Rosemary Beach

A sustainably designed place in the sun

By Sarah Kinbar


After arriving in Rosemary Beach, Florida, get out of the car and put the keys away. There will be no need to drive again until it’s time to go home. Named for the herb that thrives here, the 107-acre town is designed to be traversed on foot or on bike—one of the ways it keeps its footprint small. Rental cottages are often outfitted with bicycles, there are walking paths everywhere, and the permeably paved streets are bike-friendly, since there’s hardly a need for cars. A 5-minute walk leads to swimming, paddleboarding, eating lunch, or walking on the beach, and all thoughts of frustrating commutes fade from memory.

Established in 1995 as a vacation destination, Rosemary Beach was meant to exemplify a modern version of small-town living, where things like convenient access to shopping and dining and free play in parks are the norm. What makes it modern can be found in the details: attention to siting allows for views of the Gulf of Mexico from all around town; strict but fair rules require homeowners to manage their own rainwater runoff; enforced use of native landscaping supports the natural environment.

Wax myrtle, beautyberry, redbud, scarlet sage, and trumpet creeper are among the chosen few on the plant list. Colorful perennials in play with oaks, cypress, hickories, and pines provide plenty of interest for garden lovers.

The township is situated on what locals consider the prettiest part of the Gulf coast, where the sand is mostly quartz and the water is perfectly clear because there aren’t any nearby rivers delivering sediment to the region. The dunes, which are formed when the roots and stems of sea oats and other coastal plants trap windblown sand, are carefully preserved. As a result, they are up to 25 feet tall, the highest dune elevations along the coast.

Rosemary Beach orients itself not only to the beach but also to its own town center, a smart decision by the original planners, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company of Miami. This move has cultivated a neighborhood sensibility rare among planned urban developments. Landscape designer Stephen Poulakos supervised the planting of sand live oaks to line the town center’s Barrett Square and intersecting Route 30A. The Rosemary Beach development team along with Boston landscape architect Keith LeBlanc, designer of Barrett Square and Route 30A, envisioned shaded tunnels along this thoroughfare, a dream that is already realized, thanks to North Florida’s congenial climate. Poulakos moved on to become the director of town development in another planned community, but he returned to Rosemary Beach after 8 years to see how his installations had come along.