Last year a work trip brought me to the beaches of the Florida panhandle for the very first time, and there and then I decided I had to come back someday with my family.
There is an easy low key vibe that’s perfect for relaxing with a beer at a beach bar and listening to country music, and the water was a brilliant aqua color that I had only seen before in the Caribbean. While browsing on Instagram one evening I saw a photo of a building lined street that looked like it was from a little town on the coast of Spain, but when I read location tag it said Rosemary Beach, and we decided that would be our next Griswold style family vacation.
Rosemary Beach is a neo-traditional community constructed as a planned resort development in 1995 by the Rosemary Beach Land Company. This 107 acre community is situated on the Gulf of Mexico between Panama City and Destin along a stretch of road known as Scenic Route 30A. It’s about a 30-minute drive from the closest airport in Destin, but we made the trip by car from Orlando in just under six hours.
The community is anchored by Main Street, donning shops, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops that are located in these beautiful 3-5 story buildings with elaborate balconies flanking the street facing facades. From an architectural standpoint, think Charleston meets St. Augustine meets a small village in Spain… To the north of Mainstreet are shops and restaurants around North Barret Square, and to the south of Mainstreet you will find beach cruiser bikes scattered over a large green that leads to the boardwalk path leading to the Gulf.
The clean lines of these greens are so appealing, and a really fun place to blow bubbles or throw the football with friends. And while many homes in the community have pools there are four community pools in each quadrant of Rosemary Beach, so there will be one close by at all times. I’ve included a link to community map here for your reference.
On the eastern corning of where Main Street meets the green you will find The Pearl hotel, with its distinctive black and white awnings. This hotel has prime location, trendy rooftop bar, and that comes with a price tag of summer prices near $500 a night, but you will be in the middle of it all. We didn’t stay there, but enjoyed a dinner at the hotel restaurant name Havanas, though also comparatively expensive.
The main draw in Rosemary Beach is, you guessed it, the beach! The beaches are wide enough to be fun but manageable to navigate and the sand is to die for. I don’t usually swoon over sand, but it was powdery soft and almost kind of sweaked when you walked. It was really nice for the kids to play in, and never seemed to get too hot. My husband got a new beach game called Poleski that we played for hours- the basic premise is that you try to knock off a plastic bottle off your opponents pole with a frisbee. I’ve included a link to the game here too.
The water was pretty amazing, crystal clear and depending on the day, a brilliant blue or green. There were thousands of live sand dollars scattered across the sea floor, and tons of fish, crabs, and even a few tiny sharks. (They didn’t hurt anyone, but they were there and they swam right by.) The waves were big enough to be fun on most days, but still pretty manageable for little ones to play in.
I rented a paddle board for the week, and I also liked using to bet to try to catch little fish with my niece and nephew. My husband and brother in law would snorkel most days, and would fish in the early morning.
Aside from the beach, the main draw of Rosemary Beach for me was just wandering the narrow streets enjoying the architecture and discovering live music along the way.
Most folks that vacation in Rosemary Beach rent houses. You can go directly to the community’s website for information on rentals, or find one of many rental companies on-line. We had a total of 13 people in our party, so we rented a 3 story beachside house and the adjacent carriage house along the path that lead to the beach. Many homes have a main house and a garage with carriage house that can either be rented together or separately. I’ve included some photos of our house below:
If you are traveling as a couple or small family, renting a smaller carriage house can be a great option to have the benefits of a living area and kitchen of a house without the hefty price tag of a big house. Book several months in advance if you can, as availability in peak vacation periods is limited. That being said, if you have a flexible schedule you can be put on a list for cancellations and get a really great deal on a house at a fraction of the cost when renters back out at the last minute. The community pools, fitness center and entrance gates to the private beaches all require gate codes, so make sure you obtain those from your rental company. Many of the houses have electronic key codes that will be emailed to you prior to your check-in date, so you can just arrive at the house and go instead of going to a rental office and standing in line with 50 other people checking in at the same time. Bikes, paddle boards, kayaks and grocery services are available through a concierge service, but ask what is included in your house before buying anything else a la cart. Bikes, beach chairs, boogie boards and beach carts may be included as part of the cost of your rental.
Aside from driving to the local Publix or a run to the Doughnut Hole for a dozen doughnuts, you don’t need a car to get around Rosemary Beach proper, as most people walk or ride their beach cruisers everywhere. Parking is always pretty tight, so make sure to ask ahead how many private parking spaces you will have allocated to you, as driveways are small and streets are narrow.
Some of the restaurants can be a little bit pricey, so we bought groceries and cooked dinners at home most nights. A few evenings we would stroll downtown to get ice cream for desert at The Sugar Shack or the equally cute and slightly cheaper Sweet Peddler, located in Seacrest Beach just a short walk down the road.
Outside Rosemary Beach, the long stretch of Route 30A is filled with one adorable beach town after another, including Seacrest Beach and Seaside Beach, which is where the movie The Truman Show was filmed. Another newer community is Alys Beach, with streets donning clean white buildings and a more tropical vibe.
I’m a little photography obsessed, so I was going a little camera happy the entire trip. I could take a thousand photos of that water and still feel the urge to keep on clicking – it’s just so beautiful. Then, well, the architecture! Whether for your own photo album or on a Instagram, don’t miss these photo worthy locations on your trip!
1. The Eastern Green.
2. The Western Green.
3. The Pearl Hotel.
4. A Stormy Beach Day.
5. A Sunny Beach Day.
6. The Coquina Pool Entrance.
7. One of a Hundreds of Pretty Staircases.
8. A Killer Sunset (or two).
9. Rosemary Beach Post Office.
10. A Photo of the Whole Family together.