Destin & 30A Travel Guide

 

In early June my Husband and I took a long weekend and headed down to “the beach”. What everyone here in the South calls any area of the Panhandle basically. That could be anywhere from Orange Beach, Alabama to Panama City Beach, Florida. Even though it’s only a 5.5 hour drive for us, we hadn’t been down that way in years. It’s a little overwhelming deciding on where to stay {more on that later.} We decided on the Destin/30A area. Destin because it has lots of shopping and restaurants and 30A for the beautiful beaches and quaint areas. {30A is a stretch of highway along the beach off the main highway 98 from Destin to Rosemary Beach.} Seems everyone and their Mother are going to 30A these days and for good reason. It’s almost like stepping back in time to what Florida beaches used to be as I remember them growing up. Not commercialized. Only problem is word has gotten out and that area is VERY crowded. Basically everyone from the Midwest and South visit that area.

I’ll share what I wore each day and where we ate because exploring new places to eat is one of our favorite things to do while on vacation. It’s easier for me to break it down into days.

Day 1

 

We arrived around lunchtime. Immediately drove 30A to check out the action and see where we wanted to stop for lunch. I had heard a lot about George’s in Alys Beach. It’s a pretty small place, especially inside. They are open for lunch until 3pm {that’s most places in the area} and open back for dinner at 5pm. No reservations so get there early if you want to eat dinner. We sat outside for lunch, which was perfect. We ended up going back another day for lunch and sat inside. The atmosphere was totally different and we didn’t like it as much. Maybe it’s different at night for dinner, but I’d suggest sitting outside. I had the Grilled Fish Tacos and my Husband had the Grilled Grouper Sandwich. Two things we pretty much always try at new places. Both were great!

After lunch we drove back to Seaside and parked to walk around. Seaside is VERY crowded. I always thought I’d want to stay there but now I’m not so sure. Great for families with kids, but for couples, it seemed a bit too chaotic for us. Speaking of parking, there isn’t much public parking along 30A. The lots they do have fill up quickly. There was a pretty nice sized one near Watercolor with a short walk to the shops and beaches at Seaside. We didn’t do much shopping but I did buy a T-shirt in the famous The Seaside Style. Basically they have everything with Seaside on it. Cute shop. We then walked over to the beach. Before we left, we did drive around looking at the cute houses. I had checked some out but they were either too small or already rented. Going forward, I’d just go ahead and rent a two bedroom even though we didn’t need it because there are better choices that way.

For dinner that night we wanted to try Pompano Joe’s. I’d read it was really good and worth trying out and it’s right on the beach. Well it was ridiculously crowded. On top of that, the only parking was for the beach access next to it and it was full. Story of our life so far. So we turned around and headed back not sure what we were going to do when my Husband spotteded a parallel spot open in front of  The Whales Tail Beach Bar & Grill. It’s right on Miramar Beach as well. Super casual but we were there for the food and sunset, which did not disappoint. I got the Grilled Shrimp and my Husband got the Fried Shrimp. Both came with a side of veggies and corn on the cob. My shrimp were a bit overcooked but still good and my Husband said his were great! It’s hard to mess up fried shrimp so that’s always a good go-to.

 

I didn’t get a picture, but we stopped in the Grand Boulevard shops at Sandestin for dessert at Kilwin’s Ice Cream. I really like this area and there is a lot of nice shopping and restaurants. We ended up here a few more times during our trip. The line for ice cream is pretty long but it moved quickly. They also have fudge and other sweets. We both got a caramel dipped rice crispy treat. It was good but lasted us several days it was so sweet!

Day 2

 

That morning we headed to the beach along 30A. Not sure where we would stop so we just stared at the beginning and drove until we found a parking spot. This was 9:30am and some lots were already full. We found a spot a block away from the beach in Santa Rosa Beach. This ended up being my favorite area. There are some places to eat and I just really liked the beach there.

We had lunch at Pizza By The Sea. It’s upstairs from some shops and other restaurants and you eat outside on the open deck. It was nice and casual after being at the beach that morning. We both got the lunch combo which came with 1/4 of a pizza {two large slices} plus a greek salad. We didn’t really need that much pizza. It was good but as it got cold it was pretty chewy and not in a good way. The salad was great with all the usual greek salad toppings but it had way too much dressing.

 

That evening we headed back to Santa Rosa Beach to Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar. This was probably one of my favorite places! We had parked right down from it earlier when we went to the beach. It looked nice and the menu looked great so we knew we’d be back for dinner. They have live music every night. Keep this in mind when sitting inside. It was pretty loud. You can also sit downstairs out front on the patio. We sat upstairs but out back on the open patio. It was great because there was a nice breeze and the music wasn’t too loud back there. We stared off with half a dozen grilled oysters since that’s what they’re known for. They were great! I first had grilled oysters at a friend’s house years ago when living in Florida. I can’t eat them any other way now. I had the Crab Cakes and my Husband got the Fried Shrimp again. He said they were great and you can see by the picture they were huge! My Crab Cakes were just ok. Most people would probably love them because they were full of large lump crab. They needed more binder in my opinion and the Crab got kind of rich quickly. Overall good though and everything on the menu looked great!

 

After dinner we headed across the street to watch the beautiful sunset. That’s what the Panhandle has that’s great – the white sand beaches and those amazing sunsets!

