Occupying slightly less than sixty miles at the edge of the continent, Alabama’s Gulf Coast is more varied than a first-time visitor might imagine. The beaches, less well-known than their Florida counterparts, are less populated with tourists and still look largely as nature intended. The tourists go there, to be sure—tourism is one of the state’s most important industries—but not in the kind of numbers that Florida sees. The result is a stretch of white shoreline dotted with colorful and historic towns in a part of the state that happens to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the United States. And with a culture influenced by French, Spanish, and English settlers as well as African slaves, Alabama’s Gulf Coast is a region not quite like any other.
The largest city along the Gulf Coast of Alabama is Mobile, a port city located on the Mobile River and Mobile Bay. Founded by the French in 1702, the city’s look and feel is similar to that of New Orleans, but without the raucous elements and with a decidedly more family-friendly vibe. It was actually in Mobile that Mardi Gras began, and it’s still celebrated there, but Mobile’s festivities are definitely PG-rated compared those in New Orleans. In addition to its Mardi Gras celebrations, the city is famous for its springtime azaleas and its seafood, both of which can be found in abundance there.
Gulf Shores is the major tourist destination along the Gulf Coast, and has the most options in terms of accommodations. It’s popular for a reason—the Gulf of Mexico is warm and usually calm here, making it an ideal place for a lazy day by the water. But there’s more to the area than the beach. Nearby Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge offers a taste of what the region was like before development; sea turtles, egrets, and alligators outnumber tourists here. And every year in May, Gulf Shores is home to one of the nation’s most popular live music events, the Hangout Music Fest, which is held right on the beach.
Tourism was slower to develop in nearby Orange Beach, a small town coast. Here, the main attraction is The Wharf—practically a small town in itself—that features a movie theater, plenty of bars and restaurants, a marina, and a beachfront Ferris wheel that offers spectacular views of the water. The Flora-Bama, a bar/entertainment venue/package store straddling the Florida-Alabama line, is a long-time favorite among locals and tourists alike.
For those who really want to escape civilization, the sparsely populated Dauphin Island offers pristine beaches and plenty of opportunities to explore nature, both in and out of the water. The island is also home to one of the state’s leading marine research facilities.
There’s history along the Gulf Coast as well, and lots of it. Marking the entrance to Mobile Bay is Fort Morgan, which was built between 1817 and 1834 to defend the bay. It was near Fort Morgan, during the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War, that Union Admiral David Farragut uttered the famously defiant phrase, “Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!”
Across the bay on Eastern Shore are the cities of Fairhope, Daphne, and Spanish Fort. One of the state’s loveliest and quirkiest communities, Fairhope began in 1894 as a “model community.” Today, the city maintains the free spirit that guided its early years and is home to numerous art galleries, boutiques, and the Grand Hotel, a beloved resort that served as a hospital during the Civil War. In recent years, a number of production companies have chosen Fairhope for film locations, most notably for the movie Get Out. Daphne shares some of the laid-back, slightly eccentric qualities of Fairhope. In addition to a variety of shops and excellent restaurants, Daphne is home to “jubilees,” unusual events when masses of fish, shrimp, and crabs become trapped in the shallow waters at the coastline, making easy pickings for anyone hungry for seafood. Spanish Fort, the smallest of the three cities, is home to Blakeley State Park, a Civil War battlefield, as well as the Alabama Oyster Trail.
Things to Do on Alabama’s Gulf Coast:
- See pristine, undeveloped beaches at Gulf State Park
- Get up close with wildlife at Gulf Coast Zoo
- Get a bird’s eye view of the Gulf by parasailing over the water
- Try the Flora-Bama’s signature Bushwacker drink
- Explore some of the area’s shipwrecks, including the LuLu, which is now a marine habitat
- Explore military history at Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines, and the USS Alabama battleship
- Kayak some of the local rivers and bayous
- Try your hand at deep sea fishing
- Have a meal at Lambert’s, a restaurant famous for its “throwed rolls”
- Take a stroll along Gator Alley Boardwalk in Daphne
- Get your camera and take in the scenic views from the Fairhope Pier
- Have dinner at Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Mobile institution
- Try your hand at harvesting oysters in Wolf Bay and Longs Bayou with Sailaway Charters
- Spoil yourself at the Grand Hotel’s indulgent spa
- Try some local brews at Big Beach Brewing Company
- Explore Mobile’s Africatown, a community settled by the last Africans brought into the US
Things to do within 60 miles of the Gulf Coast
- Cross the state line and sample the casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi
- Indulge in some retail therapy at Foley’s Tanger Outlets
- Explore Gulf Islands National Seashore in nearby Perdido Key, Florida
- Take to the skies at the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival each May in Foley
- Aviation buffs should take in a Blue Angels show from Pensacola Beach
- For one of the region’s weirder traditions, check out the Interstate Mullet Toss at the Flora-Bama
- See the South in full bloom at the lovely Bellingrath Gardens
- Nearby Pensacola has a bustling arts scene with numerous museums and live music events
- Get close to nature at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center
- Learn about other cultures at the Pensacola Greek Festival each October
- Witness the Blessing of the Fleet each spring in Bayou La Batre
How to Get to Alabama’s Gulf Coast
- Numerous Southern cities are an easy drive from the Alabama Gulf Coast. The region is easily accessible via Interstate 90 and Interstate 65.
