Alys Beach is situated along Scenic Route 30A, which runs parallel to the Gulf of Mexico for 18.5 miles between Panama City Beach to the east and Destin to the west in the South Walton portion of Northwest Florida.
From the Panama City-Bay County International Airport, Highway 30A heads west toward Alys Beach. Get directions to Alys Beach from the airport.
Traveling along Scenic 30A, whether by car or bicycle, you’ll have more than a glimpse of the beaches' brilliant white sand and the shimmering sea from the highway. Because of zoning laws designed to keep the focus on the area’s natural attractions, your view won’t be blocked by billboards. Zoning restrictions have also kept Scenic Highway 30A free from strip malls, go-kart tracks, and tall, gaudy storefronts. Instead, along Scenic 30A, you'll have the chance to connect with the area's natural rhythms, shop for antiques, dine on the freshest seafood and produce and explore a mix of beach cottage towns and New Urbanist communities.
Highway 30A Beaches: The Glittering Jewel of the Emerald Coast
The expanse of beach along the Gulf of Mexico possesses a distinctive beauty and character that is first visible from Highway 30A. From that distance, one sees that the sand is unusually white and shimmers in the sun. When stepping onto the beach, one feels a gentle, soothing texture because each grain of the sugar-fine sand is nearly round and almost 100 percent quartz. As a result, the beaches of the Emerald Coast have a soothing feel and give a faint squeak when walked upon. Although en masse the grains of sand appear white, individually they are almost clear, a quality that gives the beach its sparkle.
In contrast to the brilliant white sand, the waters give the Emerald Coast its name, as they appear clear emerald green and turquoise blue. But while appearances provide allure, the beauty of the beaches in South Walton is deeper: all South Walton beaches are certified as clean Blue Wave Beaches by the Blue Wave Campaign, America's first environmental-certification program for beaches. A Blue Wave-certified clean beach is managed responsibly, with a focus on the protection of human health and the environment. Clean beaches are relatively free of litter, have handicap accessibility and public restroom facilities, clearly demonstrate laws and information on the beach and its management, and have waters suitable for healthy swimming and recreation.
Beyond the amazing beaches, the Gulf of Mexico has even more to offer those who wish to connect with nature: sand dunes, dune lakes, wispy sea oats, vast nature preserves, state parks, Gulf breezes and miles of walking and bicycle trails.
The Sand Dunes Along Highway 30A
Gentle curves rise and dip within the sand dune formations along Highway 30A. Formed over millions of years by the winds and waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the dunes are both aesthetically pleasing and ecologically vital. They serve as home to the endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse and provide the perfect place to see herons, egrets, white-tailed deer, foxes, coyotes, raccoons and gopher tortoises. In addition, fourteen natural wild plant communities call the dunes home, the place where sea turtles come ashore to nest. Because the preservation of the dunes is critical to the health of the local environment, the dunes are strictly protected.
Pristine, Rare Coastal Dune Lakes
Abiding alongside the sand dunes adjacent to Highway 30A is a series of 11 rare coastal dune lakes, remarkable natural phenomena found almost exclusively along the Gulf Coast. The lakes are formed by wind and contain high levels of algae and plant life, along with beach and dune sand, silt and clay. Their uniqueness stems from their intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico. Through storm or tidal events, water fills the lakes until their damming sands can no longer contain them, and the water bursts through the dunes and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. In return, salt water from the Gulf fills the void left by the lowered water levels of the lake. The exchange forms brackish water and creates a distinctive ecosystem that can change at a moment’s notice. Once the dune lake dries up a bit, the connection to the sea closes until the next event. This unusual natural formation fosters a biodiverse ecosystem with a multitude of marine life species. Walton County is the sixth most biodiverse area in the United States, in large part because of these coastal dune lakes. The dune lakes also serve as a source of fresh water for wildlife bordering the beach and Highway 30A, and provide great spots to canoe, kayak and fish.
Florida State Parks Along Scenic Highway 30A
To fully experience South Walton means to venture beyond the enclave of Alys Beach and into the natural environment that is unique to the area. Exploring the thousands of acres of neighboring state parks, one can experience nature at a deeper level. Lowland rivers, bays, lagoons, freshwater wetlands and estuaries take on richer meaning when discovered from within. State park nature trails and campgrounds provide a retreat to pristine coastal vegetation, viewing shoreline birds, surf fishing, boating, and camping, as well as an alternative experience of some of the world's most beautiful beaches.
So while Alys Beach and other communities have developed along Highway 30A, preservation of natural areas, zoning restrictions and well-managed growth have added value to the area's real estate, earning it recognition as some of the hottest property in the United States. Come visit in person to experience for yourself why this stretch of highway is special.