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2019 May

Dreamy Rosemary Beach

This beach community on Florida’s Panhandle makes you feel right at home.

When I walked over the high dunes, the sparkling Gulf of Mexico undulated before me like a painting. The sun, suspended in the milky sky, shone from the south, its soft rays warming my bones. From the wooden deck where I stood above the white sand of Rosemary Beach, I felt like a queen admiring her domain—because the sea is one part of our planet that everyone can own.

Whether you sit on the beach in a comfy chair with a cold beverage, a magazine, and a picnic lunch beside you or cruise along coastal waters in a kayak or sailboat with the sea breeze ruffling your hair, for that moment in that space and time you own the surroundings. They’re yours. It’s an empowering feeling and perhaps what gives those who live and play by the water such a unique sense of freedom.

Rosemary Beach, Florida, offers visitors and residents the chance to reconnect with the simple pleasures of life in an extraordinary setting. A traditional neighborhood development, Rosemary Beach began as the vision of Patrick Bienvenue. In 1995 he purchased the first parcel of what would become 107 acres of land bordering the Gulf of Mexico from a man on a tractor who was planning to build a trailer park. It was a serendipitous moment.

For instead of a trailer park, this neo-urban development—featuring cottages, town homes, and lofts—captures the ambience of yesterday’s cozy neighborhoods, where everything is just a short walk or bike ride away. From its cozy Main Street with shops, restaurants, and the ubiquitous Starbucks to its unique architectural elegance, you’ll find yourself transported to a place that you’ve seen only in your dreams.

During my visit, I couldn’t help picturing myself living in one of the amazing cottages next to a tidy square with a sweeping view of the blue Gulf of Mexico through my window. In my fantasy, I bicycled to my nearby office, greeting friends and neighbors en route as I picked up my mail at the post office and stopped for a morning cup of coffee.

During my lunch break, I took a midday run down 30A, had a quick shower, and then perhaps splurged on a massage at the local day spa. After putting in a couple more hours at work, I met Peter, my husband, at La Crema Tapas & Chocolate, where we enjoyed a dry rosé and a few yummy tapas. Dinner was a stroll away at Restaurant Paradis, where we indulged in Gulf Snapper.

Hmmm, this is a fantasy I could live with. Then I checked the prices of the homes for sale at Rosemary Beach and abruptly awakened from my dream. OK, so maybe I can’t afford to live in this upscale beach community, but I can save up for an occasional visit. From rental cottages that sleep up to 14 to carriage homes perfect for a romantic getaway, accommodation options run the gamut.

While rates can get rather pricey in summer, off-season rental charges are more affordable. And the weather on Florida’s Panhandle is gorgeous practically year round. In fact, I can’t think of a better place to plan a getaway for a group of friends, a family reunion, or a wedding.

Take a Hike at Deer Lake State Park

Then Plunge Into Rosemary Beach’s Pools

TFMay Rosemary2web

What’s there to do in this idyllic spot? Plenty! Of course, the beach will call you with its siren song and sand so silky, you can spend hours just letting it sift through your fingers. At night the concessionaire can arrange a beach bonfire with a semi-circle of comfy wooden beach chairs and all the makings for s’mores. You might even see a shooting star streak across the night sky if you happen to look up at just the right moment. I did!

Rosemary Beach has four pools, each decorated in its own unique style. The Coquina Pool, for example, has a negative edge, ideal for lounging and relaxing. Tennis and croquet, playgrounds and outdoor concerts are other activities you can enjoy. Shopping is a favorite pastime, as well, and Main Street boasts a surprising variety of boutiques.

One of my favorites was Pish Posh Patchouli, a charming store with skin and body products, including several varieties of handmade soaps. There’s also a scent bar, where you can create your own signature perfume. You could easily while away an afternoon with a few girlfriends experimenting with your special blend of heady aromas.

Other shops include Gigi’s Kids Clothing & Toys; Tracery with classic and playful interior décor and furnishings; and the Rosemary Beach Trading Company, where you can buy sweatshirts, souvenirs, beach totes, and more.

After a shopping expedition, stop for a bite to eat in The Summer Kitchen, where I had an awesome grouper sandwich at a cute outdoor table under an umbrella. Another lively spot for lunch is Wild Olives, where you can also dine al fresco. One afternoon I tried the seared ahi tuna tacos and they were amazing.

If you have a hankering to see the area—or maybe just need a little exercise, I recommend a kayak outing. Accompanied by a local naturalist, I toured nearby Western Lake, a rare coastal dune lake, and hiked through picturesque unspoiled habitats, learning about the local flora and fauna.

Another recommended outing is Deer Lake State Park, where you can swim, fish, picnic or just chill on the beach. We biked to the park from Rosemary Beach and then hiked along a boardwalk across the dunes to the shore. En route we paused and took in the tranquil beauty of the dune ecosystem, where splashes of color and texture dotted the landscape.

Gorgeous Architecture + Unique Paint Colors

Explore the Community By Bike

TFMay Rosemary3web

My favorite thing to do is to get lost in Rosemary Beach on a bike. It’s simply a stunning neighborhood. As you weave along wooden boardwalks and pathways, you’ll admire the gorgeous architecture—a unique blend with roots in the West Indies, St. Augustine, New Orleans, and Charleston, S.C.—that makes Rosemary Beach so special.

Strict building codes ensure the community maintains its original character. These specify the types of building materials (wood siding, cedar shingle, or stucco with metal or shingle shake roofing), as well as the architectural plans allowed. Even the paint colors must be approved. The palette is extensive, however, and includes a host of pleasing colors with striking names, such as chocolate, dune gray, Spanish moss, sage green, moss olive, pecan, fall straw, Atlantic spray, summer glow, and terra cotta.

Yet even with all the regulations, Rosemary Beach cottages are all unique. You won’t find cookie-cutter houses in this community. And while the homes are clustered close together, each feels private. Some even have private courtyards and splash pools. It appears great care was taken in planning this community to ensure its sense of spaciousness.

All along the pathways the rosemary bushes add serenity to the landscape. I couldn’t help picking a few sprigs to place in my carriage house to add an earthy aroma to my surroundings. My unit was decorated in classic beach décor, understated yet elegant. Amenities included a fully-equipped galley kitchen, one and a half baths, a cozy sitting space, and a gorgeous balcony overlooking a courtyard below. It was cute and comfortable.

While I was visiting, a wedding took place on one of the community’s squares. While I didn’t glimpse the bride and groom, I enjoyed seeing the well-dressed young people parading around in the dreamy time as day turned to night.

When I left Rosemary Beach the next morning, I was sad to say goodbye to this perfect little town, a place that I thought existed only in my dreams. Now I know I can go back there whenever I want and feel as if I’m coming home again.

For more information:

• Rosemary Beach Rentals - Call 866-348-8952 or visit www.rosemarybeach.com.

• Rosemary Beach Realty - Call 850-278-2000 or visit www.rosemarybeachrealty.com.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and co-publisher of Tidewater Family and Tidewater Women magazines. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com

Hampton Arts: Enter to Win Tickets to 'Twas the Night Before Christmas at the American Theatre

We’re excited to give away tickets to the Virginia Repertory Theatre’s production of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas at The American Theatre in Hampton on November...

Free to Enter!