SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Navarre Beach
Navarre Beach, Florida, rests between busy Pensacola and Destin and offers a peaceful alternative to Gulf Coast vacations. Maybe it’s the proximity to the Gulf Islands National Seashore or because the commercial side of Navarre is situated on the mainland across Santa Rosa Sound, but beachfront accommodations are limited to smaller condo complexes and rental houses.
Until now. SpringHill Suites by Marriott has opened the first hotel on Navarre, and it includes an indoor pool and outdoor zero-entry pool and lazy river, hot tub, complimentary Wifi and breakfast and beach service. The 24-hour market provides guests with essentials, plus a Tom Thumb market is within walking distance. Three restaurants — Juana’s Pagodas, Broussard’s and Windjammers — and the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier are only a few blocks away.
For those who wish to stay on property, the Beach House Bar & Grille is open year-round for dinner but lunch is seasonal (March-October). Plans are to offer Sunday brunch soon. marriott.com/vpssh
Nearby Attractions: Navarre Beach Marine Park lies on the east end of the peninsula and offers both a state park with beaches and the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary with its artificial reefs for snorkeling and diving. The park is free to the public. Fishing enthusiasts may prefer the Navarre Beach Pier, which stretches 1,545 feet into the Gulf. Costs for fishing licenses and daily passes to the pier are nominal and walk-ons costs only a dollar.
Hotel Pass Christian
The newest addition to the Mississippi Gulf Coast is Hotel Pass Christian, a boutique hotel offering 10 suite-style rooms, some with large balconies overlooking the Gulf and the Pass Christian Marina. Pastel colors accent the rooms that include seating areas, mini bars and luxurious bathroom filled with products from the Pass Christian Soap Company, which is located on the ground floor next to the Elysian Salon and Spa.
Both the hotel and Bacchus on the Beach restaurant across the street are owned by Jourdan Nicaud, which means dinner is only a few steps away and comes with a discount. A few blocks to the east and you’re in downtown Pass Christian, a charming town that includes several restaurants and boutique shops, including Robin’s Nest in the Pass, owned and operated by Dorothy Roberts, sister of WWL TV's now retired Sally Ann Roberts and Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America.” A great place for breakfast, lunch or a coffee break is Cat Island Coffeehouse, which doubles as Pass Christian Books and sells the locally produced — and delicious — Cat Island cookies and cheese crackers.
Of course, there’s the beach to enjoy and the Pass Christian War Memorial Park down Scenic Drive offers a gazebo, workout stations and walking trails beneath lovely live oak trees. hotelpasschristian.com
Nearby Attractions: Bay St. Louis with its wonderful shops, antique stores, bars and restaurants is a quick drive to the west. Don’t miss lunch at the Starfish Café, where students learn the restaurant business serving up Southern specialties. Or breakfast at the Mockingbird Café with original artwork for sale on the walls. In the other direction from Pass Christian, Long Beach has been experiencing a resurgence and a popular stop is Coast Roast Coffee in a former bank building.
The Roost Hotel, Ocean Springs
Park your car and roost at The Roost, a 20th century building recently transformed into a boutique hotel that’s shaded lovingly by ancient live oak trees. Suites offer luxurious furnishings, reclaimed wood accents, full kitchens and romantic balconies. Downstairs, the Wilbur Bar serves up craft cocktails, wine and beers with a swinging bookshelf that reveals a hidden room and a large painting of Al Capone. (It’s rumored Capone lived in Ocean Springs.)
Architectural Digest loves the Roost, naming it one of the six most beautiful new hotels in the southern United States and the Wilbur the “most beautifully designed bar in Mississippi.”
Because of those towering oaks, enjoying a cocktail by a fire pit or lounging with friends and family in the open public space is a must. You’ll never want to leave. roostoceansprings.com
Nearby Attractions: Everything is walkable from The Roost. Front Beach on the Gulf lies three blocks in one direction and the charming Greenhouse on Porter restaurant with its original biscuits and signature coffees — not to mention live music and special events — hails in the other. Downtown Ocean Springs is only 15 minutes away by foot, even shorter if biking.
The Lodge at Gulf State Park
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan did a number on the Gulf State Park Lodge in Gulf Shores. The property was already “feeling its age,” said Maureen Holden, The Lodge’s marketing manager, so plans were made to demolish the circa-1974 property and rebuild.
What replaced the old lodge in November is something of a marvel.
The state of Alabama, which owns the Gulf-front property, partnered with the University of Alabama to utilize funds from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill to not only rebuild the lodge, but to create a model of sustainability. The Lodge was rebuilt further back from the water’s edge to restore dunes in between and protect turtle and Alabama mouse habitats. The 350-room lodge includes an HVAC system that moves condensation into the pool and rooms offer no single-use bath products, but opts instead for recycling and glasses, not plastic cups. All of the buildings on site are designed to provide maximum light and Gulf breezes to reduce energy consumption and surrounded by native plant landscaping.
