The tourist town of Santa Rosa Beach is quickly growing, and with the growth come the crowds to see the beautiful emerald waters and white sands. However, the beach communities along Scenic Highway 30A have a lot to offer besides the beach – if you know where to look.

Last week, I teamed up with photographer and blogger extraordinaire Sara Tallent of Destin30amomsblog to discover some hidden gems of 30A. We explored the area from west to east.

1. Our first stop was the perfect little caffeine spot, Black Bear Bread Co. What the bakery lacks in size, it makes up for big time in quality and atmosphere. Located in the Shops of Grayton, the cute cottage bakery and coffee shop is the perfect start to a day on 30A.

“I love the aesthetics and the way it looks in here,” Tallent said when asked why she chose Black Bear. “It’s that café feel, and it’s so Instagramable.”

2. After our caffeine fix, it was time to get our toes in the sand, so naturally our next stop was the beach. But not just any beach. We headed to the local spot of Grayton Beach. In Grayton we meandered down the sandy dune walk out to where Western Lake meets the Gulf of Mexico. Here you will find locals relaxing with their tailgates down, and children frolicking in the shallow dune lake. The spot is magical and close to restaurants, such as The Red Bar and Chiringo, both locally owned.

3. Our third stop is THE perfect photo-op spot. Be sure to dress the kids for portraits and grab the camera and explore the garden of WaterColor. This secret garden, called Cerulean Park, is everything! From beautiful fountains and flowing water features to perfectly manicured flowers, sprawling live oak trees and the greenest of grass, you will feel like you have stumbled upon a royal palace garden in France. Oh, and don’t miss The Boathouse on the picturesque Western Lake, where you can rent paddleboards and canoes for a day on the water.

“I love this place for portrait sessions because the kids can run free,” Tallent said. “And there is grass. Here in 30A, it’s hard to find grass – it’s just so beautiful.”

4. Lunch came calling by our fourth spot, and we had a tough time choosing a place to eat. One local favorite spot that came highly recommended by Tallent was Chanticleer Eatery in Grayton, but as we were already headed into Seaside, we decided to opt for the Airstream food truck row in Seaside town center. First we stopped at Raw & Juicy for a smoothie; perfect for those hot summer days. Next, we pulled up a chair at Barefoot BBQ; the meal platters at this local favorite never disappoint!

5. The day we explored 30A, the unique community of Alys Beach was setting up for their annual Digital Graffiti Festival, so we decided to revisit them in the near future. One spot Tallent made sure to mention, however, is Fonville Press. This coffee shop is a real gem as the atmosphere will leave you feeling like you are in your own private luxury home.

We ventured into Rosemary Beach oohing and aahing over the Nantucket-like architecture. Parched and hot from our day in the sun, we decided to find some chilled wine. Right on the corner of Barrett Square in the heart of Rosemary Beach, we found a quiet little eatery, Wild Olives Market and Cafe. After ordering and clinking our glasses to a day well-spent, we sipped our rose’ and enjoyed the view.

Of course, we didn't have time to explore the entirety of 30A, but when it comes to finding the hidden gems and local spots, we have an in! Stay tuned for more round-ups like this as we explore the hidden gems of Fort Walton Beach next.