What Makes Alabama's Beaches Different: A Blogger's Perspective
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach
When I think of the beach, my first thought is sand, sun and surf. And all the beaches deliver on that. Atlantic Coast beaches tend to offer gritty sand and gray-blue surf, while Gulf beaches provide powdery white sand and deep Caribbean-blue waters. Whichever you choose, you can dip your toes in the water, smell that salty air and snooze to the sound of waves crashing against the shore. Beyond sand and water, though, each place has its own personality. This is where Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is a standout, especially for family travel. I noticed it my first trip, and again on my visit this past November. What is “it” you ask?
It's a commitment to community. Throughout Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, you'll find beach-themed restaurants, like any beach community. The difference here is what you won't find: large, corporately owned chain restaurants. Tacky Jacks and Lucy Buffett's LuLu's, to name a couple, are locally owned. These restaurants, like most in Gulf Shores, are dedicated to serving families great food at reasonable prices with a heaping helping of fun on the side! The three Tacky Jacks waterfront restaurants provide quirky things to do while waiting for a table. Head upstairs to the top level for great views of the water - especially at sunset - or play in the sand at the water's edge. LuLu's is a destination of its own with an arcade, ropes course, beach area and live music. LuLu's also caters to people with food allergies, providing eight separate menus to avoid specific triggers. Dining out on the Alabama Gulf Coast is not just about food. It's about community. These locally owned restaurants highlight the family-friendly vibe of Gulf Shores and enrich it, each in their own way.
It's a commitment to family. I'm a child of the '80s, back when Fort Lauderdale was THE spring break destination for teens, and partying was the norm. Gulf Shores says no to that; instead, it promotes its commitment to family friendliness. Alcohol is prohibited on Gulf Shores' public beaches during spring break. But it's more than a rule about alcohol on the beaches. The entire “vibe” of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is geared to families. Local merchants are friendly, welcoming all ages to come in and browse. Most restaurants cater to kids. Even fine dining restaurants - such as Voyager's at Perdido Beach Resort, where my daughter declared herself “princess” - treat kids as special guests. Accessible bike lanes and walking trails across Gulf Shores encourage families to go outside and explore. Affordable lodging, especially condos, provides families with space to relax, as well as amenities that include pools and game rooms for entertainment. Reasonably priced attractions - many of them free - also cater to families.
It's a commitment to friendliness. This is it. The final key. The reason I love Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. People here are genuinely friendly! Not just business owners, but the people who live here as well. Which, come to think of it, makes sense. If you're friendly, you expect friendliness from your businesses and government as well. Right? On my last trip, in Gulf Shores for business, I was checking email on my phone as I got off the elevator. Distracted (think romantic comedy business woman in New York without the high heels or $80 manicure), I stepped off the elevator and almost crashed into an adorable couple bringing groceries to their condo. They could have gotten mad at me. I mean, I almost made the man spill a bag. Instead, he smiled. So did she. They asked if I was all right. They asked me! Of course, I apologized for being distracted. A conversation ensued. They asked what brought me to Orange Beach. I asked if they are permanent residents (they weren't — just here for two weeks to unwind.) Then they offered recommendations of places to eat and things not to miss! As we parted ways, the lady, sweet as could be, said, “I hope you get a chance to relax while you're here.” Not in a condescending, snooty way, but sincerely. We saw each other a couple more times at the elevators. They always greeted me with a smile and asked what I got to do that day. I always asked what was for dinner!
This is what happens on Alabama's beaches. Stand up to get a napkin at a counter-style restaurant and expect staff to ask how they can help. Stop to take a photo along a walking trail and expect other people to pause so you can get the shot. Ask for a special request (I have food allergies) at any restaurant and know that the staff will go above and beyond to meet your needs. It's not manufactured. It's just what people do. It's who they are. It is Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.