Day 3

We knew part of the reason for coming down to the beach was to scout out the area so we’d have a better understanding of where we’d like to stay for the next time. Every year we look at places and get so overwhelmed with the number of rentals and different areas that we skip coming. We’ve been burned before with rentals not being as nice as they appear online and didn’t want to waste the time or money. But it’s a relatively short drive for a nice weekend away and we miss being near the water living in northern Alabama now. So we hit up the Outlets looking for a few things that morning but it was a total bust. Checked out a few places for lunch but passed and that’s how we ended up back at George’s for a late lunch.

Since we ate lunch kind of late and wanted to go to the beach later in the day when it was cooler, we headed back to Santa Rosa Beach about 4pm and stayed until the sun went down. This is seriously my favorite time of day at the beach because it’s less crowded and much cooler. This is the main reason to get a rental right on the beach if possible, or within a short walking distance.

Neither of us were really hungry until later so we ended up eating pizza pretty late. Funny thing is, this spot is so popular it was crowded even when we left around 10pm.

Grimaldi’s Pizza was highly recommended when looking up restaurants in the area and voted Best Pizza several years running. It is a chain but still one of the best pizza’s we’ve ever had! It’s located at the shops in Grand Boulevard. They have a good menu with a lot of pizza choices plus build your own. We did the classic 14″ Margarita and surprising to us, we finished the entire thing!

Day 4

So this was our last day and we knew we’d spend the morning at the beach. We typically spend about 3 hours or so at the beach. Neither of us can do more than that unless there’s a good breeze, shade and nice water. {We’ve both had skin cancer before.} The ocean was just starting to get the “June Grass” as locals call it. Basically every summer starting in June for a few weeks the seaweed is pretty bad. As for shade, we were smart and bought a beach umbrella from Amazon. You can also rent chairs and umbrellas in most spots as well.

We weren’t really hungry for lunch and it was about 3pm so we stopped in Vin’tij Wine Bar at Grand Boulevard. They serve lunch, dinner and drinks and limited appetizers from 3-5pm. Perfect for what we were looking for. We sat outside on their patio and ordered the Charcuterie Board and Bread Basket. You probably don’t need both but I wasn’t sure if I’d like the meat selections and I try not eat much dairy even though I had eaten half a pizza the night before…I was trying to be cautious. I felt like I ate my weight in cheese and bread there. It was really good though!

 

That night we ate at Tommy Bahama’s in the Grand Boulevard. It was another place I had heard great reviews about. It’s a chain but we had never been to one. The food did not disappoint! I had the Blackened Mahi Tacos and my Husband had the Burger, which he said was one of the best! I’ll say the same for the tacos, one of the best! Funny because the couple beside us ordered the exact same thing. We sat outside on the patio and the atmosphere was great. It was a little loud inside. They of course have a full Tommy Bahama store to browse in next to the restaurant.

Tips On Where To Stay

From what we’ve researched and heard from others that frequent the area, find a place you like and keep booking that same place. There aren’t a lot of resorts or hotels in the area. It’s mostly private condo rentals, which like I said, can be risky. Use a reputable source for booking like VRBO. In the Seaside/Santa Rosa Beach Area 360 Blue and Cottage Rentals are highly recommended. If you’re looking for a resort, I’d go with Hilton Sandestin. It’s right on the beach and you don’t have to worry about anything unlike with a rental. Keep in mind a lot places in the area are across from the beach. So be sure to map out the exact location if you’re wanting right on the beach. Bikes and Golf Cart rentals are easily accessible in the whole 30A area and even in the Grand Boulevard area we saw many Golf Carts parked outside of the Publix and restaurants. Leave me a comment sharing your favorite places to stay and eat while visiting this area! I already have a list going for next time.

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4 Comments

  1. Sandy
    June 25, 2019 / 3:02 pm

    I really enjoyed your review of your trip to Destin and 30A. I live in Gulf Breeze, across Pensacola Bay from Pensacola. We love taking a day trip to Destin and 30A. We try not to go there between end of May and mid September. We recently ate at Emeril’s Coastal at Grand Boulevard and it was good. Vin Tij Wine Bar has the most wonderful blue cheese, grape, walnut tarte appetizer that my sister and I get to share every time we go there. I did not realize they had moved to Grand Boulevard. It’s been awhile since we’ve been to their restaurant. I grew up in Montgomery and we took vacations from Gulf Shores to Panama City. We used to stay at Blue Mountain Beach in the ’70s and NOBODY was around back then. It was wonderful. Of course, there was no shopping and grocery stores near by either. You had to haul everything with you from home just about. Now it’s so expensive and so crowded. It makes me so glad that I grew up at the time that I did and was able to experience it back then.

    • misscrystal
      Author
      June 26, 2019 / 11:00 am

      Thank you so much! We’ve also heard from local friends say to go in the fall when school is in because it’s less crowded. We’ll probably go again in September. Hoping there isn’t a bad hurricane season.

  2. Danesha S
    June 25, 2019 / 10:08 pm

    Rented several places over the years…I have found some great places on Destin Harbor in Sandestin. Lots for cute restaurants, the family loves The Back Porch Restaurant but I like the little oyster bars.

    • misscrystal
      Author
      June 26, 2019 / 11:01 am

      I’ve heard great things about The Back Porch! We’ll definitely have to go there next time. So many great places but we ran out of time or they were crowded. Thank you for the area suggestions!

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