In today’s episode we will share our top 10 tips for RVing the Emerald Coast of Florida. The Emerald Coast is the nickname given to the beaches of the Florida panhandle. With white quartz sand beaches and crystal clear green water, it is no wonder sun seekers flock to this area year after year.
This area is a haven for RVers with accommodations that range from RV Resorts to state parks. There are four great state parks that we know of on the Emerald Coast: Henderson State Park in Destin, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Grayton Beach State Park in Grayton Beach and St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach Florida
In this episode we are going to focus on Grayton Beach SP and Topsail Hill Preserve SP. These are two super popular camping destinations.
Tip #1 - Book Ahead
Reservations for the state parks in this area of Florida book up quickly, especially during peak season. Go to www.reserveamerica.com to book.
For Top Sail Hill Preserve State Park
For Grayton Beach State Park
Tip #2 - Consider Staying at More Than One Park
Sometimes it can be hard to get an entire one or two week trip booked since these parks are in such demand. But If you are flexible about changing sites or even changing parks (they are pretty close to each other) you should be able get your trip booked. We actually prefer to split our time between Grayton Beach SP and Topsail Hill Preserve SP The two parks have very different vibes and perks. This way we get the best of both worlds.
Grayton Beach SP - The Vibe is natural/rustic. RV sites have water and electric but most do not have sewer. There is a dump station on site. Amenities include two bath houses and a small laundry facility. Atmosphere is sandy, with thick grove like woods around most sites.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park - The vibe is like it's an RV Resort but at state park prices!
Let’s start with just the natural beauty… especially in the Spring there is something beautiful everywhere you look. Ponds complete with lily pads. Oh why do I have such a weakness for lily pads? Green grass and tall costal pines. Flowering bushes… But maybe modern convenience is more your thing. Well they have that too. Top Sail Hill has 156 sites and can accommodate large rigs Full hook ups are included, 30 and 50 am electricity, water, sewer (yes I said sewer how nice), and digital cable. Most sites are pretty level. The park does have free wi fi at the campstore. Want a pool? They have one, Want a great laundry facility? They have one of those too. Want a clean bath house with flush toilets and warm showers? Well they have three of those.
In addition they an amphitheater, shuffle board, fishing ponds, a playground, a fully stocked camp store and much much more.
But as with Grayton Beach State Park.. the main draw is the beach. Top Sail boasts 3.2 miles of heavenly white beaches with the crystal clear emerald green water. Also like Grayton Beach the campsites are not close to the beach… but Top Sail Hill has a cool Tram that will take you to the beach. Just walk or drive to the Tram station and jump on for a relaxing short ride to the water. Whether you walk, bike or tram your way to the beach you will enjoy the sights and sounds of this beautiful ecosystem and you will be rewarded with a great boardwalk trip across the dunes out to a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico.
I want to stop right now and say kudos to the Florida State Park system. You guys nailed it with this state park. This park is one of the most popular state park destinations in the country for a reason. It is incredible.
If you want a sneak peak of this check our our YouTube video http://rvingillustrated.com/topsail-hill-preserve-state-park-florida-an-overview-video/
Tip #3 - Book a site that backs up to Western Lake
One of the cool perks at Grayton Beach SP is that some of the sites back up to Western Lake. If you love to paddle board or kayak like we do this is super convenient.
The big attraction at Grayton Beach SP is the spectacular beach. It is a short bike ride to the beach but it is totally worth it.
Tip #4 - Don’t forget to take your bike
Both Grayton Beach SP and Topsail Hill Preserve SP are located on a two lane that the locals lovingly refer to as the 30A. This road hugs the shore has it meanders through countless beautiful beach towns. But what makes it special is that it has a bike trail attached to it. To bike the 30A is a must do for all visitors of all ages.
