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Occupying slightly less than sixty miles at the edge of the continent, Alabama’s Gulf Coast is more varied than a first-time visitor might imagine. The beaches, less well-known than their Florida counterparts, are less populated with tourists and still look largely as nature intended. The tourists go there, to be sure—tourism is one of the state’s most important industries—but not in the kind of numbers that Florida sees. The result is a stretch of white shoreline dotted with colorful and historic towns in a part of the state that happens to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the United States. And with a culture influenced by French, Spanish, and English settlers as well as African slaves, Alabama’s Gulf Coast is a region not quite like any other.
The largest city along the Gulf Coast of Alabama is Mobile, a port city located on the Mobile River and Mobile Bay. Founded by the French in 1702, the city’s look and feel is similar to that of New Orleans, but without the raucous elements and with a decidedly more family-friendly vibe. It was actually in Mobile that Mardi Gras began, and it’s still celebrated there, but Mobile’s festivities are definitely PG-rated compared those in New Orleans. In addition to its Mardi Gras celebrations, the city is famous for its springtime azaleas and its seafood, both of which can be found in abundance there.
Gulf Shores is the major tourist destination along the Gulf Coast, and has the most options in terms of accommodations. It’s popular for a reason—the Gulf of Mexico is warm and usually calm here, making it an ideal place for a lazy day by the water. But there’s more to the area than the beach. Nearby Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge offers a taste of what the region was like before development; sea turtles, egrets, and alligators outnumber tourists here. And every year in May, Gulf Shores is home to one of the nation’s most popular live music events, the Hangout Music Fest, which is held right on the beach.
Tourism was slower to develop in nearby Orange Beach, a small town coast. Here, the main attraction is The Wharf—practically a small town in itself—that features a movie theater, plenty of bars and restaurants, a marina, and a beachfront Ferris wheel that offers spectacular views of the water. The Flora-Bama, a bar/entertainment venue/package store straddling the Florida-Alabama line, is a long-time favorite among locals and tourists alike.
For those who really want to escape civilization, the sparsely populated Dauphin Island offers pristine beaches and plenty of opportunities to explore nature, both in and out of the water. The island is also home to one of the state’s leading marine research facilities.
Historic Fort Morgan
There’s history along the Gulf Coast as well, and lots of it. Marking the entrance to Mobile Bay is Fort Morgan, which was built between 1817 and 1834 to defend the bay. It was near Fort Morgan, during the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War, that Union Admiral David Farragut uttered the famously defiant phrase, “Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!”
Across the bay on Eastern Shore are the cities of Fairhope, Daphne, and Spanish Fort. One of the state’s loveliest and quirkiest communities, Fairhope began in 1894 as a “model community.” Today, the city maintains the free spirit that guided its early years and is home to numerous art galleries, boutiques, and the Grand Hotel, a beloved resort that served as a hospital during the Civil War. In recent years, a number of production companies have chosen Fairhope for film locations, most notably for the movie Get Out. Daphne shares some of the laid-back, slightly eccentric qualities of Fairhope. In addition to a variety of shops and excellent restaurants, Daphne is home to “jubilees,” unusual events when masses of fish, shrimp, and crabs become trapped in the shallow waters at the coastline, making easy pickings for anyone hungry for seafood. Spanish Fort, the smallest of the three cities, is home to Blakeley State Park, a Civil War battlefield, as well as the Alabama Oyster Trail.
