by Carrie Honaker | December 11, 2023

Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures: Unveiling the Secret Wonders of 30A’s Emerald Coast

Uncover the hidden treasures and private pockets of the Panhandle’s scenic 24-mile stretch.

Digital Graffiti projects stills and videos on Mediterranean-styled buildings. Photography courtesy of Alys Beach.

Scenic Byway 30A is well known for it’s chill vibe, but the typical guides don’t include the secret spots and activities locals know. Yes, you should scale the steps of Bud & Alley’s in Seaside to get a mojito and toast to the best beachfront view on 30A. The Red Bar in Grayton Beach isn’t a secret, but the eclectic eatery deserves a stop. And the Timpoochie Trail, the famous 18.6-mile bike path that runs the length of 30A, yields breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. 

Beyond those wonderful, but very busy spots, lies a haven of artists, singing bartenders and off-the-beaten-path boutique hotels. Pack your bags and make your way to 30A’s sliver of the Emerald Coast for a heavy dose of local art, independent shops and restaurants, sugar-white sand filled with healing natural quartz, a bevy of state parks and an ecological wonder found only in a few places around the world. 

Secret Spots on 30A

Art abounds under the sea in the Underwater Museum of Art. Photography courtesy of Spring Run Media.

Tucked between Highway 98 and 30A, The Monarch Art Trail includes eight large-scale sculptures complemented with seating, lighting, signage and native landscape. A QR code provides curious travelers with insight into the artists’ creative process through audio recordings, descriptive text and geo-locators. 

30A’s east end will soon feature a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly lighted tunnel underneath Highway 98. The tunnel adds another Art in Public Spaces exhibit. Two mid-sized sculptures will flank the entrance and the interior walls will feature murals by local artists. 

Turn on State Road 393 for the Artists Warehouse, a makeshift artist colony hiding in the sand-colored warehouses. Working painters, jewelry makers, glassblowers, ceramicists and more have open studios and offer classes to the visitors who find them. Four times per year, on the third Thursday of the month, people bring their beverages and immerse themselves in the creative energy buzzing at the warehouses, meeting the artists and purchasing their pieces. Keep your eyes peeled on social media for pop-up events.  

Don’t forget about the Underwater Museum of Art, a sculpture park reached by scuba diving, that lies .75 miles off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park. Each year new sculptures are added from artists around the world. 

In Blue Mountain Beach (on the less-densely-inhabited west end), Redd’s Fueling Station looks like a gas station, but there’s a hidden oasis of entertainment in the back. Redd, the singing bartender, belts out songs selected by customers from a book of 400 choices while holding down the bar on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. 

Where to Eat on 30A

Enjoy an intimate night out at Roux 30A, a hidden restaurant in Grayton Beach. Photography by Steve Mangum.

Two driveways over from Redds lies Blue Mabel, Nikki Nickerson’s homage to cowgirl Mabel Strickland and her pioneering 18-second steer roping back in the early 1900s. Next door, the original Cowgirl Kitchen calls 30A’s west end home, and an enormous mural depicting cowgirl life in Blue Mountain Beach greets visitors. Across the street at Blue Mountain Bakery, Miss Linda has been making the cinnamon rolls locals beeline to for two decades. Get there before they run out. 

Grayton Beach exudes funky Old Florida vibes, but most people don’t know about the secret supper club hidden behind the shops. Roux 30A is just 900 square feet and helmed by chef Nikhil Abuvala who fuses global dishes with Southern ingredients. His latest venture, Daytrader, gives chic tiki bar vibes and some of the best cocktails around—order the Medical Remedy, his take on a Painkiller served in an IV bag, and a snack of Polynesian boiled peanuts served in a spam can.  

For a taste of the Gulf, try the grouper sandwich at Seagrove Village Market—it’s as big as your head. Or get to Borago early to score one of the coveted bar seats and hear all the local gossip while enjoying a glass of wine from their expertly-curated menu. Make your way further west on 30A for dinner at Basmati’s or Cafe Tango, two tucked-away restaurants that have been local favorites for over 20 years.  

Where to Stay on 30A

Stay in one of the 75 guest rooms at the Camp Creek Inn. Photography courtesy of St. Joe Company.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, situated on 30A’s west end, has a unique lodging option that only a few state parks in Florida offer. The usual suspects—tent sites, cabins, RV spots—are all available, but you can also glamp at the 1600-acre preserve. Fancy Camps provides luxe tents equipped with real beds, seating areas and air conditioning.  

Over in Seagrove Beach, The Lodge 30A is a coastal property that feels removed from the busyness of some of the 30A neighborhoods. It sits right next door to Greenway Station, a hub of 15 small businesses and restaurants offering everything from bike and paddleboard rentals (guests get a discount) to dining options, a coffee shop and boutique shopping.  

Just a little further east, Camp Creek Inn offers seclusion adjacent to the Tom Fazio-designed Camp Creek Golf Course, a designated Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. The Inn sits amid a compound of recreation and relaxation from the wellness center and lazy rivers to pickleball courts and playgrounds.

Where to Play on 30A 

Sip and dine among esteemed sommeliers and mixologists at Alys Beach's Crafted. Photography courtesy of Alys Beach.

Alys Beach, known for its gorgeous architecture, is the spot for year-round festivals dedicated to small producers and local makers. Crafted features a celebration of the centuries-old tradition of tapping the firkin and workshops in arts like hand-tooling leather with local artisan Jeni Bailey. Digital Graffiti explores how art and architecture can intermix as stills and video are projected on the Mediterranean-style whitewashed walls. 

Each neighborhood along the 24-mile stretch of scenic byway has its own free live music schedule. Beyond the outdoor concerts, the locals grab seats at AJ’s where the Will Thompson Band plays every Wednesday. Stinky’s Fish Camp brings the washboards, fiddle, and lively presence of Big Phun every Tuesday. If you love a good story, Emerald Coast Storytellers has open-mic events up and down 30A. 

Just off 30A, something’s brewing on Serenoa Avenue. Along this nondescript stretch of road, you’ll find Grayton Beer Tap Room, Distillery 98, Amavida Coffee Roasters, and Idyll Hounds Brewing Company. All are environmentally-conscious, locally-sourced brewers from beer to vodka to coffee. They each have tastings, tours, and pop-up events like trivia, live music and even life-size jenga smackdowns. 

Even though it's a mere 24 miles, 30A boasts three state parks, Point Washington State Forest, and a rare coastal dune lake. You can access the ecological wonder, Western Lake, from Grayton State Park. Only a handful of these lakes exist in the world, and one is right on 30A for you to kayak, standup paddleboard or just observe. 

Enjoy live music at the Seaside Amphitheater in South Walton. Photography courtesy of Walton County Tourism.