On Highway 30A in Florida’s Panhandle, with its pastel palettes and beachy kitsch, a pair of stark white minaret- like structures announce that you’ve arrived in Alys Beach, a place utterly exotic and comfortable at the same time.
Sure, you’re still in Florida, but the clusters of white-washed masonry buildings that gleam under the relentless sun make you think of—where is it exactly? Bermuda? Santorini? Muscat? Guatemala? Boasting a unique mix of worldly architectures in a way that just works, Alys Beach is a serene and sophisticated spot that feels worlds away from its location on Florida’s Emerald Coast, just a few hours west of Tallahassee.
Twice the size of neighboring Seaside, Alys Beach is an idyllic New Urbanist town of 900 villas, cottages, and homes built around central courtyards. You won’t find a hotel in Alys Beach; instead, visitors are invited to live like locals and rent a private pad, making it the ideal getaway for a refined family vacation. While you’ll surely be tempted to lounge all day in your perfectly appointed accommodations (many boasting private pools, firepits, and roof decks), there’s plenty to see and do in the town beyond.
Start your day with old-fashioned doughnuts and smoothies from Charlie’s Donut Truck; the converted Sunbeam bread truck parks next to the amphitheater every morning, chock-full of dough-based confections that bakers cut and glaze by hand. (The maple- bacon doughnut, which is topped with a mountain of bacon crumbles, sells out daily, so get there early to snag one.)
The town’s palm tree–lined alleys, cobblestone streets, and public squares make exploring via bicycle a must-do, if only for the Instagram opportunities the outing affords. Kids and adults alike will relish the slow pace of cruising around town to peep and play at the many
water features and public art installations. Plus, there’s no better way to tour the town’s 20-acre nature preserve, which includes an elevated wooden boardwalk offering the best view of your natural surroundings—from a pine and cypress forest to a coastal dune lake to a meadow of wiregrass and wildflowers.
While you’re at it, bike over to George’s for a leisurely lunch. The menu invites guests to choose items from its spa-inspired Behave section (try the grilled salmon with red quinoa) or its more indulgent Misbehave section (the fried shrimp with hush puppies is a must-have).
But at its heart, Alys is a beach town, so be sure to sample its sugary white Gulf of Mexico sand and water as clear as the Caribbean Sea. Skip hauling and setting up your beach gear; you can rent it with one call to The Bike Shop. Feeling peckish? Food and beverages can be delivered straight to your beach setup. Stay for the sunset (always sure to stun) and end the evening with a bespoke beach bonfire, complete with s’mores. It may be too dark to snap a good selfie for the ’Gram, but the memories will last a lifetime.