Text by Maggie Weir
During the autumn months, the Gulf Coast welcomes in cool breezes, quiet beaches and breathtaking views. Fall in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores offer visitors a more laid-back beach experience. The sand is white, the water is cool and the crowd is limited. Shopping, bike riding and dining al fresco are better enjoyed in 70˚ temperatures with clear blue skies. Whether planning your family’s vacation or your next girlfriends’ getaway, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are great places to reconnect, relax and enjoy the view.
The Gulf Coast is a happening place—especially during the summer months. The busy season kicks off in May with The Hangout festival and doesn’t show signs of slowing until the new school year rolls around. Both the temperatures and numbers of vacationers lining the beaches are high during the peak season, but don’t let this be your only impression of the Alabama Gulf Coast. During the autumn months, off-season rental prices offer families an affordable, relaxing vacation option.
Thirty-two miles of snow-white beaches span the coastline of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Sparkling, emerald water and comfortable fall temperatures make this locale the perfect vacation. Step outside your condo or beach house rental onto the sugary sand and into a day of relaxation, or visit one of the variety of public beaches in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores for an unforgettable experience.
Beyond the Beach
Beyond the beach, there are numerous outdoor activities to enjoy with the whole family. Take a bike ride through the Gulf State Park on Beach Bike Rentals and explore six distinct ecosystems. The Backcountry trail consists of six trails and nearly 11 miles of multi-use paths. The park is a birdwatcher’s paradise with four locations listed as stops on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail.
Dolphin tours are available throughout the year with Cetacean Cruises. Captain Bill Mitchell and his crew have identified and named over half of the dolphins living in the bay and are quick to recognize each animal by its dorsal fin. The nature and dolphin tour is both thrilling and educational. Learn about the flora and fauna of the area while the captain pilots you through the hidden creeks of the back bay by boat.
Don’t miss out on open-ocean sailing while visiting the Gulf Coast. Wildhearts Catamaran offers day trips tailored to your liking on a 53-foot sailboat. Activity cruises include a sailboat ride to a beautiful island where vacationers have access to water toys including tandem kayaks, paddle boards, soft surfboards, masks, fins and snorkels. The sunset cruise takes guests wherever the wind blows; every sail is different but the sunsets remain the same—breathtaking.
Art & Music
Housed in “the original Orange Beach hotel” is the picturesque Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach. The gallery showcases over 100 artists, many of whom call the beach their home. The art center features two working studios including the hotshop—a must-see for glass blowing demonstrations and classes—and a clay studio. The only hot glass studio in Alabama offers visitors a chance to observe the mind-blowing talent of the artist-in- residence. Take a stroll through the various rooms of the center to see and buy the glass sculptures made in-house. The Coastal Arts Center is more than a gallery for regional artists; the center hosts rotating exhibits, holds classes and programs for children and each spring sponsors the annual Orange Beach Festival of Art.
The Hangout is a family-friendly restaurant that can seat hundreds and offers an outdoor stage for enjoying live music on the weekends. During the month of May, the shows spills out to the public beach area where The Hangout Music and Arts Festival takes place. Located on the sandy beaches just beyond the Hangout restaurant, the festival, in its fourth year, is the only event of its kind in North America. Last year the music festival brought in crowds of over 30,000—with headliners like Tom Petty and Kings of Leon, it’s no surprise the beach festival has become a main attraction.
Shop & Dine
Visiting The Wharf can be a fun-filled all-day event, or all week for that matter. The Wharf is the Gulf Coast’s leading destination resort and marina, featuring a unique selection of boutique shopping, dining and entertainment. The retail scene at The Wharf has a little something for everyone—women’s luxury apparel, upscale home decor, a designer swimsuit shop and even a cigar store. Children’s activities at The Wharf are endless; kids can ride the tallest Ferris wheel in the Southeast, swim a lazy river or see a movie at a 15-screen theater. For more thrills and chills a ropes course is currently under construction on site.
The Wharf is also home to a 96,000-person capacity amphitheater which hosts big-name bands throughout the year. Since opening its doors in May of 2006 with a sold-out Hank Williams, Jr. concert, the venue continues to bring the country’s hottest acts to Orange Beach. Past performances include Taylor Swift, Kid Rock, Kenny Chesney, Widespread Panic, Jason Aldean, John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Def Leppard and Journey.
Dining options at The Wharf are plenty and the fresh ingredients offered by the Gulf are the star attractions.
Former pro football player Bob Baumhower’s restaurant at The Wharf showcases his love for fishing off the coast. At The Compleat Angler Seafood Grille and Bar, the produce is garden fresh and bought daily, seafood is local and the atmosphere is enticing. Enjoy the outdoor seating overlooking the water and marina while sipping a fresh fruit cocktail and listening to island music. Menu standouts include the Bimini Bay Conch Fritters for a starter—fried to perfection and served with house-made tartar sauce. Bob’s fresh catch, grilled and served with black beans and coconut rice with cilantro lime sour cream is a must-try for vacationers.
