Alabama…a vacation destination? Well shoot, why the hell not? Everyone goes to California and New York, how about ticking off a new state on the “Been There, Done That” list. Also, believe it or not, Alabama is home to some of the most scenic beaches east of the Mississippi. And besides, sometimes its ok to embrace that inner guy or gal that whips off the plain white t-shirt hanging over their oversized pair of Wranglers, gets absurdly sunburnt and bellows the lyrics to “Sweet Home Alabama” in between gulps of Bud Lite. When in Rome right? All jokes aside, many of the picturesque Alabaman coastal landscapes offer an affordable getaway with authentic Southern charm and quality resorts. Go ahead and keep scrolling south to find the premier list of beach destinations in The Heart of Dixie.
Perhaps the best-known area on the Alabama coast, Gulf Shores offers the extremes of rowdy fun and ultimate relaxation. Gulf Shores in recent years has been gaining traction amongst the younger crowd, in large part, thanks to the Hangout Music Festival. Hangout gets enough yearly festival-goers to attract big-time talent but still hasn’t blown up to the overwhelming size of mega-festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. This fact coupled with stages ideally situated directly on white sandy beaches make it worthy of a visit. Hangout Festival 2018 welcomed headliners Kendrick Lamar, The Chainsmokers, and The Killers. When a festival isn’t rocking the beach, travelers enjoy a thriving bar scene, many excellent seafood restaurants, and kid-favorite waterparks.
Orange Beach makes a name for itself as a vacation destination with multiple golf courses, family-friendly roadhouses, and daily fishing trips on chartered boats that often attract a dolphin escort. Orange Beach extends east to the Perdido Pass, the mouth of the Perdido River that separates Alabama and Florida, along this portion of the shore sits a number of beachside resorts with pools, stunning views, and private beach access. Between the two beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, sits Gulf State Park. This natural stretch of land on the Gulf of Mexico features untouched beaches perfect for long strolls, as well as camping and picnics.
Making up the Southwestern barrier of Mobile Bay is Dauphin Island. Only a 45-minute drive from Mobile, Dauphin Island is easily accessible via The Gordon Persons Bridge, and is not overly crowded due to many beachgoers heading east towards Gulf Shores. Dauphin offers various forms of entertainment. Near to the ferry dock is The Estuarium, an aquarium-like exhibit that offers a close-up display of key animals and ecosystems in the Alabama Gulf Coast. Their touch tanks, stingrays, alligators, and small sharks are usually favorites amongst kids and families. If after The Estuarium everyone is craving the opportunity to get out on the water, Dauphin Island has numerous kayak rentals to encourage some exploration. Dauphin and its neighbor, the Fort Morgan Peninsula, also have some of the best pet-friendly beaches in Alabama, unlike Gulf Shores and Orange Beach which restrict four-legged access.
Fort Morgan Peninsula and Bon Secour
Just across the entrance to Mobile Bay from Dauphin Island sits Fort Morgan Peninsula. A quick jaunt from the souvenirs and themed restaurants of Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan separates itself by being a secluded destination rich with history. At the end of the peninsula sits Fort Morgan. Fort Morgan is pentagonal bastion strategically surrounded on three sides by water. The fort saw plenty of action in its day as it was the location of a final land battle during the War of 1812 and, perhaps more famously, witnessed the Civil War’s Battle of Mobile Bay. Civil War historians enjoy noting that the Battle of Mobile Bay is supposedly the origins of the phrase, “Full speed ahead!” Many of the beaches near the fort are difficult to access but are so pure and isolated they are unnamed — take advantage of the opportunity and sit and read a book free of distraction.
Sitting further east near the origin of the peninsula is the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is an admiral undertaking by the government as it reserves over 7,000 acres of land for native species of flora and fauna. Hikers exploring the four main routes through the wildlife area have seen such species as armadillos, foxes, bobcats, and numerous migratory birds from South America. Those who end up on the beaches of the refuge may even be treated to an encounter with a sea turtle or two.