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Go for the Gulf
Build castles and family memories on the beaches along Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Managing Editor
Published: Sep/Oct 2000

Gulf Shores Amusement Park has entertained families on the coast "forever" according to the convention and visitors bureau./Deborah Reinhardt photo
Building sandcastles is a cathartic activity. Look up and down any beach. Adults, alongside children, happily dig in the sand with colorful shovels and pails. Not to say anything against psychoanalysis as therapy, but a family trip to the beach is cheaper, more fun and produces similar results. The inner child is allowed to run free.

Sandcastle construction is the modus operandi at Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Here, visitors weary from the rat race can relax on 32 miles of sugar-white beaches and dip their toes in the Gulf of Mexico. The communities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores offer activities such as fishing, golfing and parasailing for the Type-A personalities; and for others, there are leisurely days at the beach, strung together like a pearl necklace.

Home sweet home

With more than 11,000 hotel, motel and condominium units, Alabama’s Gulf Coast can make you comfortable away from home. Beach houses are another option for large groups. Condos or houses are attractive for families, as they offer additional space, kitchen and laundry facilities. Properties that front the gulf have higher rental fees than accommodations across the street. However, on a visit prior to Memorial Day this year, a beach house accommodating up to 10 people rented for $750 a week.

There are many real estate companies–including Kaiser Realty and Meyer Real Estate–to work with as you plan your Alabama Gulf Coast vacation. Contact the local convention and visitors bureau, and you’ll receive more than enough information to get you going.

If you’re on a tight budget, summer is the expensive season. Consider travel in winter or fall when demand for units is lower and pricing more attractive. While the weather may be more unpredictable, the average temperatures for fall remain at 78 degrees, 62 degrees in winter.

"Fall is my favorite time on the coast," said Bebe Gauntt, public relations manager for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It’s slow-paced, rates for accommodations have dropped, the sky couldn’t be bluer than in September or October and waves are gentle."

Keeping busy (or not)

After you’ve arrived, unpacked and settled in your beach hideaway, what do you do? Most folks head for the beach. During our visit, the beaches were clean and not crowded. However, land-locked Southerners should remember that the gulf is not a giant swimming pool. There are tides, currents and critters in these waters. Public beach areas will have lifeguards on duty. Don’t swim if the flags are flying; yellow means undertow, and don’t even go in the water if you see a red flag.

At a private beach without lifeguards, be very careful because you’re on your own.

"Don’t swim early in the morning or late at night," Gauntt said. "Just use common sense when you’re going into the gulf." And should you encounter a stinging jellyfish, apply meat tenderizer or vinegar to the area right away to help with the discomfort.

Other items to tote to the beach include plenty of sunscreen, water for drinking and hats, plus the usual towels and toys.

Chase or feed seagulls, fly a kite, smack a volleyball, toss a Frisbee–anything to let out that inner child–while at the beach. Immerse yourself in the beach culture. At the intersection of state Highways 59 and 182, plop down on the sand or in a bar and watch the sand people in action. Ride the Ferris wheel and play arcade games at Gulf Shores Amusement Park, which has been at this intersection "forever," Gauntt said.

When you tire of bobbing in the gulf surf, watch a line bob as you fish from a pier or the banks of a river. You can also charter boats in Orange Beach for deep-sea fishing trips. The Alabama deep-sea fishing charter fleet has more than 100 boats available for charter, each equipped with electronic fish-finding and navigation devices and operated by a licensed captain. A day’s charter costs about $65 per person.

You can also cast from shore. And at the Gulf State Park’s fishing pier, which extends 824 feet into the gulf, anglers need only bring their expertise. Bait, tackle and supplies can be rented on site.

Freshwater fishing is also popular in the Gulf Coast area. With the Bon Secour River, 700-acre freshwater Lake Shelby and 395,000 acres of rivers, inlets and coves, anglers have a host of fishing holes.

A fishing license is required. Fees range from $16–$67.

Feel the need for terra firma between your toes? Try one of the gulf coast’s 13 championship courses, totaling 252 holes. The upscale Kiva Dunes is on the beach, while The Woodlands at Craft Farms is a naturally wooded, picturesque course featuring generous greens, rolling fairways and marshlands. Gulf State Park Golf Course is a well-maintained, scenic par-72 popular with golfers of all skill levels. Green fees range from $29–$85.

Let’s go out

You’ve washed the sand out of your hair and cleaned yourself up after a day at the beach. What do you do? There are several choices to suit families of any type.

Fresh seafood should be tried while at Alabama’s Gulf Coast. A fun, casual place with good seafood and live music is Live Bait (Perdido Beach Boulevard in Orange Beach). The Original Oyster House has been a Gulf Shores seafood favorite for 15 years. There’s also a children’s menu should the tikes be tiring of seafood. Signature seafood platters here are as large as a ship’s plank. Come hungry. There’s also a variety of fast food and familiar restaurants families will enjoy.

Folks without tots in tow, may want to visit Flora-Bama, a popular bar that’s been on the Florida/Alabama state line since 1962. The attraction here is good music, lots of drinks and Cajun food like steamed oysters, sausage, jambalaya and boudin. Be brave and try the alligator on a stick.

A night out with the youngsters should include miniature golf or go-carts and there are several establishments from which to choose in the area, including Pirate’s Island Golf and The Track Recreation Center. Shopping for beach souvenirs is another possibility after dinner. This also feeds your inner child. A great place for souvenirs–and a family photo in the jaws of a giant, fake shark–is Souvenir City at the Highway 59/182 intersection.

Serious shoppers may want to make the short trip north to Foley, Ala., for the Riviera Centre outlet mall, which offers 120 stores. A friend who has gone with her family to Gulf Shores for more than 20 years says shopping is the perfect rainy day activity.

And Alabama’s Gulf Coast is a perfect family beach vacation. One week here and you’ll recharge your batteries enough to get you through to at least Christmas, the other time of year the inner child is allowed to play.

May/June 2014 Issue

For More Details
For more information, contact the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-745-SAND (745-7263), or visit online at www.gulfshores.com.


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