Things to Do on Alabama’s Gulf Coast:
See pristine, undeveloped beaches at Gulf State Park
Get up close with wildlife at Gulf Coast Zoo
Get a bird’s eye view of the Gulf by parasailing over the water
Try the Flora-Bama’s signature Bushwacker drink
Explore some of the area’s shipwrecks, including the LuLu, which is now a marine habitat
Explore military history at Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines, and the USS Alabama battleship
Kayak some of the local rivers and bayous
Try your hand at deep sea fishing
Have a meal at Lambert’s, a restaurant famous for its “throwed rolls”
Take a stroll along Gator Alley Boardwalk in Daphne
Get your camera and take in the scenic views from the Fairhope Pier
Have dinner at Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Mobile institution
Try your hand at harvesting oysters in Wolf Bay and Longs Bayou with Sailaway Charters
Spoil yourself at the Grand Hotel’s indulgent spa
Try some local brews at Big Beach Brewing Company
Explore Mobile’s Africatown, a community settled by the last Africans brought into the US
Things to do within 60 miles of the Gulf Coast
Cross the state line and sample the casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi
Indulge in some retail therapy at Foley’s Tanger Outlets
Explore Gulf Islands National Seashore in nearby Perdido Key, Florida
Take to the skies at the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival each May in Foley
Aviation buffs should take in a Blue Angels show from Pensacola Beach
For one of the region’s weirder traditions, check out the Interstate Mullet Toss at the Flora-Bama
See the South in full bloom at the lovely Bellingrath Gardens
Nearby Pensacola has a bustling arts scene with numerous museums and live music events
Get close to nature at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center
Learn about other cultures at the Pensacola Greek Festival each October
Witness the Blessing of the Fleet each spring in Bayou La Batre
How to Get to Alabama’s Gulf Coast
Numerous Southern cities are an easy drive from the Alabama Gulf Coast. The region is easily accessible via Interstate 90 and Interstate 65.
If you’re coming from farther away, the Gulf Coast is reachable from both Mobile Regional Airport and Pensacola International Airport.
Numerous taxis and shuttle services operate from the region’s airports and between its cities and resort areas.
Best Times to Go
For most people, summer is the ideal time to enjoy Alabama’s beaches. The beaches are typically their most beautiful in the warm months of summer. The water is warm and calm and it’s when many of the region’s festivals and outdoor events are scheduled. But it’s the peak season, meaning the crowds are larger and prices are higher. Spring is another popular time of year to head to the coast, especially if you prefer warm—but not hot—weather. The coast is a popular place for spring breakers, and it can become crowded in mid-late March through early April.
The off-peak seasons of fall and winter can be surprisingly lovely at the coast. After Labor Day, the crowds gradually diminish, and it’s quite possible to have stretches of the beach to oneself in the cooler months. There is also the added perk of lower prices once summer ends. Alabama’s winters are mild at the coast, meaning that—aside from the occasional hurricane—there really is not bad time to visit.
If you are ready to enjoy more and spend less on your next visit to beautiful Coastal Alabama, check out our website. We offer hundreds of beach houses and condos to fit every size and budget – book directly with Verified Owners and never pay booking fees or site commissions. ALAVHR.com – The site you can trust!
Article by Guest Blogger, Deb Panos, first published February 23, 2016here
Fact: Everyone loves crab cakes. Ok, maybe not a fact. But, for most people, they are a delicious treat. And so easy to make. I think people shy away from crab cakes because of the cost of quality crab meat. Yes, it is not cheap, however, home made crab cakes are much cheaper than restaurant crab cakes and many times, better.
I highly recommend getting your lump crab meat from Costco. It is pasteurized and in the refrigerated section – where the cheese is. I’m really not sure who else has it but I’m guessing it is not exclusive to Costco. I think the price hovers somewhere around $20 a pound. I hear you. That is more than beef tenderloin. Keep in mind that one pound of crab meat makes 8 generous crab cakes. So, for about $5 a person, you have a delicious meal. Under no circumstance should you use canned crab meat (where the canned tuna is). You will not be happy.
I love the taste of crab so I like to keep my crab cakes basic. Here’s the recipe I use. Crab Cakes
3 slices of white bread, cut the crusts off and crumble or cut into small pieces. You can even use a food processor to make fresh crumbs if you want
6 T mayo (sorry, but please use Hellman’s – crab meat is too expensive to use anything else)
1 T fresh parsley (I have omitted this without serious consequence)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 T Dijon mustard
1 t Old Bay
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound lump crab meat
1. Make sure there are no pieces of shell in the crab meat but try to keep the lumps as large as possible.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients and gently toss until blended.
At this point, I put the mixture into a plastic storage container. Don’t use a bag for this because you don’t want to break up those delicious lumps. You can do this the day before you travel but I wouldn’t recommend any earlier. Honestly, as simple as this is, you could do it the morning of departure. Or, take 5 minutes and do it at the beach while your rice is cooking.
