The resort area known as 30A - a stretch of alluring beach towns along Florida’s Gulf Coast-has long been a popular summer destination for North Texans. With its emerald waters, sugar-white beaches, and close proximity whether you’re flying or driving, it’s a great way for families to enjoy some quality time together and relax in the sun and surf. But what if I told you something that many locals and some knowledgeable travelers have known for years...as great as the Emerald Coast is in the summer, it’s even better in the fall. The crowds aren’t there and neither is the scorching heat. The water’s still warm, and with air temperatures averaging in the mid to high 70s, it’s the perfect time for a long weekend getaway full of outdoor activities and al fresco dining.
However, whether you’re trying to plan a relaxing weekend for your significant other, or, as parents, you’re rewarding yourselves for surviving another summer with the kids out of school, what’s the best way to go about it? If you’re a guy, should you pick lodging that you like and schedule activities you want to do? Or ladies, should you take care of the reservations, which might mean the two of you are only doing things you want to do? To make sure that both sexes are represented during this magical Florida escape, I enlisted the help of fellow freelance writer Lori Stacy to make sure that we’ve covered all the bases, or chromosomes as it were. Here now are each of our interpretations of where to stay and what to do for your fall Florida getaway:
My 30A vacation list is short: I want to relax by the water, have a spa treatment, dine on gourmet cuisine, and, for sport, take a leisurely bike ride and try standup paddle board yoga. Oh, and I want luxurious accommodations. That’s why I check into The Pearl Hotel, chic and modern boutique accommodations located across the street from the gulf. With its narrow, cobblestone streets and old-world architecture, Rosemary Beach feels like a European town. And though it’s been open less than a decade, The Pearl Hotel oozes this old-world charm.
The 55-room hotel is the perfect home base, offering complimentary chairs and umbrellas on its private stretch of beach in addition to the on-property, adults-only pool. Adjacent to the pool is the full-service spa, and I decide to peruse the treatment menu over a cocktail. While downstairs is the Havana Beach Bar & Grill, with decor that transports you to Cuba circa 1950, I head upstairs to the rooftop lounge to catch the sunset, sip a mojito and plan my spa visit.
Later, for dinner, I head down the highway to Seagrove Beach to check out the Surfing Deer restaurant. Its name is a reference to one of the early developers of the area, Cube McGee, who had a pet deer he would take to the beach to frolic in the water. I dine on the caramelized sea scallops, but not before indulging in the “clothesline bacon,” thick slabs of bacon suspended by mini clothespins above delectable accompaniments. It’s clever, and delicious.
Day two starts at the Boathouse Paddle Club at Watercolor, where Janet Thomas and her husband, Steve, guide our small group on stand-up paddle boards to the lily pad-lined shores of Eastern Lake for an hour of SUP yoga. It’s challenging, relaxing, and refreshing - especially for the guy who falls in (perfectly normal, Janet reassures us).
Feeling energized by the SUP yoga, I stop at Big Fish bike rentals in Seagrove Beach and rent a cruiser. The beach can be harsh on bikes, but the folks at Big Fish keep their wheels in tiptop shape. (They’ll even deliver the bikes free of charge to your resort or rental house.) I get a multispeed cruiser, which makes it much easier to ride along the 16-mile bike path that lines highway 30A.
Once on two wheels, I head toward Alys Beach. Although touted as “Bermudian architecture,” perhaps the most striking thing about this upscale area is that every building is white. It’s truly breathtaking. I stop by the Fonville Press for brunch and order the rich and filling “Cast Iron Eggs” flavored with truffle and parmesan. It provides energy for the long ride that follows, but I take comfort in knowing that the rest of my weekend will be spent back at The Pearl, poolside, on the beach, or at the spa.