- If you’re coming from farther away, the Gulf Coast is reachable from both Mobile Regional Airport and Pensacola International Airport.
- Numerous taxis and shuttle services operate from the region’s airports and between its cities and resort areas.
Best Times to Go
For most people, summer is the ideal time to enjoy Alabama’s beaches. The beaches are typically their most beautiful in the warm months of summer. The water is warm and calm and it’s when many of the region’s festivals and outdoor events are scheduled. But it’s the peak season, meaning the crowds are larger and prices are higher. Spring is another popular time of year to head to the coast, especially if you prefer warm—but not hot—weather. The coast is a popular place for spring breakers, and it can become crowded in mid-late March through early April.
The off-peak seasons of fall and winter can be surprisingly lovely at the coast. After Labor Day, the crowds gradually diminish, and it’s quite possible to have stretches of the beach to oneself in the cooler months. There is also the added perk of lower prices once summer ends. Alabama’s winters are mild at the coast, meaning that—aside from the occasional hurricane—there really is not bad time to visit.
If you are ready to enjoy more and spend less on your next visit to beautiful Coastal Alabama, check out our website. We offer hundreds of beach houses and condos to fit every size and budget – book directly with Verified Owners and never pay booking fees or site commissions. ALAVHR.com – The site you can trust!
Article by Susan Forson, Owner, ALAVHR.com, first published June 29, 2018
How to Spot a Scammer
Vacation rental scams are not new, but they have recently increased in our corner of the world. Last July, I received a frantic phone call from a traveler who arrived in Gulf Shores, suitcases in hand, and discovered that her family had been scammed out of their vacation rental. She called me because we have a very active Facebook community where we help connect travelers with vacation rental owners. I helped calm her down, and went through the scenario with her – yes, she had been scammed. It is very difficult to prosecute these scammers but I did encourage her to contact her bank and to file a police report. Fortunately, we were also able to help arrange a legitimate condo for her and her family to stay in. It breaks my heart to hear such stories – and they are becoming all too frequent.
We issue many warnings and reminders in our groups about scammers, but this phone call spurred me to action. I wanted to pull together what we have learned about scammers and make a video that you can share to educate travelers.
The bottom line is that no matter how careful you are, there is no way to prevent scammers from contacting you on Facebook or Craigslist. The best line of defense is to learn when to be suspicious and always choose a payment option that provides fraud protection. We cover all of these topics and even share real life examples from recent scams in our video.
Please take a few moments to learn how to spot a scammer and how to protect yourself – and please share with your friends and family. If you are the administrator of a Facebook page for connecting travelers with vacation rentals, we invite you to join our Scammer Busters group on Facebook. We use this group to notify other admins when scammers have been reported. Our goal is to reach as many groups as quickly as possible to spread the word. The examples used in this video were reported to the Scammer Busters group. Travelers may also contact any member of the Scammer Busters group to ask whether someone has been reported or if you are not sure you are being scammed.
Facebook Profile Tips
- Newly created accounts
- Older accounts with very few photos or activities
- Account name does not align with URL version of account
- Friends list not visible
- Many foreign friends, particularly from Nigeria or other English speaking third world countries
- If friends list is not visible, check to see who has “liked” or commented on photos – go back a month or more
- Check which groups they belong to:
- Are there a LOT of vacation rental groups scattered geographically?
- Are they in mostly buy/sell groups?
