Rosemary Beach Rising - Florida Utopia - My Family Travels

An idealized resort development take the Florida beach vacation in a new direction; your family guide to local resources.

It takes some imagination to envision what Rosemary Beach, Florida will look like when it’s built out by about 2012. But not much. Look just beyond the ever-present construction of new homes and you’ll see a sensible balance between new urbanism and luxury resort — and a perfectly sane place for a family beach vacation. And it’s close enough for a short break, yet relaxing enough to make you feel far away indeed.

Brainchild of the designer and architect of Seaside, that oft-photographed oceanfront community just down the road on the Florida Panhandle, Rosemary Beach leans heavily on the natural and the indigenous. Well — as natural as possible for million-dollar homes overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

The community’s planners insist on using colors from the landscape, instead of from sea and sky as at Seaside, and they allow no faux materials. (That roof that looks like aluminum? It’s aluminum.)

Nouveau Orleans Style With Luxe Interpretation

Reminiscent of the charming sections of New Orleans’ French Quarter (without the sounds and smells), the result is a subdued urban neighborhood feel, suffused with the taste of salt in the air. The patchwork of narrow streets and boardwalks slows traffic to a crawl and connects 250 homes in a collage of architectural styles. One hundred more homes are on the way. By shunning the typical grid pattern, many of the homes near the water deliver clear views of the Gulf, while others focus on eye-catching architectural vistas. The homes, half of which are for rent, range from one-room carriage houses over two-car garages to luxurious four-bedroom beach palaces with granite countertops, Viking appliances and sweeping water views. (Frankly, I preferred the palaces. The kids will, too.)

The 100+ acres of Rosemary Beach are oriented towards the small “downtown” with shops, Town Hall and Scandinavian-style post office, as well as two village greens: square patches of perfect lawn that touch the rambling dunes and play host to catered events. On the Saturday evening of my stay, the Western Green hosted an elaborate wedding and reception, including fireworks on the beach. It was quite striking and romantic – but if 100 people dancing to live music outside your vacation home is not in your plans, you may want to ask the reservations folks to check the schedule of events when booking.

Pool & Beach Activities

My family’s beach vacations always seem more enjoyable when we have access to a pool, and Rosemary Beach has some doozies. My favorite was the perpetually peaceful Coquina pool, named after the porous, fossil-derived rock used for the pool decking. Despite squeals of laughter from children, the edgeless pool had the intended calming effect – it was tough to get exercised about anything. A new indoor-outdoor pool features heated floor pipes for colder weather and large sliding panels to let in cooling summer breezes. Best for children (and their parents) is the Cabana Pool, where older kids can play water basketball and volleyball while the younger set uses the playground and shallow kiddy pool.

Oh yes, there is a beach. Rosemary Beach is built 30 feet above sea level behind the dunes, so it’s at lower risk from hurricanes (Opal reached only half way up the dunes).

None of the homesĀ are more than a few city blocks from the beach, reached by boardwalks that eventually will be covered with canopies of sand oak trees. Nine wooden walkovers plop you directly onto the wide, tidy beach of sugary sand under the Gulf Coast sun. The surf is usually mild and the pitch is slow, so it’s ideal for kids. You’ll find the usual rental amenities on the beach and convenient, clean restrooms near the Village Greens.

Recreation & Dining Opportunities

If you insist on getting some exercise at the beach, the Racquet Club sports eight clay courts (six under lights) with clinics and round-robins for adults and kids from 4-years. Clinics are priced from $16/hour for a junior clinic, to $55/hour for a private hour long lesson with the tennis director racquet club. The cost for just renting the courts is $12 per hour for non-members, although many family packages include the cost of the court fees. You can rent bikes and boogie boards at the Bamboo Beach & Bicycle Company, or sea kayaks and Hobie Cat sailboats from Sea Oats Beach Service on the shore. The 2.3-mile fitness trail winds past the homes, a new butterfly park and many of the 24 green spaces in Rosemary Beach.

If you want to use your Viking range or stock the wine fridge, the local Food Lion (supermarket) is a 10-minute drive. But this is vacation. There are two creative restaurants in Rosemary Beach to pull you away from your dream kitchen. Sapristi! (850-534-1069) overlooks the Western Green and serves a fresh, American/Mediterranean menu. Meze (850-231-6752) leans toward the more adventurous Mediterranean foods – babaganoush, moussaka, Moroccan spiced tuna–and offers a carry out menu. Both are friendly for non-picky older kids, especially if you get a table on the sidewalk. A few charming shops offer ice cream, coffee, baked goods and casual foods (the Summer Kitchen (850-231-6264) is good for kids and does carry-out).

One of the true pleasures of Rosemary Beach lies in tripping across unexpected architectural details gracing private homes and public spaces, or the peaceful spots bursting with native flowers and shrubs. The design encourages meandering and a slow pace, compared to the honky-tonk and high rises typical of many beach locations in Florida and beyond.

While constant building and unfinished homes will be part of Rosemary Beach for years to come, families today can easily step around the cement mixers and feel part of a sophisticated, urbane resort on an unparalleled North American beach. For information about cottage rentals, call 888/855-1551 or visit

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