The Pearl on Rosemary Beach (September 2013)
The summer travel season may be over, but before you pack up your swimsuit and pull out your winter clothes, you might consider squeezing in a long weekend at The Pearl on Rosemary Beach. With temperatures still in the 70s and the absence of summer crowds, there is no reason to hold over your vacation days until next year. Our recent experience at this boutique property revealed it to be in a league of its own on the Gulf Coast.
Rosemary Beach is one of several master-planned walkable communities dotting coastal Scenic Highway 30A in the panhandle of Florida, and it has long been one of our favorite places to escape. In the past we rented one of the quaint cottage homes along the neighborhood’s cobblestone streets, and we frequently passed an empty four-story building with great potential near the main beach access. This time, as we caught our first glimpse of The Pearl’s timeless black and white awnings and private balconies, we were awed by the transformation in front of us. The abandoned shell from years past now pulses with life as a luxurious 55-room hotel, and a glance through the doors reveals a remarkably artful establishment.
Guests are greeted warmly and offered a glass of champagne or water upon check-in. Overhead, a beautiful Chihuly-inspired blown glass sculpture sets the tone for this posh hotel-meets-fine art collaboration. Not since visiting 21c Museum Hotel many years ago in Louisville, have I seen an establishment blend accommodations and original art in such a seamless way. Locally-sourced creations including distinctive pieces, inspiring photographs, and projected video footage adorn the walls. Allison Wickey’s talents are on display in a private dining room mural, and Tommy Crow, whose work is woven into the overall interior design, has a studio mere steps from the hotel. (Be sure to pick up a copy of local Vie Magazine or use the in-room iPad to read along online, as Stephanie Morris-Crow has written a captivating September 2013 article describing their Cuban excursion, reflected in several pieces of art throughout the hotel.)
The art and exquisite furnishings set the stage for the staff, a vital component working to make The Pearl truly memorable. Personal introductions and genuine hospitality was evident not just at check-in, but throughout our stay. David, Brian, Ashley, and more… we left knowing people by name and looking forward to being in their company again. This familiarity was a noteworthy detail as such consistent kindness is not a routine occurrence while on the road.
We were shown to our guest room, with a view overlooking both the pool and the ocean in the distance. A helpful introduction to the room’s technology followed, as guests are treated to modern amenities such as Apple TV and an iPad to use during their stay. This is no ordinary iPad—it has been equipped with hotel-specific software for ordering room service, controlling functions within the guest room (air/lights), setting a wake-up call time, and even requesting one’s car from the valet when departing. We learned that plans are underway for the iPad to connect beach bound guests to the main restaurant later this spring, enabling lunch delivery to a guest’s oceanfront chair in the sand.
The room product expertly blends high-end and luxurious details with a relaxed and comfortable tone, ideal for beach getaways. Fine linens, plush robes, and a television seamlessly incorporated into the bathroom mirror all serve as reminders that you are staying in sophisticated surroundings. Even the luggage rack takes a departure from standard hotel fare, as it features bright green leather. A comfortable reading chair and ottoman provide a cozy spot to read when staying inside (larger suites are available with a full living room if you require more space), and a private balcony beckons if you would like to take in the view between chapters. Should work lure you from tranquility, a desk and comfortable chair are nearby with WIFI as a standard and complimentary amenity to all guests.
There are many characteristics to love about The Pearl, and the lack of additional fees for services was particularly refreshing in the upscale hotel market. After arrival, guests relax without concern that hidden resort fees will show up on the bill at check-out. This inclusiveness reveals The Pearl anticipated and incorporated guests’ needs as standard elements of a stay, creating a truly hospitable environment. In addition to the wireless Internet mentioned previously, guests enjoy Netflix on demand, environmentally-friendly glass bottles of Nordaq Fresh filtered water, an in-room Keurig coffee and tea system, turndown treats with a handwritten note, valet and overnight parking, and beach chairs under a large umbrella each day.
From our room we could see the new addition of Sol Luna Gulf View Lounge, recently opened to the public, which also serves guests lounging poolside. The lounge’s delayed opening relates to the master plan of launching hotel operations in stages. This method inevitably will help in the fine-tuning process that accompanies any new business venture. By late-October, the spa cabanas will be available for poolside pampering. Guests can look forward to services continuing to expand into 2014.
