[hana-code-insert name=’al beaches’ /]
With everything from the quirky Mullet Toss Festival at the world famous Flora-Bama bar, to kayaking among the dolphin and egrets in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, to hanging out with ‘the cool kids’ at the chic Gulf-front restaurant “The Gulf”, where you can kick back on inflatable sofas, you can pretty much find something fun for everyone on the coast of Alabama (watch the video above for a quick look at some of the fun we found).
With nearby Florida stealing all the glory for its stunning shoreline, many people fail to realize beaches even exist in Alabama, a state better known for its national championship college football teams than a slice of paradise, where you can sit in the sand and soak up the sun.
But after spending four days with girlfriends (hosted by the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Visitor’s Bureau), playing in what is famously referred to as ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, I can attest to the fact that it’s the perfect little place to escape from the world for a bit.
The area’s PR team refers to the coastline with the catchphrase ‘It’s a Whole Different State’, playing on the notion that this state might surprise you when you cross the border to its beaches. I’m taking it one more step, saying it’s a ‘new state of mind’, because that’s how I felt when I was there.
FUN BIG ENOUGH FOR TWO STATES
You can make your way across the border at Flora-Bama, the beach bar that technically resides in Florida, but has a boardwalk separating the sand so that you can step foot in Alabama, too. This bar is big on parties, with a rich history of fun (which you really need to hear from Compton, who you can spot in a kilt and crocs, because he knows the inside scoop on all the best stories). One of it’s best events is the annual Mullet Toss, when tens of thousands of people visit to witness the fish flying from Florida into Alabama, all in the name of good times.
FOOD (AND FUN)
The Flora-Bama Yacht Club sits across the street and is the perfect place for a quieter slice of fun, along with some delicious food that will satisfy any appetite, including the chef’s pick of Lionfish Sashimi. Chef Chris Sherrill is a bit of an environmentalist, too, concerned about the lionfish overrunning the Gulf waters, becoming the underwater equivalent of kudzu on land. He explained they’re tough to get rid of, with no natural predators, and are essentially choking out the other breeds of fish that we’re more accustomed to eating. Some regions of the world sell lionfish for top dollar, but Chef Sherill wants us to eat more, so he keeps it affordable, serving it up as an appetizer, along with some of his other famous dishes like Chargrilled Fresh Gulf Cobia topped with New Orleans Barbeque Softshell Crab, Alabama Blue Crab Hushpuppies and Beignet Fries with White Chocolate Ganache.
A little further into Alabama you’ll find ‘The Gulf’, a funky hangout where I could see spending every Friday or Saturday night if I lived close enough. The burgers are the best I’ve ever eaten—anywhere—with the special house made garlic, and the grouper sandwiches are pretty good, too (I suggest you do what I did and find a friend willing to order one while you order the other—then split each so that you can try both of these favorites). You can slip off your shoes and walk through the sand to one of many inflatable sofas they have peppering the sand. Or, keep those shoes on and kick back in the grass or boardwalk areas situated on the property. Do not miss the gift shop, though. It’s packed with some of the coolest finds on the beach—all relics you’ll want to take home to remind you of the fun you had while you were away. This beach bar embraces the natural setting, merging old and new, with the building made from a repurposed shipping container and the record player spinning vinyl. Seriously. It’s retro-wonderful and shabby chic. The very definition of a coastal hipster.
Over on the river side you’ll find Fisher’s, a fabulous restaurant and bar that is famous for its oysters (get the Murder Point farm raised oysters if they’re available), and I highly recommend you try the fried crab claws, too. The chef, Bill Briand, trained under Emeril Lagasse, and there’s a definite Louisana lean to the menu. The décor is to die for—the kind of comfy upscale look you’ll find on the pages of Coastal Living magazine—classy without feeling snooty—with furnishings you’re going to want to take pictures of so that you can duplicate the look in your own home. In fact, the owner, Johnny Fisher, told me enough people have asked for the name and brand of the paint color that the local Sherman Williams paint shop should change the shade to Fisher’s, in honor of all the business he’s sent them. Every area of the restaurant upstairs feels like a home you’ll never want to leave, from the plush pillows plumped perfectly, welcoming you with ‘Hello Beautiful’ printed on the front, to the dining tables with coral pieces decorating the tops, belonging there as much as the salt and pepper shakers should. You can see boats docked around the marina and take in the river views from both the upstairs and downstairs bars. If you want a great drink, do yourself a favor and order up the Double Nipple. I know you won’t really want to even say the name out loud, but this combo of a strawberry daiquiri and pina colada is worth any embarrassment you might feel placing that order.
If you feel like you need to work off some calories from all this food and fun, you can sign up for a kayak excursion with Wild Native through the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. No experience necessary. Your guide will help you figure out how to row just right, and she’ll take things at your pace if you’re not looking to row like a madman across the bay. But even the rowing is relaxing when you’re in this natural setting, with dolphin swimming a few dozen feet away, and birds soaring overhead. This experience in the wild is the other extreme to beach life that you expect to find on the coast, away from crashing waves and sandcastles, and totally worth spending a few hours of your vacation sampling.
Your muscles might ache the next day, so do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a massage at the Spa at the Beach Club in Fort Morgan. There are several different massage treatments to pick from, along with skin care, body treatments, and salon services. You can request the intensity level you prefer for the massage therapy, along with aromatherapy options intended to help relax you. And after your treatment is done, don’t race out too quickly. Spend half an hour or so in the hot tub, or work your way out to the pool and beach.
And since you’re treating yourself so well for a few days, do yourself a favor and drop in for a yoga session on the beach with Glow Yoga. If you don’t normally attend yoga classes, you might struggle with a position or two, but the instructor won’t pressure you to push yourself. Go at your own pace, but keep going, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll make it through the hard stuff and be so glad to get to the poses at the end. The soothing sounds of the waves help it feel more like a spiritual experience, relaxing the mind with the body. And, they offer drop in classes for people vacationing in the area (as it so happens, those classes are typically held at The Gulf that I mentioned earlier).
SAIL AT SUNSET
If your idea of relaxation goes beyond stretching and spas, book yourself a spot on a sunset cruise with Sail Wild Hearts. You’ll climb aboard a 53-foot, open-ocean catamaran and, if the weather cooperates, head from the bay out into the Gulf of Mexico, where you can typically spot dolphin and enjoy views of the white sand beaches from the water. The main sail will soak in the warm, Gulf breezes and have you soaring through the water, feeling like a sailor in no time. It’s a nice escape with a group of friends or a perfect way to spend a romantic evening with your favorite person, watching the sun set for the evening.
And if you need a place to stay, don’t forget to consider VRBO, along with the other traditional options. We stayed in this unit at the Edgewater condo that offered stunning sunrise views, along with some great night time light shows during an overnight storm while we were there. The unit was clearly decorated by an owner with exquisite taste. Once again, I was snapping photos of furnishings and features that I hoped to duplicate in my own home some day.
If you’re like me, when you have to pack up and leave, you’ll already be planning your return trip to the region. Between all this food, fun and fabulous venues, it truly did offer up a whole new state of mind.
Want to read more about this fabulous fun? The other gals on the trip have a few articles you might like to read, too. They’re listed below!
Angela with Spinach Tiger: http://spinachtiger.com/where-girlfriends-eat-in-orange-beach/