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Beloved Beaches

These three Southern beach towns are ideal for summer escapes
with sun, surf, and plenty of activities away from the sand.

Beachwear in storefront displays is an early harbinger of summer. Hopefully your beach vacation plans–and your beach body–are taking shape. But whether you’re looking for an extended stay or a quick getaway, the Gulf Coast offers a variety of options when it comes to summertime vacations. Here’s a look at three of our favorite Southern beach towns.

beach

Above: With its sugar-white beaches, Santa Rosa Beach is one of 16 beach communities in Florida’s South Walton area. Visit South Walton photo

In Title: Splashing in the waves is one of the main reasons for visiting these towns. VisitFlorida photo

Below: Fairhope on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay offers an eclectic collection of boutiques, galleries, markets, and restaurants. Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau photo

downtown

Art and more in Ocean Springs

An artsy little community on the eastern shore of the Biloxi Bay, Ocean Springs, Miss., is a charming destination complete with a superb beach, abundant outdoor recreational activities, art galleries, one-of-a-kind boutiques, and great dining. What it lacks in size, Ocean Spring’s Front Beach more than makes up for in quality. Beach lovers will be thrilled by the powder-soft white sand and beautiful seascape. Beach bonfire pits are available for rental, which extends your beach stay into the night.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore Mississippi District is headquartered in Ocean Springs in the Davis Bayou Area. With 400 acres, this area offers camping, hiking, birding, fishing, bicycling, and boating. The park’s barrier islands can only be reached by boat, but the Ship Island Ferry takes passengers from Gulfport, Miss., to the pristine beaches of West Ship Island.

Cyclists can ride the 15.5-mile round-trip Live Oak Bicycle Route from the Bayou Davis Area to downtown Ocean Springs. Another exercise option is the three-mile path on the Biloxi Bay Bridge, which easily accommodates joggers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Other outdoor activities include golfing at any number of regional courses, such as the Gulf Hills Golf Club in Ocean Springs. Several charter boats are available for deep-sea fishing excursions. There also are fishing opportunities for those who want to stay closer to shore or who want to get on the water in kayaks.

One of the biggest draws to Ocean Springs is the boutique shops and art galleries. Home to a number of nationally recognized artists, potters, and craftsmen, Ocean Springs offers a distinctive shopping experience whether you’re looking for pottery, fine art, or one-of-a-kind hand-woven rugs, blankets, and handbags.

Nationally renowned Shearwater Pottery was established by the late Peter Anderson, but the city is perhaps best known because of another famous Anderson–Peter’s brother, Walter–an American master artist of incalculable talent who struggled very publicly with mental illness. Any trip to Ocean Springs must include a tour of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

For more art, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in nearby Biloxi not only showcases amazing exhibitions but the museum’s architecture, designed by Frank Gehry, is a work of art itself.

Dining options are varied in Ocean Springs. Feast on fall-off-the-bone barbecued ribs at The Shed (AAA One Diamond), a colorful and casual rib joint, or dine on an exquisite rack of lamb at the Phoenician Gourmet Restaurant (AAA Three Diamonds).

All is well in Fairhope

Located on the eastern shore of the Mobile Bay, Fairhope, Ala., is a picturesque family-friendly community rich in history, art, and culture surrounded by rolling hills and a beautiful shoreline.

The Fairhope Municipal Pier and Park is the ideal starting point for beach recreation. Destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 1,448-foot pier was rebuilt and reopened in November 2006. As the city’s unofficial town square, the park features beaches, a public pier, restrooms, and walking trails. Kayak and paddleboard rentals also are available.

Bicycles are a favorite mode of transportation for vacationers to the eastern shore. The Eastern Shore National Recreational Trail links together both sides of the Mobile Bay, but the 36-mile trail is quite an undertaking. A less intimidating but equally satisfying ride can be had on the Fairhope South Beach Trail. Bicycle rental shops dot the area and a number of restaurants cater to the many bicyclists cruising the area.

As with any resort community, there are ample golfing opportunities in and around the area, including Fairhope’s Quail Creek, a city-owned golf course, and the Lakewood Golf Club that features two Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses. Lakewood is part of the AAA Four Diamond Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear, Ala.

The ecosystem of the Mobile Bay area is on full display at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center located in nearby Spanish Fort. Boat tours take guests through the Lower Delta, promising sightings of alligators, blue herons, various shore birds, and Civil War batteries.

Shopping is another favorite recreational activity in Fairhope. The quaint shopping district offers an eclectic assortment of boutiques, art galleries, markets, bookstores, and restaurants. Pedestrian friendly, downtown Fairhope practically begs shoppers to stroll through town. Be sure to visit the Fairhope Museum of History; Theatre 98, Fairhope’s community theatre; the Page and Palette bookstore; and the Eastern Shore Art Center.

Any shopping excursion downtown should begin with a good breakfast from the AAA Two Diamond Julwin’s Southern Country Restaurant. Other good choices are Panini Pete’s Café and Bakeshoppe on South Section Street, and Wintzell’s Oyster House on South Mobile Street.

Treasured Santa Rosa

The turquoise waters and miles of sugar-white beaches, interesting neighborhoods, a vibrant arts community, and ample outdoor activities make Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., one of the nation’s top beach destinations.

Santa Rosa Beach is one of 16 communities that comprise the South Walton region. Whether you practice your golf swing, kayak rare dune lakes, or soar across the bay on a zip line, outdoor fun is diverse here.

Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A is the thread that stitches these communities of South Walton together. Dotted with artsy villages, golf courses, luxury resorts, and funky shops, “the 30A” will introduce you to captivating people and places.

Incredible state parks are here. The Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, a favorite among campers, is the gateway to the Topsail Hill State Preserve, a secluded area, spanning three miles of pristine beaches. Other area parks of note are Deer Lake State Park, Point Washington State Forest, Grayton Beach State Park, and Eden Gardens State Park.

Florida and showers go hand-in-hand, but a great place to spend a rainy day is at Fired Up Paint-Your-Own Pottery in Seaside, Fla. Plan to spend a few hours painting your creation and expect heavy crowds when the weather turns wet.

The region’s dining is as varied and eclectic as each individual community. Stinky’s Fish Camp in Santa Rosa Beach on Highway 30A is a seafood and wine bar with a kid-friendly menu. The Lazy Gecko in the Sandestin resort area is known for good fish tacos. Barefoot Barbeque in Seaside is one of several food vendors that comprise the Airstream District along Highway 30A. The vendors sell casual and organic fare out of vintage campers.

A magnet for summertime vacationers, the Santa Rosa Beach area offers a number of accommodations, ranging from the intimate Lisbeth’s Bed and Breakfast in Santa Rosa Beach on Highway 30A to the AAA Three Diamond Courtyard Sandestin at Grand Boulevard.

Though each has its own vibe, these beach towns have a uniting theme: charm and oodles of character. Get ready for some summer fun in the sun.

Don Redman is associate editor of AAA Southern Traveler.

May/June 2014 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact:

Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce, www.oceanspringschamber.com, (228) 875-4424

Fairhope, visiteasternshorealabama.com,
(251) 928-6387

Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.mobile.org,
(800) 566-2453

Santa Rosa/South Walton, www.visitsouthwalton.com,
(800) 822-6877

To visit these beach towns, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides

Order free information about Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card found online.


 


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