Santa Rosa Beach-Seaside, FL Visitor's Guide

Scenic Highway 30A runs through some of the more elegant and diverse beach communities on the Emerald Coast known collectively as "30A". Seaside, Watercolor, Seagrove Beach, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach, Inlet Beach, Grayton Beach, Dune Allen Beach, and Gulf Place comprise the most popular publics of 30A. The land through which Scenic Highway 30A intersects has been home to settlers since the early 20th century. Tourism blossomed in the 30s, but the coveted vacation spot has managed to remain a secret from a general public for the great part of a century. Below I will cover what any potential 30A traveler will need to know!

Weather
Enjoy a vacation filled with sunshine during your stay off 30A! Northwest Florida typically is graced with an average of 320 days of sunshine a year. Mid-Western and New England residents, as well as many foreign visitors, find themselves unprepared for the warm, humid climate producing hot, hot, summers, and no dry season. The "warm season", lasting May 24th to September 30th, produces an average temperature of 83.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while the "cold season", lasting November 30th to March 5th, cools even the bravest beach goers with an average daily temperature of 56 degrees (and a low of only 46 degrees)! Be prepared to dress in layers in the late fall, winter, and early spring, and to peel those layers down to a bathing suit when May comes around.

Landmarks
There is no place more popular in 30A than the white-powder beach that lines its coast. In peak spring and summer months, it is not unusually to find any one of 30A's beaches crowded with families out to catch some rays and ride some waves. In the offseason, beach weddings and similar events are held at sunset in an attempt to capture the essence of the Emerald Coast.

Most tourists will make their way to the Seaside Square, a small market located in the middle of the Seaside development along 30A. What makes Seaside so attractive is the eclectic beach style homes and shops that differ wildly from the commercialized developments to the East and West (Destin & Panama City Beach). Not to mention, you may recognize Seaside in a popular film called the "Truman show" starring Jim Carrey that was filmed back in the late 90's. Other popular tourist landmarks include Rosemary Beach, Gulf Place and Eden Gardens.

Things To Do
When not filling time at the beach, in the water, or exploring the beauty of 30A, what is there to do? With long-standing tourist destinations like Panama City Beach, Miramar Beach, Sandestin, and Destin, Florida just a short drive away, it won't take long to figure out. For the kids, surf lessons, paddleboard rentals, and street legal golf cart rentals have the potential to create lasting memories, and for adults, a romantic dinner cruise, massage, horseback riding lesson, or private fishing excursion may complete your trip. The possibilities are endless when on the Emerald Coast as there are activities to fit a family-friendly frolic, romantic retreat, or tight budget trip!

Dining & Nightlife
30A is home to the Gulf Coast's most hip bistros, bars, and nightclubs. Eclectic beachside cafe's with mid-priced menus offer anything from gourmet hot dogs to seafood fusion. Upscale pubs are plentiful and in high demand, especially in trendy Seaside and Gulf Place, and with the beach an overwhelming presence in the area, county officials provide beach bonfire permits for all vacationers looking to roast S'more's, or smoke the days catch. Live entertainment is a staple to this area with a majority of 30A nightclubs providing all varieties of solo musicians and bands.

Lodging
Beachside Condos and Bungalows are popular with rental customers. Popular chain hotels are mostly a non-presence when compared to the hundreds of locally owned hotels, condos, and rental homes throughout 30A. Geographically speaking, no matter where you choose to stay along 30A, you will not be far from the beach. But with hundreds of hotels and condos to choose from, picking the best lodging for a trip to 30A is no easy task. The first thing to consider is: Hotel, Condo, or Beach Home?

Hotels typically offer limited amenities, more traditional rental rooms, and less proximity to the beach. But the average Hotel makes up for what it lacks by offering lower and negotiable rates, and 24 hour service. Many renters consider Condos for their stay because of the large room size (to more easily accommodate larger families and longer stays), and proximity to the beach (many condos are Oceanside and feature gulf views and instant beach access). Also, condo management typically will include family-fun activities and events like movie nights, beach luaus, and pool parties to give guests more bang for their buck. Rental Homes are a popular choice among larger families, or larger groups, despite a much higher price tag. Many rental homes are in close proximity to the beach, and illicit a more comfortable feeling as opposed to hotel or condo lodgings due to less supervision and more freedom and customization of the surroundings. Remember that rates for Rental Homes, Condos, and Hotels fluctuate seasonally. Typically rental rates will increase in the spring and summer, and drop during fall and winter. If interested in booking a rental, always attempt to book in advance for the best prices and availability.

Shopping
The Seaside community in 30A is where local residents and tourists alike go to purchase clothing, accessories, hand-made goods, and more! With Seaside at its center, 30A's varied shops and vendors are never too far apart. Small collections of retail bungalows appear in a seemingly well-thought out pattern along the highway. These art galleries, jewelry stores, antique shops and more all seem to have been laid out in such a way that the casual shopper will never grow bored. If looking for less locally grown, and more mainstream retailers, take a short drive to Miramar Beach, Florida and visit the Silver Sands Outlet Mall. This 110 store premium mall is fitted with the latest and greatest designer outlets offering factory discounted pricing.

Annual Events
Events run almost weekly during peak season in 30A, but a few stand above the rest as local and regional favorites. In January, the 30A Songwriters Festival brings both homegrown and major acts together in a celebration of original music. Hear familiar tunes from popular artist, while also discovering new music. In March catch the 30A wine festival at Alys Beach. The ticket prices include seminars, tasting, after parties, and the special event, "Rose' and Croquet". In May, the ArtQuest Fine Arts Festival hits South Walton with music, art, and a stunning display of Emerald Coast Talent.

Top 10 Travel Tips
1) Never underestimate the sun, use sunblock at all times. The white sand may be cool to the touch, but it's also reflecting the sunlight upwards and accelerating the rate at which your skin will tan (or burn).
2) Winter and Fall lodging rates are typically 30-50% less than what are quoted in Spring and Summer. This is great for most visiting on a budget, however most leisure travelers will notice a lot of tour operations shut down, restaurants are short-staffed, and there are very few events offered.
3) Most families will find it less expensive to split a 2 or 3 bedroom condo rather than doing separate condos. The savings could be anywhere from 20-30% for each family.
4) Tour companies are typically slower on Saturdays and Sundays during the peak tourist season (June-August). Look for special deals and offers on these days to save on tickets.
5) Visit the Destin Harbor in the early afternoon during the season to see the daily catch from the various fishing charter boats. You never know what you'll see!
6) The first 2 weeks of June and the last 2 weeks of August are the slower weeks during peak tourist season. The rates are slightly lower and the beach are slightly less crowded.
7) Hurricane season starts through June and run through November. Make sure to check the policy on hurricanes before booking lodging or activities. Some rental agencies are more restrictive than others.
8) Parking at public beach accesses in Santa Rosa Beach can be hectic during Spring Break and Summer. Get an early start to avoid the rush or go later in the date (after 3pm).
9) For those travelers who plan on going charter fishing, but don't know what to do with the meat, take it to a local seafood restaurant. Most seafood restaurants will prepare your fish into a meal for around $10 - Checkout AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar.
10) Pontoon boats rentals are a great way to explore the Emerald Coast. Go snorkeling, fishing, cruising and more without needing professional boating experience. Rentals are available all year 'round.

References
1. www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
2. www.weatherspark.com
3. www.silversandsoutlet.com


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