Living in Tennessee, most people I know vacation along the Gulf of Mexico coast, and it seemed so cliché, but I had to find out why the white sandy beaches of the Emerald Coast in Florida appeared to be the top vacation destination among my co-workers and friends. There had to be a good reason why nearly every car I see around town sports a 30A sticker.
I started my adventure with a scenic drive of the infamous County Highway 30A. My first stop landed me seeking coffee and breakfast at Fonville Press. Their gorgeous espresso machine swooned me, and their chorizo scramble gave me some serious shakshuka vibes. I knew it was a good sign to start off my trip. I grabbed a kombucha to go and took a walk around Alys Beach.
The beaches are private to home owners and guests, so I did not get to take a look, but the homes of Alys Beach are truly magical. I walked along the streets feeling transported to another world. The cohesive white buildings were decorated with succulents, and most featured a courtyard with a pool like you might find in the Mediterranean. If ever you think I’ve run away, you can find me in Alys Beach.
I typically am a solo traveler, but my friend’s trip happened to overlap with mine, so we met up for dinner and wore matching outfits by total coincidence. We both enjoyed snow crab legs at Brotula’s, which featured a great harbor view from the deck.
My beach day was incredible! Since I was not staying at a hotel with a private beach, I opted for Henderson Beach State Park, which has a small paid entry fee. I went off-peak, so parking was plentiful, and it was definitely worth the $4 single car entry. I made so many fish friends, and they kept following me through the water. I was told this water was considered murky by Emerald Coast standards, but even with its greenish tint, it was remarkably clear and not too salty. The white sand really was incredible and only felt moderately warm on my bare feet even on a scorching hot day.
Next door to Henderson Beach State Park is The Henderson Beach Resort & Spa. The resort is just two years old, but showcases the 1950s and 1960s history of the land which it sits upon with photos of fishermen, beauty queens, and the old docks scattered throughout the hotel. It also pays tribute to classic American diners with its ice cream shop Sprinkles, which is conveniently located next to the children’s activity room. As a single adult, I appreciate that the resort is designed for adults to have their getaway space from kids with a rooftop ideal for cocktails and a fire pit begging for red wine, but is also family friendly around the lazy river and shallow pool for summer trips. The western-facing balcony rooms and rooftop allow the perfect view to watch the sky turn gold over Henderson Beach at sunset.
Created in 1995, Rosemary’s Beach pays tribute to old Florida with its traditional homes, but features a modern layout with shopping, restaurants, homes, and town center all within walking distance of the beach. The Pearl Hotel sits on Main Street and has ocean views from every level. It boasts a Forbes Travel Guide 4 star rating, and it’s no wonder when you take a look around. The Havana Beach Bar and Grill takes atmosphere inspiration from La Floridita in Cuba, and the food was to die for. A Hemmingway daiquiri with a view of the water was the perfect way to end my trip.
I went into this trip with a distaste for Florida after poor experiences on the eastern coast, but I found myself at the adorable Northwest Florida Beaches Airport waiting for my departure by looking at real estate along the Gulf. I understand now why the white sandy beaches reel in my fellow Tennesseans, and I’m right with them when I say I don’t ever want to leave.