Beard at the Boathouse
at Fin & Pearl
Last month, Fin & Pearl hosted a sold-out dinner, "Ode to the Sea," at the James Beard House in NYC. The evening featured an al fresco cocktail reception with
Flanked by sugar sand beaches and the emerald-hued ocean on one side and dramatic pines and rugged dune lakes on the other, Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A ties together South Walton’s 16 picturesque beach towns. There’s Rosemary Beach, with its Old World ambience and European flair; Seaside, the Mayberry of 30A with pastel cottages and small-town charm; and alluring Alys Beach, home to stark white million-dollar homes and an inspiring art community. These draws and more make 30A the ultimate place to dine, relax, and shop with your closest gal pals.
The WaterColor Inn & Resort is a solid anchoring spot for a girls’ getaway. Opt for a Rotunda Water Front Gulf View room, where you’ll be welcomed with a 180-degree vista of the dunes and pristine water from the circular balcony. If your gang prefers to bunk in the same quarters, book one of Seaside’s cozy cottages. Nobellah’s Retreat sleeps eight and sits within walking distance of the small town square. For a cozy stay with all of the amenities (room service, spa, and shopping), check out Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort’s two-story condos, which fit up to six.
The crowning glory of South Walton is most assuredly its beach—but 30A is also surrounded by another body of water: Choctawhatchee Bay. Explore this calmer waterway from a paddleboard through YOLO Boards (and request co-owner and 30A activist Jeff Archer for an educational element). Off the water, you can rent bikes from YOLO and cruise more than 200 miles of trails. For a ride with a bit of grit, pedal through the pine-speckled Point Washington State Forest; for something a little easier, hike along the dunes in Topsail State Park, one of the only places in South Walton that allows visitors onto the preserved landmarks.
After a sweat, relax with a massage at Hilton Sandestin’s renowned Serenity by the Sea Spa. With 14,500 square feet of treatment rooms, multiple saunas, a hair salon, a nail salon, and more, there are plenty of ways to be pampered. Afterward, shoot over to Grand Boulevard, the ultimate outdoor mall, where you’ll find local favorites like Coco’s by M. Cline alongside retail brands like Anthropologie. For shopping on a smaller scale, visit Seaside’s outdoor bazaar, Perspicacity, which is stocked with bohemian-style clothing and beach essentials.
Begin your 30A forage at Meltdown, a popular Seaside airstream, and indulge in a decadent grilled cheese sandwich. Just steps away is another local favorite, Great Southern Café, where the cheesy shrimp grits are a must. Our pick for a can’t-miss lunch spot is Stinky’s Fish Camp in Santa Rosa Beach, which features stellar homemade desserts (like the key lime pie) and made-to-order beignets.
On the other side of 30A, in charming Rosemary Beach, is La Cocina, where you’ll find fruity margaritas, zesty salsa, and stunning seaside views. Amid the white stucco of Alys Beach sits George’s, where people from all walks of life congregate. Choose from menu items labeled as “behave” (organic chicken) or “misbehave” (jalapeno pimento cheese fritters). Back at The Watercolor Inn, settle in at The Gathering Spot with The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (made with hibiscus vodka and jalapeno), which pairs well with the array of fresh sushi and housemade truffle fries.
For something celebratory, put on a little black dress and head to the four-diamond Seagar’s inside the Hilton. Since 1998, this New York–style steakhouse has been a go-to for its 600-label wine list, fine cuts of beef, and scrumptious sides, like the ultimate mac ’n’ cheese and crispy pork belly. Be sure to save room for dessert—the flambéed bananas foster is worth every cent.
30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach — March 11 to 13
Situated in luxe Alys Beach, this gathering features the world’s leading wines and culinary tastes along with signature events like Rosé & Croquet. 30awinefestival.com
The Food Film Festival — April 8 to 10
The creative worlds of film and food converge at this three-day event hosted by The Local Palate magazine. Watch award-winning films and then taste what you’ve seen on screen. foodfilmsowal.com
Sandestin Wine Festival — April 14 to 17
Enjoy a sampling of domestic and international wines at Sandestin’s hip Baytown Wharf. sandestinwinefestival.com
South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival — April 28 to May 1
The foodie highlight of the year, the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival features celebrity chefs, seminars, tastings, and more at Sandestin’s famed Grand Boulevard. sowalwine.com
Photos by Claire Gallam, Courtesy Visit South Walton, Seagar's, Hilton Sandestin.