Hurricane Sally did a number on Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, flooding properties and halting businesses already impacted by COVID-19 and its resulting loss of tourism dollars. But, the Coast rebounds. Mirroring the spring resurgence of natural life to the Gulf Coast, the Alabama region is bouncing back with new energy, said Kay Maghan, public relations manager of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.
Almost all restaurants have reopened, Maghan said, and several new dining options have surfaced, including OSO with its casual coastal cuisine and awesome views of Gulf sunsets and Mile Marker 158 Dockside at The Wharf, offering water views from inside the Springhill Suites Hotel, both in Orange Beach.
Many rental properties briefly went offline after the storm, Maghan explained, to both recover and take the opportunity to perform renovations. Perdido Beach Resort, for instance, was renovating its lobby when Hurricane Sally hit, then received wind and water damage. It will be offering an improved look when it reopens, she said.
Down Fort Morgan Road, on the peninsula stretching west from the hubbub of Gulf Shores, The Beach Club sustained hurricane damage to its four condo buildings. Two will be open this month or early April, after renovations are complete, while the other two will open by June.
Another hurricane — Ivan in 2004 — took a bite out of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, located right on the beach in Gulf Shores. Funds from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill were used to rebuild the property with a focus on sustainability. Not only is the lodge eco-friendly with its construction designed to reduce energy consumption, along with many other sustainable efforts, but its location, dune restoration and native plant landscaping helped take the brunt of nature’s fury this past summer.
“The [Lodge at Gulf State Park] came out like a champ,” Maghan said of surviving Hurricane Sally. “It’s the first fortified commercial hotel in the world, as far as we know, and it did what it was supposed to do.”
In addition to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach being open for business, there are many new attractions to enjoy this spring and summer. Here are a few.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo moved four miles inland, tripled in size with room to expand and opened its new facility in 2020.
“It’s a completely different experience,” Maghan said. “They still maintain an approach of being designed in a way to allow people to be close to the animals but not right on them.”
The Zoo’s popular “Animal Encounters” with giraffes, kangaroos and sloths allows visitors of all ages to greet and feed the animals within a safe environment.
New to the Zoo is the Safari Club Gulf Shores, the first certified “green restaurant” in Alabama as designated by the Green Restaurant Association. Safari Club serves up seafood, small plates, handmade artisan wood-fired pizzas and vegan and vegetarian options. The restaurant is located near the gift shop, so visitors may access the restaurant without having to enter the zoo.
Bike Gulf State Park
Grab a free bike rental at several spots in Gulf State Park and enjoy the 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks. The terrain changes throughout the park, from wetlands with alligators and bird species to the seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex. The park also contains a nature center, lagoons, geocaching and beach access and offers special events throughout the year.
To pick up a free bike rental within the park, download the Bloom Bike Share App and create an account. Scan the QR code on the bicycle to unlock it from the bike station, then return the bike and scan to lock.
“Make sure your lock engages or you’ll get charged,” Maghan advised.
Only those 16 and older can use the park’s bikes, and there’s a time limit for free usage, but bike rental companies are available in the twin cities.
For more information, visit gulfshores.com/blog/bike-sharing-gulf-state-park.
Social Distancing Boat Rides
Being careful during COVID doesn’t have to mean staying off the water.
Anonyme Cruises offers small groups a chance to sightsee along the back bay in a luxury Duffy electric boat. Visitors pack their own beverages and snacks and Captain DD Russo provides a cooler with ice for a two-hour cruise. Because the boat’s electric, there are no gas fumes, no loud motor noises. Anonyme can be the perfect vehicle for marriage send-offs, anniversaries or wedding proposals. Visit anonymecruises.com for more information.
For something a bit more lively, Cruisin’ Tikis travels throughout the waters visiting islands, watching sunsets or just moving folks around while imbibing drinks of their choice. It’s a literal tiki bar on water, accommodating six people who bring their own booze. And yes, the bar stools may be spaced apart to ensure social distancing.
Several dining options allow visitors to relish the Gulf breezes and sunshine while still maintaining a fair distance from other diners.
The Anchor Bar and Grill, helmed by Louisiana Chef Jonathan Kastner, serves up casual food and fun cocktails with outdoor seating overlooking Hudson Marina in Orange Beach. Enjoy ramen bowls (including a crawfish boil-inspired dish), pork belly nachos or shrimp bahn mi while watching the sun set over Gulf waters.
Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores offers an open-air taproom where visitors can listen to live music, drink craft brews and select wines and get toasty at the fireplace on chilly evenings. There’s no kitchen at Big Beach, but occasionally food trucks park outside, plus visitors may bring their own food or have it delivered.
There are many reasons to employ the Beach Moms on a visit to the Alabama coast. The concierge service — your “Beach Mom” — brings groceries and non-alcoholic beverages from the store to the beach rentals, taking the hassle of shopping — particularly during the hectic spring break peaks — out of a relaxing vacation. Having someone else do your shopping also eliminates having to face crowds, for those who wish to maintain social distancing. Pick a Beach Moms package and sign up and the fridge will be full upon arrival.
Beach Moms also makes dinner reservations, books excursions, arranges for beach umbrellas and plans family photo shoots. For information on their services, visit thebeachmoms.net.
Navy Cove Oysters
Oysters are grown throughout Alabama waters, and one local oyster farm now gives tours. Navy Cove Oysters near the western end of Fort Morgan Road in Gulf Shores offers walking tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mondays, showcasing how oysters are grown in Mobile Bay using sustainable aquaculture practices. Reservations are required; call 225-933-1005 or visit navycoveoysters.com/tour-navy-cove.
These succulent oysters fresh from the water may also be purchased to bring home.
Art and Golf
International artist and Alabama resident Nall creates large multimedia works of art, many of which are on display at The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa in Point Clear, north of Gulf Shores on Mobile Bay. The hotel recently added a Nall Gallery on the second floor of the main building, as well as a Nall Suite for guests.
The resort will also offer a BYOC (Bring Your Own Clubs) Golf Package this spring, featuring a deluxe resort guest room for one night and a round of golf for two guests or two rounds for one starting at $369.
For more information on The Grand Hotel, visit grand1847.com.
To learn more about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, to verify what’s open and available and to find a list of the region’s various accommodations, visit gulfshores.com.