Being that we just went to Rosemary Beach for the second year in a row, we are pretty much experts. Okay, okay. Maybe not quite yet, but a few folks have asked for recommendations, so I thought I would package them up in a cute little blog post. Ready? Here we go.
First off, I spent a LOT of time researching where to stay and I started my studies long in advance. We booked our rental about six months ahead of our trip so that we had our pick of best houses and best availability. Before our first trip last year, I actually thought we would go somewhere a little closer and a little cheaper, like the gulf in Alabama. But after comparing places online and hearing about Rosemary Beach from a few friends, we decided that a few extra dollars and a few extra hours on the road were probably worth it. We were right. While I can appreciate touristy areas (I love a good airbrushed t-shirt), we wanted a different kind of escape. One that truly felt luxurious and relaxing and that’s exactly what Rosemary Beach is. The tree-lined paths throughout town offer some escape from the Florida heat and the consistent architecture provides a beautiful view everywhere you look. Everything looks established – like it’s been there forever, but it still feels crisp and clean. It’s a small town, allowing you to walk or bike anywhere you want to go. And if you want a little more Florida-flare in your vacation, just wander down to Seacrest or a little farther to Seaside.
As far as vacation rentals, Rosemary is full of million dollar beach homes that come with matching carriage houses (a fancy name for an apartment over a garage). Being a small family of three, anything beyond a carriage house would have been pretty unnecessary and way over our budget. The first year we rented this cute little carriage house through VRBO. It was the best priced option for the most important things on my check list: walking distance to the beach and two beds. This year we wanted to spice it up and stay somewhere different, so we went with the Citrus Cottage carriage house. Both rentals had a private bedroom, a loft bedroom for Iris, full kitchen, and an easy five minute walk to the beach.
This year we had the unique situation of checking into our rental the day it changed owners. Even though we booked through VRBO, the new owners transitioned immediately to Rosemary Beach Cottage Rental for leasing their home. I was nervous about it all working out okay, but it ended up being pretty sweet. With the rental company we had the added perks of a mid-week cleaning service, Davines bath products (my favorite shampoo), and unlimited movie rentals. Oh and complimentary access to the tennis courts and the fitness center, but… we all know I didn’t use that.
As far as location, we’ve stayed on both the south and north sides of 30A (ocean side vs. park side). While being closer to the ocean is always the optimal choice, I really didn’t mind being a little bit farther away this year. Perhaps if you are waaay north it would be a bit more trouble to walk to the beach with all your gear, but that’s when you just rent a wagon. We were lucky in that our recent rental was just a few steps on the other side of 30A.
Since I cook nearly every night at home, the last thing that I wanted to do on vacation was make dinner. So besides picking up a few things from the local grocery, we ate out for nearly every meal. The biggest drawback to this, of course, was the expense. When you travel to the 30A area (Rosemary Beach in particular), be prepared to spend about twice what you normally do on a meal. Even kids’ meals are the price that we’re used to spending on an adult entree back home. The other drawback (and I hate to admit this) is that we didn’t really love most of the meals on our trip. We’re not foodies. We’re not fancy. We’re not even very picky. But for some reason, most of the food we’ve had in Rosemary was very average. Despite this one slight disappointment, I’ve listed below all of the places we’ve tried along with some of my suggestions:
Publix: The closest grocery store to Rosemary Beach and there’s a liquor store right next door where you can order a drink while you shop! I recommend the $5 margarita while your husband explores all the local craft beer options.
Cowgirl Kitchen: This was one of our better meals in Rosemary. It’s small and bustling, but they called our phone when a table opened up, allowing us to hang out on the Western Green during our wait. I recommend the crab cakes and Iris recommends the hot dog and bananas (hah). I also recommend going across the street to the CK Feed & Supply, where you can grab pre-cooked meals ready to be warmed up (try the Longhorn mac & cheese and sausage balls).
Summer Kitchen: While the atmosphere is cute and quaint, the lunch itself was sadly lacking. We each had an overpriced “roll-up” which was basically tortillas filled with either beans or chicken and cheese. We had better luck with their breakfast last year. Their little popsicle shop around back was pretty dang good though (I recommend the Key Lime Pie).
SK2 Café: Maybe it was the booze, but I didn’t realize at the time that this lunch spot is an off-shoot of Summer Kitchen. If you’re wanting a burger, then this is an alright stop. I had a pretty decent veggie/hummus wrap (way better than the previous wrap) and Iris chowed down on a corn dog. I recommend the watermelon mimosa if it’s in season. There was an overall bummer during this meal in that we had requested to sit outside, but the only table not in the blistering sun was a six-top. So we were the lonely small family sitting inside, overlooking our denied table (which never was filled).
La Crema: I snuck away and enjoyed some tapas and a white wine sangria by myself while the rest of the family napped. I recommend the mushroom caps with seared lobster and going on an off-time so that you can grab a table on the sidewalk. They also have a kids’ menu and chocolate soup, so no worries if you bring your kiddos who reject the idea of tapas purely on the name.
