Monday, July 17, 2017

Thinking Riviera for vacation? Try Gulf Shores instead

Accommodations are plentiful on beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama
White sand, sparkling water, and sunny skies make a perfect vacation at the beach.  But if a retreat to the French Riviera is more dream than reality, Gulf Shores, Alabama makes a sparkling substitute.  This resort community is family friendly, which means it’s a great place to take the kids or grandkids—or even schedule a multi-generational getaway.
Along with lazy days spent building sand castles and cooling off under splashing waves along 32 miles of soft, sugar-white sand, this coastal region offers a bounty of ways to enjoy its Southern charm.  No matter your age, you’ll enjoy the beach town simplicity and abundant opportunities to enjoy Mother Nature.
Dolphin sightings are guaranteed in the back bays of Gulf Shores.
Dolphin cruises—Companies such as Dolphin Express leave from Bear Point Marina and travel out on the back bays to view these playful creatures.  Dolphins are here year-round, and spotting these graceful mammals playing in their natural environment is an exciting experience.  Captains know exactly where to go and how to position their boats to attract dolphins.

Well-maintained trail at Bon Secour
National Wildlife Refuge
Hike the trails of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, an undisturbed barrier habitat of almost 7,000 acres.  The Pine Beach trail is an easy two mile round trip path through a variety of ecologies including marine forest, saltgrass, and marshes to unspoiled beaches and sand dunes. The Refuge is also a stopping point for migratory birds and a nesting site for sea turtles. 

Secluded beach is a welcome destination.
Captain Skip Beebe started a family tour on Sailaway Charters because he noticed kids got bored on regular sailboat tours. So now he engages children with tales of diverse wildlife in the area and lots of hands-on experiences with sea critters he draws into his nets—and then releases.  As you float through local bays and bayous during this quick-paced and informative pontoon boat ride, you’ll see oysters, crabs, shrimp, birds, and even dolphins (attracted by the tapping of a hammer on the side of the boat). 
Family cruises teach kids about marine life.
View the sunset from a dinner cruise leaving from Orange Bay. While dining on seafood and dishes made from locally grown produce, guests watch dolphins swoop and splash alongside the boat’s hull. Coastal birds following the boat also provide plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching and photography.  Towards evening, blue sky fades into pink-tinged gray, dark-shadowed trees frame the setting sun, and delicate psychedelic ripples skim the water’s surface. 

Adults and older children enjoy exploring Alabama’s multiple fresh waterways by kayak at the Five Rivers Delta Center.  Outfitters provide single or double kayaks for rent. As you paddle through areas of mossy growth and open, easily navigated spaces of calm water, you’ll experience the beauty of scenic rivers, woods, and wetlands.  After an excursion on the water, spend time at the visitor center viewing exhibits about history of the region, importance of the rivers, and conservation activities for preserving the delta.  
Kayaking is pleasant in smooth water at Five Rivers Delta Center.
The Alabama coast is an angler’s paradise. Orange Beach is home to the largest fishing fleet on the northern Gulf Coast. Alabama has built many artificial reefs, both inshore and on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, to improve fishing opportunities for snapper, grouper, amberjack, cobia, triggerfish, and king mackerel.  Prefer to stay on land? Cast your rod off the 825-foot fishing pier at Gulf State Park.

Golf is a year-round sport in the mild climate.  Ten signature courses are within driving range of the beach, with several other courses open for public play.  Tennis, parasailing, scuba diving and snorkeling—and, of course, shopping are other activities enjoyed by visitors.
Whet your appetite with giant shrimp.
When you get hungry, head out for fresh seafood. Shrimp, crabs, oysters, and an impressive variety of fish can be found in most of the area’s restaurants, from casual barefoot hangouts to romantic white-linen candlelit dinners for two.  You might decide Gulf Shores is even better than the Riviera.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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