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Top Things to Do Along Highway 30A

by S. Lynne on July 9th, 2024
Bare tree and yellowing grasses in Campbell Lake, one of the rare dune lakes in Northwest Florida's Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Campbell Lake, one of the area’s rare coastal dune lakes, is in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

While most visitors are naturally drawn to the beautiful beaches when booking a stay on Highway 30A, they realize there is much more fun and adventure available than a simple day at the beach. This renowned location is bursting with natural beauty, serene scenery, and a playful nature. And vacationers quickly realize there are many things to do along Highway 30A.

In fact, vacationing at a beach cottage, home or condo in South Walton often provides culturally diverse and artful experiences. From its multiple state parks and preserves to restaurants with water views and a bike path spanning 19 miles, vacationing along 30A is like booking multiple trips all in one. Plan a different activity for each day, and you’ll still not run out of things to do on 30A. Here are some of the top things we recommend visitors experience while on a getaway to this gem of a location:

Ride the 30A Bike Trail

Why observe the fantastic scenery from inside a car when you can experience breezes through your hair and the sun on your skin? Highway 30A is home to a 19-mile paved bike path. The Timpoochee Trail parallels the length of the scenic road and passes through all of its famous beach communities. You’ll catch glimpses of coastal wildlife, water views, and natural beauty hard to find anywhere else. Adventure seekers can try the Eastern Lake Trail within the Point Washington State Forest. It has a system of three-mile, five-mile and 10-mile trail loops.

Don’t have a bike? No worries, because there are multiple places that rent and sell bikes, gear and equipment. Here are several – 30A Bike Rentals. So c’mon and get those feet pedaling and experience 30A from a new perspective.

Couple with bikes looking at the beach on 30a
Cyclists enjoy 30A beach views

Fish or Kayak the Rare Coastal Dune Lakes

Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare. In fact, they are only found in four countries around the world. In the United States, dune lakes are found along the Gulf Coast, in South Carolina, and in Oregon. On the Gulf, South Walton and Highway 30A are home to an incredible 15 named coastal dune lakes. Because of frequent exchanges of freshwater and saltwater between dune lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, anglers can find an eclectic mixture of species in these lakes.

South Walton’s coastal dune lakes, believed to be as old as 10,000 years, were formed by winds redistributing sand from the Gulf beaches and creating shallow basins. Most are only about five-feet deep but offer wetland landscapes filled with coastal birds and unique trees and plants.

Wildlife Watching at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

If you like veering off the beaten path, then you’ll want to set foot in Topsail. It’s named after its sand dunes standing nearly 25-feet high. This park has more-than three miles of beaches and unobstructed views of the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico. Adventure seekers enjoy the rare dune lakes and the unique plants and wildlife calling this mix of sand, woods, and wetlands home. Keep a close eye on the ground for the endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse. And look to the sky for vividly colored birds, as the Topsail Hill Preserve is a part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park boardwalk crossing sand dunes.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park has 25-foot-high sand dunes alongside a wooden boardwalk.
View of wet sand and surf with plover walking through the water
A plover plays in the surf at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

Visit Seaside and Live Like Truman

Enjoy a splash of Hollywood with a day in Seaside, where you can witness movie magic. Visit the home (31 Natchez Street) and community that was the host site of the 1996 blockbuster movie The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize the carefully planned small-town design. Its awe-inspiring architecture, cobblestone roads, white picket fences, and a quaint town center host charming shops, boutiques, and galleries like the Fusion Art Glass Gallery.

While there, be sure to take in a sensational sunset and a marvelous meal when you hear the sunset bell at Bud & Alley’s. Cap the day with performances and movies under the stars at Seaside Repertory Theatre and Seaside Amphitheater.

Columned and arched beachfront gazebo with four Adirondack chairs and a view of the Gulf
Beachfront gazebo at Seaside

Standup Paddleboarding

South Walton’s Gulf of Mexico is typically calm with gentle waves and not the best fit for surfing. But these conditions — with the views of turquoise waters and dune lakes — make Highway 30A perfect for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). It’s safer and more enjoyable than surfing for many water enthusiasts. And it fits perfectly with the theme of relaxation. Take your time and soak in the views of dune lakes, or glide parallel to the beach and enjoy gentle Gulf breezes. If you don’t have a paddleboard, there are plenty available for rent – YOLO Board in Highway 30-A.

It’s the best of everything — enjoying the water without being in it, and surfing (sort of) without all the work. There’s nothing more soothing than gliding along and looking at the landscape, so give it a try. After all, you only live once!

