Apparently we needed to give our marriage a test in cooperation, communication, and coordination. The park-and-ride offer is simple: just park your car, rent a bike, and bring it back at the end of the day. Their friendly staff can answer any questions or concerns you might have and will certainly provide their recommendations of sites and places to visit. And as big supporters of our military, they also offer a 10% military discount year-round.
Rosemary Beach (Milepost 17)
From Blue Mountain Beach, we like to trek westward along the bike path. If you continue along the complete bike path, you will find yourself in lovely Rosemary Beach. On Sundays (or also on Thursdays during the summer), I highly recommend checking out the 30A Farmer’s Market at Rosemary Beach. Open from 9 am to 1 pm, it is a cornucopia of fresh baked goods, locally grown produce, grass fed meats, artisan treats and beautiful flowers, plus other local arts and crafts. We easily spend at least an hour wandering the stalls and tasting the delicious morning treats that are available.
Seaside (Milepost 9)
If you’re out biking around lunchtime, I recommend stopping about the mid-point of the bike trail near in the town of Seaside. This picture-perfect town filled with a colorful rainbow of pastel painted homes was always a quiet and coveted vacation locale but was made exceptionally popular as the main filming location for Jim Carey’s movie, The Truman Show.
Favorite Restaurants in Seaside, FL
At the center of town is a restaurant village of converted Airstream trailers selling everything from gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches at Meltdown on 30A to organic barbecue from Barefoot BBQ. We (and a multitude of vacationers) like to park our bikes here, grab lunch and let our kids run around the large grass amphitheater behind the trailers.
If we’re looking to have more of a sit-down meal, our first choice is to head to the waterfront side of 30A and hit up Bud and Alley’s for their always delicious farm- and sea-to-table creations. Their adjacent eateries, The Taco Bar and Bud and Alley’s Pizza Bar are cozy, fresh, and seasonal too, not to mention outstanding.
And when in Seaside, I always love to slip inside Modica Market to peruse the unique specialty offerings that make my foodie mind twirl. There are also nice, clean public restrooms located on the east side of the town center adjacent to Modica Market. When you’re out biking with kids, nice (and clean!) restrooms are a life saver for refilling water bottles, no-notice pit stops and washing dirty hands and faces.
For a date night away from the resort, my absolute favorite restaurant is Café Thirty-A, just on the other side of Seaside in Seagrove Beach. My first dining experience at Café Thirty-A was in 1999 and their perfectly grilled filet mignon left a burning impression in my mind. Nineteen years later and my favorite restaurant still exceeds my expectations and consistently delivers some of the best and my most favorite meals of my adult life. The wine list is exceptional and the entire dining experience is absolutely top notch, especially for the price. We are always astonished that the prices are so reasonable, as the same caliber meal costs twice as much anywhere else.
If you don’t want to leave the kids at the resort, Café Thirty-A happily allows children and even has a children’s menu available. I recommend going early to take advantage of their 5 to 6pm BOGO special where you can buy one entree at regular menu price and get a second one of equal or lesser value free. It is an absolute steal. Plus by going early, it allows all the adults dining during the prime reservation times to enjoy their night out without mashed potatoes accidentally being flung near their Louboutins.
Grayton Beach (Milepost 7)
My favorite restaurant for a family dinner along 30A is Chanticleer Eatery. They have a dedicated children’s menu at both lunch and dinner. So if you happen to stop in to eat with kids in tow, they have what my kids say is the most amazing grilled cheese at lunch and the best pulled pork at dinner.
When the weather is nice, you can’t beat sitting on their patio enjoying one of their fresh, signature salads, flavorful hamburgers and delicious artisan breads made from scratch. We often eaten lunch here as a couple and dinner here as a family and we have never had a bad meal at Chanticleer. In fact, Chanticleer has one of my favorite lunches in the world, the Pick Two, and I always get the Grilled Garden Patch Salad and Grilled Bruschetta Chicken Sandwich. It is heavenly.
Back at Blue Mountain Beach (Milepost 5)
A great way to finish your day of cycling is to stop by Blue Mountain Beach Creamery for an ice cream dessert. It is within walking distance from Big Daddy’s Bikes.
Once you get your ice cream, walk about 100 yards down the street to a fantastic public beach access point. This Blue Mountain beach public access has a wonderful overlook where you can watch the sun set into the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There is also a nice sand bar along the shore so kids can happily play in the shallow water. And the biggest bonus to this beach access point is that it has a restroom and foot washing facilities, so everyone can get cleaned off and ready to hop back into the car for a short drive back to your hotel.
You may also enjoy:
- Why Hilton Sandestin Beach is the PERFECT Family Destination
- 3 Best Places to East Seafood in Destin, FL
- 10 Destinations for the Best Tennis Vacations
- 5 Best Beach Vacation Spots
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Seaside photo courtesy of Visit South Walton.
Amy grew up in Southern California but has lived all over the globe. Her latest move brought her to Panama City, Florida, where she lives with her…