Summer’s here and the beaches are calling.
Coastal Alabama is not only open for business but offers plenty of ways to get outside and stay at least six feet away from others. There are 60 miles of Gulf beaches and hundreds of shoreline miles in neighboring waterways and Mobile Bay. Hiking trails in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge lead visitors through tree canopies to secluded beaches and Gulf State Park with its varied activities encompasses 6,500 acres along both inland waterways and forests and Gulf beaches. Here are a few ideas to plan your Gulf Coast road trip.
Away from madding crowds
Hotels, condos and vacation rentals have gone the extra mile to ensure visitors their accommodations are safe and sanitized. For those who would rather avoid crowds, the peninsula of Fort Morgan offers a quieter beach experience with double the water — Gulf on the southside and Mobile Bay to the north. For instance, Lafayette real estate agent Donna Christianson operates a cottage rental in a small community that’s six miles from the historic fort and surrounded by the Bon Secour refuge, but still a quick drive into town. “Our cottage has splendid views looking deep into the reserve that is abundant with wildlife, and includes the protective area for the endangered Alabama beach mouse,” Christianson said.
Gulf State Park
To say there’s something for everyone at Gulf State Park seems trite, but for a summer destination, that phrase fits. The park covers an enormous acreage in the heart of Gulf Shores, with two miles of beaches, a campground and cabins, nature center, boardwalk and The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a hotel and conference center. Check into the park’s secluded Eagle Cottages, one of a select few chosen for National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World Program. Then bike or hike the 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex. Be sure to visit the Nature Center’s exhibits and sign up for a guided nature walk. alapark.com/parks/gulf-state-park
New at OWA
OWA amusement park in Foley reopened June 5 with enhanced health and safety measures, which include health screenings before entering The park and limiting the number of guests inside. Downtown OWA with its restaurants and shops continues to grow, but also with limited capacity and social distancing policies. Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant with its outdoor seating and sandy beach have joined Downtown OWA, as well as C’est Le Vin Wine Bar and Shop and Sweet Tooth. visitowa.com
Go, See, Do
ON THE WATER
The Gulf Coast Ducks, vehicles that travel on both land and water, have relocated from Mobile and are now operating their amphibian craft from Caribe Marina in Orange Beach. The 50-minute tour cruises along Cotton Bayou to educate visitors about area wildlife and local history.
The only thing better than drinks at a beachside tiki bar is drinks at a tiki bar on water. That’s the idea behind Cruisin’ Tikis of Orange Beach, a literal tiki bar that floats six people (stools are spaced 6 feet apart for social distancing) and travels the waterways throughout coastal Alabama. Guests bring their own booze.
Zoo for You
After a lengthy redo, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo opened in early March, only to immediately close its doors due to the pandemic. It reopened in May with restrictions. “It’s triple the size of the original zoo and there are wide-spaced walkways throughout for social distancing,” said Kay Maghan, public relations manager with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. Be sure and check out the new Safari Café, Maghan advised.