Alabama's Coastal Connection The Waters, Ways and Wildlife of Alabama's Gulf Coast 2014-10-20T16:35:05Z hourly 1 2000-01-01T12:00+00:00 A White Sand Christmas: Discover the Magic of a Coastal Holiday in Gulf Shores 2014-10-15T16:26:36Z SantaDrop-FloraBama-300x199

Watch St. Nick make a grand entrance at Flora-Bama during the annual Santa Drop.

It was when the smoke alarm went off for the second time that Thanksgiving morning that Nana entered the kitchen to announce: “I know what I want for Christmas.”

I pulled my head—and the smoldering remains of my pie crust—from the oven and replied, “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“We want to spend Christmas the old-fashioned way. Grandpa and I want to celebrate the holiday at Gulf Shores.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

Historically, Nana and Grandpa are impossible to shop for. They dislike getting clothes more than their grandchildren. They reject new technology. Gift cards lack authenticity. And for the past three years, Nana has re-gifted my heartfelt, personalized Christmas present—a framed family photo—to me for Mother’s Day. A trip to an unforgettable destination might just be the perfect gift.

Christmas Tradition
It has been 10 years since we last celebrated Christmas at the Gulf. Between busy work and school schedules, the waves of time eroded what was once a tradition for the whole family.

I smiled remembering our last Gulf Christmas together when we saw the Annual Christmas Lighted Boat Parade. Megan, my oldest, was two. She raised her chubby arm, pointed at the glowing ships floating by in the chilly dusk, and squealed, “Lies!” for she could not yet say lights.

So, when I pitched a re-vamped Christmas at Gulf Shores for Nana and Grandpa to my brother Adam and our baby sister Elise, they happily agreed to forego to the de-facto holiday treatment, plenary with powder-coated pines and wool-clad carolers, for one more likely to feature Tommy Bahama-donning songsters and white sandy beaches.

I hummed to the tune of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” as I booked our 4,500-square-foot beach house, the aptly titled “Beach Dream.” The trip was official.

Trading in Snow for White Sand
Upon arrival, I was in awe by the intricate detail of “Beach Dream”: Arched entryways, crown molding, and granite countertops came together for an impressive interior design that danced across my vision like architectural sugarplums. There was more than enough space for the family to spread out, while still being together.

As we settled into our holiday home, we heard a booming knock.

“Who’s that? Santa?” My nephew Chris mused, opening the door.

“Better! It’s the caterers from Cobalt Restaurant with a no-fuss dinner of crawfish and Andouille gumbo, potato salad, jambalaya, roasted pork loin…” My mouth was watering.

“Stop! You had me at gumbo!” Adam punned.

Everyone laughed as I directed the caterers to the counter bar where they could set everything up. Meanwhile cocktails made the rounds, holiday films rolled on the big screen, tinsel flew, and after having their fill of Cobalt’s finest, the husbands dashed into the night to find a Christmas tree for the children to trim.

The decorating party ongoing, I snuck upstairs and placed two framed 3x5s of childhood family holiday photos on Nana’s nightstand. One was a group shot of the whole family in front of our aluminum Christmas tree 20 years earlier; the other was of Adam, Elise, and me on Santa’s knee.

“You couldn’t resist,” Nana’s voice surprised me.

“I thought you were downstairs.”

She didn’t answer as she closely admired the photos. She wrapped her arms around me like she did was I was small and whispered, “I think I’ll keep these.”


The Wharf in Orange Beach displays the sights and sounds of the season.

The next day we took the kids Holiday Ice-Skating at the Wharf in Orange Beach. After hitting the rink, we languidly shopped along the Wharf’s Main Street, took photos by the giant Christmas tree in front of the Compleat Angler, and enjoyed “one of the best meals I’ve ever had,” (according to Grandpa) at the Compleat Angler Seafood Grille & Bar.

On Christmas Eve day we built sandmen instead of snowmen on the sugar-white beach outside of our abode. In the evening, we made a pilgrimage to nearby Bellingrath Gardens to view the famousMagic Christmas in Lights, where from Thanksgiving to the New Year, the gardens transform into a wonderland of twinkling holiday nostalgia. We even sipped hot cocoa while the kids amused us all with incomprehensible declarations of unmitigated joy.

Making Memories
On Christmas morning, I was awoken by the scent of bourbon, orange peel, cinnamon, and cloves. What is that intoxicating aroma? It was five a.m. and a new family record, as it was the first time that we awoke before our children on Christmas Day.