Man stand up paddleboarding on blue water

Picnic at Deer Lake State Park

Visitors longing for isolation on the sugar-white beaches should pack lunch and picnic at pristine Deer Lake State Park. The only sounds you’re likely to hear are tropical breezes rustling through palms and the chirps of sea gulls and snowy plovers. Work up an appetite with a walk likely to yield views of coastal plants, colorful wildflowers, and migratory birds and butterflies. Or stroll up and down the quarter-mile dune boardwalk and enjoy the beauty from a higher vantage point.

The dunes and a boardwalk at Deer Lake State Park
Dunes of Deer Lake State Park

Visit the Red Bar in Grayton Beach

For nightlife, libations, and good food, visitors and locals alike flock to the Red Bar. Here, you’ll enjoy a cold beverage, eclectic décor, and great live music. Its menu is as varied as its décor, serving everything from crab cakes and blackened grouper to baked eggplant and panne chicken.

The location is a former general store from the early 1900s, so you know the place has character. You came to Florida to kick back and have fun, right? That’s why this hot spot — where celebrities are known to mix it up with locals — should be on your list. Come for the food and drinks but stay for the atmosphere.

Dining area in Red Bar in Grayton Beach.
The iconic Red Bar in Grayton Beach

Go Fishing

The Emerald Coast is known for some of the best sport fishing in the world. And a vacation rental on Highway 30A can accommodate anglers dying to catch their own dinner. Though there are no harbors here, 30A fishing charters depart directly from the sands at Grayton Beach. Anglers often return with impressive hauls including grouper, cobia, wahoo, red snapper, king mackerel, and flounder. They also frequently land Jack Crevalle, amberjack, triggerfish, Spanish mackerel, blackfin tuna, mahi-mahi, and others.

Don’t want to leave the shore? Just get a pole, and you’ll be in line to catch some fresh pompano — and sun — on the beach. Or try your hand at kayak fishing in Choctawhatchee Bay, which is home to redfish, flounder, and speckled trout.

Build Exquisite Sandcastles

The sparkling quartz-sand beaches along 30A are not just great for walking on and digging toes into. They also offer up opportunities for vacationers to put their artistic talents to use. Whether building sandcastles with the family using buckets, plastic shovels and the like, or signing up for a class to take it to the next level and sculpt a masterpiece, you’re sure to have fun in the process. If you want to learn from some pros, here’s a link – Beach Sandsculptures in Highway 30-A.

A family poses behind the sandcastle they built on the beach.
This family sculpted a sandcastle masterpiece with some guidance from pros.

Play Golf

For sports enthusiasts who can’t imagine leaving their clubs behind, there is a public golf course along Highway 30A featuring views so breathtaking you might just forget about the scorecard. Origins Golf Club was designed by Davis Love III and is simple and fun for golfers of all ages and skills.

Shot of part of Origins Golf Club.
Origins Golf Club

Dinner With a View

There’s not much on earth more romantic than beachside or waterfront dining. And 30A’s string of coastal communities serve up about the freshest seafood available. So, it’s natural to want to savor succulent seafood while enjoying a spectacular sunset or watching a pod of dolphins playing in sparkling Gulf waters. Fortunately, there are lots of dining spots on 30A to accommodate.

On the west end of Highway 30A, there’s Stinky’s Fish Camp, offering views of a coastal dune lake. There’s also the Vue on 30a, serving up American café-style fare with some of the best Gulf views in the region. About midway down 30A sits a cluster of great restaurant choices. Those include the Old Florida Fish House and Sushi Bar, overlooking another dune lake, and Bud & Alley’s , a Gulfside grill with a taco bar and pizza bar to satisfy everyone in the family.

Two seafood restaurants within hotels — Fish Out of Water in the WaterColor Inn and Resort and the V Seagrove restaurant in the Hotel Viridian, offer luxurious dining experiences paired with breathtaking views of the coast. And the Sugar Shak in Rosemary Beach on 30A’s east end is a candy store bringing families and sweet views together. In other words, it’s a great place to finish if you still have room for dessert!

We are truly just scratching the surface on the myriad offering of activities, restaurants, watersports, shopping, and more along iconic 30A. If you’re up for fun and adventure of all kinds in a breathtaking year-round setting, you’re sure to fall in love with 30A!

Here are lots more fun things to do on Highway 30a. And if you’re heading down, check out BeachGuide’s extensive selection of Highway 30a vacation rentals. BeachGuide works with multiple management companies all along the Gulf coast and can offer vacationers the lowest, direct pricing without markups. Call a friendly BeachGuide vacation planner 7 days a week and most evenings at 888-404-2602.

Sunset view of the columned gazebo, a few diners, and servers at Bud and Alley's in Seaside
Getting ready for the evening crowd at Bud & Alley’s in Seaside
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