Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan in Alabama are teeming with visitors in the spring and summer, but late fall and winter months are also great times to spend a week or a month or a season on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The prices of accommodations drop dramatically, the crowds disappear, and the beauty and serenity remain. From shopping and beachcombing to historical attractions and fresh seafood, this area of Alabama is a great find for snowbirds or even those just trying to escape snow and ice from anywhere.
1. Miles of powdery white sand
Alabama’s beaches are smooth and serene. The white powdery sand appears to stretch through the entire horizon line. It is a great place for power-walking, strolling or searching for seashells anytime of the day, but especially in the early morning hours or at sunset. Bike trails are also numerous along the roads that parallel the shoreline. Pelicans, seagulls and skittering crabs will be your companions as you get exercise and mental refreshment from the mesmerizing waves. Only the most daring will be swimming in the chilly winter waters, but many condos where snowbirds like to make their nests have hot tubs and indoor swimming pools.
You will likely want a gulfside view for the winter months, but there are other lodging options, such as houses on the intercoastal waterway or even many RV parks, if you choose to bring your “house” with you when you head south.
2. Plentiful fresh seafood
One of the best ways for snowbirds to stay healthy during winter months at the beach is to eat lots of fresh-caught seafood. Restaurants along the Alabama Gulf Coast offer many special deals with senior adults and their winter visitors in mind. Lunch specials, Early Bird specials, and nightly “small plates” are just a few. What a treat it is to dine on fish, crab, shrimp, or oysters that were caught that morning and have never been frozen. All tastes can be satisfied among the many restaurants that stay open in the off season.
Lulu’s (Lucy Buffett is the sister of popular musician Jimmy Buffett) is wildly popular. Located at 200 E. 25th Avenue, live music begins almost every evening at 5:00 p.m. Check the website to plan to hear your favorites. There are numerous chains, such as Red Lobster, Moe’s and Hooter’s, but local favorites make up a big reason to be at the beach in the first place. The Original Oyster House, Shrimp Basket, Tacky Jacks, Cosmo’s, Cobalt, and Desoto’s Seafood Kitchen all have their devoted fans, but you might also try Beach House Kitchen and Cocktails in Gulf Shores and Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina. The chef at Fisher’s, Bill Briand, was recently nominated for a James Beard Foundation Best Chef in the South award.
3. It is near Mobile, Alabama's 2nd largest city
If you are going to be spending four or five months on the Alabama Gulf Coast, it is a big advantage to have a large city like Mobile nearby. Besides entertainment, dining and shopping options, there are two very famous attractions you will want to explore while you are there. One is the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and the other is Bellingrath Gardens and Home.
The USS Alabama was commissioned in 1942 and was active in both the Atlantic and the Pacific during World War II. This memorial park was named Alabama’s Attraction of the Year in 2015. It is open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.
Snowbirds will enjoy Magic Christmas in Lights at the Bellingrath Gardens and Home, as well as special prices for snowbirds, Winter Wednesdays and the Annual Orchid Show and Sale.
While you’re in the vicinity, enjoy delicious food and musical entertainment at Bluegill on the Mobile Causeway. They have Famous Flaming Oysters and an amazing dessert they call a “Brookie” – combination of a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie.
4. Shopping and a place to throw rolls
The Wharf in Orange Beach has several dozen shops, a movie theater, a ferris wheel and several nice restaurants. But, if you’re a serious bargain shopper, you might want to head about 20 minutes north to Foley, Alabama, and the many stores at the Tanger Factory Outlets. Coach, Dressbarn, J.Crew, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger and Vera Bradley are only a few of the hundred or so businesses in this complex.
The most famous restaurant in Foley is Lambert’s - Home of Throwed Rolls. And yes, rolls are thrown through the air by the skillful servers. Lines almost always form quickly. This is a comfort-food style restaurant, and the portions are LARGE. Two other dining options worth mentioning are The Gift Horse Restaurant (a wonderful buffet in the downtown area) and Wolf Bay Lodge, located about a mile behind Lowe’s on the main highway. After saving so much money on bargains at the outlet stores, you will certainly have an appetite that needs to be satisfied.
5. Boutique stores in Fairhope, AL
Many visitors to the Alabama Gulf Coast include a trip to Fairhope, only about an hour’s drive away, in their vacation itineraries. It is such a pretty town, besides having a wide selection of unique boutiques, nice cafes, and the view of Mobile Bay. Any season of the year you will enjoy the town’s commitment to beautification. Sunset Pointe is a restaurant with a view of the Yacht Club, and the Municipal City Pier provides walking trails and glimpses of the city of Mobile across the water. Be sure to stop at the Welcome Center to get maps and directions so you won’t miss a place that will become your new favorite.
Plenty to fill winter months far away from ice and snow
For those who choose to spend the winter months on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, a full range of activities will be possible. A vast array of dining and shopping options await, and many kindred spirits will enjoy making new acquaintances for fun and laughter. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have a list of SnowBird Clubs with regular meetings, and there is even a newspaper specifically devoted to this group of people - Gulf Coast Snowbirds - A Winter Visitor Publication.
Start making your plans for next year and rest assured that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach will welcome you warmly – with an emphasis on the word “warmly” – when you arrive late next fall.
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