Stay a few days at The Wharf to experience all the destination resort has to offer. Rental condos overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and The Marina are available for rent year round.
Further down I-10 food continues to take top billing. Gulf Coast cuisine is full of fresh seafood, local produce and Southern staples. Restaurant options range from family friendly to fine dining—all with a focus on the bounty that’s right in their backyard.
Enjoy a beautiful sunset over the bay and the laid-back atmosphere at Cobalt under the Perdido Bay Bridge. Cobalt highlights the cuisine of the coast in a contemporary fashion. Must-try dishes include Firecracker Shrimp, lightly dusted, fried and tossed in spicy remoulade, and Peppercorn and Coriander Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna, seared rare and served over traditional Southern Hoppin’ John with Tabasco Hollandaise and Chef’s Worcestershire Sauce.
Visit Cosmos for the tastiest sea bass you will ever put in your mouth. The Year of Alabama Food named their Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish as one of “the top 100 dishes to eat before you die.” Cosmos captures the essence of Southern cuisine for an unforgettable dining experience.
Local, fresh and full of Southern hospitality are commonalities found at notable restaurants in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Lucy Buffett’s newest restaurant, Lucy B. Goode comprises all three elements. Located next door to her family-friendly eatery, Lulu’s, Lucy B. Goode’s fare is local, traditional Gulf Coast cuisine with a twist.
The recently opened dining spot is Lucy’s tribute to her parents as well as a love letter to the Gulf Coast. After dining at the coastal café I can tell you the cuisine is also a love letter to the patrons. It is apparent in every bite that the ingredients are cared for and prepared with a passion for the fare of this region.
Local, seasonal ingredients are the focus, providing diners with some of the best seafood available. Menu standouts include Lulu’s West Indies salad with Bayou La Batre Jumbo Lump Blue Crab and “Pa-menna” Cheese with Rosemary Flatbread, LuLu’s Sweet and Sassy Pickles and Roasted Pecans, for starters. Baldwin County Peanut Soup is an ode to the roadside staple and a must-try dish. This creamy soup is subtle yet sophisticated. Warm plate favorites include chargrilled wahoo with local baby lima beans, cherry tomatoes, lemon and olive oil and the all-natural buttermilk fried chicken biscuit sliders with sweet pickles.
Whatever season you choose to visit the Gulf Coast, be prepared to experience the essence of Southern hospitality. After just one visit to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, it’s evident that business owners and locals love their home and take pride in making guests feel welcome. Take a trip soon and experience all that Orange Beach and Gulf Shores Alabama have to offer.
TRAVEL GUIDE: ORANGE BEACH & GULF SHORES, ALABAMA
Lucy B. Goode 202 East 25th Ave. Gulf Shores, AL 36542, 251.948.4101
Cosmos 25753 Canal Rd. Orange Beach, AL 251.948.9663 www.cosmosrestaurantandbar.com: Fresh and eclectic food, don’t miss the banana leaf wrapped fish.
Cobalt 28099 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach, AL 251.923.5300 www.cobaltrestaurant.net: Coastal Cuisine, seafood and steaks—perfect place to see the sun set.
The Hangout 101 E. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores, AL 251.948.3030 www.thehangout.com: Great food and live music—family friend and open air dining.
The Compleat Angler 4851 Wharf Pkwy., #113, Orange Beach, AL 251.424.1350 www.compleatanglergrille.com Featuring hand-cut steaks and local seafood along with fresh fruit mixed drinks and breathtaking views.
SEE & DO:
Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, 26389 Canal Road, Orange Beach, AL 251.981.2787, www.coastalartcenter.com: Glass-blowing classes, a clay studio and art gallery showcasing local and regional artists.
Wild Hearts, 251.981.6700: Set sail on a 53-ft. ocean catamaran and enjoy the Gulf of Mexico, be sure to kayak and paddleboard while aboard.
Beach Bike Rentals, 22989 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach, AL, 251.968.1770: Bike six trails of the Backcountry Trail while enjoying the flora and fauna of the Gulf State Park.
Cetacean Cruises, 25991 W Perdido Ave., Orange Beach, AL, 36561, 251.550.8000, www.cetaceancruises.com: Take a dolphin cruise with a knowledgeable staff to experience the back bays of the Gulf.
Lucca at The Wharf 4776 Main St., #101, Orange Beach, AL Women’s clothing boutique showcasing cutting-edge fashion.
Melanie’s at The Wharf, 4830 Main St., Suite110, Orange Beach, AL 251.923.0109, www.mtwointeriors.com: Shop home accessories and unique furniture.