The Perfect Place To Rejuvenate, Build Lasting Memories and Find Your Perfect Beach!
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography courtesy of Visit South Walton, St. Joe Club & Resorts, and The Pearl Hotel.
Located along a 26-mile stretch on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, South Walton encompasses a strand of sixteen acclaimed beach neighborhoods, each with its own unique style.
Renowned for its turquoise water and sugar-white sand, South Walton is continually recognized as a premier destination that offers an upscale yet casual place to build lasting memories. It attracts high-end luxury travelers and families.
South Walton includes all of Highway 30A, but Highway 30A is not all of South Walton. It includes Miramar Beach and other towns along the coast. “Over 40 percent of the land area here is in conservation, either a state park or a state forest or private conservation,” said David Demarest, Director of Communications, Walton County. “This area has great trails and biking paths which connect all of our towns. As you follow Highway 30A, you will go from one state park to another state park and enjoy the really pristine and natural part of Florida interspersed with very charming towns where you may enjoy the finer things like a nice place to dine or even a spa.”
For the outdoors aficionado, outdoor activities abound; shopaholics are attracted to this shopper’s paradise; and foodies enjoy the many award-winning restaurants using fresh-from-the-Gulf and locally sourced ingredients at South Walton’s two hundred-plus restaurants. Though South Walton’s 16 unique beach neighborhoods specialize in small-time charm, they’re big on high-end dining options.
If you fly into the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport there are 16 towns on Highway 30A in this order: Inlet Beach, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, Seacrest, Watersound, Seagrove, Seaside, Watercolor, Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Gulf Place, Dune Allen, Sandestin , Seascape, and Miramar Beach (on the far western end of Highway 30A.)
The newest town on Highway 30A is Alys Beach. “It really got going in 2004 or 2005, which was before the economic downturn,” said Demarest of Visit South Walton. “The town is owned by a family company. They don’t often sell pieces of the property, so when they offer residential lots for sale they tend to be in very high demand.”
Rent a convertible, put the top down, and drive along Highway 30A and take the scenic route. Give yourself about an hour. Make time to visit the state parks where you will see great examples of north Florida environment from the coastal areas to giant sand dunes and forests to Eden Garden State Park, which showcases beautiful gardens and an historic house with giant oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. “We’re so famous for our beaches and rightly so, but after you have spent several days on the beach, this is a totally new experience. This area is off the beaten path, cool and shady and just lovely,” said Demarest. He also enjoys visiting one of the two local breweries—Grayton Beach Brewery or Idyll Hounds. He suggests buying brews and lunch to go. “You can’t beat a quick trip down to Seaside and go to Modica Market, which was one of the first grocery stores in the area, with great sandwiches, wraps, pastas and desserts to go. Take your food to the beach or enjoy in one of the state parks minus the beer. Never Too Much of a Good Thing is A Dessert Tour of South Walton. Ask for details at the South Walton Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Lodging and restaurant tips: The summer season is the busiest. Therefore, late spring, fall and the December holidays are the times that you would enjoy being here and not necessarily pay the top prices. If it is not a school holiday, the time between spring and summer offers some of the best weather and typically you don’t have to wait in line at your favorite restaurant. (Some of the restaurants do not take reservations.) There is a range of price points along Highway 30A, but the greatest opportunity for savings is to visit in non-peak season.
What’s New Along Highway 30A?
“Thirty years ago there was not much to see along Highway 30A,” said Demarest. “Now we have award-winning restaurants like The Pescado Seafood Grill and Rooftop Bar in Rosemary Beach to nationally renowned Chef Emeril Lagasse’s Coastal Italian restaurant in Miramar Beach and new businesses in our beach neighborhoods.”
One of the biggest new attractions is in South Walton: Home to America’s First Underwater Museum of Art. The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) and the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) have partnered to bring North America’s first permanent underwater sculpture park, The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), to South Walton.
The museum, which will be located 1.71 nautical miles off the coast of Grayton Beach, combines, art, education and ecosystems—three passions of the South Walton community.
“It’s so fresh and creative,” says Andy McAlexander, president of SWARA. “We will be raising awareness of our marine ecosystems through art.”
