A weekend along Alabama’s Gulf Coast will clear your mind and get you right with your world again. Some places you need to check out:
The Wharf. Want to stay and play in one location? If driving isn’t high on your priorities, you might consider a weekend or a week at The Wharf. This mixed use development along Wolf Bay isn’t just a place to go or a place to stay. It’s a place to play, swim, eat, golf, and shop. Rent a condo for two or twelve people in one of The Wharf’s high-rises. Shop for designer anything at the retail shops that line Main Street. Dine at one of the many restaurants, swim at The Oasis, an exclusive water park just for guests. Go hear a concert at the 10,000 seat amphitheater, or ride on the tallest Ferris wheel along the Gulf Coast.
Live Bait at The Wharf is a great place to dine while you’re there. An extraordinarily seafood-heavy menu is paired with a sushi bar of all things. The Seafood Nachos are legendary; or go for decadent and share a Steamed Seafood Platter with a friend (or don’t share and enjoy it all yourself!).
The Wharf * 4550 Main Drive in Orange Beach * thewharfal.com
The Beach Club. Upscale and luxurious, this kicked back oasis along the Gulf of Mexico has its own private beach, a wide variety of accommodations and several on-site restaurants that serve up a variety of foods. Don’t want sand in your shoes from the beach? There are five outdoor pools and an indoor one, too, along with hot tubs and cabanas. A full service spa, tennis courts, clubhouse and more can make wanting to leave pretty tough.
The Beach Club * Beach Club Trail in Gulf Shores * beachclubal.com
Beach Houses. Not the pampered sort? If you want to enjoy the breezes off the Gulf from the privacy of your own beach house, you’re in luck. Kaiser Realty offers beach house and condominium rentals all along Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Take the family or your friends and enjoy a place all to your own. Amenities such as beach and pool access, large kitchens, group-style accommodations and more are available. Check them out.
Kaiser Realty * 1557 Gulf Shores Parkway * kaiserrealty.com
Sailaway Charters. Join Captain Skip on a tour of Wolf Bay and its estuaries and learn all about shrimping, crabbing and oyster harvesting. His boat trips into the bay feature a hands on close-up look at native birds, fish, oysters and other wildlife. If you’re lucky, Skip’s dolphin friend Mr. Friendly might come up alongside the boat for a visit. A must-do activity, especially for families.
Sailaway Charters * 24231 Gulf Bay Road * sailorskip.com
Fort Morgan. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The phrase comes from the Battle of Mobile (date cite). Fort Morgan is one of three forts in the area (Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island and the recreated Fort Conde in Mobile) and by far the largest.
Military buffs will enjoy the museum and its comprehensive information about the Fort’s service since its 1834 construction -- with photographs and exhibits from the fort’s service in the Civil War and onwards.
Kids will get a kick out of being able to crawl all over a living, breathing piece of American history.
Fort Morgan * 110 Highway 180 West
Blow it up. Does art fascinate you? The Orange Beach Art Center isn’t just a place to look at art, it’s a place to create it. Featuring Alabama’s only public access glass studio, the Center hosts all sorts of hands-on classes and demonstrations that will fit any budget. If you’ve ever been interested in glassblowing, this is the place to get your gear on and create your own 2200 degree art.
Orange Beach Art Center * 26389 Canal Road * orangebeachartcenter.com
Romantic getaway. Pack a picnic basket (you can pick up supplies at Bruno‘s or Publix, two of the local grocery stores) and head to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Take the Pine Beach trail out to a secluded and remote section of beach where no one will bother you but the gulls (and other hikers). It’s a hearty two mile walk that takes you through lush pine forest and swampland, past 40 acre Gator Lake and over sand dunes right down to the beach. Watch for birds such as the Yellow-Rumpled Warbler and the Red-Eyed Visio, and stick to the beach area trails -- this is a nesting area for the Snowy Plover.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge * Highway 180 West of Gulf Shores * www.fws.gov/bonsecour
Alabamans love their Royal Red shrimp, and one of the best places to find them is at a little place called King Neptune’s. Al and Diane Sawyer’s place may not look like much from the outside, but the eatery often has a line out the door full of hungry patrons looking for good, reasonably priced seafood. Royal Reds come by the half-pound or pound. Other great Gulf Coast specialties can be found here, such as West Indies Salad, fried crab claws and a variety of broiled and fried seafood platters. If you skip the Fried Cheesecake, you’re doing yourself a disservice, best fried cheesecake I’ve ever had. But if you want to share with a small army, go for the bread pudding. It’s huge.
King Neptune’s * 1137 Gulf Shores Parkway * kingneptuneseafoodrestaurant.com
A destination all its own, especially for Parrotheads: Lulu’s at Homeport Marina is one of those great places where you can have a Cheeseburger in Paradise, walk barefoot in the sand, tie up your boat for a while and do a little bit of nothing.
It’s run by Lucy Anne Buffett, the effervescent sister of Jimmy, who‘s likely to be passing through when you drop by. The restaurant itself is huge (I was told they’ve seated up to 3000 people at once) and the living is easy. There are sand and play areas for the kids, beach chairs and tunes for the adults, and a sandwich heavy menu for all.
Try the Mahi Tacos, and if you don’t get a Big Blue Shark Margarita, it could be your fault.
Lulu’s at the Homeport * 200 East 25th Avenue in Gulf Shores * lulusathomeport.com
Looking for a tasty yet unusual dining experience? Cosmo’s is where you should land. Yes, there are a lot of the traditional Gulf Coast specialties on hand. But you’re going to want to try some of the more unusual items. Such as rolls from the on-duty sushi chef, who comes up with such items as the Duck Roll (smoked duck, red bell peppers, green pepper jelly and cream cheese).
The banana-wrapped fish is decadent, and the cheese dip is unlike any cheese dip you’ve ever had.
Cosmo’s * 25753 Canal in Orange Beach * cosmosrestaurantandbar.com
Best place to be a beach bum? Try The Hangout at Beach Boulevard and Alabama Highway 59. This revived 50’s and 60’s style restaurant firmly grasps its beach bum heritage with plenty of cold drinks, hot food and fun activities. Add in a courtyard full of fun activities, live music, shopping and a nice stretch of Gulf Coast beach, and you have yourself a dining destination. The Wipeout Burger, if you dare try it, is the quintessential Alabama beach burger.
The Hangout * 101 East Beach Blvd. * thehangoutal.com