Established in 1995, Rosemary Beach is named after the wild rosemary bushes that still grow naturally in the dunes and in town. Following in the footsteps of nearby Seaside, the town is an example of the New Urbanism movement, designed to meet strident pedestrian-friendly, eco-conscious and mixed-use live/work/play standards. With elements of Dutch-Colonial, Pan-Caribbean and Tuscan styles incorporated into its architecture and design, the streets are narrow and the town is bisected by many sandy footpaths and boardwalks that cross over the protected dune area to the beach. Tourism in the region dropped significantly in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill last spring, but the beaches of Rosemary saw no ill-effects.
Rosemary Beach lights up for the holidays, beginning with a tree lighting ceremony on the town square the day after Thanksgiving. The tree this year will be a 40-foot tall Norwegian blue spruce. All the permanent trees lining the square will also be lit, making for a spectacle of lights to last throughout the holidays. Breakfast with Santa, the Holiday Market and a bocce ball tournament take place November 27th. Join the Christmas Eve church service on Western Green, a large expanse of lawn next to the dunes. On New Year's Eve live music and a free midnight champagne toast at Courtyard Wine & Cheese on Main Street will help ring in the new year.
With an average winter temperature of 56, biking and beachcombing are still an option as long as you have an extra layer or two of clothing. The Gulf is a bit chilly for swimming but heated pools are available for guests. One -- the Sky Pool -- is fully enclosed by a retractable roof and even has radiant heating on its deck allowing for comfortable poolside lounging in winter. The Racquet Club is open year-round for tennis enthusiasts, with a full-service pro shop and lights for night playing. Near Rosemary Beach, the coastal dune lakes are a good place for beginners to experience the new water sports trend of stand-up paddle boarding, even in cold weather. It's like canoeing, but on a big surf board with a long paddle. Yolo Board, a company based in the area, offers lessons, eco-tours and rentals and has helped popularize the sport to the point that locals along 30-A now refer to it as "yoloing."
Main Street and the town square are lined with boutique shops and galleries. Pick up a souvenir and some apparel at the Rosemary Beach Trading Company, beach supplies at Bombora Sun & Surf and ladies shoes, handbags and accessories at Moonpize. Check out the experimental art at World Six Gallery and the furnishings and interior design motifs at Tracery Interiors. Stop in at Wild Olives market for a quick bite and/or to get deli-prepared food and bottled beverages to take back to the cottage.
If you go: Rosemary Beach is 300 miles and a six-hour drive from Atlanta via I-85, U.S. 331 and U.S. 98. It is located at the eastern end of Scenic Highway 30-A (C.R. 30-A) where it meets U.S. 98.
Stay: The Pensione. This B&B modeled after European family-run inns is one of the more affordable lodging options, not only in Rosemary Beach, but anywhere along 30-A. Rates start at $150 in the winter. 78 Main St., Rosemary Beach. 866-348-8952,www.rosemarybeach.com/pensione-rosemary-beach.aspx
Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental Company. A wide range of accommodations are available, from studio carriage houses to six bedroom homes. Daily and weekly rates in winter range from $172 a night for studios to upwards of $8,000 a week for the largest of homes. 78 North Barrett Square, Rosemary Beach. 1-888-855-1551, www.rosemarybeach.com
Eat: Cowgirl Kitchen. Southwestern-style breakfast, lunch and dinner served in a fast-casual eatery near the beach. Specialties $5-$12. 54 Main St., Rosemary Beach. 850-303-0708, www.cowgirlkitchen.com
Restaurant Paradis. Fine dining with a changing seasonal menu including steaks and plenty of fresh seafood. Dinner entrees average between $25-$35. The lounge in front of the restaurant is a favorite with locals. 82 South Barrett Square, Rosemary Beach. 850-534-0400, www.restaurantparadis.com
Tourist info: Rosemary Beach. 1-888-855-1551, www.rosemarybeach.com
Beaches of South Walton Visitors Center. 25777 U.S. 331 South (at the corner of U.S. 331 and U.S. 98). 1-800-822-6877,www.beachesofsouthwalton.com