Rosemary Beach, Fla.-- To a big part of the country, the beach is probably looking pretty good right now. If you've had it with the snow and have taken a vow to get away to a sun-warmed beach and luxurious digs at the first sign of a thaw, you cannot do better than an idyllic little place on Florida's northwest gulf coast called Rosemary Beach.
To illustrate how incredible the place is, I had the worst toothache of my life while visiting there and I still had a fabulous time. Fortunately, I had two glorious pain-free days before my molar decided to go rogue on me. By then, I had fallen completely in love with Rosemary, and not even excruciating agony with every step was that much of a drawback.
The stars of the show are undoubtedly the lovely residences that line the serene streets and walkways, many of which are available for vacation rentals. Rosemary Beach architects and planners Duany-Plater-Zyberk & Co. (the same people who designed the Seaside development of The Truman Show fame) seemed to have left no stone unturned in creating a practically perfect balance of public spaces and private homes on its 107-acre spread.
The word "perfect," in fact, comes up often in a visit to the area.
Indeed, my fellow travelers and I joked regularly about how Rosemary Beach is like a movie set, with its sugary white beaches, brilliant blue skies, and meticulously kept carriage houses, condos, and multi-bedroom residences just steps from the sea -- thanks in part to its codes and standards that ensure preservation of architectural integrity (translation: no messy balconies and patios here, and no lawns allowed) and dedication to safety of its residents.
On the boardwalk
The boardwalks are the veins that connect the residences, shops, and public spaces -- many of which ultimately lead to the ocean. You'll see people walking their dogs, children racing to the beach, cyclists pedaling around town, and early risers ambling down to the waves with their first cup of morning coffee. "Just another day in paradise," says one, smiling, as he sips from a steaming mug.
Paradise, indeed. No place is perfect, but Rosemary Beach comes pretty close. Strict adherence to building codes and community standards see to that, but not to a stifling extent. In fact, the code book is described as "more suggestive than restrictive," and primarily supports the Rosemary Beach design philosophy centered around high-quality, traditional neighborhood standards, and always with an eye toward preserving the natural environment as much as possible.
Bocce ball for all
One of the quirkier aspects of Rosemary Beach is its seeming obsession with bocce ball, an Italian lawn bowling-style game. Impromptu games and formal tournaments are met with the same enthusiasm.
When not playing bocce, Rosemary residents have an array of year-round and seasonal activities to choose from -- block parties, moonlit movies on the Western Green (a community gathering place), sidewalk sales, tennis tournaments, fitness center, spa, swimming pools, walking trail, marathons, and always cycling -- the most popular form of transportation. Bamboo Beach & Bicycle has a variety of bikes to choose from.
All this relaxing works up an appetite. Wild Olives is a combination market/deli/bakery with gourmet goodies for take-out, picnic lunches, or to stock your rental. Imported meats and cheeses, pastries, breads, and -- of course -- olives line the shelves. Sandwiches, salads and pizzas are served for lunch, and a tapas menu is available in late afternoon.
After paradise, Eden
As hard as it is to leave Rosemary, you can't miss a side trip to the nearby lush and beautiful Eden Gardens State Park with its historic Wesley House, an 1897 Greek Revival home bordering Tucker Bayou and showcasing the second largest collection of Louis XVI furniture in the United States. The gardens of camellias, azaleas, stately live oaks and magnolias leave no doubt as to why it's one of the most popular wedding locations in the area.
Dinner at Cafe Thirty-A along Scenic 30-A is a real treat. Winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, the Florida Trend Golden Spoon Award, and the North American Restaurant Association Five-Star Award of Excellence, it's an unforgettable fine dining experience. Don't even think of skipping dessert.
For more information, www.rosemarybeach.com, 888-855-1551