Along Florida's Emerald Coast—so named for its aquamarine waters and white-sand beaches–there's long been a void of boutique hotels as the region is cluttered with house rentals and a few resorts.
Changing all that is The Pearl, now open in the charming town of Rosemary Beach, hugging the Gulf of Mexico's shoreline. Each of the 55 rooms—with three categories, including Cabana Rooms that open onto a private poolside cabana—comes with not only a private balcony, but perks like a rainfall shower, Keurig coffee/tea brewing system, an Apple TV (the first hotel in the States to offer this), iPad, and free WiFi. Spa-quality toiletries are created by skincare expert Kerstin Florian and stocked in each fridge are juices and Nordaq FRESH water. Valet parking comes at no extra cost for guests.
At Havana Beach Bar & Grill (The Pearl's restaurant), which also touts Gulf of Mexico views, executive chef Michael Guerra—formerly of The St. Regis Park City, Utah—draws influences from Creole's backcountry, Mexican fishing villages, and Cuba. Lots of local seafood and regional ingredients are used, including Florida shrimp and South Carolina stone-ground grits for shrimp n' grits, and blue crab for a corn-chowder dish that comes with Creole vegetables and house-cured bacon. Most of the ingredients, from the City Greens Farms salad greens to Southern Craft Creamery ice cream, are sourced from within 100 miles. Guests can also sit at a mahogany hand-carved bar for a cocktail. Havana Beach Bar & Grill is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as weekend brunch. At the rooftop Sol Luna Gulf View Lounge, small plates and pizzas are prepared in a wood-burning oven are served. (Those foods can also be brought to your poolside cabana.)
Also included in the hotel is Spa Pearl, boasting a backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico and four poolside treatment rooms. Keeping with the wellness theme, complimentary fresh fruit and house-made sorbet are available mornings and afternoons.
Located just a few blocks from luxuries like sushi (Aqua Coastal Sushi), a café brewing Fair Trade coffee (Amavida Coffee and Tea), and tapas and chocolates (La Crema Tapas & Chocolates), quiet stretches of beach along the Gulf of Mexico are also close by. Guests can hop on a cruiser bicycle (rentable from Bamboo Bicycle Company) and travel down 30A to other New Urbanism towns, including Seaside, Alys Beach and WaterColor.
Depending on the season, rates at The Pearl start at $279 (low season) or $459 (peak spring and summer months).
Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee where she reports on food, wine, and travel topics around the globe for Fodors.com, along with new-hotel openings. She also writes for Wine Enthusiast, TIME, Whole Living and American Way. In 2006 she co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Coffee and Tea (Alpha Books/Penguin). You can follow her on Twitter @kristineahansen or through her web site.
Photo credits: Courtesy of The Pearl hotel