With its turquoise ocean and sugar-white sandy beaches … what could be better than a visit to Florida’s Panhandle? As soon as the New Year’s crowd has packed up and gone back to work, 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 (coming this spring) 30A Living, notes: “Days are short in the winter, but that just means sunset cocktail hour starts at 4pm instead of 5pm.”
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,” says Nesmith. 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 says.
#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.
#3: Festivals and events
The annual 30A Songwriters Festival in mid-January has gotten better and better over its eight years. Spread out over a couple dozen or so venues along the coast, this past year’s lineup of 175 musicians included John Prine, Cheap Trick and Shawn Mullins, although lesser-known acts are some of the most fun to see. Epicures might want to check out two other winter events: the Sandestin Gumbo Festival (taking place this month!) and the 30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach in March.
#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 Nesmith. “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.
#5: Cooler weather = best time to explore
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.
No time like the present to book your trip before the winter comes to a close!
Keep up with the very best of travel in the South and beyond — click here!