|Exchange your galoshes and coats for flip-flops and bathing suits this winter in the coastal areas of Alabama, Texas and Florida|
|By Lynn Grisard Fullman|
Alabama, Florida and Texas offer winter reprieves where days are mild, activities are plentiful and you likely can keep your flip-flops right by the front door. While warm and sunny places to spend winter days abound, we offer a few suggestions below.
Frolicking in Florida
Imagine spending winter days playing golf or tennis, tasting wine or enjoying spa treatments.
Thats just what some 15,000 winter guests do annually at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, which is located on Floridas Gulf Coast between Pensacola and Panama City Beach.
Sprawling on 2,400 acres, including 7.5 miles of beach and bay front, the resortwhich is celebrating its 30th anniversaryhas more than 1,000 accommodations. The Grand Sandestin, a 168-unit luxury condominium hotel, is scheduled to open this fall. Free activities include daily use of the Sandestin health club (adults only), use of bicycles, one-hour free use of canoes, kayaks, boogie boards, tennis courts and the property-wide tram service.
Theres never a dull moment at Sandestin, especially with the addition of the Village of Baytowne Wharf, a 28-acre waterfront town center peppered with a collection of shops, charming eateries, lively nightclubs, shell-paved streets and walkways, and year-round special events.
With almost constant sunshine, the resort offers winter rates on themed packages ranging from golf, fishing and tennis to spa pampering, romance and luxury.
Resort guests have access to four championship golf courses, 15 tennis courts, a 98-slip marina, water sports, retail shops, more than a dozen dining options (from casual to gourmet) and miles of hiking and bicycling paths.
Sandestins Extended Stay program (with monthly costs beginning at $965 and winter nights at $85) gives guests access to special activities, such as wine tasting, an annual Safety and Health Fair, a Wednesday night concert series, an annual Baytowne Literary Series and a variety of holiday events.
When you remember you could be stoking the fires back home, the pleasures of beach living are utter joy.
Winter migration in Alabama
Most arrive in their personal cars, make reservations before arriving, stay 63.5 days, arrive without children and journey in twos, just like those who retreated into Noahs Ark.
Their reasons for landing along Alabamas coast in the winter are more widely spread: 27.1 percent are drawn by the weather, 20.8 percent by beaches, 16.7 percent by reasonable rates, 15.6 percent by friends/relatives in the area, 14.6 percent by the lack of crowds and commercialism and 13.5 percent by memories of previous visits.
Outdoor activities are enjoyed at the coast. Locals and visitors enjoy wetting their lines from the shore or during full- or half-day charter-fishing trips into the deep blue sea. Some opt for bicycling, mo-ped riding or treks close to nature in undisturbed places such as Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Approximately nine miles west of Gulf Shores, the wildlife oasis is the place to fish both in fresh and saltwater and potentially spot pelicans, bobcats and alligators.
Golfers find weather conducive year-round for playing at more than a dozen courses within a 45-minute drive of Alabamas coast.
Shoppers visit Riviera Centre, with more than 120 outlet stores, to get a jumpstart on holiday shopping.
Alabama is not the only gulf retreat worth a winter visit. Head a bit west and youll tumble into Texas and more warm, winter days.
Tempting Texas temperatures
On the northern tip of Mustang Island and some 30 minutes from Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, Texas may be the best-kept secret along the Gulf Coast.
While much of the nation battens down the hatches against winters cold, the folks in Port Aransas savor warm days. Temper- atures range from 82 degrees in September to a low of 56 degrees in January.
Here, winter visitors make themselves at home in accommodations ranging from condominiums and cottages to RV parks and campgrounds.
Winter guests discover miles of beautiful beaches, dolphins frolicking in the channel, gentle gulf breezes, plus bays, jetties and deep-gulf waters with some of the finest fishing found anywhere.
More than 500 species of birds visit annually, making Port Aransas one of the continents most popular birding destinations. Of some 800 species of birds in North America, almost 500 are in this Coastal Bend.
Preparing for an extended vacation
|Lynn Grisard Fullman is a contributor from Birmingham, Ala.|
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