Imagine the Florida coastline for a second. Okay. Now, if you thought about warm waters, white sand, sunshine, beautiful sunrises, and sunsets, you almost got it! Despite having it all pictured in my mind, I was still speechless when I saw the beaches along scenic highway 30A. Seaside, part of a 24-mile corridor that hugs the Gulf of Mexico shoreline in Northwest Florida, transcended my imagination. It was stunning!
Traveling with the family of my lifelong best friend, our destinations for the Thanksgiving holiday were the charming communities of Seagrove, Seaside, and Watercolor, located by Santa Rosa Beach, between Panama City and Destin. With pristine white-sand beaches, big dunes, and turquoise waters stretching as far as the eye could see, Santa Rosa Beach is the most beautiful of all the beaches I have seen in the United States.
Although the temperature was very cool in the early mornings and late afternoons (it was November after all), we still enjoyed the agenda-free vacation we had planned in this superb locale. In a family-friendly atmosphere, our most difficult decisions were to choose whether to hang out on the beach, bike around, kayak in the tranquil waters, or go for a walk. We were as close to the definition of paradise as our imaginations could take us!
Why did we love this place so much that I think you should definitely add it to your vacation wishlist? Follow me as I describe this easy and fun vacation, and you can start planning yours. You won’t regret it.
Where to stay
There are several hotels, apartments, and homes available suitable for different budgets and tastes. Although Seaside is the main appeal, the adjacent towns of Watercolor and Seagrove are equally pleasant, but more affordable and quieter.
From our rental, a beautiful house located in a cul-de-sac in Seagrove, a boardwalk followed by some steps led us right to the waterfront. With this short walkway, the beach was our retreat to enjoy the sunshine, bury our toes in the silky sand, and swim in the serene Gulf waters. Most of the houses have easy access to the beach.
I absolutely love Seaside. Clean, friendly, safe, and scenic, I can’t say enough about this place. This great little beach town is an attraction itself, through the architecture and colors that add such a charming touch to the community. Although busy throughout the day, it all truly comes to life at the end of the day when people casually stroll around in beach clothes and flip-flops exploring restaurants, food trucks, artsy shops, bookstores, post office, boutiques, lovely cafés, and bars.
Music and entertainment were guaranteed. On beach towels and fold-up chairs, families gather in the grass while kids play freely. Due to the timing of our visit, we had a chance to see the annual Christmas parade. Additionally, the presence of Santa Claus and the goodies given to kids made the event an even greater success. Later, in the outdoor theater, Santa invited the little ones to sit on his lap and have a picture taken.
When you’re ready for the beach, walk directly out from the town square, pass under the prominent tower and right onto the sand, where you’ll think you’ve stepped into a postcard.
What to do
Enjoy the beaches
I must confess that I no longer sunbathe for hours. Growing up in Brazil, I did that for many years, but back then I didn’t have knowledge and concerns about my skin the way I do today. The same goes with my family. However, with plenty of sun protection, we spent most of our vacation by the crystal-blue water between Seagrove and Seaside. Whether walking, kayaking, swimming, playing, or just watching a stunning sunset, it was the best place to be.
Feeling the soft sand beneath our bare feet was priceless. Several times, we walked on the beach while playing with the gentle waves that rolled over into footprints. Trying to experience different spots, we sat at Seaside beach where nice umbrellas and chairs were available for rent. Convenience and pleasure were surrounding us.
Because the water was shallow and clear, we could see well out into the water. From time to time, we spotted rays and tropical fish cruising near the shore. Moving further out to the sea for a swim was like swimming in a pool. The calm water was inviting and pleasant.
Catch a beach sunrise and sunset
Very few spots on the earth provide an opportunity to see the sun rise and set over the same beach. In the early mornings, we bundled up and made our way to the beach before dawn. With the Gulf of Mexico in front of us, we watched the sky slowly changing colors while the sun rose over the horizon to the left. From the same spot, we saw stunning sunsets on the right. Sunsets were far better than any ad campaign or postcard could capture.
Kayaking on the clear waters of the Gulf was absolutely amazing. Alone or with the kids, we could only guess the depth of the water when we went farther out. Colorful fish swam around us. Our kids loved it, and so did we.
Bike, bike and bike!
Once we arrived, we parked our car, and put away the keys. This place is meant to take the stress out of your life and bring family and friends together for a vacation like no other. Bikes are the best way to get around. We biked or walked everywhere we wanted to go. We brought our own bikes, but renting is easy and rental companies abound.
Every afternoon we would bike along Highway 30A from Seagrove to Watercolor. In Seaside we would park the bikes by a palm tree and walk around the beautiful pastel-colored coastal buildings and explore local businesses. Gravel pathways between homes allowed us to walk or ride our bike from place to place as well. Often, because the paths were clear, we would have races with each other. Fun times!
Leaving buildings and beaches behind for a little bit, we hiked the well-maintained trails along the outskirts of town. The peaceful nature vibe invited a sense of timelessness as we stepped from stunning Gulf views to wetlands. The trails unfolded into rich habitats of dunes, salt marshes, lakes, and ponds that brought us a completely different scene.
The quiet awareness helped us realize how amazing this whole experience was, and we tried to take it all in.
Don’t leave this area without checking out some of the local eateries. Strategically located on the town square are fantastic restaurants and bars. Several stationary food trucks are also available that add a nice touch to this place. People line up to get hot dogs, fresh juice, shaved ice, donuts, grilled cheese sandwiches, and fried pickles.
During our early morning walks on the beach, we would stop at the Five Daughters Bakery for donuts. Taking a break from our everyday healthy green smoothies, I’d order my favorite sea-salt caramel donut. Yummy! Later, more calories with shaved ice from Frost Bites, grilled cheese sandwiches from The Meltdown, and fried pickles and milkshake from Pickles.
Our favorite dinner experience was when we grabbed our meal from one of the food trucks and walked to the pavilion for a perfect beach sunset view. We definitely came back home with a few extra pounds, but surely enjoyed the eating.
The immaculate beaches, relaxing atmosphere, great food, and the unrivaled opportunity to witness both sunsets and sunrises from the very same spot, made these waterside towns the perfect vacation for our family. We loved the laid-back feeling and slower pace that we experienced on the Florida Panhandle and are already looking forward to going back.
Have you been to Seaside and the surrounding areas? What is your favorite beach on America’s mainland?