Feb. in Missouri during a snow storm is when I booked our Florida vacation. Typically when we go to the beach, we go the all inclusive route; however, this year with Covid and an aging dog, we decided we wanted to stay stateside and take our pups. When I asked friends on social media what beach to go to within a days driving distance, overwhelmingly the answer was to go to any of the beaches on 30A.
I used VRBO to book, and even months in advance, I couldn’t find a dog friendly place to stay with 6 nights available in that area. So, we ended up staying 3 nights in a condo in Seagrove with an ocean view and 3 nights in a house in Panama City Beach about 5 blocks from the ocean and 5 miles from 30A. The condo view was beautiful. It was newly renovated and included a pool and hot tub~which we enjoyed every day after coming back from the beach. While we loved the condo, the house in Panama City Beach was a nice change because we had a fenced back yard for the pups to enjoy. They were located about 20 minutes away from each other.
The Beach: We arrived at the beach after a tropical storm, so the first few days, the ocean was stirred up and rough–red flags were flying. By day three, the water started to settle, and I then understood why people had said it was so beautiful. The white sand and tropical blue combination is gorgeous. However, the beach on 30A was very crowded. Our typical beach routine is waking up and going to the beach early, and then enjoying the pool and hot tub in the afternoon. At this beach, you need to get there early if you want to get a good spot. There were way more people on the beach than I am used to (once again, we usually go to all inclusive vacation beaches). To be honest, we actually enjoyed the Panama City beach more than the one on 30A. It was less crowded and just had a more laid back and relaxing vibe.
My husband lived in Miami as a kid, and he had told me multiple times he prefers Florida’s Atlantic Coast to the gulf because the Atlantic is the ocean, and the gulf is “like a big lake.” However, because of the tropical storm a few days earlier, the ocean had some nice waves for us to have fun enjoying. By our final day there, it was much calmer, and I better understood his lake analogy. We spent 2 to 3 hours at the beach each day. Having beach chairs, a cooler, and beach blankets were a must. (The condo where we stayed supplied chairs and a cooler, and the house supplied a wagon to haul things to the beach.) Some people had elabortate tents and umbrellas. If we weren’t the sun lovers that we are or if we had wanted to stay longer at the beach, some shade would have been necessary. The Florida sun is hot!
The Eats: When I am on vacation, I don’t like having to make reservations for restaurants because I don’t want to have to be anywhere at a certain time. I want to be able to simply go with the flow and do things when we feel like it. Most restaurants required reservations (way in advance), so we ended up choosing where we ate by recommendations combined with where we could just show up. When we first arrived, we went to Publix and stocked up on some breakfast foods and snacks. We made coffee and brunch in the condo and house each morning, and then went out for dinner each night.
The first night we ate at Havana Beach Bar & Grill in The Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach. The Rosemary Beach area has a very European vibe with multiple restaurants and shops, and is definitely worth checking out! At the restaurant, we had a short 20 minute wait at the bar before being seated. We had hushpuppies for an appetizer, and Jonathan ordered the burger (which was huge and delicious–according to him), and I had a salad and some of the best french onion soup ever.
Multiple people recommended Goatfeathers, so that is where we ended up going night two. There are a few different locations including a market in Seagrove beach; however, we decided to go to the actual restaurant in Santa Rosa. We got there early (5:00 p.m.) and were immediately seated. It was happy hour, so we both enjoyed a delicious Bloody Mary and Boiled shrimp appetizers on special. I had surf-n-turf (the grilled shrimp were delicious and the steak was very good) and J had Fish-n-chips. This is a very casual, laid back, family friendly restaurant.
We love sushi, so night three we ended up at Shaka Sushi & Noodle Bar. It is located right off 30A and has indoor and outdoor seating. It was hot and humid when we arrived, so we decided to enjoy our meal at the sushi bar. To say the sushi was good is an understatement. It was some of the best sushi we’ve had in a very long time. J ordered The Chef’s Choice & I had the Jaws Roll (very unique, rice-less roll) and Endless Summer. I’d highly recommend both of these rolls! Seriously, we liked this place so much, we decided to return the next night for dinner again. This time we sat in the outdoor area, and besides the amazing food once again, it almost felt like we were at a different restaurant.
While at Shaka, we asked our server what restaurants in the area she recommended as I always appreciate local recommendations, and she said Le Crema in Rosemary Beach and Chanticleer in Grayton. We had already eaten at the Rose Mary Beach area, and we just aren’t huge Tapas fans, so we ended up going to Chanticleer. It didn’t disappoint. All the food there is made fresh, and it was delicious. We both had Bloody Mary’s again this night. They were unique, almost creamy, and we liked them, but they were definitely different than a typical Bloody Mary. We both also split the house salad and had burgers. I opted for brussel sprouts as my side, and J got grits. So good!
The Activites: Going to the beach, pool, and restaurants were our main activities. We did spend some time driving around and simply exploring the area. There are some beautiful houses and flowers and architecture to look at, but watch out for pedestrians and folks on bikes: they are everywhere and will walk out right in front of you! We always buy the Starbucks “Been There Series” mugs when on vacation, so one day we went for an afternoon coffee at the Starbucks in Seacrest. We also had a coffee one afternoon while exploring Rosemary Beach at a local coffee shop called Amavida Coffee Roasters. There was live music at The Hub 30a one night, so we hung out there for a while. When we went to Panama City Beach, we also explored the Pier Park area. I’m sure there are plenty of other activites to enjoy, but we were only there 5 days and truly, when we are on vacation, we like to go slow and rest rather than have a schedule packed full of activities.
All in all, it was a great vacation and definitely an area of the U.S. I’d recommend exploring, if you have the chance!