Your rental unit will probably have a cookie sheet, but you will absolutely want to bring parchment paper. Not waxed paper. The parchment paper serves two purposes. One, it will prevent your crab cakes from sticking to the sheet. Two, clean up is minimized since you just toss the paper. You can just tear one baking sheet sized sheet and bring that. No need to bring the whole roll.
3. Form into 8 equal sized cakes, place on parchment papered baking sheet and broil until nicely browned and heated through.
If you like tartar sauce, by all means bring some. I could go either way.
Crab cakes are very rich so it is possible that someone will only want one. (I know…crazy!). There is no better lunch than a crab cake sandwich. Just warm gently in the microwave or a skillet and put on a bun (toasted if you are feeling ambitious) with some tartar sauce and lettuce and tomato. Just the crab cake on a plain bun is not bad either. Neither is just a leftover crab cake on a plate.
I haven’t tried it but I think crab cake eggs benedict would make a great breakfast.
Rice Pilaf is the perfect side dish to Crab Cakes. You probably have a favorite recipe but here is the one I use. You can make this a day or two ahead and reheat in the microwave for that first dinner. Of course I know that everything tastes better when freshly made but we are on vacation after all.
Basic Rice Pilaf
1/2 cup orzo
1/4 cup butter
1 onion, diced
1 cup rice (I don’t normally use Uncle Ben’s but I think it works best here and seems to reheat better)
2 1/4 cup chicken stock
Brown the orzo and onion in the butter. You don’t want to burn it but you do want to nicely brown the orzo and onions. Add the rice and broth, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. The Uncle Ben’s takes less time to cook which prevents the orzo from overcooking. Regular long grain rice takes longer.
After the rice cools, you can put this in a bag or plastic container.
Both the rice and the crab mixture will go in the cooler the morning of departure.
Add to this some salad greens with your favorite dressing. Here is a dressing that I like.
I use a Magic Bullet and then just put the lid on for travel. If you want to get fancy, add some cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion.
1T garlic – a couple of good sized cloves
1/4 cup balsamic
2 t brown sugar (light or dark) – I think this makes less expensive balsamic taste better
1/2 t pepper
1 t Dijon
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
Put the garlic in the Magic Bullet ( or chop by hand). After the garlic is finely minced add the balsamic, brown sugar, salt, pepper and Dijon. Blend well. Add the olive oil and blend until nicely thickened.
Open a nice bottle of white wine and enjoy that first beach meal on the deck listening to the waves and watching that beautiful sunset!
Deb Panos and her family own a vacation rental in scenic Fort Morgan, Alabama.
Article by Guest Blogger, Deb Panos, first published September 16, 2016here
As I sit here, working on a menu and developing a shopping list for our next beach vacation, it dawned on me. Someone really needs to develop a comprehensive guide for planning meals at a beach (or anywhere really) vacation house or condo. Maybe someone has already done it but I couldn’t find it so I nominated myself. Keep in mind, this guide is really for those people that drive to their destination. If you fly, it is a little harder to prepare to this degree.
So what was my motivation?
“At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner…”
When we go to the beach, our favorite time of day is sunset. We take a few simple snacks, a bottle of wine and our beach chairs and sometimes sit on the beach and gaze at the horizon until well after sunset. At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner. Our kids are grown now, but when they were younger, it presented even more of a challenge. Plus, typically we are staying off the beaten trail so going to a restaurant involves a 20 to 30-minute drive. Not to mention the cost of eating out for a week.
“Planning ahead is crucial”
However, we are not a “box of pasta and jar of sauce” family. I love to cook and my entire family loves to eat and appreciates good food. Plus, when at the beach, we have access to fresh seafood (caught that morning) that we simply cannot resist. Eating well on vacation, to us, enhances the experience tremendously. I do realize that this approach is not for everyone. Many people consider cooking a chore and really want to avoid cooking on vacation as much as possible. I get that. Maybe I can change your mind. Just a little.
Planning ahead is crucial if you want to prepare fast, delicious meals at the beach. I am excited about spending a week at the beach so it doesn’t really seem like work. More like vacation prep. Kind of like packing.