So while you are at Grayton Beach SP hop on your beach bike and head down the 30A to the picturesque town of Seaside. This is a truly special place. If you have seen the movie the Truman Show, you have seen Seaside, because it is the idyllic town that Jim Carey’s character kept trying to escape from
Seaside Florida - The vibe is that this beach town has a laid back preppy feel. Think Vineyard Vines. It is the kind of place where you keep expecting to see Nolan Ross from Revenge walking past. This is mainstreet USA beach addition… complete with picket fences and rocking chair porches, It looks like a place where people sit around sipping lemonade all day long. And it looks this way by design. Seaside is a planned community that has garnered praise from Architectural Digest.
Where to eat:
The Great Southern Cafe yum - great atmosphere dinner entrees run between 18 and 30 bucks. I recommend either the meat and 3 … which is the roasted meat of the night with 3 southern sides… or one of the seafood dinners.
Don’t miss It’s Heavenly for some great Italian Gelato or an expresso. Kaylee raves on the mocha gelato.
Just as you bike (or drive) into Seaside you will notice that there are quite a few Airstream food trucks lining the street They serve a wide variety of food from good ole southern BBQ to wheatgrass juice. Now I will admit that we haven’t eaten at one of these yet but we are fascinated by them. The idea of buying street food out of a vintage airstream food truck is just to fun!
Tip #5 - When dining in Seaside always check prices and ask if gratuity is automatically charged.
We got serious sticker shock at Bud and Alley’s walk up taco bar. $50 for lunch for 3 people, no alcoholic beverages… Holy Taco Bell BatMan. The food was so so, the service was ok.. but the atmosphere was very nice and almost made up for the sticker shock. I promise you we will not be doing that again.
Shopping in Seaside is fun.. but bring a fat wallet for some of the stores. Some are actually pretty reasonable. Very nice boutiques, an art gallery, a great bookstore, a record store (how retro and cool), places to get souvenirs All in all a fun stroll.
Even though Seaside sounds a bit upscale it does have a super laid back vibe and we always feel completely welcome.
Tip #6 - Check out La Loba's Bakery if You Are Gluten Free
Also located on the 30a is one of our all time favorite bakeries.
La Loba’s Bakery - Located in the High Point Shopping Center Finding this bakery was one of the highlights of our trip. Especially for me. I used to be obsessed with baked goods. But when I gave up gluten in November of 2016 my love affair with these delicious treats came to a sad abrupt end. The couple that owns this bakery is so nice… I wish I had gotten there names because they were just delightful. They used to live up here in NC and relocated to the Emerald Coast to pursue their love of baking. First of all you don’t to be gluten free to eat there.. they just happen to have some great gluten free options. But with all of their food they use only the best organic ingredients and you can teste that commitment to quality in every bite you take. Besides sweet treats they also serve breakfast and lunch and organic locally roasted coffee. OK you had me at coffee. I bought (and ate over a few days) the gluten free carrot cake muffin (oh MY GOD) words cannot describe how delicious this was, and the peanut butter cookie. (giant yummy gooey peanut goodness) and a chocolate puddle that melted me into a puddle. Everything I had was outstanding. So if you are gluten free or just appreciate good organic baking check this place out!
While we are talking about food I am going to move on to Tip number 7...
Tip #7 - Check out the Craft Bar 30A
if you are staying at Grayton Beach State Park and you want a good dinner value… Check out the Craft Bar 30A which is a quick bike ride or walk from the State Park. This craft beer bar is very family friendly and has great outdoor patio dining as well as indoor dining with TVs for the sports enthusiast. When we were there they had a burger special. The prices drew us in but the incredibly yummy fresh craft burgers made with local pasture raised beef brought us back for full price burgers another night. They were even willing to serve my burger with lettuce instead of a bun. Brian and I both highly recommend the Craft Burger topped with Tillamook cheddar cheese. Kaylee loved the lamb burger. And the handout fries were to die for. I just checked their website and they do also mention having a happy hour M-F 2pm to 6pm. And FYI this bar is known for its great assortment of craft beers We didn’t have any but good to know right?
All in all this is a very chill place to eat good food at at a great price. You can visit there website at www.thecraftbarfl.com.
