By Amy Minchin

In Walton County, Fla., nestled on the east end of Scenic Highway 30A near Panama City, is a beach community all its own.

The tree-lined roadway leading into Rosemary Beach immediately signals you’ve entered a different sort of place, one that beckons visitors with striking architecture and the charm of a by-gone era. 

Walking and biking are the preferred modes of transportation in this 107-acre New Urbanist development, encouraging guests to explore its idyllic scenery and connect with the community in an intimate way.

Taking a stroll along the town’s boardwalks and sandy paths leads to a lush landscape of vivid green spaces and, of course, the picturesque shoreline that characterizes Florida’s Emerald Coast.

“Once you’ve parked your car here, you put your keys away,” said Blair Bullen of Mobile, Ala., during a recent visit to Rosemary Beach. “In the summer you ride bikes everywhere. There is a real sense of community.”

Bullen makes the three-hour drive from her hometown to Rosemary five or six times a year, despite the proximity of other beaches because, she says, “Rosemary Beach feels like a world away. It is not your typical beach.”

In town to attend a wedding, she and a friend began their day eating breakfast rollups at The Summer Kitchen Café. The relaxed atmosphere of the eatery has welcomed diners since 1999, when it was a walk-up lunch counter for early residents and workers in Rosemary Beach. Now serving three meals a day, it offers casual indoor and outdoor seating in the heart of the town square, a mixed-use space anchored by its own town hall and post office.

Northwest Florida’s climate makes it comfortable for diners to sip coffee or sample fresh seafood al fresco no matter the season. At Cowgirl Kitchen, another Rosemary restaurant, guests enjoy happy hour after a day in the sun and order pizza or shrimp tacos for dinner. Sweet-toothed guests and beachgoers seeking cool refreshment find respite at Sugar Shak, a candy shop that serves hand-scooped ice cream.

Rosemary Beach merchants attract both locals and vacationers from other nearby beaches. Many follow bike and pedestrian paths along Hwy. 30A to spend a few hours here. They are welcomed by a neighborhood vibe that radiates throughout the town square.

Whether vacationing in Rosemary Beach or just passing through, visitors can browse at the local book shop, try on the latest boutique styles and shop for Rosemary Beach signature items.

The Rosemary Beach Trading Company offers T-shirts, golf shirts, caps and picture frames emblazoned with “Rosemary Beach, Est. 1995.” Humorous signs and beach-themed wall décor are sold here for the shopper seeking something different.

What you won’t find are kitschy souvenirs that contradict the luxurious, design-conscious surroundings of Rosemary Beach. “Every detail is paid attention to,” said Bullen. “There is a feeling of exclusivity and privacy.”  

Extending outward from the town square are clusters of cottages, flats and lofts, each unique in design but reminiscent of New Orleans, Charleston, St. Augustine and the West Indies. Cottages have two to six bedrooms with nightly rates for a two-bedroom cottage starting at $353. All rates vary by season, and a seven-night minimum stay is required during Spring Break, summer and Thanksgiving week.

True to the principles of new urban design, many homes have courtyards or porches and cars are parked discreetly in back alleys and garages. Some homes have carriage houses available to rent at a separate rate from the main house.

The Pensione Inn is an 11-room, European style hotel at the south end of Rosemary Beach. With standard rates beginning at $195-255 per night, depending on the season, guests staying here have a short walk to the beach.

Community pools, green spaces and playgrounds are scattered throughout the property. Joggers make their way across the terrain on winding fitness trails. Residents and rental guests have additional opportunities for active living at the on-site racquet club and fitness center, which offers yoga classes, personal training and massage therapy.

At the north end of the community is a butterfly garden, where residents and guests often spot Monarch butterflies during their migration to the area each fall.

According to resort management, the developers of Rosemary Beach sought to preserve the natural beauty and topography of the land as they built roads. Dune preservation is also emphasized, as evidenced by the private beach access that follows constructed walk-over paths to the white sand beaches below.

Throughout Rosemary Beach, native plants such as the aromatic rosemary bush grow freely. The community derives its name from this evergreen shrub that produces an herb used to flavor foods and give scent to fragrant shampoos.

Perhaps it’s coincidence that rosemary is believed to improve memory, but Rosemary Beach is a place visitors won’t forget.