Growing up in the Midwest I have innumerable childhood memories of road trips to Florida, even a few blurry visions of spring break in Panama City Beach during college. Holiday Inn Sunspree ammiright??
Just north about 25 minutes of the debauchery that is PCB is Santa Rosa Beach, FL also known as the Emerald Coast. To locals it’s known as 30A, the two lane highway synonymous with the beach lifestyle. Myself and nine other women vacationed in Santa Rosa on a weekender over Mother’s Day. With the number of women in one house, it surprisingly was not chaos and maybe that can be attributed to the location. This place is what vacation dreams are made of.
It identifies as a family mecca, but gaggles of women were doing the same as us, I just have to imagine we did it better. You can believe there were dinners, drinks and dancing, but our big day was Saturday. 8:30 am private yoga by the pool by the spiritual and warm hearted Melissa Davis. We were mostly a group of beginners, and she catered to our group perfectly. Once we all became centered and bendy we had a long day at the beach only to be interrupted by our in-house massages courtesy of Kareina Theiss. Between yoga, beach waves and a massage I’m certain my mouth sagged opened and a little drool came out I was so relaxed and I only opted for 30 minutes.
Our day ended with an amazing three course dinner catered by a local chef, Simon Sullivan, who also works at Paradis an upscale restaurant in Rosemary. Dinner started with a heat packed poke with wasabi cream then on to a Latin summer salad with a tempura battered Napa cabbage which was a huge hit and proved once again that you can fry just about anything. Our entree was grilled red snapper and there was not a bite to spare.
Sunday we put most of the crew on flights home. But my mom and I decided to make it a bit more of an extended trip. So, Monday when the rest of the women left, she and I decided to become more than loungers and we became tourists. And thus we attempted Snuba, the lazy man’s Scuba. 30 minutes of underwater ‘exploration’ as long as it was within 20 feet of the tank at surface level. If there was any question before, I can say without a doubt the Gulf is know for seafood, not sea life.
For dinner and drinks one night we tried the local joint in Grayton Red Bar. This place couldn’t be more up my alley than if it were a feral cat in a dumpster. The name is descriptive, it’s lit up like the Red Light district in Amsterdam. The menu was scratched on a chalkboard brought to the table, it’s cash only and the band played the most soulful blues. I learned the next night from a local that the lead singer/drummer of the Tuesday house band used to play for B.B. King. This was one day before the legend passed away.
The last day we felt active and ambitious. If laying on the beach all day isn’t your thing, there is a paved path linking all the towns along 30A, perfect for bike riding. It’s long, moderately flat and ideal for those who rarely ride bikes because we all know the phrase ‘it’s like riding a bike’ translates to ‘wear a helmet, because you’re uncoordinated’.
Here is the recap of highlights that I would suggest for your girl’s weekend:
Obvious and Avoids
Obviously, go to the local hang out in Grayton Beach, RED BAR!! Locals are friendly, music is amazing, cocktails are average but who cares because you are warming up with a shot anyway followed by a 30A brew. It’s cash only, but they let you start a tab holding a credit card until you make your way to their ATM. After Reds slows down everyone heads to Pandora, the adjacent bar.
Catch the sunset at Bud and Alley’s in Seaside. They have great second story bar facing the beach. This crowd has so little worry they place bets with each other on when the sun will actually set, which is officially signified by a bell ring. Other outlets for entertainment at this place, include watching someone hit on your mother, her amazement when someone buys her a drink and then her disgust when they hang around too long.
It goes without saying, but eat the local seafood. Battered, grilled, blackened I’ll take my red snapper or grouper most any way, preferably served in a basket but this is the Santa Rosa Beach so it will come on white china.
Obviously get to the Havana Beach rooftop lounge at the Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach which emulates lil’ Europe. Doesn’t matter which town, pick one, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported. The lounge had good cocktails, easy vibe but upscale.
Everything slows down around 10 or 11 pm. It’s not a late night scene, not many 2 am bars here, especially during the week. Just take the party back to your house or condo and have a dance party. Tipsy mom’s make the best entertainment.
Avoid carrying your own chair to the beach. Paid chairs and umbrellas are worth every penny, and tip! They set up at the crack of dawn and you can sit your ass under shade until 5 pm when they carry them off. Seriously, without this service, I am sure to resemble a three legged pack mule.
Avoid departing from your trip without an in-house massage. We all took turns, peeling ourselves up from a seated position in beach chairs to lying face down on a table. #relaxationstation
Don’t leave without some sort of physical activity. If you need some time out of the sun, head to Rosemary Beach Fitness Center and take Melissa’s yoga class or use their tennis courts. But if you aren’t burnt to a crisp, you can rent stand up paddle boards or kayaks, attempt Snuba in Destin, or ride bikes along 30A.
Willow – jewelry and beach wear
Duckies – Fun kids shop
Wendy Mignot – this local designer captures the essence of 30A in one strand of leather and pearls and it seems everyone down here agrees with her. Her designs were seen everywhere from local bartenders to snowbirds.
Breakfast: Donut Hole – if you sit at the counter you might just score from free donut holes!
Coffee: Fonville Press in Alys Beach
Appetizers/Cocktails/Sunsets: Bud and Alley’s
Catered Dinner: Simon Sullivan (message me or comment below for contact details)
Steakhouse Dinner: Paradis in Rosemary Beach
Massage – to get our your knots and kinks Kareina Theiss, LMT at Sugar Sands Massage will even make house calls.
Angels – in case you need to touch up your mani/pedi
Twist salon – ask for Bill
Yoga – Melissa at Rosemary Beach Fitness Center
Tennis courts abound, but Rosemary Beach Racquet Club has a pro shop.
Chair Rental: Shades
Bonfire and Shrimp Boils: While some 30A beaches restrict bonfires, several companies can arrange location on top of setting and cleaning up your own beach bonfire. I only discovered the idea of beach bonfires late into our trip but it’s definitely something I want to arrange next time!
Bud and Alley’s in Seaside
Red Bar in Grayton
Pandora in Grayton