Warmly wrapped in robes and slippers, we started downstairs to partake in Nana’s spiced coffee but stopped short at the sight of Nana and Grandpa snuggled together by the Christmas tree, watching the sunrise over the Gulf. I slipped my phone out of my pocket and silently snapped a few photos of my parents’ embrace. Quiet as mice, we ascended the stairs, leaving Grandpa and Nana to enjoy their gift: A rare moment of intimacy attheir beach on Christmas.

Less than an hour later, our children ran in to “wake us up” announcing that it was Christmas morning. I’ll always remember my greatest joy that day was seeing Nana and Grandpa’s faces light up as their grandchildren burst into the great room to embrace them and wish them Merry Christmas.

Most of all, I’ll remember that Nana’s gift was the one that reignited our family’s tradition of spending Christmas at Gulf Shores, making memories, and passing along our dreams of a White Sand Christmas to our children.

Plan your Coastal Holiday Getaway to Gulf Shores with many beach houses to make this season memorable and fun for the whole family!

Five Reasons You Should Be at the 2014 National Shrimp Festival 2014-10-09T17:35:41Z Shrimp-300x200The saying, “big things come in small packages” has never been truer than when you talk about fresh, Gulf shrimp. We’re celebrating these crustaceans all weekend long at the Annual National Shrimp Festival held on the white-sand beaches of Gulf Shores. From Oct. 9-12, be treated to a festival of fun and flavor at one of the Alabama Gulf Coast’s banner events. If you need a few reasons to put your toes in the sand and some shrimp in your hand, here are five to get you started.

1. Live entertainment. The music starts at 10 a.m. each day of the festival. Headliners for evening shows include Keith Anderson, Parmalee and Dustin Lynch. Daytime shows include artists like Sugarcane Jane, Wes Bayliss, Brent Burns, Willie Sugarcapps and more.

2. Fine arts, arts and crafts. More than 300 vendors line the festival aisles with handcrafted pieces and fine art, including blown glass, pottery and framed paintings.

3. Sand sculpture contest. You’ve been building sand castles and sculptures since you were a kid, now’s your chance to show your skills and win prizes for your handiwork. Children as young as 5 years old can enter. There is a maximum of four members per team. The contest begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11.

4. Exercise. Enter the Annual National Shrimp Festival Run and take home bragging rights for your age group. The certified 10K and 5K runs are ADA accessible and take place Saturday morning, Oct. 11 at 8 and 8:30 a.m., respectively.

5. Shrimp! Perhaps the best reason of all to attend the Annual National Shrimp Festival is the shrimp! You’ll find shrimp prepared just about any way you can imagine, including fried and steamed and the popular Cajun Pistols, often described as a buttery, spicy pocket of paradise.

For a last-minute Gulf Shores getaway, visit the Hot Deals page to check the Annual National Shrimp Festival specials.

Take a Swing on Alabama’s “Golf” Coast 2014-09-30T14:55:56Z Have you taken a swing on your Gulf Shores or Orange Beach vacation lately? Many of the sport’s most well-known golfers including Arnold Palmer, Jerry Pate, Bruce Devlin, Robert Von Haage and Earl Stone designed the more than 200 holes on Alabama’s “Golf” Coast.

Craft Farms holds the distinction of having the only two golf courses in Alabama designed by golf great Arnold Palmer. The 36 holes of golf on Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend wind through towering pine forests, numerous lakes, creeks and native wildlife. Adjourn to the plantation-style Clubhouse following your golf game and sample a meal or beverage while enjoying the expansive views.

The Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club, designed by golf architect Earl Stone, offer 27 holes that challenge golfers to improve their game. The course has been called one of “the most memorable and enjoyable” courses in the Southeast and has a unique placement along Mobile Bay. Step off of the course and onto the private beach and unwind or relax at the clubhouse with a good meal and drink.

Kiva Dunes is the only beachfront golf course along the entire Gulf Coast. Designed by U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate of Pensacola, it encompasses 7,092 yards. The course features native sand dunes, lakes and natural wildlife areas.

Baldwin County and nearby Perdido Key offer a host of choices for golfers with courses stretching from Bay Minette to Fairhope to Foley and to Lillian. Go ahead, take a swing while you’re here.

Join Our Feathered Friends at the Fall Bird Banding 2014-09-30T14:53:50Z Need a great place to stay during your fall migration to the Alabama Gulf Coast? We’ve got packages and deals that are sure to put some spring in your step, even as the days become more temperate. Fall is a great time to enjoy Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. The milder temperatures invite you to enjoy our big backyard as much of the rest of the world prepares for cooler weather.

