Full of elegance, southern charm, salty air, and a signature laid-back vibe, the affluent community of South Walton on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast has long been known as a best-kept secret. While short drives and increasingly convenient flights have brought visitors from around the South for decades, the modern Mayberry feel makes it seem almost too good to be true.
Rest assured, this beach is the real deal. Cue a lesson in New Urbanism. The live-work-play model is fully operational throughout this strand of tiny towns. The quaint scenic highway 30A (or simply “30A,” as it’s known) winds through Grayton Beach, Watercolor, Seaside (where The Truman Show was filmed), Alys Beach, and Rosemary Beach—each with its own distinct architecture and personality. High-rise condos and palm trees abound along the beachfront roads of neighbors Destin and Panama City, while 30A embraces the au naturale elements including rolling sand dunes that protect the beach, native sea grass, and plenty of southern pine trees. Real estate and business development has steadily been growing, poised for a surge, as South Walton is clearly “having a moment.”
And what’s not to love? Wooded walkovers, natural foliage, and stunning structures dot the Gulf-front property as homes are quickly claimed for their stake in paradise. A 26-mile bike path winds around a unique concentration of coastal dune lakes. Defined seasons offer variety throughout the year, with warm weather in the spring, summer and fall bringing plenty of “haute” enjoyment. Events like ArtsQuest, Digital Graffiti, South Walton Fashion Week, and 30A Songwriters Festival round out the calendar, bringing national—even global— talent to the tiny beach town.
Architecture defines each neighborhood with personality bursting at the seams. At the east end of 30A, Rosemary Beach is elegantly swathed in Dutch colonial style design as the cobblestone streets evoke the allure of St. Augustine or Charleston, while other areas seem as exotic as Cape Town or the French Riviera. Since 1995, the 107-acre town remains true to its original mission to bring back the notions of community, neighborhood, and convenience.
Neighborhoods are interconnected by pedestrian footpaths and shared green spaces. Morning bike rides involve trips to Amavida Coffee (a certified B-Corp) for artisan lattes or to Cowgirl Kitchen for Bloody Mary’s and its famous Praline Bacon Waffles. Browse designer labels at Willow Boutique, or take in art at the Hidden Lantern Gallery, or Tommy Crow Studios and decorate with the posh pieces at Tracery Interiors.
Laid-back luxe dinner options are plentiful with chocolate-covered bacon at La Crema, a view of the kitchen at Edward’s, delicious seafood at Restaurant Paradis or cocktails at Havana Beach, all within strolling-distance of the town center.
Imagined by the same team who designed Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach is an ultra-modern study of simplicity. A nearly all-white color palette with expanses of crisp Bermudan-style homes and courtyards make the natural beauty truly stand out.
The trademark butteries welcome 30A passersby like the most polite welcome committee. Breathtaking Caliza Pool opens its exclusive access for dinner and is one meal not to miss. Fonville Press serves as a coffee shop and newsstand while the Alys Shoppe is fully stocked with a dream beach wardrobe and Charlie’s Donut Truck is known to sell out its delicious supply each morning.
Continuing west on 30A leads next to the carefully designed neighborhood of Watersound. Along with 256 acres boardwalks, dunes and two miles of beaches, home styles take a more Martha’s Vineyard-esque turn with a quiet, relaxed feeling that is truly luxurious.
Watersound Beach Club offers members the best of the beach and beyond, with a sleek pool said to be one of the best in the area. Possibly the most enjoyed feature of the neighborhood are the long, winding boardwalks that twist past impressive cottages, over the dunes and down to the Gulf. A nearby coastal dune lake offers colorful sunset views year-round.
Seaside / Watercolor
The town that appears like a postcard come to life is the birthplace of the New Urbanist style with no shortage of iconic views along 30A. The Seaside post office, with its billowing American flag, is one of the most photographed in the country. Distinct pavilions add character to each beach access and the Seaside Amphitheater is home to concerts and performances throughout the year. Note the plethora of white picket fences lining the sidewalks in front of beach houses, with each bringing a different pattern to the table.
