A Beginner's Guide to Seaside: 5 Days in the Florida Panhandle

Frog's legs, fried green tomatoes, and my badass lady friends! Florida's pristine panhandle feels like another world. Here's what I discovered on the 30A Highway for five days in February with my besties.


Seven ladies on a relaxing winter getaway... sounds like a pretty great time no matter where we are, right?? Absolutely! And I admit, the first time I heard of Santa Rosa Beach, Niceville, and Destin, Florida, I assumed I knew where it would be. Maybe driving distance, or a short commuter flight from Miami, Naples, or Ft. Lauderdale, right?

Um nooooo. When I looked it up on the map I got a serious geography lesson: Florida goes really far west, so far that the left edge of it is in the Central time zone! This part of Florida, known as the Panhandle, rests up against Georgia, Alabama, and just a hop over to Mississippi.


This area is well known for its scenic highway called the 30A. It runs for approximately 24 miles along this part of Florida, and carries locals and visitors through many towns along this coastline. It was along this highway that we explored during our 5 days in Florida, and we filled our days enjoying the sunshine (whenever it popped out!), shopping, meeting locals, partaking in the occasional cocktail, and of course, trying unique local foods!


SEASIDE


A whole lotta fun was had in Seaside, Florida! This little town immediately felt friendly, welcoming, and super lively. Our favorite takeaways:


Great Southern Cafe


It was here that we had our first meal out, and it was the PERFECT spot! Situated on a busy patio with loud music, other nearby festive diners, and a totally kick-ass server named Britney (yeah, that's Britney bitch), we had the very best time. It was also here that we tried as many local foods as we could muster. Crispy frogs legs. Fried green tomatoes. Grits à ya ya, which is blackened shrimp, sauté of smoked bacon, spinach, portobello mushrooms, smoked Gouda cheese grits. Add a few grapefruit mojitos (nix the peach ones, sorry Britney), and you have a lunch fit for a Florida queen!


By the way, quick message to the Great Southern Cafe: we love Britney! Give that girl a raise, she deserves it.


Seaside Post Office


Not sure if I've ever seen a post office this adorable, but seeing it makes me want to do a research project for cute post offices now. Sort of. Anyway, the history of this building - and its location - is fascinating, as it's an important historical part of the town and was recently moved to where it sits now. As always is the case, the decision to do so was met with mixed opinions from locals. Where it rests today is perfect, and I would not have known it just arrived last year!



Modica Market


Our girlfriend (who used to be local) made a literal beeline for this place. She could not wait to share it with all of us. Inside were countless food and beverage options, as well as a service counter that provided fresh pastries, sandwiches, and, most importantly, has various beers on tap.


The employees were super friendly... and tolerant... of our many questions, requests, and multiple needs (yes, multiple). They happily provided us empty cups filled with ice so we could walk around town with whatever purchases we'd made. They assured us that no one in the town of Seaside really cares if you walk around with an alcoholic beverage as long as you're not acting out, and that's it's done all the time. Suddenly Seaside got even better.


Bud & Alley's


Fantastic spot for lunch on the pier, sitting in the sunshine! I enjoyed mimosas, and a few of my girlfriends ordered a Bloody Mary which turned out to be a whopping and impressive concoction complete with a slice of bacon, lots of veggies, and a jumbo shrimp. Amazing!


The Art of Simple


Full disclosure. I have a weakness for things with witty, insightful, and/or snarky sayings on them. Plaques, t-shirts, coffee mugs, wall art. It's not pretty, but I've been able to keep this issue at bay for the most part, and thankfully my home is NOT filled with them.


It usually works like this: I walk into a store and see something I must have. I burst out laughing, or sometimes get super emotional because it really pulls at my heartstrings. I need it. I quickly pick it up, then carry it around the store for a while. Sometimes a very long while, mulling over the purchase, thinking it's going to be SO HILARIOUS or, in the case of the sappy stuff, SO IMPACTFUL to have around. After an indeterminate amount of time, the novelty starts to fade a little... and I begin to realize yet again that I should not spend my money on this. So I take a picture of the quote. Then say goodbye and put it down.


This has worked well for me. However, going into The Art of Simple really put me to the test because I was surrounded by some of the funniest, laugh-out-loud items I'd ever seen. Not to mention impactful ones, like this doozy below that was actually stacked books (yet more clever!). The struggle is real.


The Beach


Gorgeous! It was on this beach that I first got to wiggle my toes in the sand I've heard so much about. And it really did feel like sugar! Light, bright, and just a bit sticky... and hey, who doesn't love a sunset on a beach? With the people you love? I'll take those any day of the week.


ALYS BEACH


In a word: fancy. Since this was February, mind you, this town felt like a bit of a... ghost town. However, you can tell that it was built for many, many tourists and I suspect in summer months the little town is filled to the brim with visitors. The architecture of the downtown area is beautiful, and has a New Orleans feel to it. There are tons of boutiques, restaurants, and bars.



One takeaway we did not love? There is no public beach access here for us as "drop-in visitors." To go onto the beach in Alys Beach, you have to be registered as a guest. Meaning, at a specific hotel or Airbnb in town. I'm sure there's a logical reason for this, but we found this super annoying! So close and yet so far...


SANTA ROSA BEACH


We stayed in Santa Rosa. We were actually situated inland a bit, on a series of thin lakes that host water ski training day in and day out. It was pretty entertaining to watch world-class (or training to be world-class) water skiers zipping back and forth in front of our patio.


SOUTH WALTON


The Bay

What a great restaurant. And crazy busy (they do not take reservations), so be sure to plan for a wait. Lots of fire pits, umbrellas, and frequently-scheduled live music - a super fun place to hang out with a large group, or to people-watch with your main squeeze.


Of course, this was a fantastic trip. With all of these incredible ladies in tow, how could it not be?? But even without them, I would have enjoyed exploring this part of Florida and learning more about the 30A area. Knowing what I know now if I were to return, I would:


  • Visit during shoulder tourist months - to capture that time when the weather is warm and sunny and businesses are open, but before the inevitable crowds descend.

  • I would read the fine print very carefully about which beaches I had access to. It would be very disappointing to make an assumption then find out the bad news after arrival.

  • Make sure to plan a lot of my time in little Seaside. The best!


Have you been to this part of the world and have input? I would LOVE to hear it! Please let me know what I should do next time :)


Happy traveling!

It was here that we had our first meal out, and it was the PERFECT spot! Situated on a busy patio with loud music, other nearby festive diners, and a totally kick-ass server named Britney (yeah, that's Britney bitch), we had the very best time. It was also here that we tried as many local foods as we could muster. Crispy frogs legs. Fried green tomatoes. Grits à ya ya, which is blackened shrimp, sauté of smoked bacon, spinach, portobello mushrooms, smoked Gouda cheese grits. Add a few grapefruit mojitos (nix the peach ones, sorry Britney), and you have a lunch fit for a Florida Queen!It was here that we had our first meal out, and it was the PERFECT spot! Situated on a busy patio with loud music, other nearby festive diners, and a totally kick-ass server named Britney (yeah, that's Britney bitch), we had the very best time. It was also here that we tried as many local foods as we could muster. Crispy frogs legs. Fried green tomatoes. Grits à ya ya, which is blackened shrimp, sauté of smoked bacon, spinach, portobello mushrooms, smoked Gouda cheese grits. Add a few grapefruit mojitos (nix the peach ones, sorry Britney), and you have a lunch fit for a Florida Queen!

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