The Alabama Gulf Coast plays temporary home to dozens of species of neo-tropical migrant birds during this time of year. The banding sessions at Fort Morgan, Oct. 4 to 12, offer an excellent opportunity to monitor population levels and the condition of migrant bird populations. Banding sessions at the Fort Morgan Bird Banding Station are free and open to the public although admission to the Fort is charged.

Find a place to land for a week or a weekend by visiting our Deals page and discover the best Gulf Shores condo or Orange Beach hotel for your group at a great rate. Some of the deals include extras like dolphin cruises or free nights.

Come join our feathered friends for a fall of fun and discovery on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Mold a Rainy Day into a Memorable One 2014-09-29T15:13:09Z CoastalArtCenter-225x300

Spend a rainy day at the Coastal Art Center in Orange Beach.

Rainy days on the Alabama Gulf Coast don’t have to be wasted days. There are many things to see and do indoors while the liquid sunshine falls from the skies.

• Interested in military history? Tour the historic Fort Morgan museum, the Battleship USS Alabama or the National Museum of Naval Aviation. All are educational, fun and inspiring.

• Love to shop? You’ve come to the perfect place to scratch that itch. From outlet stores to unique, one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll find what you’re looking for and then some.

Museums about art, medicine, Native Americans and sports are all great ways to fill a day when the weather is too damp to go outside. Baldwin County’s past is great and varied, and you’ll enjoy flipping through the pages of our past at any one of these great venues.

• The Coastal Art Center’s clay studio and Hot Shop is a great spot to spend the day. Make your own piece of art, and take home a custom-made souvenir.

The great thing about rain along the coast? It doesn’t usually last long, and the sand quickly dries for your next adventure.

Bring Your Tailgate Party to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach 2014-09-29T15:09:46Z Beach-Tailgate-300x1951Score a touchdown with your family with an away-game tailgate at the beach. Fall brings smaller crowds and some greatdeals on Orange Beach hotels and Gulf Shores condo stays on the sandy shores of the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Have a football fanatic in the family? Leave him or her happily in a comfy chair with plenty of snacks and beverages while you and the other less-football inclined hit the beach, the shopping centers or attractions. Show your team spirit by bringing out the chairs, umbrellas and towels that tell everyone the team you’re pulling for while you play a game of football on the sand or relax on the beach.

You can even catch the game at many restaurants throughout the area. Call ahead to see what game will be playing to find your home team. You’ll likely find a few rivals there, too! If your gang watched the game at your condo or beach house, then retreat for a post-game meal at a Gulf Shores or Orange Beach restaurant that scores touchdowns with patrons every day. Check the restaurant directory for a selection of sports bars and beachside eateries.

Come experience a whole different state of tailgating on Alabama’s white-sand beaches this football season.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun on Alabama’s Beaches 2014-09-29T15:07:26Z GSOB-080614-chair-300x184

Getaway with your best girls to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

Relaxing Gulf breezes, white-sand beaches and time spent with good friends add up to the perfect recipe for agirlfriend’s getaway. Gather your friends, pick a date and make your plans. The Gulf is calling, and it’s time to answer to something besides busy weekday schedules that have you hopping from one activity to the next. Whether your getaway consists of time spent at the water’s edge in a chair soaking up the sun and dipping your toes into the Gulf or taking in the sights of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, we’ve got the perfect itinerary for you.

Check the girlfriend getaway headquarters on our website for ideas on what to do and where to stay. Put the Gulf at your feet and the wind at your back on a sailing excursion at sunset. Stroll down the beach, people watch and enjoy the warm sand and water between your toes. Work the tension from your shoulders with a day at the spa with your best girls. The Alabama Gulf Coast has a variety of stores that beckon shoppers to browse and explore the area’s boutiques and outlet stores.

A weekend getaway may be just the ticket for the relaxation you so richly deserve while you reconnect with the friends who mean so much. Raise a glass to friendship and fun on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Homeschool Lesson: Dolphin and Nature Cruises Disguise Learning with Fun 2014-09-26T15:04:01Z CC-Dolphin-Cruise-300x185Back-to-school for homeschoolers in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offers up an assortment of activities designed to stimulate the mind while providing a fun atmosphere for learning. One popular edu-tainment option for engaging students is an outing on one of the many Orange Beach nature and dolphin cruises.