My 30A getaway (mine rhymed, so I get more points, right?) involves three things: I want to wake up hearing the surf, I want to do something to get the blood pumping, and I need food that lets me know I’m at the beach. First things first...the lodging. Nestled on nearly 500 acres of sugar-white sand beach, WaterColor Inn, located in the town of Santa Rosa Beach, is a 60-room beachfront inn offering deluxe accommodations, a day spa, adult-only pool, and three onsite restaurants. Next on the menu: food, more specifically, a breakfast out on a killer patio with the perfect temperature and incredible views. For that, you can’t get much better than Bud and Alley’s in neighboring Seaside. If you don’t know, Seaside was used for the Truman Show movie starring Jim Carrey where it was portrayed as the perfect town. While the town lives up to that reputation, so does the restaurant that’s been serving locals and visitors for more than 25 years. To get the full flavor of the beach, I dined on their sinful Crab Cake Benedict and washed it down with one, or was it two (hey it’s a getaway, right?) of their award winning Bloody Marys.
After filling up, I head down 30A to Luther’s Pontoon, Wave Runner and Kayak Rentals, located in Destin, and to take out one of their pontoon boats for the day. After dreaming about which yacht would fit my bill of the ones docked in Destin Harbor, I motor out to explore Choctawhatchee Bay. My time on the water ends with another must-do: a visit to Crab Island. A giant sandbar near the mouth of the Destin Harbor, Crab Island is not only a great place to do some snorkeling or just anchor up and hang out on your boat, it’s one of the main reasons why Boating magazine recently named Destin one of the top 10 places to live and boat in the United States.
The next day is highlighted by a long bike ride — we’re talking several miles — down the 30A bike trail. It’s an easy ride, especially because the Watercolor Inn provides guests with access to complimentary beach cruiser bikes.
After a lazy day on the beach catching up on magazines, taking a stroll and a nap, it’s time for one last reward. I head to 723 Whisky Bravo restaurant, just a stone’s throw away in Seagrove. Named for the call sign of the owner’s plane, the adventure here starts up near the clouds...well, on the rooftop bar anyway, to watch the sunset over the water while sipping on a locally brewed craft beer. Then it’s back downstairs where a dinner of crispy fried grouper bites, a blue cheese wedge salad, and gulf shrimp and grits that are cooked to perfection. My head hits the pillow that night with a full belly while the gentle sound of the ocean just outside my door rocks me to sleep.
While men and women can be different in terms of where they want to stay and what they want to do to check all the boxes of a long weekend getaway, the important thing is to compromise. Whether you choose to stay at The Pearl Hotel or the WaterColor Inn and whatever choices you make on how to spend your time and where to dine, here’s the thing about the Emerald Coast: it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. This could be a start of a new tradition for you and the one you love; to celebrate another year together, to rekindle the romance after a summer full of family commitments, or just to go somewhere to enjoy a summer destination during its sleepier time of year. Whatever the reason, it’s a great trip, one that should definitely leave you wanting to come back for more.
Where to Stay:
The Pearl Hotel, 63 Main St., Rosemary Beach, Fla., 850-588-2881, www.thepearlrb.com
WaterColor Inn, 34 Goldenrod Circle, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., 850-534-5000, www.watercolorresort.com
Where to Eat:
Surfing Deer, 2743 E. Highway 30A, Seagrove Beach, Fla., 850-213-4200, www.surfingdeer.com
Fonville Press, 147 W. La Garza Lane, Alys Beach, Fla., 850-213-5564, www.alysbeach.com/dining/fonville/
Bud and Alley’s, 2236 E. Highway 30A, Seaside, Fla., 850-231-5900, www.budandalleys.com
723 Whisky Bravo, 3031 E. Highway 30A, Seagrove Beach, Fla., 850-213-0015, www.723whiskeybravo.com
What to Do:
Big Fish Bike Rentals, 4101 E. Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., 850-231-1343, www.bigfishbikerentals.com
Boathouse Paddle Club at Watercolor, 250 Watercolor Blvd. West, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., 850-419-6188, www.boathousepaddleclub.com
Luther’s Pontoon, Wave Runner and Kayak Rentals, 202B Harbor Blvd., Destin, Fla., 850-650-8733, www.lutherspontoon.com