The word distinctive repeatedly comes to mind when putting various aspects of The Pearl into words. It is a place full of unique touches including the subtle light show embedded in the pool’s water after dusk. Exclusive details are just waiting to be discovered around every corner, such as two custom-designed light fixtures near the bar and the diving art near the public restrooms. (No surprise that across from the sinks in the women’s restroom, I discovered a make-up mirror for touch ups and overheard two friends sharing the phrase “Fancy Schmancy” in reaction to the interiors.)
Just off the main lobby is the hotel’s main restaurant, the Havana Beach Bar and Grill. Live music and Tommy Crow’s art invigorate a casual fine dining environment, featuring gourmet fare and craft cocktails. The chef’s sourcing includes an emphasis on supporting family-owned and small business farms within a 100-mile radius, such as Southern Craft Creamery, and the use of local honey. While sipping one of the signature handcrafted beverages at the bar, we had the great pleasure of chatting with the general manager, Michael Votta, and learned about the interesting history of the hotel. His menu recommendations were spot-on, and highlights included a bacon sampler platter (What’s not to love about multiple flavors of house-cured bacon?), a perfectly seared filet with homemade steak sauce, and a grown-up S’mores dessert so out of the ordinary that we indulged in it again after that first evening. The canister opens with wood-fire smoke rising and artisan vanilla marshmallows perched atop liquid milk chocolate, with four not-from-a-box graham crackers nestled nearby to assemble your messy mouthfuls of decadence. Such a nostalgic treat is meant for sharing and provided a happy end to the evening.
The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then spent a couple of hours between the serene pool and the beach. The pool area provided a splendid setting to recharge, with comfortable loungers (better for naps than the type of beach chairs found on South Walton shores) and a hot tub for calm soaks. On the beach, The Pearl has a private set-up complete with branded coolers housing water bottles, and thick towels for drying off after a dip in the blue-green water. For refreshment, our lunch favorites in the main Havana Beach restaurant included the fresh HB Greens salad, the HB Burger (with more of that tasty house-cured bacon), and fresh-cut fries with a side of garlic aioli. When the iPad-driven food delivery rolls out next year, enjoying these delicious offerings without your feet leaving the sand will elevate the entire beach experience to one unparalleled in regard to relaxation and service for 30A vacationers.
The Pearl captures all that we have grown to love while on the road: fresh fare with ties to local farms and responsible sourcing, immaculate housekeeping, gorgeous interiors, and a well-crafted guest experience. One only has to look around to realize that this boutique hotel rivals five-star beach destinations, and our entire stay reinforced the sense that we had discovered a memorable and unique oasis.
How to get there: The Pearl is located in the picturesque community of Rosemary Beach, Florida. It is less than twenty miles from the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), currently served by Delta, Southwest Airlines, and Southern Airways Express.
Make memories: This area is a wellspring of photographer talent; on our must-do list for the future is investing in heirloom-quality family photographs. In Rosemary Beach, two admired sources for transforming life’s moments into keepsake artistic expressions: Paul Johnson Photography with Mecheal Johnson (website and FB) and Marla and Shane Photographers (website and FB). These husband-wife duos have stunning gifts and abilities that you will want to check out.
Dining out: For off-site ideas during longer stays, visit the 30AEats.com website created by writer Susan Benton, a 30A local. She is a top-notch source for recommendations and coverage related to local farmers, producers, restaurants, food-related events, and chefs.
Activities: We were not adventurous tourists this trip given I’m still on the mend physically, but there is an endless supply of fun available in Rosemary Beach and throughout the 30A corridor. (So much fun we’ve decided to move nearby and become FL residents this year…) During your stay, the hotel can help plan excursions. In addition, SoWal.com and 30a.com are excellent websites to consult for a plethora of activity ideas and special events.
The Pearl on Rosemary Beach
63 Main Street
Rosemary Beach, Florida 32461
Traveling with Kiddos: If you are looking for a more family-focused option for small children, check out this post about nearby WaterColor Inn and Resort.