Where is Rosemary Beach: Vacation Ideas in Florida
By Kristine Hansen
Rosemary Beach is named for the herb that grows wild in the region, but tall beach grasses and Southern drawls also help to mark this quiet, unspoiled corner in Florida’s far Northwest.
Strolling down Main Street (laid with cobblestones) means returning the “hellos” and good-morning nods. As the sun curves over the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald-hue waters a block away, boutique-owners wheel out well-dressed mannequins and restaurateurs scrawl the day’s specials on sandwich chalkboards.
The ambiance, though, is far from Mayberry or even Norman Rockwell. Instead, there is modern appeal. Multi-million-dollar homes by nationally recognized architects star in one of the state’s few New Urbanism master-plan developments.
Since the 107-acre development’s founding in 1995, strict design laws have kept that ambiance firmly in place, following a mantra that everything is within a 5-minute walk.
Some of the results: Crisp-white and dusty-blue Adirondack chairs and rocking chairs beckon from porches; footpaths are lush with foliage; numerous boardwalks lead to the beach: courtyards are sprinkled throughout town to serve as modern-day gathering spaces.
Each of the 600-some houses evokes the West Indies, with curved-hip roofs, matched with either wood, cedar or stucco siding, plus artsy, minimalistic landscaping that’s mostly native. An intentionally limited color palette of blues, greens, yellows and whites mirrors the adjacent 2,500 feet of Gulf frontage. Deep eaves protect from the sun and each house looks out onto a pedestrian boardwalk.
Many homes, split between the “park side” and the “gulf side,” are vacation properties for wealthy families in Southern cities like Atlanta, New Orleans and Birmingham.
Cottages – or, in some cases, the entire house – ranging in size from a studio to a three-bedroom are for rent by the week from Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Company. Beach-cruiser bicycles can be rented from the office, and access is free to the fitness center, eight tennis courts and four swimming pools on the property. Yoga classes charge an extra fee. Visitors are treated to full-size kitchen appliances, Aveda toiletries and – in most cases – a wrap-around porch or balcony. Some offer private pools or courtyards with fountains.
Recently, The Pearl – a 55-room boutique hotel on the main drag, with a vintage-Cuba-themed dining room and rooftop pool more Beverly Hills than North Florida, with massages offered under pinstriped cabanas – opened its doors. It is the region’s only luxury boutique hotel. Last fall it hosted princes from Bahrain, who rented out the property while training for a triathalon.
From Fair Trade coffee to Gulf Coast seafood, and even New Orleans-style snow cones, Rosemary Beach boasts many dining and imbibing options.
On a weekend night, lively Restaurant Paradis is packed with locals; the signature Paradis grouper a huge hit (line-caught grouper over sautéed lobster orzo).
Mornings start bright and early at Cowgirl Kitchen, opened by Texas native Nikki Nickerson, who serves breakfast with a south-of-the-border twist, like Mama’s Nobi, which are corn tortillas topped with scrambled eggs, bacon and cheddar, with sides of chipotle sauce and salsa. Lighter fare – pastries with brewed cups of locally roasted Fair Trade coffee beans – are at Amavida Coffee.
For a cool snack, Sno-Balls, specializing in New Orleans-style snow cones, topped with syrup, chocolate sauce and whipped cream, can’t be beat. Wild Olives and CK’s Feed & Supply sell all the fixings to whip up a meal at one’s cottage, or create a picnic basket, including artisan cheeses; beer and wine; imported meats and dips.
Along Main Street are a variety of shops selling children’s clothing, ocean-inspired home décor and women’s apparel. Naturally, a few shops sell flip-flops, surfboards, T-shirts and other casual attire for vacationers who may have forgotten to pack theirs.
Custom perfumes can be made at Pish Posh Patchouli’s, which functions as a modern-day apothecary shop retailing little luxuries. Willow specializes in billowy but upscale beach attire from labels like Ella Moss and Citizens of Humanity.
Hidden Lantern Bookstore & Gallery’s floor-to-ceiling shelves are smartly stocked with a mix of reads, including celebrity-chef cookbooks and Floridian literature, such as “The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider’s History of the Florida-Alabama Coast” by Harvey H. Jackson III. Patrons are welcome to relax in pinstriped armchairs with a diamond-encrusted chandelier overhead that is shaped like a sailboat. The adjacent art gallery celebrates a mix of local and nationally known artists.
Yet even with all of the options for eating and exercising, nothing beats slipping into a lounge chair on the beach, which is quiet and rarely crowded, a refreshing experience along the Florida panhandle. More adventure-minded? Rent a sea kayak or stand-up paddleboard and ride the waves.