A few years ago I started planning my permanent move to the area of Northwest Florida, affectionally called “30A.” I knew the area well after having spent a lot of time here in the last few years while living in Nashville. Apparently, once you move to Nashville (or anywhere in the southeast for that matter), there is a law that says you must also vacation on 30A – which is not at all a bad thing! Now, that vacation is my full time life!
I am a beach lover from way back, having spent extensive time on both the east and the west coasts and I knew a lot of what to expect in my new home however – there were a few things that I did not expect. The southern California beach culture, the Oregon coast culture, and the Charleston historic culture are far different from the Emerald Coast culture. This is a slice of paradise that is uniquely its own and I have learned (at least) five things that I did not know before I moved here. I’m sure there will be tens – if not hundreds – more items and quirks that I will come across but here were my first few observations.
1 – You will have sand everywhere… but it is perfect sand!
I could build sand castles in my house at this point! I have lived at the beach but I have not experienced having sand everywhere, certainly not to this extent… and it’s a love/hate relationship! My son and I are very active, we are outside, at the beach, and on the go all the time, and I have given up on trying to keep sand out of our lives. The car, the floors of the house, the bed, the laundry, the keyboard I am typing this on, his homework, you name it… it’s sandy. The good thing is at least it’s a pretty, clean, sugar white sand and it truly does make you feel like you’re living a laid back lifestyle. But I will admit, I have never seen this much sand in my life. If you don’t like having enormous amounts of sand as part of your daily life, you do not want to move to 30A. (local tip – it’s a small price to pay for paradise!)
2 – You do not go grocery shopping anytime after noon on a Saturday.
When I first arrived, I innocently enough, I stopped in my local Publix at 5pm on a recent Saturday and… it was an absolute madhouse! Now I shop at this Publix every week and I have never seen it like this so I knew something had to be going on. Every register was open but every line was a least six people deep… and everyone had six cases of diet Coke, bottles and bottles of wine, multiple family size bags of tortilla chips, and a gallon bucket of salsa! When I finally got to the cashier she looked at me and said “Where are you from?” I said “I live here, I’m local” to which she laughed and said “oh dear God then why are you in here on a Saturday… Are you nuts!?” I soon learned that Saturday is when the rental homes and vacation spots have “check in and turnover” and that is when all of the excited vacationers, who are just into town, head to the store and buy their provisions for the week. The aisles are packed, the shelves are empty, and pretty much every store is like this on Saturday, no matter where you go. It was kind of like what I remember from up north when the weather called for a snowstorm and everyone flooded the local stores for milk and bread. I now plan my weekend shopping accordingly.
3 – This entire “Island Time” thing is for real.
Technically, the 30A corridor is not an island but with the gorgeous gulf on one side and the enormous Choctawhatchee Bay on the other side, it often feels completely cut off from the mainland. With that said, I now see the psychology behind the whole island time state of mind. The mornings are gorgeous… the days are gorgeous… the sunsets are gorgeous… the nights are gorgeous… heck, it’s all gorgeous and life moves at a slower pace. I am absolutely an overachiever and a type A personality so I still get things done but, it is very hard to actually want to work until 5 o’clock here. And don’t tell anybody but I’ve already started taking most Friday’s off each week. The expression “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” feels really true here and it could easily be 5 o’clock – around the clock – along 30A.
4 – The state parks are plentiful and gorgeous… and very underutilized.
One of the great things about the area is that 40% of this county is preserved land. Wilderness, lakes, parks, wetlands, you name it and it is abundant here. But the funny thing is that all of the gorgeous nature often gets lost and takes a backseat to the stunning beaches. From Grayton Beach State Park (recently selected as the 3rd best beach in America) to Point Washington to Topsail Hill Preserve there is breathtaking scenery all around. Hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, camping, off roading, and more. If you follow either one of my social media feeds, either Instagram or Facebook, you’ll see dozens of gorgeous photographs taken inside these parks. And I have many local folks, some who have lived here for years, ask me “… is that place local? Where did you take those pictures?” It is local and it is amazing. Some of my favorite spots in South Walton are in these parks. When you want a break from the stunning beaches, just wander a bit inland. (local tip – use Walton Outdoors to plan your excursion)
5 – The topography and the water really are that stunning… on a daily basis.
The roughly 30 mile stretch of coastline nestled perfectly between Destin and Panama City Beach is home to some of the most unique ecosystems and geographic areas in the world. The coastal dune lakes are a phenomenon that only happen in a handful of spots on the entire planet. We have over a dozen of them here and they are all unique and beautiful. The Gulf of Mexico water really is an amazing emerald green and the sand really is a perfect powder white. The pictures that you see everywhere are not photo-shopped in an effort to get you to visit. It really is that pristine and that beautiful each and every day.
Not that many people know what 30A is… but that is changing, and fast! If you live in the southeastern United States you probably know the Emerald Coast of Florida. But you also probably have some preconceived notion’s about the panhandle. Well, guess what, if you haven’t spent time on 30A in the last 10 years or so, you have no idea what you’re missing.
I have friends from Los Angeles to Manhattan to London asking me all the time now… “where is this gorgeous spot, why did you move there, and why have I never been there!?” The secret is getting out. The allure is growing and now, with easier transportation options and technology being what it is, the population is growing as well. Walton County (home to 30A is now the 6th fastest growing county in America!) The line I often use to describe the area to people is that we are kind of like the Hamptons South…. or Malibu meets Santa Cruz for my West Coast friends. We have all the style, the culture, and the flare but with better year round weather, a better laid-back lifestyle, and much much better beaches!
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