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Alabama Gulf Coast beaches

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo is the world’s largest fishing tournament, 3,000+ anglers and 75,000+ spectators.
  • Dauphin Island was first called Massacre Island because of a suspected massacre there.
  • Admiral David Farragut was near Fort Gaines when he said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” (1864).
  • More than 60 crab species can be found in Alabama waters.
  • Hurricane Katrina split Dauphin Island in two (2005); BP oil spill funds paid for repairs.

A birder’s paradise

Alabama’s short coastline encompasses Mobile Bay and, at the south end of the bay, three popular beach towns, which face the Gulf of Mexico. They also are home to forts that once protected the bay.

On the bay’s west side, Dauphin Island, a barrier island, measures 14 miles by less than two miles at its widest and is accessible from the mainland via a three-mile bridge or by car ferry. Fort Gaines, now a museum, sits at the island’s east end.

The other two beach towns, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, are on the mainland, east of Mobile Bay. Their much-vaunted 32 miles of white-sand beaches extend west from the towns onto the stick-thin Fort Morgan Peninsula. The peninsula reaches across much of Mobile Bay south side; Fort Morgan, the bay’s other guardian and also now a museum, sits at the peninsula’s western tip.

The forts are less than six miles apart, and visitors can cross the Mobile Channel between them on a car ferry.

Nowadays, the three towns promote themselves as the ultimate destinations for those who need to unwind from busy lives. They attract visitors for the sun, sand and water sports, beach festivities and family-friendly Mardi Gras events. Birding and fishing are big, too, and warrant more attention here.

Dauphin Island is the first landing spot and the takeoff point for bird migrations across the Gulf of Mexico in spring and fall. An impressive 347 species have been seen on the tiny island. Dauphin Island is part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail and participates in the annual Alabama Coastal BirdFest.

As for fishing, visitors with licenses can toss in a line off many a pier, join a wide range of fishing excursions or even try crabbing. The beaches host major fishing competitions, as well. Dolphins are plentiful, too, but are sought with cameras on sightseeing cruises, not fishhooks.

Like the rest of the Gulf Coast, the area is vulnerable to hurricanes. Dauphin Island is particularly at risk for erosion and even breaking apart if a future storm is strong enough. Hurricane season is June 1 to Nov. 30.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Compete in the big one, the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo based at Dauphin Island.
  • Hike or surf at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Time the visit for the mid-October Monarch butterfly migration.
  • Participate in a local voluntourism program. Options include Habitat for Humanity projects or the annual coastal cleanup day in September.
  • Decide how you want to play in or on the water — jet skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding, parasailing or sailing? Or dive to the LuLu, a purposely sunken freighter south of Orange Beach.
  • Take an airborne sightseeing excursion in a historic biplane.
  • In April, toss a mullet across the Florida-Alabama state line at the Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party. Organizers say throwing dead fish around is just an excuse for a big party. The event is based on the Florida side, at Perdido Key.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Enjoy the food and take in the entertainment at the National Shrimp Festival, held in October in Gulf Shores.
  • Bring binoculars to Dauphin Island for the bird-watching at its Audubon Bird Sanctuary and on the whole island. Delve more deeply into the subject at the autumn Alabama Coastal BirdFest. Some events and workshops take place on Dauphin Island and the other coastal beaches. Or, pursue the matter further on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail.
  • Attend Mardi Gras festivities on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
  • Cast your line from one of the Gulf of Mexico’s longest fishing piers in Gulf State Park. Overnight at one of the cottages in the park.
  • Go crabbing at Bayou Heron Park on Dauphin Island.
  • Sign up for an art class and make your own piece of glass art at the Orange Beach Art Center. Shop at the center, too.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Pursue an interest in history and historical fortifications at Fort Morgan State Historic Site at Gulf Shores and the Fort Gaines Historic Site on Dauphin Island.
  • Take a dolphin watching cruise, available from several points. Also, be awed by the marine animals at the Estuarium sea lab on Dauphin Island.
  • Play golf. There are several choices for courses, and the views are good, too.
  • Dwell on the area’s Indian and fishing heritage at the Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum.
  • Hang your “Gone Fishing” sign and do just that. There are countless ways to arrange deep-sea fishing excursions from Alabama’s beaches.
  • Play sand volleyball and, in general, relax on the area’s miles and miles of white-sand beaches. With friends or family, rent a pontoon boat for a party.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Alabama Tourism Department at www.alabama.travel