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Our Week Away on 30-A

2014 June 1
by Becky

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-Sunsetbeach

Last week was our long-awaited beach vacation to Florida. Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin.

With the sugar sand beaches?
The breath-taking views?
The charming towns full of adorable shops?
The warm Gulf waters?

This vacation made me wonder why we’ve ever traveled outside the US for the beach.

It all started with a search for nearby vacation spots that were kid-friendly and well-suited for multiple families. After hearing so much about Destin, we started looking into it. But research came up with a much better option: The Emerald Coast. AKA 30-A. Basically the area between Destin and Panama City Beach. And after what seemed like 6 million hours searching VRBO for the prefect house, we booked our trip.

It was our first family trip with kids AND friends…Ethan’s best buddy Claire and her family (mom, dad, and little brother Eli) were all in for a trip too so we set a date.

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-Plane Buddies

So the area we chose is kind of hard to explain if, like us, you’ve never been there. I usually say “Seaside” or “Rosemary Beach”, since lots of people know those towns. It’s a quick, 1.5 hour Southwest flight from St. Louis to Panama City Beach airport, then about a 30 minute drive to the 3o-A area.

(The last time I visited Panama City was with two friends my senior year of college for spring break. And we didn’t fly, we drove. On a bus. For like 20 hours. Quite a different experience. )

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-Map

Our rental house was just about a mile West of Alys Beach, basically right in between the fancy (and more expensive) areas. Our requirements for a house? Three bedrooms, a large living space, close to the beach, and…the kicker…our own pool. We figured traveling with kids ages 4, 3.5, and 1 warranted our own space to relax, and it ended up being THE best decision ever.

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-House Pool

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-Pool Float

Unknown to us during the planning stages—since we had zero feel for the area—we ended up picking a perfect location. Not being right in the middle of a destination town like Rosemary or Alys meant we had less bike/car traffic and only a short walk across the street to an incredible, nearly desolate beach.

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-BeachPath

So every day after breakfast, and sometimes after a pool dip, we loaded up the house’s very helpful wagon with all our beach gear and headed down the drive, crossed 30-A, and climbed down the steps to our own private beach.

Ok, it wasn’t only ours, but it felt that way!

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-BeachSteps

All the properties along the beach are set up on a hill so everyone has some steps to conquer in order to reach sandy bliss. But once on the sand, your toes don’t touch a rock and rarely a shell…it’s just smooth, clean sand all around. And the ocean? Shallow forever. Perfect for exploring with little ones or doing some body surfing in the small waves.

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-BeachPlay

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-WhiteSandBeach

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-BeachPlayKites

Beach trips are just so perfect for kids. We brought quite a few fun beach toys with us to keep them occupied, but of course they ones they loved most were the large shovels we found in the rental house’s storage shed. Ethan and Claire did such a great job playing and getting a long the whole trip…little kids work so great in pairs.

One bit of gear we all agreed was a life-saver?

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-BeachTent
My friend Amanda told me about her beach tent and I immediately asked to borrow it for our trip. If hours at the beach is in the plans, shade is a must, especially for little kids. Bringing this fold-up tent as one of our free carry-ons (thank you Southwest!) and using the chairs from our rental house saved us some hefty rental fees…”beach set-ups” are a booming business in this neck of the woods.

We did stray a little from the water activities. Exploring as much of 30-A as possible, we took turns venturing out during nap time and most evenings headed out as a group.

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-DateNight

Catrina and I did plenty of window (and a little real) shopping in Rosemary Beach, Seacrest, and Seaside, all chock full of “resort wear” boutiques, children’s shops, and other fru-fru stores. Seaside was a surreal little community, the location of the movie The Truman Show, where we dined a couple times (Great Southern and date night drinks overlooking the ocean at Bud & Alley’s). Rosemary Beach is a european-esque little street where we attended a children’s festival (free fun for families!), checked out the beautiful Pearl Hotel, and had dinner (Cowgirl Kitchen).

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-Rosemary Beach

Another stop (for dinner and more drinks) on our date night was The Red Bar, a place we heard about from at least 30 people. Located in the quaint Grayton Beach, the place lived up to it’s reputation. The decor is awesome, the service ridiculously good, and food delicious. They only feature about five things on the menu and only take cash, but we loved it couldn’t have picked a better place for our night out sans kids.

(PS, we hired a babysitter from a local service recommended by our rental management company to be able to do date night. Worth every penny.)

We did venture out to Panama City and the outskirts of Destin, but only for a little outlet shopping and a rainy morning at the World Aquarium. These cities were NOT my cup of tea. Panama City is basically just a strip of hotels, clubs, and tourist shops while Destin was swarmed with people and traffic so bad I couldn’t even imagine how busy the beaches must be. Our little hideaway in the sand dunes was the perfect place to spend the week.

What else? Oh yeah, sunsets. They were amazing.

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-Sunset

Emerald-Coast-30A-Florida-Sunset

Did I mention I’m giant? Here we are just days before our 10 year wedding anniversary and I’m 16 weeks pregnant. Nothing like putting on a swim suit while toting around many many extra pounds because boy does the second pregnancy happen fast.

Oh, and I must mention our sleeping arrangements on this trip. We rented a three bedroom house, featuring bunk beds in the smallest room. After worrying for months, wondering if Ethan and Claire would actually share a room successfully, my mind was put at ease the very first night of our trip.

After falling asleep seamlessly in their own beds that night, we found them like this in the morning.

Emerald-Coast-30A-BunkBuddies

They LOVED sharing a room. At nap and at night, they were perfect sleepy angels. It probably helped that they were completely exhausted every day at 1pm and again around 8pm. Sun, water, and endless play time will wear any kid out!

Emerald-Coast-30A-ToesInTheSand

So this was one of our last trips as a family of three. We have a few more in store for this summer and fall, but the days are numbered. Nearly half way through cooking baby #2…

We are over the moon about our vacation and would love to share any info with anyone interested in visiting the 30-A/Emerald Coast area. It’s such an affordable and easy trip! We may just make it an annual thing…

5 Responses
  1. June 2, 2014

    Sounds perfect.

  2. June 3, 2014

    Looks like fun. We were actually in the planning stages of a vacation to Rosemary Beach, but then we were “gifted” a vacation to Mexico from family, so we’ll revisit this idea again another year.

    I grew up going to Mexico Beach – I nice, quiet little beach a little further south around the panhandle, and then we switched to Sanibel which is still my very favorite family beach ever.

    We spent one spring break in Destin and I swore I’d never visit that area again – freezing cold and junky and crowded, but I know there are little gems nearby, like this one.

  3. June 5, 2014

    This looks amazing and perfect!!! I’m not generally a fan of beaches but all of sudden it sounds so fun – provided you can find a crowd-free zone, which you did. Filing this away!
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