We have arrived. Summer is in full swing, the temperatures are consistently in the 90s, and that means beach vacations are imminent (or if you’ve already been there and done that for this summer, bookmark this and save it for next year!). We are quickly approaching the celebrated Fourth of July weekend, and as someone who lived her first 18 years and 21 summers as a beach town local (I was born and raised in Destin, FL), I know firsthand just how many of you will be making the trek to the coast in the very near future.
My favorite summer job in college was working as a concierge for a large beach resort. I loved sharing with vacationers all of my favorites, the hidden gems, and helping plan their days. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned over the years is that people who are visiting beach communities don’t necessarily realize that a lot of times they’re visiting small towns (unless you’re headed to a big city that also has a beach, like Miami or LA). For example, Destin doesn’t even have enough students in its city limits to have its own high school. Beach communities have a small number of full-time residents, and although it may seem like a happening place during the summer, many times the infrastructure of the town you’re visiting isn’t necessarily built for the influx of visitors that come each year. That’s why I’ve become a self-proclaimed professional at giving tips and tricks to make beach vacations everything and more, and I hope you’ll find my advice helpful as I bestow a few nuggets of wisdom that I learned over the years navigating my tourist-attracting hometown.
5 tips to do your beach vacation right:
- Eat, drink, and play local. As previously mentioned, many times beach towns are just small towns surrounded by water. They are at capacity during the spring and summer, then they become Mayberry with salty air in the fall and winter. So much of the economy in these towns depends on tourism, and that means business owners do the majority of their business for the entire year when you’re visiting. I always advise friends who are headed to the beach to check out which restaurants, bars, and entertainment are locally owned. It truly makes a difference in the lives of the folks who own these establishments when you choose local on your vacation. In my opinion, local tends to be better anyway! More often than not, local seafood restaurants have their own fleet of fishing boats (or contract them out) and deliver the freshest seafood you can get!
- Don’t let the rain ruin your vacay. I know, I know, you came for the sand between your toes and saltwater in your hair (also known as chasing little kiddos around in the sand and getting the best workout of your life). But here’s the thing: if you’re headed to the Gulf Coast, you’re probably going to have at least one rainy day and likely an afternoon thunderstorm most days between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. I always advise folks to get your beach and pool time in early and use the afternoon rain shower to rest, shower, and prepare for evening activities. However, if it happens to rain all day (or just longer than expected), don’t fret! There are so many kid- and rain-friendly things to do, such as laser tag, indoor play gyms, ovation movie theaters, local shopping, and so much more! Look up some rainy day ideas before your trip (or ask your hotel/condo staff) so that you’ll be prepared if the dreaded rainy day comes.
- Check your routes. Since most beach towns are small towns at their core, there is usually one way in and one way out. Add to this that there’s lots of water surrounding these destinations, and usually there’s one bridge to funnel everyone in and out. Most summer weeks are the same: traffic out of town on Saturday mornings, traffic into town on Saturday afternoons. The week before you arrive, check whatever map app you use and see when traffic is the heaviest. See if there’s an easier route that isn’t as busy (for example, a lot of people get to 30A via Destin or Panama City, but there’s actually a bridge that takes you straight to 30A that’s almost never crowded!). When you’re ready to head out to dinner, if you’ll be driving, check your destination ahead of time to see if traffic is bad yet. Also, try to steer clear of neighborhoods as cut-throughs. I know sitting in traffic is nobody’s idea of a fun vacation, but people do live, work, and raise families in the places you’re visiting. Try to be respectful of that and stay on main roads as much as possible.
- There’s so much more than sand and water. Obviously, we go on beach vacations for, well, the beach. But, what you may not know is that there are typically lots of other things to do. From live music and outdoor movies, to art exhibits and great shopping — there are so many things to do outside of the beach and pool. Get the most out of your vacation by checking out what’s going on around the town you’re visiting. As nice as that vitamin D can be, it’s also really fun to check out children’s activities, quirky shops, and the local scenery. Also, check out state parks, picnic locations, boat rentals, water sports, and more. There are so many ways to enjoy the summer weather in a beautiful location without being at the pool or on the beach. Change up your vacation, and I promise it’ll be the best one yet!
- Let convenience be your best friend. Who wants to go on vacation to work? Not me! Most beach communities have some really great businesses that were created just to make the life of tourists easier. Services like grocery delivery before you arrive at your condo, trams at your resort property to minimize car time, and babysitting services for a night out for Mommy and Daddy are just a few ways to make your vacation carefree. Take advantage of these types of services, and ensure that your time away from “real life” is everything you want it to be. Check out blogs, Instagram accounts, and city websites to find these services and more!
If you’re around the Destin/30A area for the Fourth of July, I may see you around! But no matter where your beach vacation takes you this summer, make sure to remember these tips and tricks to make your trip the best ever!