Thousands of visitors pour into the Alabama Gulf Coast every year from April through September, but many others are discovering that the area is rich with opportunities twelve months of the year. From endless supplies of fresh seafood and places to shop to vast recreational choices and a vibrant arts culture, license plates from all over the United States are showing up in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores October to March as well.
Fabulous in the summer and pleasant in the winter
The powdery white sand beaches, rolling surf, sun and blue skies are dreamed about and sought after for those marking their calendars for spring and summer vacations. But snowbirds, homeschooling families, retirees, those who are able to work from any place that has reliable internet and many others are being drawn throughout the year to the mild temperatures of Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, Perdido Beach and Dauphin Island on the southernmost tip of Alabama.
Barefoot walks at sunrise and sunset coupled with opportunities for learning and personal growth provided by the area city planners are combining to make this a popular destination for more than just a week at a time.
Seemingly endless supplies of fresh seafood
Diners on the Alabama Gulf Coast can accurately proclaim it to be a true foodie destination. The shrimp, crabs, oysters, grouper, snapper and yellowfin tuna, caught fresh from the Gulf of Mexico, appear on many menus, but non-seafood lovers need not worry. Steaks, chicken, burgers, barbecue and even vegetarian options also abound. Several fresh seafood markets even make it possible for you to buy and prepare your own healthy meals.
James Beard-nominated chefs have migrated to the Gulf Coast, many of which placed at or near the top of the recent World Food Championships held in Orange Beach. Fisher’s, SALT, Bill’s By The Beach, Villagio Grille, Cobalt and Cosmo’s are a few with notable chefs. Creativity oozes from the descriptions of dishes, but visitors also have the choice of dozens of mom-and-pop diners serving meat-and-three comfort foods for which the South is often known.
Wildly popular restaurants such as Lulu’s or The Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores will have long lines from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but a wintertime visit means you can walk right in and be seated. Most restaurants offer Early Bird Specials or Snowbird Menus, providing very economical dining for senior adults or families. Ruby Slipper and Brick and Spoon are new eateries in the area, both serving only breakfast, brunch and lunch.
Decadent sweet treats are appearing on the scene. Chocolate Corner and The Yard Milkshake Bar tempt visitors with their homemade desserts.
Housing varieties in all price ranges
Those planning a vacation or an extended visit to the Alabama Gulf Coast should start by deciding what their budget allowance for housing or accommodations has to be. Once that is determined, property management and real estate companies can help you choose what would be suitable for singles, couples, families or groups of friends traveling together. Price will be determined by the dates of your visit, as well as the length of your stay. A week during Spring Break or high summer season will cost the most, while often you can stay a whole month in November through February for half that rate.
High-rise condominiums, complete with pools, fitness rooms, security gates and full kitchens are wildly popular, but simple hotel rooms with kitchenettes are also available. Beach cottages and large multi-family-sized beach houses can also be rented. Gulf front properties are generally more expensive than bay front rentals.
Many choose to invest in buying property on the coast, staying in it themselves during part of the year and renting it to others the rest of the time.
Harris Properties, Meyer Realty and Kaiser Realty are three of the most popular agencies.
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Shopping to fit all budgets
Tanger Outlet Center, just a short drive from the beach in Foley, Alabama, has more than 100 stores representing brand-name retailers offering discounted merchandise. Pelican Place at Craft Farms in Gulf Shores houses several dozen high-end big box stores, and The Wharf in Orange Beach is lined with boutique and specialty shops. Both Pelican Place and The Wharf have multiplex cinemas that are popular with visitors, too.
The nearby town of Fairhope is well-known for its quaint and appealing downtown shopping area, and SanRoc Cay in Orange Beach has several specialty shops for fishing and water recreation, as well as Harmony Creek Farm, producing high-quality soaps.
For normal day-to-day living needs, there are plenty of grocery stores, pharmacies and chain merchandisers.
Recreation for all ages and stages
Deep sea fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving and water-related sports of all kinds attract visitors of all ages and skill levels to the Gulf Coast. For more sedate activities, there are many putt-putt golf complexes for the young set and at least 16 golf courses for those enthusiasts. Several were designed by recognized names such as Arnold Palmer, Jerry Pate and Earl Stone.
Miles of biking, jogging and walking trails wind through Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, notably on Fort Morgan Road at Bon Secour Wildlife Sanctuary where there is a one-mile (1.6 km), wheelchair-accessible trail.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo has been around since 1989 and is home to more than 500 animals. The zoo is open 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and has a large new facility under construction that will be open in 2019.
The nearby city of Foley, AL and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians partnered together in 2012 to open a family-oriented amusement park and entertainment center. OWA originates from a word in the Muskogee Creek language which means “big water.” OWA has 21 rides suitable for a range of ages and is in the middle of adding shops, restaurants and lodging for its guests.
History buffs will want to make their way to Fort Morgan, a military installation that was used to guard the Alabama coastline from the completion of its construction in 1834, through the Civil War, World Wars I and II, until its abandonment in 1944. Other interesting area museums include the Holmes Medical Museum and Foley Railroad Museum.
A creative environment for artists and craftspeople
The Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach is a beautiful new facility housing an art gallery, the Hot Shop and the Clay Studio. Five days a week, visitors and residents on the Gulf Coast can take part in glass-blowing, pottery or painting classes, and on weekends, the venue is an incredible setting for weddings, concerts and events of all kinds.
The Gulf Coast Arts Alliance in Gulf Shores also offers gallery space for local artists and classes in painting and photography. Both facilities house gift shops displaying one-of-a-kind jewelry, gifts and decor items.
The Welcome Centers in both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores keep a full calendar of interesting lectures and artisan demonstrations with free admission.
A visitor for a week or so is welcome to take advantage of any of the classes being offered, or someone who comes to stay for several months might choose to take up a whole new hobby and get expert instruction while in the area.
Alabama Gulf Coast enhances body, mind and spirit of its visitors
Whether visitors stay for a weekend, a week or several months, the Alabama Gulf Coast offers many ways to be renewed physically, mentally and creatively. They can eat healthy, fresh foods and exercise their bodies. In addition, their psyche can be renewed with natural beauty and places to develop artistic abilities. Visitors can be deliberate in their efforts or merely choose to relax and soak up the sound of crashing waves. The good news is that all of this can happen twelve months out of the year.
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