It is also helpful to plan your menu for the week and be sure to include dinners out. You want to be prepared but you don’t want to bring a ton of food back with you or even worse throw it away. Also, be sure and find out if you’ll have access to a grill. Gas or charcoal? If it is charcoal, I wouldn’t haul charcoal from home. For two reasons. One, a bag of charcoal takes up a lot of valuable car space. Two, there is a good chance that the previous renters left behind their charcoal. Use that. If no grill is available, consider heading to the local Walmart and buying an inexpensive charcoal grill. You can leave it for the next renters.
Casseroles (like lasagna) can be prepared ahead and frozen. Meats can be placed in plastic bags along with marinade and frozen. Baked good, like cakes and cookies, can be made ahead and frozen. Or, if you like your cookies fresh from the oven, prepare the dough and freeze that. I like to review each recipe and make sure I take whatever spices and staples I need. Otherwise, be prepared for sticker shock when you go to the local grocery store for your favorite spice. Assuming they even have it. I even go so far as to measure out the exact amount I need and put it in a resealable plastic bag. If a recipe calls for multiple spices, by all means, combine them into one bag or plastic storage container.
I try and take small sizes of Dijon, olive oil, vinegar (you’ll probably need that if you steam seafood anyway), mayo, ketchup etc. Partly because I know I can buy it for less at home but also I like to keep my local shopping list as short as possible. I also buy one of those disposable salt and pepper sets. Don’t assume your rental has a Keurig. Bring ground coffee.
“You’ll want to keep it ultra-simple”
Since the first dinner will likely be on a travel day, you’ll want to keep it ultra-simple. Last trip, I premade crab cakes (did not form them, just mixed the ingredients together) and brought along a boxed rice mix (not something I normally use but it is vacation after all) and a box of salad greens. I also premade the dressing. Alternatively, I could have made a rice pilaf and just reheated in the microwave. Maybe next time. Anyway, after unpacking, checking out the beach and toasting the beginning of a wonderful vacation we were not interested in getting back in the car to go out to dinner or spending a lot of time preparing. I formed the crab cakes and broiled them (parchment paper comes in really handy here – just bring one sheet, not the whole roll), made the rice and added dressing to the salad. Super fast. Super tasty. If you have access to a Costco, their pasteurized crab meat (in the refrigerated section) is excellent. It isn’t cheap but it is less that you’d pay at a fish market. And it is less than eating out.
I’m excited to share how we prepare for and enjoy great meals on our beach vacations.
Deb Panos and her family own a vacation rental in scenic Fort Morgan, Alabama.
With so much of our time today spent disconnected through electronics and social media, it’s important to set aside a weekend or even longer to relax as a family. A beach vacation is the perfect way to time to spend together and really connect. Here are a few tips to help make the most out of your time together.
3 Ways a Beach Vacation Can Bring Families Together
1. Get Everyone Involved in Making Decisions
Use the time planning your beach vacation to start getting everyone involved and excited. Ask your children to choose one or two activities they are most looking forward to on the visit. Once you arrive, even young children can help with finding the best spot on the beach, or send teens on an “adventure” – a list of important shopping items bring back to the beach house. Family members will feel more involved as they contribute to the trip’s success.
2. Create Unstructured Time Together
If your family members’ daily lives are crammed full of extracurricular activities, work, school, and other important obligations, finding time to relax together is tough. While at the beach, it’s easier to sit down to meals together, enjoy the sunset, go for walks, build sandcastles, look for shells and simply enjoy each other’s company.
3. Plan a Family Adventure
Whether learning to knee board, looking for starfish, going zip-lining, deep sea fishing or parasailing – the beach provides ample opportunities for your family members to bond together by helping each other make it through new and challenging adventures. Sharing new experiences creates memories you will treasure long after you leave the beach.
To learn more about how renting a beach house or condo can be fun for the whole family, contact Alabama Vacation Home Rentals based in Daphne, AL. With hundreds of rental homes along the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Dauphin Island, Mobile, Fort Morgan, and Fairhope, they can help you find the perfect family getaway. To learn more about what they have to offer, call them today at (251) 333-6500, or visit their website to see their beach houses and condo listings.
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