Published Jul/Aug 2006

Take a break at Alabama's Gulf Coast to bag a few bargains and gifts in the area's collection of shops.
By Carolyn Nation

labama’s Gulf Coast has the welcome mat out, ready to greet sun-seekers and shoppers. Visitors who want to shake off the sugar-white sands from their sandals have plenty of venues for souvenirs and more.

Beach shops devoted to swim gear and sun-and-fun accessories are about as numerous as seashells on the shore. Coastal boutiques tempt shoppers with art originals, funky finds and impossible-to-resist items. Goodies evoking shore memories turn up in tucked away locations, making the search for specialties a bit of a treasure hunt. Here’s a “map” to set your course for souvenir shopping fun.

Best bets in Orange Beach

Only a tiny sign that looks out to Beach Boulevard lets shoppers know they’ve found Lilly’s of Orange Beach (26651 Perdido Beach Blvd.). Look for Zeke’s Landing at the marina; Lilly’s is beneath Zeke’s restaurant.

Inside the shop, romantic candle scents mingle with bath and beauty products. Walls and shelves hold nautical gifts, home accents, wall decor, ornaments and jewelry, some of which have beach designs.

Sweet Dreams nestles in the center of the SanRoc Cay (27267 Perdido Beach Blvd.) marina’s courtyard that’s on the bay just before the Alabama Point Bridge. This tiny shop has items from 200 vendors devoted to personal pampering. Burt’s Bees products are packaged together for the Baby Bee, Busy Bee or Queen Bee on your shopping list.

“It’s a great way to try different products without spending a lot of money,” said owner Judy Tatum.

In addition to carrying French perfumes, Tatum stocks the Ahava line of Dead Sea beauty products, the LoLLIA Boudoir Luxuries line, Thymes candles, plus lotions and fragrances in eucalyptus, green tea and olive leaf. Wiggle your toes into a cuddly pair of Diva Slippers. Share a Girls’ Night Out kit with your best friend. It includes home spa products for two, including a questionnaire designed to unlock your secret dreams.

“We try to keep everything unique,” said Tatum who favors purchasing from companies run by women. “If it ain’t fun, don’t do it.”

The names–Tootie Green’s Yellow Broom (25122 Perdido Beach Blvd.) and Tootie’s Booty-Que–stand out more than the shops. Nestled along the beach in the shadow of Orange Beach condos, two single-story stucco buildings house Tootie’s and Fish on a Dish at the rear. Owner Becky Nichols blended a favorite British restaurant, the Yellow Broom, with an old joke about Tootie Green to name the eclectic collection of home accents, local art, ceramics, pottery and metal sculptures. Tootie’s Booty-Que features flirty fashions and shoes. There’s even an oversized shoe-shaped chair for weary, credit-card-bearing husbands. Fish on a Dish features tableware, ornaments, clocks, outdoor and motion-activated toys.

From the intersection of state Highways 161 and 180, head east on Canal Road (Highway 180) to Orange Beach Art Center (26389 Canal Road), a two-story white-columned mansion set back from the road. Cyndi Brewer spearheaded the drive to display local artists’ works in the historic 1923 Orange Beach Hotel. One of 150 association members, Brewer works in a variety of mediums, including polymer clay and watercolor.

“You can purchase anything from a $2.50 hand-painted bookmark in the gift shop up to several hundred dollar art,” she said. A marlin carved by Billy Mitchell from a juniper tree that snapped during Hurricane Ivan is outside the center. Mitchell calls his woodcarving and tree art Chainsaw Massacre.

Shopping in Gulf Shores

In Gulf Shores, Bungalows gift shop (1720 Gulf Shores Parkway) displays pewter serving items, ceramic fish platters in stacked sizes, perfumes, body lotions, dried flowers and stuffed animals.

Continuing south on Highway 59 (Gulf Shores Parkway), the Original Oyster House restaurant in the Bayou Village complex (701 Gulf Shores Parkway) suggests you shop while you wait for a table. Follow the boardwalk to the upright alligator where you’ll discover clothing, books and fun items at Jubilee Gifts.

As the sun sets, shops begin to close, but Souvenir City (217 Gulf Shores Parkway) remains open. It has been a must-stop landmark since 1956. Kids of all ages can’t resist the open shark mouth used as an entrance. They love to jump up to touch a shark tooth, or tug a parent to the door marked “Only children allowed to look inside the shark’s stomach.”

Inside the store, everyone gets giddy over the kitschy beach souvenirs. Picture frames and wind chimes are fashioned from seashells. Coconuts called Coco Huts can house live painted hermit crabs. The beach umbrellas, boogie boards, fins and masks, ships in bottles, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and candy bars easily make this a one-stop shop.

Don’t forget Foley

After a few hours on Alabama’s sunny shores, you might be tempted to take home a live palm. Tom’s Produce and Plants (8025 state Highway 59) sells palms, citrus trees, tropical and subtropical plants. Gallon-size sago or Washingtonian palms are small enough to fit in a pickup. Owners are knowledgeable about growing zones and the cold hardiness of their palms.

Foley’s Tanger Outlet Center (2601 S. McKenzie) has become a destination in itself with more than 120 brand name outlets. But those who enjoy hunting for old-fashioned bargains should explore Orange Blossom Square (200 S. McKenzie) downtown. A cluster of stores in brick buildings range from antiques to Western decor. When all that shopping demands a pause for refreshment, the Orange Blossom Tea Room or Gyromayer’s (121 W. Orange) serve sandwiches. Order ice cream at Stacey Rexall Drugs & Old Tyme Soda Fountain, 121 W. Laurel.

For the ultimate beach T-shirt, go to the Flora-Bama, dubbed America’s last great roadhouse. This famous lounge and oyster bar (17401 Perdido Key Drive) straddles the Florida-Alabama state line.

Many summer road trips in the South will wind up at a beach, and Gulf Shores is one of the best. Come in from the sand and sun to shop for a little reminder of your great summer vacation.

Carolyn Nation is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.

Above: Beaches are tops at Alabama’s Gulf Coast, but shopping for souvenirs and gifts for home allows visitors a break from the sun. Alabama Gulf Coast CVB photo

Below: Owner Judy Tatum says her selection of personal pampering items at Sweet Dreams is fun. Carolyn Nation photo

Before You Go
• Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-745-SAND (800-745-7263) or www.gulfshores.com;

• Foley Convention & Visitors Bureau, (251) 943-1200,www.foleycvb.com.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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