Shades Bar & Grill: This restaurant is just outside of Rosemary, but close enough to walk. While it feels a bit Florida-cheesy, the food and drinks were actually our favorites of the trip. Todd recommends their wide assortment of craft beer, I recommend the Beachcumber drink (cucumber basil mojito), and Iris recommends the popcorn shrimp with steamed veggies.
The Donut Hole: The absolute best breakfast spot we tried. Just across the street from Shades, this place has tons of fresh donuts along with every traditional breakfast food your heart might desire. It’s big and clean, so even though it’s hard to find a parking spot, the wait isn’t too bad.
Charlies Donuts: (Alys Beach) Speaking of breakfast, biking down to the donut truck in Alys Beach is a necessity. If only for an Instagram photo-op. They sell out daily, so be sure to get there early-ish, especially during peak season. No cash needed, as they take cards. Dress your kiddos in a swimsuit so that afterwards, they can play in the Alys Beach splash pad to wash the donut-stick away.
Fonville Press: (Alys Beach) Great coffee and pastries. The building itself is quite gorgeous as well. I recommend the soy latte and butter croissant.
La Cocina: (Seacrest) Being the only Mexican option in the area, we’ve tried this one each year. While it hits the spot, the bill at the end really hit our wallet. For some reason we can’t leave this place without spending $100 bucks on tacos, enchiladas, and a couple drinks. We’ll probably make tacos and margs at home next year.
Acme Ice House: (Seacrest) We tried this our first year and haven’t been back. While the food was decent, it was expensive for what you get. We were also confused as to why our waitress told us that all the food was served family style. We ordered pizza and a burger, which was served… like any other pizza and burger.
Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar: (Seaside) This was a nice spot to sit outside and watch the visitors of Seaside. Iris and I split the rosemary white pizza, appropriately enough.
A few weeks before our trip, I reserved a lounge set from Sea Oats Beach Service [EDIT: now Rosemary Beach chair service is arranged through RosemaryBeachFL.org. It’s an added expense, but one we think is very worth it. Each set comes with two chairs, a small table, and an umbrella (or cabana if you have napping babies), all of which is set up for you every day so your arms are free to bring extra coolers stocked full of beer. Speaking of beer, open containers are totally a-okay in Rosemary even on the beach – just no glass in the sand. You can even order drinks to go from the restaurants!
There are several walkovers which provide access to Rosemary Beach-goers only (you have to enter a secret code to get through the beach gates and all the pools). The first year we were way down on walk-over A, which was super quiet but kind of far from the bathroom. This year we opted for walk-over C, which was a straight shot from our rental house AND it had restrooms. This came in very handy with a three-year-old that is potty trained so well that she wouldn’t pee in the ocean even when we told her the dolphins wouldn’t mind. It also wasn’t near as busy as the walkovers a bit farther towards the center of town.
As far as food on the beach, we would always bring snacks, but this year I discovered a restaurant and bar called Crabby Steve’s. It’s just between Rosemary and Seacrest and is available by beach access only. We left our beach gear under our umbrella, took a stroll down the shoreline, ate lunch, and drank drinks with a gorgeous outside beach view. I recommend the blackberry pina-colada with toasted coconuts if it’s in season and the fresh catch of the day!
The pools are another perk of staying in Rosemary. There are four in all, but to be honest we’ve only gone to one because it was perfect for a toddler. Not only is the Coquina Pool grand and gorgeous, but about a third of the pool is comprised of long, gradual steps which are perfect for toddler play. We had fantastic weather during our stay, but it was nice to know that the Sky Pool was an option that has a retractable roof.
Overall, the best fun was found at the beach or swimming pool. You really don’t need much more than that, but alas here are a few things that I recommend:
You have to let your kids’ experience The Sugar Shack at least once on the trip. It’s packed to the brim of every candy you can imagine and is good for an ice cream pit-stop.
We reserved a couple of bikes, along with a baby seat from Bamboo Bicycle Company. I recommend reserving any sort of kid seats in advance, because last year we got the very last one. Unfortunately their website isn’t set up to reserve the baby seat online, so I had to call and make the reservation over the phone. Even though we didn’t use them all that often, it was great to have the bikes to ride down to Alys Beach or Seacrest.
We ended up driving one day over to Seaside. This town might look familiar since The Truman Show was filmed there. Modica Market is one of our favorite stops. It’s jam-packed from floor to ceiling with everything you might need. Groceries, grab-n-go food, local beer on tap, and 32 oz. mimosas to go! Other things that we tried while in Seaside: Duckies Fun Shop (super cute shop for the kids) and Heavenly’s Shortcakes & Ice Cream (for sweet treats). With a cute little row of permanent food trucks lining the street, Seaside has a lot of cheaper food options.
On your way back from Seaside, I hear you’re supposed to swing by Goat Feathers in Seagrove. We forgot to make the stop, but apparently the “steamed and seasoned” shrimp by the pound is amazing.
Another day trip that we always consider, but haven’t ever gotten around to is Panama City. There’s a zoo, water park, and marine park.
Todd and I are already plotting our return back to Rosemary with some pals. Even though it’s an over 13-hour trip in the car with us to get there, it’s worth every “are we there yet.” I can’t wait to go back, so if you have any tips or recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments below.