Whatever your interest, there is a dolphin cruise to meet your needs and budget. While some cruises motor through the Gulf waters near the shores, others take passengers into the back bays and inlets of coastal Alabama where learning opportunities can be found underwater, on the shore and in the trees. You’re sure to find dolphins enjoying the warm waters, but you’ll also meet alligators, bald eagles, heron, osprey, coyotes, raccoons and other wildlife during your field trip.

Several cruises providers are also certified Dolphin SMART for responsible viewing of wild dolphins. These practices minimize the risk of disrupting dolphins in their natural habitats.

A dolphin and nature cruise is an opportunity to bring the textbook to life. Enjoy the look of wonder on a young face that’s just seen its first dolphin in the wild and know that these are lessons not soon forgotten. Come experience a new state of edu-tainment on Alabama’s white-sand beaches.

Scenic Byway Takes Travelers off the Beaten Track 2014-09-26T14:59:12Z GSOB-070814-Fort-Morgan-234x300Go off the beaten track and travel the one of the scenic byways that takes you through coastal Alabama. The Alabama Coastal Connection’s Scenic Byway invites you to experience the Gulf Coast and its treasures as you journey through the four unique itineraries.

Begin your two-day travels connecting with nature at the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea. Then, head over to the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary to watch and listen for our feathered friends. Next up is the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge that is home to the endangered Alabama Beach Mouse, as well as several hundred varieties of migratory birds and other flora and fauna. The beaches of the Refuge harken back to a time when Baldwin County’s piece of paradise remained virtually undiscovered.

Brilliant white-sand beaches framed by the turquoise-blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico offer views on the drive along the beach. You’ll want to continue your journey up U.S. Highway 98 to the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. An Interpretive Center and pitcher plant bog boardwalk are part of the 6,000 acres in and around Mobile Bay and Weeks Bay.

World-famous Bellingrath Gardens is just one of the fun stops along the Connecting with the Land and the Sea byway. Get a taste of life in the recent past when agriculture played a larger role in the lives of locals who lived where the soil meets the sea. Love trains? Make sure to stop at the City of Foley Museum Archives and Model Train Exhibit. Love boats? The Bayou La Batre Harbor and Bayfront Park in Coden are two stops sure to make your day and tweak your interest.

Old Town Daphne, historic Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines invite the historically minded traveler to venture off the beaten path, take a moment and absorb the history that put the Alabama Gulf Coast in the books. Standing at Fort Morgan gives you the same view soldiers had when Admiral David Farragut uttered his famous words, “Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead,” during the Battle of Mobile Bay. Tour Shell Mound Park and Dauphin Island to get the full flavor of the area’s rich military history. For more information, check the Connecting with the Past byway.

What better way to enjoy your time on the Alabama Gulf Coast than to Connect with Each Other? There’s no set path to travel, just suggestions for activities including charter boat fishing, geo-caching and getting lost in your discoveries. Don’t forget to try one of the best parts of our coast by going out for a Taste of the Town.

Download the Scenic Byway app for an easy way to keep up with your itineraries and enjoy a different side of the Alabama Gulf Coast, where it truly is a whole different state of travel and experiences.

Red, White or Both at 2014 The Wharf Uncorked Wine & Culinary Event 2014-09-25T14:57:01Z Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or a simply enjoy a nice glass of chardonnay from the balcony of your beachfront condo, The Wharf Uncorked Wine & Culinary Event in Orange Beach has a bottle and pairing for every taste. And, there’s no better place to enjoy a great bottle of wine than on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The ticketed event, held Sept. 25-27, 2014, will offer three days of live entertainment, wine tastings and education, as well as delicious culinary treats. General admission tickets are $60 and VIP tickets are $135.

Each day holds a variety of wine and culinary events. Nationally recognized and local chefs will be on hand presenting mouthwatering culinary creations at the Food & Wine Grand Tasting Event on Saturday, Sept. 27 at 4 p.m. In addition, a sampling of wines from international and local distributors will be expertly paired with the chefs’ creations. Restaurants will also compete for The People’s Choice Award, among others awards, at the event.

Cooking demonstrations and educational seminars will be a popular segment of the The Wharf Uncorked Wine & Culinary Event. Matt Murphy, season 12 winner of Chopped, will be on hand for an educational segment, as well as Chef James Briscione, the Food Network’s first Chopped Champion. Wine distributors will also offer seminars on wine pairings, tastings and more.