Did you even know Alabama has a coastline? You should, considering it is known as one of the best beaches in the U.S.A. This short strip of land, just to the west of the Florida border, boasts 32 miles of sugar-white beaches, hiking, golfing, super fresh seafood, and that easy going southern hospitality that can’t be beat. Why visit? Here are more than enough reasons:
1. Royal Reds
Have you heard of them? I hadn’t until I visited and now I miss them! Royal Reds are perhaps the sweetest, meatiest shrimp you’ll ever taste. These vibrant red morsels are popular down here, but are pretty rare everywhere else. This is perhaps because they are some of the hardest fish to harvest. They never see the light of day and live at depths from 1,200 feet to over a half-mile down. Steamed, grilled, or sautéed these sweet shrimp are delicious. Head over to King Neptune’s to sample these deep-sea delicacies in a local, down home place.
2. Gulf Shores is for the birds!
The Alabama Coastal Birding Trail (ACBT) is a bird watcher’s paradise. In fact, this area is one of the top locations in North America for viewing spring bird migrations. During spring and fall migrations, more than 370 species of birds have been identified at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, here on Fort Morgan Peninsula. The “safe harbor,” consisting of about 7000 acres of coastal land, encompasses much of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat. Here you may see a Scarlet Tanager, a Palm Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler, Brown Pelicans, a Marsh Wren, a Yellow-throated Vireo, an Osprey, a Forster’s Tern, and possibly migrating Monarch butterflies.
3. White Sand Beaches, literally
Gulf Shores may be the Gulf Coast’s best-kept secret.
It’s cheaper and quieter than Florida’s gulf coast, and is just a few more miles down the road. The 32 miles of Alabama’s white-sand beaches are made almost entirely from quartz grains washed down the Appalachian Mountains thousands of years ago. So it truly is white, and not just a marketing term. Plus, the sand is so soft, that say it “squeaks under your feet.”
Averaging over one million pounds of harvested oysters annually since the 1880s, Alabama is historically the number one processor of oysters in the United States. So it’s not surprise that this is where they invented oysters Rockefeller, barbecued oysters, and a myriad other oyster concoctions. They are still mostly wild and still relatively affordable. These oysters are mild and somewhat soft. Try some of the different oyster preparations at a local spot like Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar. No matter how you order them–fried, sautéed, steamed, grilled, baked, stuffed, scalloped, or raw lemon or a dash of hot sauce–you’re in for a seafood treat. For something really decadent, make sure to try Tin Top’s Dirty Dozen, baked oysters with house tasso ham cream sauce and topped with parmesan. And if you’re serious about your oysters, head down to Gulf Shores in November for the Annual Oyster Cook-Off at The Hangout, where you can compete with celebrity chefs and well known restaurants from all over the Southeast or just spend the day sampling the some of the most creative oyster dishes you’ll ever come across.
5. Sea Turtles
The Alabama Gulf Coast is the nesting site for several species of endangered sea turtles. Every year, thousands of hatchlings take their first steps right here. Many of them need a helping hand to reach the water. Between May and October, hundreds of volunteers take their turn at patrolling an assigned stretch of beach, being available for late-night nest-sitting when hatching time is near, or just helping keep supplies and equipment ready. These endangered animals are protected by the Endangered Species Act — it’s against the law to disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests. Sea turtles first appeared about 200 million years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. They are basically the last of the ancient reptiles…something we should care for and cherish.
6. Southern Charm – Sweet People and Sweet Tea
For an added bonus, a visit to Gulf Shores comes naturally with friendly smiles, a bunch of “how y’all doin’s,” and general southern hospitality and charm. Being warm, sweet, and welcoming, seems to be the glue that binds the South together. Add that to the beauty and laid-back vibe here and you’ve got it made in the shade.