8 Things to Do on the Beaches of South Walton, Florida

With 26 miles of perfect beaches, this stretch along Florida’s northwest Gulf Coast offers eclectic beach towns, art in unexpected places and plenty of outdoor activities.

By Diana Lambdin Meyer, Islands

The beaches of South Walton, Florida, are known for their sugar sand, turquoise water and distinct beach communities — 16 in all, including Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach and Santa Rosa — filled with funky bars, art in unexpected places and plenty of outdoor activities. Here are a few things to do on your next visit to 30A.

SUP on Western Lake

Western Lake is the largest of 15 coastal dune lakes in South Walton, a rare geographical feature created by hurricanes. Although it’s the color of hot tea, the water is cool and clear, perfect for first-time or inexperienced paddle boarders. RUN/SUP operates out of the Santa Rosa Boathouse on 30A and offers a great fitness program that includes running along park trails followed by a core workout on paddleboards. Or just sit on your board and soak up the sunshine without breaking a sweat.

Dive to the Underwater Museum of Art

Although you’ll find them in Cancun, Grenada and Spain, this underwater art museum is the first in U.S. waters. A team effort between the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, the South Walton Artificial Reef Association and seven talented artists, this museum was developed in a barren sandy area about 60 feet below the surface about 1 mile offshore from Grayton Beach. The idea is to create a more interesting environment for marine life and divers. If you’re not a diver, stop by Justin Gaffrey’s studio on Santa Rosa Beach. (He’s one of the artists represented in the Underwater Museum of Art.)

Eat at Airstream Row

Some communities have food truck rodeos, but Seaside lassoed a few vintage Airstream trailers and turned them into gourmet food outlets. Enjoy some barbecue, a killer grilled cheese sandwich, smoothies to die for, and some fresh squeezed lemonade under the shade trees of Seaside’s city park.

Start Happy Hour at Noon

The rooftop bar at The Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach is a place you’ll want to spend much of your day and evening. And just for that reason, Happy Hour starts at noon. Enjoy a $5 frosé with a view of the pool, the massive Western Lawn, or the Gulf of Mexico, and then stay for dinner at the Havana Beach Bar & Grill, a nod to Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering hole in Cuba.

Make a Souvenir at The Shard Shop

Don’t worry about breaking anything in this art shop/gallery — everything is already smashed to smithereens. Mary Hong has made a career out of breaking glass and reshaping it into beautiful collections of beachy art ― the kind of cool creativity that reminds you of your beach vacation all year long. Sign up for a session at The Shard Shop to create your own broken-glass masterpiece. It’s much easier than you would expect, thanks to the expertise offered by Mary’s staff. Have some fun and make a classy souvenir.

Catch Some Jazz at The Red Bar in Grayton Beach

One of the funkiest of places in all of Walton County is The Red Bar. Just steps from those white-sand beaches, this windowless hang out serves the typical beach fare (crab cakes, fish sandwiches, burgers) and cocktails (the Bloody Mary has been dubbed the “house salad,” thanks to all its garnishes), but the spot is best known for the Red Bar Jazz Band that plays Tuesday through Saturday nights. Stay a little later, sink into a well-worn sofa and just enjoy the groove. But keep at least one eye open to spot some of the musical celebrities who have been known to show up here after the sun goes down.

Editor's note: In February 2019, The Red Bar was destroyed in a fire. According to the bar's website, a plan is underway to rebuild the venue and updates can be found on their Facebook page.


Rent a Bike and Explore

Seriously. Park your car and get on two wheels. It’s the way folks get around in South Walton. With more than 200 miles of biking trails and designated bike lanes on highways, you’ll have no trouble finding places to go. BYOB or rent from any number of vendors — many accommodations even include free bike rentals. Plus, every restaurant, shop, bar or beach offers ample bike stands. The Timpoochee Trail follows Highway 30A for 18 miles and winds around the best South Walton has to offer.

Hike in a State Park

More than 40 percent of south Walton County is preserved as public land, including four state parks and one state forest. Just north, Rocky Bayou State Park is not technically in South Walton, but it showcases the old-growth longleaf pine that brought the lumber industry to the area. In addition to a number of hiking trails and canoe/kayak paths that bring you closer to the area’s fragile ecosystem, Rocky Bayou has some intriguing history. It was used as bombing practice during WWII by Doolittle’s B-25 Squadron before their famous raid on Tokyo. Check out the concrete bombs on display.
United States, Florida, U.S. Islands

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Travel Magazine: 8 Things to Do on the Beaches of South Walton, Florida
8 Things to Do on the Beaches of South Walton, Florida
Happy hour at noon, underwater art sculptures and 200 miles of bike trails: Here are a few things to do on your next visit to 30A.
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