If you’ve never heard of Florida’s Highway 30A, you are in for a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of your daily life. This 24-mile scenic drive explores the beautiful Gulf of Mexico coastline along northwest Florida’s Panhandle in Walton County. The two-lane highway leaves the busy world behind and allows you to meander from town to town and explore the beauty and sites that are well-known to Florida natives and visitors. This scenic drive along the coast includes glistening white beaches, friendly beach communities, exceptional state parks, and practically the only coastal dune lakes in North America. There is much to see and do along Highway 30A, including excellent shopping and dining, so let’s roam around the Emerald Coast and see what we can find.
The weather here is famous for being perfect for driving, walking, or beachcombing. Highway 30A lends itself to scenic drives and perfect walks along the stunning coastal beachline. There are 16 unique beach communities that all contain breathtaking views and plentiful water activities, along with other unique shopping, dining, and outdoor fun activities. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the country are found along the coast of Florida’s Panhandle; included in the famous Highway 30A drive are Miramar Beach, Gulf Place, Sandestin, Blue Mountain Beach, Seaside, Eastern Lake, Rosemary Beach, and ending near Laguna Beach.
Gulf Place is one of the northwestern-most beach towns along Highway 30A. It’s located between the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and the Grayton Beach State Park, both of which are perfect for hiking, outdoor activities, and camping sites if you prefer to pitch a tent. More than 40% of Walton County is devoted to preservation, and there are more than 200 miles of trails for those who love to hike, bike, or just enjoy the beautiful outdoors. These greenway trails connect state parks and preserves all along Highway 30A, so there are chances to take scenic walks at every turn.
In the Blue Mountain Beach community, you can enjoy the white sands and an actual blue “mountain” on the Gulf of Mexico. This laid-back community has the highest elevation in South Walton, and it is covered in lupine flowers that give it a bluish hue. Blue Mountain Beach is located along the Timpoochee Trail, which connects four state parks and has many hiking and bike trails for scenic walking opportunities. The outdoors is what you will experience at Blue Mountain Beach, where you can enjoy sandy dunes, beachy neighborhoods, and scenic views of both sea and lakes.
Halfway through our journey down the Emerald Coast you will find the quaint little town of Seaside. This is a completely walkable community by design and is the best place to leave your car behind and walk along the white beaches with your family and friends. Known for its perfect beach town atmosphere, it also has a sense of community that you experience whether as a resident or living like one in a Seaside vacation rental – which is practically the only way to vacation in this town without hotels. You will feel right at home whether you are renting a 6-bedroom house that sleeps 12 people or a cozy 1-bedroom for just you and a loved one. Seaside hosts a unique mix of old and new…quaint white picket fences surrounding the lovely rental cottages, but you will also find all of the modern-day conveniences nearby. You can walk to the town square where there are ample outdoor activities, shopping, dining, and even a market to buy goodies for a picnic. The best part about Seaside? It has the largest beachfront of ANY community along Highway 30A, which means that you can walk right out of your door into the gorgeous sunshine and onto the white sandy beach.
As we drive further south in Walton County, Eastern Lake is a perfect spot to stop and watch the sun set over one of the rare coastal dune lakes of Highway 30A. What is a dune lake? The dune lakes are almost 10,000 years old and were formed when winds moved the sand and created shallow basins averaging 5 feet deep. What is unique about these dune lakes is that sand berms are the only things separating the freshwater from the salty seawater. After heavy rainfall, a flood of freshwater pours into the Gulf, resulting in a very rare ecosystem that is home to both freshwater and saltwater species of flora and fauna. Eastern Lake is one of only 15 of these rare coastal dune lakes in south Florida, and the perfect place to get out and walk around.
With so many things to see and do, you can’t go wrong driving Highway 30A in this unique ecosystem in the Florida Panhandle. Whether you are meandering along the highway in your car or stopping to take in a bit of nature during a walk, Highway 30A will leave you breathless with its unique beauty.