A Week in Grayton Beach – 2022 – 30A Beaches – Family Vacation – State Park

Another year, another trip to my favorite Florida beaches! There is something so special about the Florida panhandle – the soft white sand, the crystal-clear calm water, the sunny weather, the incomparable sunsets, and the friendly people make 30A the best stretch of beaches around, in my humble opinion.

For our summer 2022 trip, we stayed in Grayton Beach State Park for a full week. We invited my parents to join us and were able to book adjoining cabins. I was thrilled they could come along as they’d never visited this area of the state. It’s a very special place for my husband and I, and now our kids, and was made even more so by being able to share it with my parents! We saw the most stunning sunsets almost every night we were there. The colors in the sky on the Gulf coast are so vibrant!

I am convinced that Grayton Beach State Park is one of the most beautiful places in Florida. It is full of wildlife – we saw herons and stingrays at the beach, and several deer around our cabin. We even saw a tiny fawn with it’s mama peeking into our patio while we were eating breakfast! While we thankfully didn’t actually see a bear, my dad talked to a ranger who told him a bear had ripped open one of the bear-proof trash cans overnight – so the bears are definitely around! The park also features coastal dune lakes, which are unique to the region.

We stayed in the same cabin as we did last year and it was just as comfortable as we remembered. There are two bedrooms – a primary with a queen bed and a second bedroom with two twin beds. The bathroom has a shower and separate vanity area. The living/dining area contains puzzles, games, and books donated by the Friends of the Park group. It rained a bit during our vacation and we ended up doing about five puzzles by the end of the trip! The cabin also contains a nice screened patio area with an outdoor picnic area. If you want to read more about the booking process for the cabins or see more photos of the cabins, please read this post.

The kitchen comes fully stocked, which was great for us, as we were able to alternate dinners “at home” in the cabin with dinners out on 30A. We also ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the cabin in between beach and park trips. Of course, we picked up donuts for breakfast one day from our beloved Donut Hole!

One of our favorite dinners was at Old Florida Fish House. This is probably my new favorite dining establishment on 30A. The food is delicious – lots of fresh fish options – and the venue cannot be beat. Apparently, during the pandemic, the restaurant was able to expand outside onto their property and now it is a sprawling venue with ample outdoor seating. There is a dock where you can take your drinks and dessert, a fire pit, and live music. It’s very family-friendly and the perfect place to safely let kids run around before dinner arrives. The service was excellent. Clearly, I could go on and on. This will definitely be a go-to for us on future trips!

Another night, Alex and I had a date night to Chiringo. It was fine, but honestly, I would probably go back to Red Bar next time (which is always fantastic). The food was good, but it was served on paper plates and it felt overpriced for the very casual environment. On the other hand, it was very empty so it was nice to have a quiet dinner, as opposed to Red Bar, which is more of a party atmosphere with loud live music. I’m glad my parents had a chance to have their date night at Red Bar, though – it’s such a unique and special place with lots of kitschy decor. I’m still amazed that they were able to rebuild something so true to the original restaurant after the fire in 2019.

On our last night of vacation, we all drove to Seaside. We wanted to show my parents the town that holds such a special place in our hearts and that we’ve spent so much time in. We walked around to show them some houses and visited Duckies (the toy shop) to get our kids a souvenir from vacation (which my middle child promptly lost – oh well!) before we grabbed dinner. What I love about eating dinner in Seaside is that there are so many options. You can sit down at Bud and Alley’s or Great Southern Cafe, or you can order to go from one of the many restaurants and eat at one of the tables bordering the Ampitheater. We did the latter – my dad and I ordered tacos from Bud and Alley’s Taco Bar, my mom got tacos from The Shrimp Shack, and my husband and kids got grilled cheese and hot dogs from Airstream Row. It’s nice for everyone to be able to get what they want!

