With its turquoise ocean and sugar-white sandy beaches … what could be better than a visit to Florida’s Panhandle? As soon as the last fall-breaker has packed up and gone home, savvy vacation-goers should head to the Gulf Coast to enjoy the perks of off-season.

The beaches of 30A — named for scenic Highway 30A that connects them — include a variety of towns, each with their own style, from ritzy Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach on the east, laid-back Grayton Beach in the middle, and bustling Destin to the west; in all, 16 distinct little towns dot the coast of Walton County. In the winter, visitors drop as much as 80% compared to the busy summer months, so it’s the ideal time to visit. As Lynn Nesmith, resident and author of the books Seaside Style, 30A Style and the newly released 30A Living, notes: “Days are short in the winter, but that just means sunset cocktail hour starts at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.”

Swanky neighborhoods such as Alys Beach are as much a destination as the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. The fashion concept of winter white is alive and well at Alys Beach, where the all-white houses and buildings are a crisp contrast to the blue skies. Image: Alys Beach

Swanky neighborhoods such as Alys Beach are as much a destination as the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. The fashion concept of winter white is alive and well at Alys Beach, where the all-white houses and buildings are a crisp contrast to the blue skies. Image: Alys Beach

Charming beach villages are dotted along Highway 30A, which gives the area its easy-to-remember identity. Image: Visitsouthwalton

Charming beach villages are dotted along Highway 30A, which gives the area its easy-to-remember identity. Image: visitsouthwalton

5 Reasons to Visit 30A in the Winter

#1: Crowds are down

Anyone who has tried to get a table at popular Bud & Alley’s in Seaside over Fourth of July knows that the volume of visitors can be overwhelming. Granted, not all restaurants stay open in the winter (so call or look online first), but it’s the time to more easily get a table. “The dead of winter mid-week is about the only time to get a table at The Red Bar without waiting,” Lynn Nesmith offers. And while January and February and even early March are quiet times, her tip is to visit between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “That month is the slowest time of the year,” she adds.

Winters at Fonville Press coffee shop are usually mild enough to sit al fresco, but uncrowded enough to linger. Image: Lisa Mowry

Winters at Fonville Press coffee shop are usually mild enough to sit al fresco, but uncrowded enough to linger. Image: Lisa Mowry

Some establishments, such as the laid-back Hibiscus Café (hibiscusflorida.com) in Santa Rosa Beach, close for the early part of the winter, but reopen after mid-January. Courtesy Visitsouthwalton

Some establishments, such as the laid-back Hibiscus Café in Santa Rosa Beach, close for the early part of the winter, but reopen after mid-January. Image: visitsouthwalton

#2: Prices are lower

Upscale resorts along 30A are pricey during peak season, so winter is a good time to get a bargain. The movie-set beauty of Alys Beach has its best rates between early January and mid-March (spring break season). This high-end neighborhood doesn’t have a hotel, but house rentals start from around $2,500 for a long-weekend rental. The nearby Watercolor Inn has winter specials starting at around $200/night.

A few leaves on trees may be gone, but the stunning architecture and peaceful water features at Alys Beach are just as striking in January. The West Indies-Mediterranean style houses are all white. Image: Lisa Mowry

The leaves on the trees may be gone, but the stunning architecture and peaceful water features at Alys Beach are just as striking in January. The West Indies/Mediterranean-style houses are all white. Image: Lisa Mowry

#3: Festivals and events

The annual 30A Songwriters Festival taking place January 12-15, 2018 has gotten better and better over its eight years. Spread out over a couple dozen or so venues along the coast, this year’s top-notch lineup includes Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, North Mississippi Allstars and many others. Additionally there are many lesser-known acts that are often some of the most fun to see. Epicures might want to check out two other winter events: the Sandestin Gumbo Festival, which takes place February 16-17, 2018, and the 30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach taking place February 22-25, 2018.

The 30A Songwriter’s Festival offers the opportunity to hear musicians tell the story behind their songs, often in smaller, relaxed settings. Gospel recording artists (from left) Phil Madeira, Karyn Williams, Brian White, and Ben Glover shared the stage this past January. Image: Lisa Mowry

The 30A Songwriter’s Festival offers the opportunity to hear musicians tell the story behind their songs, often in smaller, relaxed settings. Gospel recording artists (from left) Phil Madeira, Karyn Williams, Brian White, and Ben Glover shared the stage at last year’s festival. Image: Lisa Mowry

Venues at the 30A Songwriter’s Festival include restaurants and bars converted into stages. Image: Lisa Mowry

Venues at the 30A Songwriter’s Festival include restaurants and bars converted into stages. Image: Lisa Mowry

#4: Everything is more beautiful in the winter

“We have the best sunsets in the winter, when the sun hugs the southern sky, setting into the Gulf,” says Lynn. “The curve of our coast line faces nearly due south.” It’s also the best time to photograph nature and the beach without tourists marring the view, she adds.

A pelican has the sand to himself on a January day along Seagrove beach. Image: Lisa Mowry

A pelican has the sand to himself on a January day along Seagrove beach. Image: Lisa Mowry

A sunset over Rosemary Beach shows the coastal towns’ prime location for watching the sun go down. Image: Visitsouthwalton

A sunset over Rosemary Beach shows the coastal towns’ prime location for watching the sun go down. Image: visitsouthwalton

#5: Cooler weather = best time to explore

Off-season temperatures are usually mild, in the 50s or 60s, with the occasional lucky weekends of 70s and sunny. Without the heat to slow people down, it’s a good time to explore the 200+ hiking and biking trails. Some are along Highway 30A, others tucked into neighborhoods or state parks. The Walton County Visitor Center has brochures outlining them all, or check on visitsouthwalton.com.

Dedicated nature trails and bike paths are best explored during the cool months of winter. Image: Lisa Mowry

Dedicated nature trails and bike paths are best explored during the cool months of winter. Image: Lisa Mowry

Caliza pool and cabanas are open year-round at Alys Beach. Image: Lisa Mowry

Caliza pool and cabanas are open year-round at Alys Beach. Image: Lisa Mowry

No time like the present to book your trip before winter arrives!

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