The Alabama coast may appear small on a map, but the state’s Gulf access offers numerous and varied attractions from a world-class zoo and activities on the water to excellent shopping by day and a vibrant nightlife after dusk. Of course, there is the gorgeous turquoise water and quartz sandy beaches that allow visitors to slow down the pace, relax and soak up the Southern sun.
Most of the coast centers around the beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, but west of both is Fort Morgan, where visitors find a host of accommodation choices, wildlife refuges and Civil War history. There’s also Dauphin Island, southwest of Mobile, accessible by ferry from Fort Morgan or off Interstate 10.
Back to Nature………………………………
It’s all about getting outside this summer. In addition to three miles of Gulf beaches and camping options, Gulf State Park offers 25 miles of paved trails, many of which have been recently improved. The best way to enjoy the park is to rent bicycles and explore the boardwalk surrounding Lake Shelby, the alligators on Middle Lake and a possible bobcat sighting in the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge near Fort Morgan also offers trails, some that lead to pristine beaches and wildlife spotting, the reason its name means “safe harbor.” Hit the water by canoe or kayak at the Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley or learn more about Gulf ecosystems at the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.
Most people know Foley for its enormous Tanger Outlets, but don’t miss visiting the historic downtown for antiques, boutiques and museums. You can board the train at Heritage Park, watch the dozens of model trains weave through a 1/4-mile track at the Foley Alabama Railroad Museum or watch a smaller train circle Stacey Drugs and Olde Tyme Soda Fountain while sipping decadent milk shakes. Coming later this summer is OWA, an event center destination constructed by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
There are 32 miles of sugar-white beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, so throw off those shoes. Public access exists in many places, including as part of the Gulf State Park. Beach equipment rentals are available, and visitors may choose to parasail, kayak, jet ski, paddleboard or fish, among many other water sports.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
Get up close and personal with the more-than 500 animals in this zoo that believes that animals should be experienced, not simply watched. Next year the zoo expands and moves to a larger facility.
Dolphin boat rides
Dolphins love to swim into the back bays of Orange Beach and captains are all too happy to float alongside these mammals and give visitors a view. Some captains will also demonstrate oyster fishing and shrimping.
This massive development at Orange Beach is the place to see big-name entertainment but don’t miss riding the Ferris wheel which gives an amazing view of the coast.
Tacky Jack’s is known for its colorful locations, great views and water sports, but they make a mean breakfast too.
Watch fishermen head off for their catch while enjoying a shrimp omelet, oversized pancakes and biscuits and gravy.
Seafood is the name of the game on the Alabama coast, and plenty of great restaurants serve it up.
For oysters, visit Wintzell’s Oyster House. Families looking for a bargain can hit The Shrimp Basket, which offers all-you-can-eat nights. King Neptune’s in Gulf Shores serves up royal red shrimp, a delicious deep-sea catch native to the coast.
What’s the beach without a frothy drink and a volleyball pit?
The Hangout at the corner of Highway 59 and Beach Boulevard is the place for seafood, drinks, live music and special events. Over in Orange Beach, sample shrimp tacos and specialty drinks in comfy chairs at The Gulf, a new restaurant composed of shipping containers. Skirting the state line is the Flora-Bama, a landmark bar and restaurant that’s home to the annual Mullet Toss, among others.
|Tours and Fests|
|At the western end of the Gulf Shores peninsula is Fort Morgan, a citadel built to protect Mobile Bay and once the largest permanent military base in Alabama at the turn of the 20th century. The park offers candlelight evening tours with historical interpreters in June and July and on Aug. 5, a commemoration of the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay.|
After Labor Day, the crowds fall off substantially, and if you’re waiting for that chance to enjoy the beach with like-minded adults, visit during The Wharf Uncorked, a festival of wine and food tastings Sept. 14-16 at The Wharf in Orange Beach.
Things pick back up in October, when hundreds of visitors flock to the 46th Annual National Shrimp Festival with its 300 vendors offering artwork, arts and crafts and, of course, shrimp dishes.