“New Urban” Rosemary Beach, Florida

Little beach towns make wonderful vacation spots, with their ice cream shops, fresh seafood restaurants, charming cottages, and warmed-by-the-sun boardwalks leading to blue water and sugary beaches.

Rosemary Beach, which lies between Panama City and Destin, on Florida’s northwest coast, is exactly that kind of town, with a refreshing twist. This “new urban” community, which opened in 1995, was designed to encourage visitors to park and enjoy walking or biking—that is, when they’re not swimming, playing tennis, or just taking in the sun and scenery. Everything in town is roughly five minutes away.

Inspired by homes in the West Indies, New Orleans, Charleston, and St. Augustine, the architecture in Rosemary Beach is a blend described as classic Pan-Caribbean. The town’s “streets,” used more by pedestrians than drivers, lead to public squares, green parks, a fitness center, swimming pools, and more, while all the boardwalks lead to the beach.

Named for the wild rosemary bushes that grow here, the town is landscaped with undisturbed native plants and flora, and roadways conform to the natural topography.

When you’re ready to visit, Rosemary Beach offers more than 200 rentals, including cozy studios, carriage houses, lofts, flats, and luxurious cottages. Each home is decorated by its owners, so each has its own personality. Cottages feature fully furnished kitchens, high ceilings to catch cool breezes, wrap-around porches or balconies, TVs, and DVD and stereo players. Some offer private pools or Jacuzzis. Want a hip place to stay? Try the affordable Pensione Inn. To book lodgings, visit Rosemary Beach online or call 1-866-348-8952.

Rosemary Beach is also a great place to try paddle boarding, also known as SUP, a fast-growing watersport that’s a hybrid of surfing, canoeing, and kayaking. Check out YOLO Board when you’re in town, a local company that will teach you how to stand up and paddle on their oversized boards.

Forget your hat? The Rosemary Beach Trading Company carries apparel, books, and fun and funky gifts. It’s hard to resist a mermaid keychain, colorful tote bag, or Rosemary Beach license plate.

For lunch, drop in at The Summer Kitchen Cafe, where the freshly caught cobia is delicious. Also known as black kingfish, cobia are uncommon and seasonal, but if they’re not available, feast instead on the Kobe burgers, roll-ups, or fresh grilled fish of the day.

If you’d rather picnic, stock your basket at The Cowgirl Kitchen with sandwiches, soups, and chips, or relax at an outdoor table with wine, beer, or margueritas, and homemade guacamole and pulled-pork nachos.

Hit the beach again, but before dinner, drop in at Pish-Posh Patchouli’s for a nose-pleasing selection of scented soaps, bath salts, candles, and lotions. Mix your own fragrance at the shop’s antique apothecary bar, and pick up a rosemary-scented souvenir.

When you’re hungry, Onano Neighborhood CafĂ© serves up homemade lasagna and other northern Italian dishes, with fine dining offered inside or out. Or try the pan seared Gulf snapper, black skillet filet mignon, or lobster at Restaurant Paradis. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chocolate fondue, served with pound cake, bananas, strawberries, marshmallows, and pineapple chunks, at La Crema Tapas and Chocolate. It’s just one of the yummy dessert offerings that will have you planning to return soon Rosemary Beach.

Photos courtesy of Rosemary Beach, Florida Cottage Rental Company.