Just a few months ago, David and I were beginning to go through our calendars to figure out holiday plans. We had the typical routine for Thanksgiving. You know, the one that involves driving back and forth between families leaving barely any time for actual family.
The holidays are exhausting, especially with the work schedule I had at the time. Often, we would drive over an hour to eat and spend some time with David’s family, to then turn around and drive almost three hours to my family. All of this ending with a quick overnight stay before driving back, so I could return to work for the weekend.
So, as we looked at our calendars, both exhausted from work and life with two young kids, we decided a vacation was in order. With the way the days lined up, we both only had to use one to two days of time off. Perfect!
We immediately knew we wanted to go somewhere warmer with not much planning required. Naturally, the beach seemed to be the best idea, with 30A being our destination.
We went with absolutely no plans. We’ve been to the area multiple times in the past, mostly in the summer months. For this trip, we totally expected to spend our time doing a lot of nothing, which is exactly how it ended up.
The Best Little Beach Area
I feel like most people in The Southeast are familiar with 30A, having either heard of it or been there. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a little heads up…you need to go.
30A isn’t technically a beach, but, more precisely, a short stretch of scenic state highway just to the west of Panama City Beach. Upon turning onto 30A, immediately you feel as though you’ve been transported into another world.
Long gone are the high rises, chain restaurants, and cheesy souvenir shops. Instead, you drive through quaint little developments that feel like towns, each with their own distinct architecture and vibe. Everything is picture perfect and conveniently located right along the shores of the beautiful Gulf Coast.
The area is packed with lots of great little restaurants, cute coffee shops, and plenty of boutiques. Almost the entire stretch of highway has a bike trail alongside. There are parks, grocery stores, and anything else you need.
When choosing where to stay on 30A, like any other vacation, it can be overwhelming. There is something for everyone, from condominiums to 12 bedroom houses. Having stayed in multiple areas over the years, we can definitely say they each have their own unique features.
This time we chose to stay to the western side in the Gulf Place development. We are fortunate enough to have some amazing friends that just bought a cozy condo in the area. As luck would have it, their unit hadn’t been rented so we jumped at the chance to check it out!
Let me tell you, this area was perfect for this trip. While we love other developments of 30A, some can be very crowded, depending on the time you visit. While Gulf Place was by no means deserted, I never felt claustrophobic. (You know that feeling when you are sharing amenities with a million other people, like when you can’t get a chair at the pool).
Gulf Place was one of the first planned urban developments on 30A, with colorful buildings, palm tree lined streets, and plenty of shops and restaurants- all within walking distance. Save for a trip to the grocery, you really never have to get in the car if you don’t want to.
There are walking trails and large green spaces. We spent the better part of Thanksgiving morning playing football and having races in the large green space right behind our unit. If you love adventure, make sure to check out the YOLO paddle board shop, where you can rent stand up paddle boards and other fun things.
Of course, traveling with young kids required multiple trips to the pool, regardless of the cooler temps outside. Luckily, the heated pool kept them nice and comfortable while getting in their daily quota of cannonballs. Just a few steps away from the back pool are two shuffle board courts surrounded by shrubs and trees for shade.
Gulf Place Dining
Gulf Place is packed with shops and dining. There’s a great little coffee shop, Sunrise Coffee, with all the caffeine you need to start your day. Restaurant options include everything from home cooking to pizza and Mexican food. Two of our favorite 30A restaurants are located here as well.
Shunk Gulley, a newer establishment, has lots of great options and an upstairs that gives great views over the emerald waters of the Gulf. Unfortunately, the upstairs only has high top tables. But don’t fret, because downstairs they have a large astroturf lawn where kids can play while waiting on your food. Make sure to try their smoked tuna dip!
Another favorite of ours, located right in the heart of Gulf Place, is The Perfect Pig. They have several locations, but this one has plenty of space. If you’re worried about your beach bod, I’d save this for the last day, since their slogan is “Praise the Lard”.
They have all kinds of food, but you can tell from the name that pork is their game. Do yourself a favor and try the Parmesan Crusted Breakfast Grilled Cheese Sandwich. You will thank me later, even if your belt disagrees.
There are a couple of ice cream options nearby too. Is there any other way to end a day at the beach? Our favorite in Gulf Place is Pecan Jacks. Located just next door to Shunk Gulley, you can easily walk there. They make all kinds of candies and brittles, but their ice cream is legit, made with only the freshest and locally-sourced ingredients.
Just in case you can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t fret. There are a multitude of restaurants and shops along 30A, most within a 15 minute drive.
Of course, I couldn’t go on and on about our stay at Gulf Place without telling you about the cute condo we stayed in. While there are considerable options for your stay, we stayed in a one bedroom unit in the Cabanas building. Aptly named, Beach Haven, it is a perfect condo for couples or young families.
The building is right across the street from the beach, with dedicated beach access for renters. Every morning I enjoyed my coffee on the balcony, while overlooking the pool with the ocean in clear view.
Although the unit is only a one bedroom, there is an adorable nook with bunk beds, perfect for kids. They even had their own half bath adjacent to the bunk area. I’m not sure what it is about bunk beds, but kids LOVE them.
The kitchen was fully equipped with everything we needed to prepare meals and gourmet coffee (they even had a handheld milk frother!). We didn’t actually end up cooking, but it was nice knowing we had the option.
Now, here’s the thing, I know how a place is decorated shouldn’t really matter when booking a vacation. But, you know as well as I do that the decor sets the tone. How many times have you gone to look at a rental, only to immediately leave the page because it looked like something straight out of the 80s or 90s?
This condo is beautifully decorated- bright and airy, and not overly beachy. Our friends have done such a great job of making the space look beautiful without being overly done. Believe me, I saw the “before” pictures, and it wasn’t good.
Now, if you know anything about our travel history, we are not ones to overpack. We have found over the years that less is best when it comes to packing. Consequently, we love finding places with a washer/dryer. Luckily, washers and dryers are located on each floor of the building, should you need to utilize them. It was so nice coming back home with clean laundry!
All in all, I can’t say enough great things about our stay at Beach Haven in Gulf Place on 30A. I would highly recommend spending your next Thanksgiving (or perhaps even Christmas) at the beach in this condo. It was, by far, the most relaxing and stress-free holiday week yet.