Visitors may not notice the subtle eco-friendly touches, but will enjoy the two restaurants and coffee shop on property, the access to a private beach and the walkway over busy Beach Boulevard to the 28 miles of hiking and biking trails inside Gulf State Park. Just across the footbridge are bicycles for rent, a free amenity to hotel guests. The park also allows picnicking and fishing, and guests may enjoy the nature center and the new Woodside Restaurant. lodgeatgulfstatepark.com.
Nearby Attractions: A wide variety of restaurants and fun attractions abound in Gulf Shores and neighboring Orange Beach. History lovers will enjoy the Civil War-era Fort Morgan while nature lovers can peruse the trails of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, among other parks. Dolphin cruises are offered on the back bay and The Wharf provides big-name entertainment.
The Grand Hotel
Last summer, the AAA Four Diamond Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa on Mobile Bay finished a massive three-year transformation, and now offers travelers extensive amenities and a chance to check in and check out. There’s something for everyone, from daily activities that range from art classes to children’s scavenger hunts, to golfing, water sports and a 20,000-square-foot European-style spa. The massive pool features many functions, including a shallow pool with waterfall and slide for the kids and an adult salt-water pool with stocked cabanas. For golf enthusiasts, the 18-hole, 72-par Dogwood course, part of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, has been updated and the Azalea course is next for restoration. The resort also offers a private beach with nightly cannon fire (harking back to the hotel’s 19th century days and naval history) and a multi-slip marina for those who prefer to sail into a vacation.
With several restaurants on site, including a poolside grill and lobby market, visitors may never leave the property. Be sure to sample the extensive and luxurious breakfast buffet at Bayside Grill, as well as cocktails in Bucky’s Lounge and sunset dining in the 1847 and Southern Roots.
History buffs will enjoy a walk to historic Confederate Rest Cemetery about a mile from the resort and located next to the Dogwood golf course and the Lakewood Clubhouse. About 300 soldiers who were nursed at the hotel during the Civil War are buried here. Meet the Grand’s historian Susan Stein in the hotel lobby and get a history lesson before heading out. grand1847.com
Nearby Attractions: The charming town of Fairhope, with its boutique shopping, art galleries and restaurants, is a short drive or bike ride away. The town is routinely named to best cities lists and offers regular outdoor concerts, walking tours, a farmer’s market and the monthly First Friday Art Walk. The Grand is filled with artwork by Fairhope artist Nall, and visitors may visit his gallery when in town. Additional art may be seen at the Eastern Shore Art Center and local history is explained at the Fairhope Museum of History.
East Point Cottages, Gulf Shores
In the heart of Gulf Shores lies the adorable East Point Cottages, a dozen stand alone houses featuring three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths with only a two-minute walk from the beach. Opened in 2018, the 12 cottages with a pool at the center form a community of sorts, where visitors enjoying the sun on their balconies greet neighbors and make friendships, said Elle McCoy, guest services director.
It’s all about feeling at home and enjoying the beach like a native, McCoy insists. She offers concierge services that range from bike rentals and deep sea fishing excursions to decorating accommodations for birthdays.
“We try to make the overall experience easy,” McCoy said. “We want them to be a local while they’re here.”
Visitors receive wrist bands that allow them 10 percent off at selected restaurants, some of which are within walking distance, so visitors may park beneath their cottages and not touch their keys until the drive home.
“It’s like a beach house,” McCoy said. “You never have to leave.”
Nearby Attractions: The Hangout restaurant, serving up food, live music and beach activities in a vibrant environment, is a few blocks west. Also nearby is Picnic Beach that serves up one of the most varied menus on the coast, items ranging from barbecue to vegan. luckybirdvacations.com.
Marriott Towne Place Suites, Foley
Foley, Alabama, a few miles north of Gulf Shores, has become a major shopping and sports event destination with its outlet mall and Foley Sports Tourism Complex. Now, we can add amusement park to the list with OWA and its two dozen-plus rides, gift shops and restaurants.
Anchoring OWA and the sports complex is the new Marriott TownePlace Suites that naturally caters to families. Each of the 150 suites includes stocked kitchens and full-size appliances, plus the hotel offers an indoor pool, terrace with fit pits and fitness center.
Literally next door is OWA, with its roller coasters and the Wave Rider, one of only three amusement rides of its kind in the United States. Downtown OWA features a variety of dining options, including Wahlburgers and its celebrity-created hamburgers, plus live entertainment, from rock concerts to kid-friendly sing-alongs.
Both the Marriott and OWA are located along the Foley Beach Express that runs south from Interstate 10, making it easier for visitors to bypass the traffic-riddled Highway 59. VisitOWA.com.
Nearby Attractions: Nearby Foley offers the Tanger Outlet Mall, movie theater and a host of chain and local restaurants. For the treasure hunter, Foley offers numerous antique and thrift stores.