Wine and sushi lovers will linger at Crush Wine Bar, while gourmet-on-the-go can be found floor to ceiling at Modica Market. A row of Airstreams trailers serve up barbeque, grilled cheese, hot dogs and raw foods—though the caliber is far from your typical food truck. Across the street, Bud & Alley’s remains the cornerstone with meals worthy of Golden Spoons and views that never go out of style. The expansive Gulf view and salty air make it a must-visit to get the true Seaside experience. The open-air Perspicasity celebrates 30 years with their market-style take on shopping. Stripes, white linen, caftans and classic beach style prevail here.
Blocks away, St. Joe’s Watercolor Inn and Resort brings plush amenities tucked near sprawling parks and green spaces. Fish Out of Water is a favorite, along with The Gathering Spot in the lobby—a hidden happy hour gem. Be sure to sip the refreshing Cucumber Martini. Watercolor’s Beach Club and Fitness Center only add to the popularity for homeowners and resort guests. Beyond the Inn, Chan’s Wine World is home to an extensive wine and cheese shop along with delicious small plates, best enjoyed outside under the café lights. Cerulean Park bridges the gap between 30A and scenic Western Lake where paddling of any kind is high on the list. Find classic Lilly Pulitzer styles at Barefoot Princess, trendy pieces at The Fuss Boutique and eclectic art at The Blue Giraffe.
Others to Note
On the other side of Western Lake lies 30A’s funkiest neighborhood, Grayton Beach. The south side is home to the cult favorite Red Bar, Zoo Gallery and one of two beaches where permitted vehicles can drive right to the turquoise water’s edge. The north side is equally eclectic with handmade designs at Nicola Paloma, leather and pearls at Allison Craft Designs and art for days at galleries like J. Lyons Studio.
In Seagrove, Café Thirty-A continues to deliver decadent dishes meal after meal while a southern coastal dinner on The Roof at 723 Whiskey Bravo is perfect for sunset. Further west in Gulf Place, an outdoor amphitheater hosts regular concerts and events while shopping and dining favorites include a Saturday Artist Bazaar, colorful finds at The Artists at Gulf Place, Pizza by the Sea (with gluten-free options), La Playa for coastal-inspired fare, Jewel Toffier for mature women’s styles, and the 30A Gear truck for tanks, tees, and even 30A beach chairs.
Have a passion for golf? Putt around any of the area’s 100+ holes including Camp Creek, Santa Rosa Golf & Beach Club, or the nearby courses at Sandestin like Burnt Pine and The Raven, once a stop on the PGA Champions Tour.
Love to fish? Hop aboard charter boat Dead Fish Charters, which launches from Grayton Beach and hook up with cobia, red snapper, and grouper only a few miles offshore. Inshore flats fishing trips with Florida Boy Adventures offer premier angling for redfish, trout, and other bay species.
With such a bounty of fresh fish, it’s no surprise seafood is the cuisine of choice. Don’t feel like cooking your catch? Private chefs are available with impressive gourmet menus served straight from your kitchen. Services like Live Well Concierge deliver everything from bicycles and beach chairs to cribs and groceries.
Fitness and healthy living also ranks high among the area’s top interest with weekend farmer’s markets in Seaside and Rosemary Beach, miles of walking and biking trails as well as favorite activities like paddle-boarding with the local YOLO Board.
Real Estate Talk: Imagining Life Along 30A
From quaint cottages with dunes and Gulf views steps away, to master-planned communities with shopping and dining around the corner, the 30A lifestyle fits any beach lover’s personality. Realtor John Holahan of the Eimers Group caters to the upscale crowd and shares his favorite picks among recent listings here.
While You’re Looking
Enjoy a stay at Rosemary Beach’s Cottage Rental Company or The Pearl, a striking hotel with poolside cabanas, views of the Gulf through Rosemary Beach, fresh macaroons as part of turndown service, and a bold black-and-white exterior. Or settle in at the WaterColor Inn, a cozy, coastal-inspired home-away-from-home where in-room toiletries come in tubes resembling watercolor paint.
Scenic Highway 30A is located approximately five hours from Atlanta, four hours from New Orleans, and two-and-a-half hours west of Tallahassee. Fly in to Panama City Beach’s Sheltair FBO or book a commercial flight to ECP in Panama City Beach (about 30 minutes away) or VPS Valparaiso/Niceville area (about an hour away).
For current real estate opportunities in the area, click here.