- Claim to be a realtor – check the company they claim to work with. Many scammers use the same fake company name
- Check back for our latest video “Who’s Profile is It Anyway?” for an in-depth, real life example of how to dissect a scammer’s profile
At Alabama Vacation Home Rentals, we are dedicated to stopping scammers. We verify every owner that lists on our site and never charge booking fees or site commissions. We are a proud member of the VHRNetwork – a regional network of listing sites, like ours, that provide a safe way for you save money. Visit VHRNetwork.com to find the region for your next vacation.
Article by Guest Blogger, Deb Panos, first published September 16, 2016 here
As I sit here, working on a menu and developing a shopping list for our next beach vacation, it dawned on me. Someone really needs to develop a comprehensive guide for planning meals at a beach (or anywhere really) vacation house or condo. Maybe someone has already done it but I couldn’t find it so I nominated myself. Keep in mind, this guide is really for those people that drive to their destination. If you fly, it is a little harder to prepare to this degree.
“At this point in the day, we are not much interested in showering and getting dressed to go out to dinner…”
“Planning ahead is crucial”
However, we are not a “box of pasta and jar of sauce” family. I love to cook and my entire family loves to eat and appreciates good food. Plus, when at the beach, we have access to fresh seafood (caught that morning) that we simply cannot resist. Eating well on vacation, to us, enhances the experience tremendously. I do realize that this approach is not for everyone. Many people consider cooking a chore and really want to avoid cooking on vacation as much as possible. I get that. Maybe I can change your mind. Just a little.
Planning ahead is crucial if you want to prepare fast, delicious meals at the beach. I am excited about spending a week at the beach so it doesn’t really seem like work. More like vacation prep. Kind of like packing.
It is also helpful to plan your menu for the week and be sure to include dinners out. You want to be prepared but you don’t want to bring a ton of food back with you or even worse throw it away. Also, be sure and find out if you’ll have access to a grill. Gas or charcoal? If it is charcoal, I wouldn’t haul charcoal from home. For two reasons. One, a bag of charcoal takes up a lot of valuable car space. Two, there is a good chance that the previous renters left behind their charcoal. Use that. If no grill is available, consider heading to the local Walmart and buying an inexpensive charcoal grill. You can leave it for the next renters.
Casseroles (like lasagna) can be prepared ahead and frozen. Meats can be placed in plastic bags along with marinade and frozen. Baked good, like cakes and cookies, can be made ahead and frozen. Or, if you like your cookies fresh from the oven, prepare the dough and freeze that. I like to review each recipe and make sure I take whatever spices and staples I need. Otherwise, be prepared for sticker shock when you go to the local grocery store for your favorite spice. Assuming they even have it. I even go so far as to measure out the exact amount I need and put it in a resealable plastic bag. If a recipe calls for multiple spices, by all means, combine them into one bag or plastic storage container.
I try and take small sizes of Dijon, olive oil, vinegar (you’ll probably need that if you steam seafood anyway), mayo, ketchup etc. Partly because I know I can buy it for less at home but also I like to keep my local shopping list as short as possible. I also buy one of those disposable salt and pepper sets. Don’t assume your rental has a Keurig. Bring ground coffee.
“You’ll want to keep it ultra-simple”
Since the first dinner will likely be on a travel day, you’ll want to keep it ultra-simple. Last trip, I premade crab cakes (did not form them, just mixed the ingredients together) and brought along a boxed rice mix (not something I normally use but it is vacation after all) and a box of salad greens. I also premade the dressing. Alternatively, I could have made a rice pilaf and just reheated in the microwave. Maybe next time. Anyway, after unpacking, checking out the beach and toasting the beginning of a wonderful vacation we were not interested in getting back in the car to go out to dinner or spending a lot of time preparing. I formed the crab cakes and broiled them (parchment paper comes in really handy here – just bring one sheet, not the whole roll), made the rice and added dressing to the salad. Super fast. Super tasty. If you have access to a Costco, their pasteurized crab meat (in the refrigerated section) is excellent. It isn’t cheap but it is less that you’d pay at a fish market. And it is less than eating out.
I’m excited to share how we prepare for and enjoy great meals on our beach vacations.
Deb Panos and her family own a vacation rental in scenic Fort Morgan, Alabama.
It’s no secret – the vacation rental industry has changed dramatically over the last few years and not for the better. These changes negatively impacted both the traveler and vacation rental owners alike. As a result, more and more owners are leaving the online travel agencies (“OTA’s”) and listing their properties on regional sites like Alabama Vacation Home Rentals, where there are no booking fees and no commissions. Most regional websites charge owners much less to list their properties and travelers pay absolutely nothing! This is how the OTA industry actually started – before they got greedy!
