J.R. Tolkien

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R. Tolkien

Friday, August 29, 2014

Weekend Away – Gulfshores, Alabama

My least favorite part about living in Louisville? The beach is way too far away.  Landlocked, a trip to the beach means 8+ hours  of driving or at least two flight connections away.  If you’re looking for a new beach to explore, I’ll let you in on a worst kept secret, Gulf Shores, Alabama.

I’ve been coming here since college and find new reasons to love it every time.  A relatively short drive away, 8 – 9 hours, Gulf Shores Alabama is clean, not touristy and super family friendly.  Miles of beautiful white sandy beaches are perfect for those loving long walks on the beach.  The water is full of wildlife, great for crabbing, fishing, and dolphin watching.  Being less well known means never having to fight the crowds and having many favorite spots to yourself.  Here’s my short guide to this gem.

When to go

I’m a sucker for the beach, so any time I have an excuse to go is a good time!  For the budget conscious, these are the times with the best hotel rates:  Fall (September – March).  You can get some hotels as cheap as 50% off.  But the water tends to be colder these months.  The best time to swim is in the early fall and summer (April – August). 

Where to stay

A beach front condo is a must.  It might be more expensive, but the view of the ocean as you wake up

Orange Beach view from condo balcony
every morning and the sound of the crashing waves as you go to sleep at night is priceless.  You also have immediate access to the beach without having to find parking or packing up every time you want to go for a swim.  Condos also have fully equipped kitchen, so you save a lot of money by cooking your own food. There are a lot of resorts/condos available so check online for the best rate. 
We usually stay at Regency Isle.  Managed by Meyer Realty, we save money by renting only one 2 bedroom condo that sleeps 6 and sharing it with a larger crowd.  All Meyer Realty condo guests check in off site, so you can sneak in more than the allowable limits and save money by bringing sleeping bags :)

What to do

I’m still exploring all the things you can do in Gulf Shores, but here are a few of my favorites:

Dolphin seen from our Pontoon
  • Crabbing/Fishing: The water is teeming with fish.  Swim on any given day and you’ll see schools of fish right on the beach.  If you love to fish, you can do so right off the beach or head to the piers, pay $8 for an all-day fishing experience.  There are also a lot of deep sea fishing excursions with opportunities to catch larger fish.   Our favorite free activity is crabbing right off the beach, early morning or late at night.  You just need net and flash lights.  We had a lot of luck at this location: intersection of Kiva Way + Fort Morgan Road
  • Swimming at the Beach:  Completely free and fun for everyone.  In parts where the waves are crazy, buy a body board and do some body surfing.  Or just float and relax.  Perdido Beach, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan Beach are all great.  The beach at For Morgan is shallow and goes out pretty far, great for the little ones.
  • Dolphin Watching: If you wake up early, around 7 or 8 a.m., you can see these majestic animals right off the beach.  I’ve seen them from the balcony of our condo and less than 20 feet from the beach.  If you want to have longer sightings, there are several dolphin cruises.
  • The Wharf: Light show every night makes this a fun place to hang out after spending all day at the beach.  There are several shops, restaurants, movie theaters and ice creams shops.  The lively music and DJ got the kids involved in activities and dancing all night.
  • Pontoon: A cheap way to do a lot of stuff all in one day.  For approximately $20/a person you can rent your own private pontoon and cruise the waters. You’ll see dolphins, sneak in some fishing, and find your own private beach island to swim. 
Where to eat

  • Meals at home: Our favorite place to eat is at the condo.  We shop for the week and prepare all our meals at home.  Delicious, cheap and hassle free if you have a large group of people.  If you want sea food, head to Bon Secoure to get fresh shrimps, crabs ($10.99/dozen), crawfish ($3.99 cooked) and oysters.  Billy’s Seafood, Aquila, and Safe Harbour are my favorite places.  You’ll get sea food off the boat for half the price.  An unlikely place to get really cheap fish? Don’t be shy, ask one the fishermen at the piers, we got these babies for $15 each.
  • Lambert’s: if you have to eat out once, head to this fun restaurant where the portions are large and the atmosphere lively.  The food is decent but the fun part is the waiters throw freshly made rolls across the room right to you.  The prices are reasonable and they bring out unlimited side dishes. 

Have fun!