By Sarah Rufca
June 9, 2014
Rosemary Beach has nine walkovers that lead to the sugar sand beach. They were built to protect the dune ecosystem and prevent beach erosion.
It seems like every house, apartment and restaurant in Rosemary Beach has a driftwood sign pointing the way to the beach.
Which is charming, if unnecessary. Everything in Rosemary Beach, a 107-acre community in the Florida panhandle between Destin and Panama City Beach, leads to the beach. From any shaded porch or street corner in town, it’s only a few steps to one of several wooden boardwalks that head south, arching over the natural dunes to deposit visitors on a white sugar sand beach, in front of an ocean view in such a vibrant turquoise that it renders Instagram filters useless.
Rosemary Beach serves as the antidote to the stereotypical Florida beach scene. The row of palm trees that marks the edge of the development along Highway 30A brings a sharp end to the fast food restaurants, cheap hotels and sports bars, replacing them with tall stucco and wood houses decked out with stately porches and Bermuda shutters. Most importantly, in a part of the world known for spring-break debauchery, there’s nary a beer bong in sight, although there are several places to get a very nice bottle of wine.
Developed in 1995, Rosemary is the second town designed by Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, architects who led the New Urbanist movement by embracing walkable neighborhoods built around a town center. Nearby Seaside was their first project, but in the design for Rosemary Beach they abandoned the Americana look of white picket fences for an architectural style that takes cues from the stately courtyard homes of Charleston and St. Augustine and the intricately gabled roofs of the Dutch Antilles.
Building guidelines are strict on the materials used to construct each house, and exteriors are required to be stained a color found in the natural habitat, which means plenty of sage greens and sand tones as well as the occasional rich indigo of a local wildflower. Buildings at the end of long street vistas all have a tower that’s visible through the treetops and each house on a corner is required to have a carriage house separated by a courtyard. Within these boundaries, though, individual tastes flourish, so Rosemary feels integrated without being cookie-cutter. One homeowner turned a canoe upside down to make an awning over his front door; another built an elevated pool where most add guest quarters above the carriage house.
The town center runs perpendicular to the beach, spreading across both sides of the highway. And while it is said to be no more than a five minute walk from any house in Rosemary Beach, a bicycle rented from Bamboo Bicycle Company is really the ideal way to get around, making the most of the beach breezes while whirring over the signature cobblestone streets and pedestrian-friendly boardwalks.
Next to Bamboo, on the northern side of the town center, is Summer Kitchen Cafe, the oldest restaurant in Rosemary Beach. With only a handful of tables inside, during the day, locals and visitors pop in for a relaxed breakfast or quick wrap for lunch, while at night the simple shack belies the sophisticated food coming out of the kitchen. The adjacent courtyard (shared with a flower shop and a snow-cone stand) is lit with strands of light that crisscross the space filled with diners drinking wine and dining on pan-fried grouper and the best shrimp and grits ever made by a chef from Connecticut. On Thursday nights, a local troubadour plays acoustic versions of Ray LaMontagne and Lana del Rey songs that, combined with Summer Kitchen’s heavenly upside-down key lime pie, wrap every sense in a cocoon of mellow happiness.
In the interest of creating an idyllic experience, Rosemary Beach bustles, packing in as much pleasure per square inch as possible. In 107 acres, there are 19 pocket parks and green spaces, several with playgrounds and one that includes a koi pond and a butterfly garden. If the beach is too rough, there are eight clay tennis courts and four community pools, including the glass-enclosed Sky Pool, the perfect place to hang out when you’ve had too much sun.
By Friday, the music in the central square has migrated to Wild Olives for the restaurant’s weekly wine tasting, and on Saturday and Sunday once a month the central walkway in the square is full of vendors offering jewelry, organic honey, soaps and beach-inspired home goods.
If all this relaxing stresses you out, there are no less than three studios offering massages, although it’s hard to beat the serene atmosphere at Solace Day Spa, where the cool Moroccan vibe offers an “Inception”-like vacation from your vacation.
For those who prefer to stay in, CK Feed and Supply store stocks organic ice cream and other gourmet staples, a large selection of wine and pre-made casseroles and dips from neighboring Cowgirl Kitchen. For best results, pair a bottle of riesling with a pint of Southern Craft Creamery’s Tupelo Honey ice cream and a DVD from Rosemary’s free Redbox-style rental system. It’s so good you might even forget there’s a beach nearby.
Luckily, there’s probably a sign to point the way.
If you go:
Southwest offers daily nonstop flights from Houston Hobby to Panama City Beach airport, about 20 minutes from Rosemary Beach, with round-trip fares starting at less than $200. For those that prefer to travel by car, it’s about a 9-hour drive.
WHERE TO STAY
Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Company has the most houses, carriage houses and flats available for rental, with a minimum stay of seven nights during spring break and summer. Weekly rates start at $1,330 in the summer; the rest of the year, daily rates start at $172. The rental company also runs the Pensione Inn on the southern end of the town center, which offers nightly rates year-round from $145; rosemarybeach.com.
The only other hotel in Rosemary Beach is the Pearl, a luxury hotel opened in 2013 that looks straight out of the Italian Riviera, with black and white awnings and a rooftop restaurant and bar with ocean views. Rates start at $299 per night; thepearlrb.com.
WHERE TO EAT
Summer Kitchen Cafe: Counter-service joint with wraps and burgers by day and composed Southern classics on a lit courtyard at night; 60 N. Barrett Square.
Cowgirl Kitchen: Casual, family-friendly restaurant and bar that offers fresh-made local and Tex-Mex favorites and a great Bloody Mary; 54 Main.
Restaurant Paradis: Refined atmosphere offering steak and Gulf seafood; 82 S. Barrett Square
Rose Bros.: Vintage-inspired soda shop featuring artisanal sodas and coffee as well as free-range beef burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes; 78 Main.
Edward’s Fine Food & Wine: Chef/owner Edward Reese applies European techniques to fresh, local ingredients in this intimate cafe with a chef’s counter; 66 Main.