Alabama Vacation Home Rentals (ALAVHR) is a pure and simple listing site that connects travelers and vacation rental owners. We believe in open and direct communication between owners and travelers before, during and after the booking. In contrast, OTA’s want to control the process by making the rules to their benefit, at the expense of the traveler and owner. The reason that OTA’s block communication between owner and guest is simple, they want their money.
On February 7, 2018, we participated in the first ever “Book Direct” day. Vacation rental owners, hoteliers and industry related websites are coming together as one common voice to educate travelers and guests to inform them that there is an alternative to the OTA’s. Looking for tips on how to #BookDirect safely? Read our article here.
BookDirect to Save Hundreds of Dollars On Your Next Vacation Rental!
So say NO to VRBO! Other OTA’s that will gladly take you hard earned money are: AirBnb, Flipkey, HomeAway, Booking, etc. All of these websites will charge both the owner and traveler very high fees. Buyer beware! Ask questions and read the website! Some sites, like Booking .com, try to hide their fees as commissions tacked on to the owner cost. In the end, the traveler pays more for the same vacation and often times, the owner makes much less on their own property that the OTA’s.
Why pay more for the same vacation rentals?
Booking a vacation rental on a no fee-listing site can save you money, sometimes hundreds of dollars! Yes, hundreds of dollars! At Alabama Vacation Home Rentals: Our pledge to you: We do not charge a traveler fee and never will!
Receive personalized service.
Vacation rentals are not hotels. Each one is unique. In fact, not every vacation rental is for everyone. Booking direct with an owner or property manager allows for open communication so that you can ask important questions before you book.
Want the inside scoop? Owners are local experts who know their destination the best, the attractions,, the restaurants, the vendors, the happy hours the discounts, etc., and are more than happy to share with you their insider local tips. Remember, owners genuinely want your repeat business and will go the extra mile to ensure you are happy and enthusiastic enough to come back and tell your friends. Many owners appreciate returning guests so much that they offer special perks or discounts.
Receive the best possible price.
The cost for an owner to list their property on the OTA’s has become increasingly more expensive. While many of these OTA’s want you to think that they are offering you the best possible price, the fact is they are not. Owners have no choice but to pass the increase on to travelers. Your cost goes up! Speaking directly with the owner guarantees you the best possible rental price, access to special offers and/or last minute cancellations deals.
No fee regional listing sites are gaining in popularity. Alabama Vacation Home Rentals (a member of Vacation Home Rental Network) is one of them. Owners and travelers can make a difference by spreading the word that there is an alternative to VRBO, HomeAway, AirBnb, Booking etc.
You have saved all year for your vacation, so save some of those hard earned dollars for enjoying your vacation and not lining the pockets of a big OTA. Make sure it is your perfect vacation rental BEFORE you book.
With so much of our time today spent disconnected through electronics and social media, it’s important to set aside a weekend or even longer to relax as a family. A beach vacation is the perfect way to time to spend together and really connect. Here are a few tips to help make the most out of your time together.
3 Ways a Beach Vacation Can Bring Families Together
1. Get Everyone Involved in Making Decisions
Use the time planning your beach vacation to start getting everyone involved and excited. Ask your children to choose one or two activities they are most looking forward to on the visit. Once you arrive, even young children can help with finding the best spot on the beach, or send teens on an “adventure” – a list of important shopping items bring back to the beach house. Family members will feel more involved as they contribute to the trip’s success.
2. Create Unstructured Time Together
If your family members’ daily lives are crammed full of extracurricular activities, work, school, and other important obligations, finding time to relax together is tough. While at the beach, it’s easier to sit down to meals together, enjoy the sunset, go for walks, build sandcastles, look for shells and simply enjoy each other’s company.
3. Plan a Family Adventure
Whether learning to knee board, looking for starfish, going zip-lining, deep sea fishing or parasailing – the beach provides ample opportunities for your family members to bond together by helping each other make it through new and challenging adventures. Sharing new experiences creates memories you will treasure long after you leave the beach.
To learn more about how renting a beach house or condo can be fun for the whole family, contact Alabama Vacation Home Rentals based in Daphne, AL. With hundreds of rental homes along the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Dauphin Island, Mobile, Fort Morgan, and Fairhope, they can help you find the perfect family getaway. To learn more about what they have to offer, call them today at (251) 333-6500, or visit their website to see their beach houses and condo listings.