HEAD TO THE BEACH!
Sugar-white sand and clear, turquoise water entice loads of visitors to Alabama’s Gulf Coast beaches. Seafood and beach food — from crab shacks to dress-up dining — feed the hungry visitors. Festivals celebrate music and food. You can cruise to fish or visit dolphins, parasail, jet ski, kayak or sail. Or just while away the hours at arcades and amusement halls.
Gulf State Park offers beautiful beaches and trails around nearby Lake Shelby. Visit for a day, camp, or stay in the new Lodge at Gulf State Park. Beyond the beach, there’s geocaching, bike trails, a nature center, educational programs, the Beach Pavilion, a butterfly garden and more.
CAST A LINE
Alabama’s Gulf Coast offers inshore and offshore saltwater fishing, with chances to catch blue marlin, yellow fin tuna, amberjack, cobia, red snapper and more. Bring your own boat, hire a charter, or just stroll out on the Gulf State Pier — the largest fishing pier by square footage on the Gulf. And there’s freshwater fishing as close as Lake Shelby.
EXPLORE NEAR THE SHORE
The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, running between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, offers hiking and biking along marshes and lakes with great birding opportunities.
Visit Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where you can see live animals or walk forested boardwalk trails within 6,600 acres of protected estuarine habitats. Or try the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, which has 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat and provides a haven for more than 370 species of migratory birds, nesting sea turtles and the endangered Alabama beach mouse. And the Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley boasts hundreds of acres of natural habitats and provides protection for rare plant and animal species. The preserve also offers a canoe/kayak launch, hiking trails and bird watching. And don’t miss the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center for a close-up view of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta before it opens out into Mobile Bay.
Coming in 2023 or 2024 is the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism & Sustainability, a new environmental and outdoor education facility located next to Gulf State Park. Even before the center is built, the staff are offering camps and classes, including an Ambassadors of the Environment Gulf Coast, developed in partnership with legendary oceanographer and explorer Jean Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society.
The Owa entertainment complex in Foley is part amusement park, part water park, part dining and entertainment, part hotel and RV park. This growing attraction, created by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, is a destination in itself.
The Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach showcases local artwork and features a glass-blowing studio that’s open to the public.
Foley’s Tanger Outlet Center is a shopper’s destination and it’s surrounded by other shopping options. Don’t forget downtown Fairhope for boutique shops.
The Gulf Coast has a variety of signature golf courses, creatively designed and strategically placed by some of the greatest names in golf — from Arnold Palmer to Bruce Devlin, Jerry Pate, Earl Stone and Robert Von Hagge — and featuring scenery from coastlines to wetland preserves and rolling hills. Lakewood Club at The Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
TIME TO ZOO
Forced to rebuild after a hurricane, the 25-acre Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo now offers more spacious and pleasant accommodations for its 199 species.
History comes alive at Fort Morgan State Historic Site, a Civil War-era fort that guarded the mouth of Mobile Bay. Or head north to the Blakeley State Park for more Civil War history, or even farther north and farther back in history to the William Weatherford Memorial at Little River, a monument to the Creek Indian chief. Nearby is Fort Mims, site of the battle that ignited the Creek Indian War in 1813.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival — Fairhope | March This 70-year-old festival attracts some 200 artists annually.
Strawberry Festival — Loxley | April Held in the Loxley Municipal Park, the festival sports a 5K and Fun Run, along with lots of produce.
Hangout Music Festival — Gulf Shores | May What could be better than bands at the beach — back this year after a two-year COVID-caused break.
National Shrimp Festival — Gulf Shores | October Celebrating all things shrimp with food, music, sports and more.
The Original German Sausage Festival — Elberta — October Held at the Elberta Town Park, the festival highlights German sausage and sauerkraut, and arts and crafts.
This article appeared in the May 2022 issue of Business Alabama.