For dessert, we ate the most delicious chocolate chip sea salt cookies from the Black Bear Bread Co. and fudge from Dawson’s. We will definitely return to Black Bear Bread Co. – we were actually standing outside looking for the lost toy I mentioned and one of the bakery employees came out and gave us the cookies since they were closing and would be throwing them out anyway. It was so thoughtful of them and they were truly some of the best cookies I’ve ever had!

During the days, we typically spent the morning at the beach, where we swam and played in the sand. We were not deterred by the periodic rain during our visit, or the jellyfish that cleared away later in the week after the rain stopped. However, the beach actually had a caution flag several days, which might be the first time I’ve ever seen that on the Gulf Coast! One day, when the ocean was particularly choppy, we swam in a coastal dune lake instead! It was a short walk down the beach just outside the park boundary to the east.

When we needed a break from the sun and water, we ventured to other state parks in the area. During our week-long stay, we visited Deer Lake State Park and Camp Helen State Park. I would pass on Deer Lake State Park, at least until it is fully reopened (call before you go). There wasn’t anything on the state park website about it being closed, so it was a bit frustrating to drive there and see closed gates and signage saying the park is closed.

While the main part of the park around Deer Lake (a coastal dune lake) is inaccessible, if you cross 30A from the main entrance, there is a wooded trail leading to a fairly obscured portion of Deer Lake. It was nice to get out and do something different, and my kids definitely enjoyed it, but I would say it’s probably not worth your time as an adult. We then decided to walk down the sidewalk of 30A to get a better view of the lake. While the lake is beautiful, the walk left something to be desired. It’s on a sidewalk but right next to the road – it was loud and I was scared someone was going to run us off the road at any moment. Needless to say, the visit to Deer Lake State Park was a bit of a bust. Hopefully we can return on our next visit as it sounds like a beautiful park that highlights the coastal dune habitat in the area.

On the other hand, Camp Helen State Park was fantastic! My parents joined my kids and me, and we all had a wonderful time. We hiked the North Trail, which starts from the parking lot and is paved for the first 0.4 miles as you walk along Lake Powell, the largest of the coastal dune lakes in the region. As you continue on, the paved area ends and it becomes a one-mile dirt trail with a self-guided tour of native plants. We loved this portion of the trail because it was numbered with twelve markers, which coincided with descriptions you can find a brochure available at the start of the loop (or at the Visitor Center). This was such a fun scavenger hunt experience for my two and four year old. They loved searching for each number and when we arrived, I’d read about the plant described and we all learned something! Among others, we learned about prickly pear, muscadine grapes, false rosemary, and saw palmetto plants.

After completing the mile loop, we stopped for a water and snack break on shaded benches before walking the rest of the way back to the parking lot. We stopped at the Visitor Center to fill our waters and enjoyed the family-friendly exhibits, including life-size replicas of local wildlife! If you have time, the park also has paddle board and kayak rentals that you can take to explore Lake Powell. There is also another trail, the Oak Canopy Trail that runs through the park and provides beach access. Finally, you could take a walk to view the 9 historical buildings on the park property. The buildings were once a summer home and later a resort camp for employees of a textile mill.

At the end of the week, we decided to break up our drive home with a stop at Morrison Springs, a county park that contains a 250 foot wide spring with three underground caves. While it attracts serious cave divers, it’s also a nice spot to take a swim in the chilly water, dip your toes, or even just enjoy a picnic at one of the pavilions. If you’re staying at the cabins, it’s about a 45 minute drive through some very rural parts of the state. While I wouldn’t say it’s a must-do, it’s something different and worthwhile, especially if you’ve never seen the beautiful Florida springs.

The 30A beaches remain one of my favorite vacation destinations and I’m so glad that we were able to bring my parents along this time. If you’d like to read more about the area and see recommendations from our past trips, click here to find posts of our previous 30A vacations. And if you’re headed to the area, please feel free to contact me with any questions and if you’ve already been, please share your favorite parts of your trip in the comments!

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