The Gulf of Mexico’s seafloor is 5 percent barren sand flats—a veritable underwater desert—so creating artificial reefs (or in this case a sculpture museum) provides a source of biological replenishment and a protective marine habitat where one does not exist.
The underwater museum will open in late June of 2018, and it will be an ongoing project where the CAA commissions sculptures from artists and SWARA deploys works for permanent display in the Underwater Museum of Art. The project represents a unique opportunity for South Walton to expand on its already diverse arts scene, as well as serving as an educational opportunity for school children. To learn more about The Underwater Museum of Art, visit https://umafl.org.
Also new along the length of Highway 30A is a bike path from town to town. Several companies offer electric bikes, which are easier and faster to pedal without getting tired. Three companies are leading the charge in this trend: Yolo, Pedego and Green Ebikes. Most of them will deliver a bike to you along Highway 30A, but they also have physical stores, one of which is doing Eventures offering Eventure Tours. They are offering tours of the area where visitors learn about the history of the area. There are also dining and art tours along Highway 30A.
Lodging on Highway 30A
There are many fine hotels and inns along Highway 30A. One particularly impressive hotel is The Pearl Hotel, located in the quaint, eclectic coastal town of Rosemary Beach. The Pearl Hotel is an intimate, 55-room boutique hotel that celebrates the town’s distinct Southern charm. In addition to elegant aesthetics this hidden gem features guest services-integrated iPads, an award-winning restaurant and rooftop lounge in homage to Hemingway’s favorite haunt in Cuba, as well as the poolside Spa Pearl. Surrounded by unique architecture in a West Indies-inspired destination established as an upscale retreat for urbanities, guests are encouraged to explore the intriguing area by foot or bike.
Each room provides a private balcony with a view of the Gulf of Mexico or surrounding Rosemary Beach. Perfect for romantic getaways, this AAA Four Diamond property leaves guests revived, inspired, and dreaming of their next beachside visit.
One of the benefits of St. Joe Club & Resorts managing this distinctive hotel property is that guests also enjoy access to a bevy of the private membership club’s amenities, including private golf and beach club access; complimentary bicycle use; kayak, canoe, and discounted stand-up paddleboard rentals; access to beach bonfire services, for which a St. Joe Club & Resorts staff member arranges all details of a beachside bonfire from preparing the fire and setting up beach chairs to providing fixings for s’mores and much more.
There are 55 guestrooms, 9 suites, and 1 Pearl Suite (Presidential Suite). The poolside Spa Pearl is an innovative and intimate spa experience with signature treatments utilizing the healing powers of the pearl gemstone itself.
Dining at the Pearl Hotel
Inspired by El Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite haunt in old-town Havana, Cuba, Havana Beach Bar & Grill offers a comfortable, communal ambiance full of life and steeped in the joy of living, eating, and drinking well. Executive Chef James Neale serves Gulf Coast American cuisine with vibrant Latin Caribbean influences. Outdoor seating is available on the Veranda with views overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and Main Street. A smartly curated collection of wines and spirits is available from the hand-carved mahogany bar with a selection of mixed cocktails that’s worthy of Hemingway himself. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served seven days a week.
Guests may also enjoy the Havana Beach Rooftop Lounge, recently renovated in April 2016. Offering a stylish, yet relaxed outdoor atmosphere with stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico and the town’s 30A lifestyle, this alfresco venue features bistro style seating and communal tables. The Rooftop Lounge also includes two fire pits as well as four cabanas for lounging under Florida’s signature sunshine or starry skies. The lounge is open daily (weather permitting) with a full bar, including an extensive wine list and a mixed cocktail menu for ages 21 and over. Happy Hour is daily from noon-5 pm.
For more information on The Pearl Hotel call 888.656.6463 or email email@example.com.
The Pearl Hotel is a member of St. Joe Club & Resorts, a collection of hotels in addition to a private membership club. The hotels are spread along a 26-mile stretch of Scenic Highway 30A and throughout Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast.
What to Know
South Walton, Florida Visitor Center
(800) 822-6877 or (850) 267-1216
25777 US Highway 331 South, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459
Open 8:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.