A Southern Paradise

My vacation to the Alabama beaches.


Joe Best, Reporter

When most people hear the word “beach”, they often think of the tropical islands and pristine coastlines of exotic locations. Others may think of the popular American beaches of California, Florida, and Hawaii. Few people, however, think of the beautiful state of Alabama. Although everyone knows Alabama is on the Southern Coast, and therefore must have beaches, not many consider it to be a desirable vacation destination. They couldn’t be more wrong. Most of the popular beach places are only known for their beaches because there is nothing else there to draw people’s interest. On the other hand, Alabama is known for its shrimp, southern hospitality, historic sites, and then its sandy white beaches. Fortunately, I have had the chance to visit Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island within the span of two years, and both locations offer their own unique attractions.

Gulf Shores offers beachside hotels and resorts as well as rentable stilt houses, although they are not right on the coastline like the houses on Dauphin Island. When I visited my family stayed in a stilt house within walking distance of a gorgeous strip of beach, which is what I would recommend for a big family vacation. The hotel next to our house offered many features that were available to us, like basketball courts, shuffleboard, tennis courts, an outdoor pool with a hot tub, as well as an indoor pool (which no one used). Since Gulf Shores is located on the mainland, there are many more places to visit and experience than on Dauphin Island. The selection of restaurants, shops, and attractions is much wider, and if that’s something you want during your vacation, Gulf Shores is the place for you. If you want access to these places but also desire to spend your vacation on Dauphin Island, don’t worry. You can drive your car onto a ferry that will take you on a 30-minute trip across the bay to Gulf Shores. Taking the ferry is much faster than the two-hour drive along the coast to get to Gulf Shores and it also brings you up close to some of the big oil rigs out in the middle of the ocean. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some dolphins swimming alongside your ferry.

Alabama stilt houses on the beach.

During my recent stay at Dauphin Island, my family and I rented another stilt house, this time right on the beach. These rentals right on the beach are much more prevalent on Dauphin Island than on the busier Gulf Shores, so if that sounds like your preferred vacation spot I would definitely recommend it. Even though there are fewer things to do on the Island than on Gulf Shores, there are still plenty of places for going out to eat, shopping for groceries, and buying souvenirs. The restaurants I went to were called The Pirate, The Crazy Octopus, Doherty’s Bar and Grill, plus some smaller vendors. All the food was very good and I had no problems with any of the Island’s establishments. If you have ever been down south, especially in Alabama, you will have probably noticed a large amount of Dollar General stores every few blocks. Finding good, affordable food will not be a problem during your stay. Finally, the Dauphin Island gift shop is full of unique things, like shark tooth necklaces, coffee mugs, T-Shirts, Swiss Army knives with your name on them, model pirate ships, dolphin sculptures, and much more. It is the perfect place for finding gifts and memorable keepsakes.

Speaking of dolphins, the wildlife on Dauphin Island is numerous and diverse. The island is known for its many species of birds, including the big ones, like herons and pelicans. I got to see many of them up close during my stay on Dauphin Island, as well as some cute little birds called Sanderlings and Gannets that dive straight into the ocean to catch fish. There are also ghost crabs on the island, but they only come out once the sun goes down.  can be seen climbing out of their holes in the sand and scuttling into the ocean. If you shine your flashlight on them, they will freeze like a deer in headlights, making them easy to catch and show to your family members (if you want to risk your fingers).

Ghost Crab hiding in the shade.

Taking a family vacation in a foreign country can be too expensive and nerve-racking, which usually stops most families from going on family vacations. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Alabama is much closer than most popular beach locations, and although it may not be as glamorous as a resort in the Bahamas, it still promises to be a fun, relaxing vacation. The drive can be long, but my family made it there in one day, and the beautiful scenery we drove by made it worth the haul. If you are a beach person and want to take your family on an affordable vacation, keep in mind that Alabama is just a day away.