Tip #8 - You Can Rent Almost Anything at the Camp Store
If you don’t feel like lugging a bunch of stuff with you when you visit Top Sail Hill never fear. At the camp store you can rent bikes, beach carts, kayaks, paddle boards, canoes and so much more. I forgot to mention earlier that you can also rent canoes at Grayton Beach State park.
While we are on tips I am going to throw out tip number 9.
Tip #9 - Save Money by Eating at Your RV
We love seafood…but we realize sometimes eating out can get pricey. So tip number 9 is save money on your seafood dinner by picking up some local shrimp at Goat Feathers Fish Market on 30A. We find the seafood there to be fresh and they are always happy to steam and season it for your for free. Then all you have to do is toss a salad and make a potato back at the RV and you have a great seafood dinner for a fraction of the price of going out. Now if you want to eat out… Goat Feathers has a great restaurant above the seafood market. We have eaten there too and we like it… or…
If you don’t mind driving into Destin we totally recommend The Back Porch.
This restaurant is located literally on the beach. It has a very open air feel… with spectacular water front views. If you aren’t feeling relaxed and on vacation when you leave here there maybe no hope for you. The food is really good. We highly recommend the Back Porch oysters..drooling just thinking about them. But they aren’t gluten free sucks for me huh?
The Back Porch is known for their Amberjack (fish) and Brian absolutely loves it. They do have a gluten free menu. I ordered the shrimp and spinach salad which was out of this world. A word of warning… if you don’t like cats avoid this restaurants… We find it quite charming that they have cats on the front porch of the Back Porch restaurant… but not all patrons may feel this way so just in case now you know.
As long as we are talking about things to do in the greater Destin area … we might as well talk about my favorite past time…shopping.
Shopping is pretty good in Destin. We always make at least one stop at the Silver Sands Premium outlet mall. We usually get pretty good deals. We always pop in at the Harry and David and buy my favorite banana cream coffee. This time Brian also found a good deal on a jacket at the Northface store and I grabbed a bargain on a Vera Bradley purse. Kaylee was delighted to see that a new Vans store had just opened the week we were there.
If you prefer a full price mall… check out the beautiful outdoor mall Destin Commons. This mall reminded me a lot of The Grove mall in Los Angeles
There are a lot of other shopping options in Destin as well and if you don’t mind the drive down to Panama City Beach they have a pretty nice mall down there too. Yes I may just have some retail issues I need to address.
Tip #10 - Have Breakfast at The Donut Hole
If you love donuts (darn gluten) or just breakfast in general … don’t forget to check out the Donut Hole. This spot came highly recommended to us and it didn’t disappoint. It was super hard for me to eat there because there were some incredible looking fresh donuts on display.. but I ordered an omelet packed full of veggies instead and it was delicious. If you can splurge on donuts… please go and let me know if they are as good as they looked and smelled.
Tip #11 - Here's a great veterinarian reference
I thought you said 10 tips? Well this is a bonus for you. While we were staying at Grayton Beach State Park, our dog Heidi got very sick. We had to take her to the emergency vet. Ends up that she had acute pancreatitis. If we hadn’t gotten her to the vet in time should could have died. I want to stop here and give a huge shout out to Dr. Connor at Kindness Pet Hospital and her staff who got Heidi in right away. Dr. Connor was super busy when we were there but she was so good with Heidi and so patient with us… she explained Heidi’s condition and treatment needs in a way that we could easily understand. Heidi’s condition was serious, and it took two days of infusions and medications for Dr. Connor to stabilize her. She even checked on Heidi when we got home from Florida just to make sure that she was doing well. I truly believe that she saved our dog’s life and I am extremely grateful. So if your pet gets sick when you are on vacation in the area I highly recommend you call the Kindness Pet Hospital. Although I really hope you don’t have to.
The day Heidi got sick was the day that we were supposed to move to our new site at Top Sail Hill Preserve State Park. Which ended up being pretty convenient because the vet was almost across the street.. I am exaggerating slightly but it was close enough to walk or bike to.
We hope you have enjoyed this podcast and our tips. Make sure you tune in next week for episode 3, where we will share some of our tips for saving money while RVing.
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