Situated on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, the waterfront city of Gulf Shores is buzzing with beachgoers throughout the summer. But the winter draws fewer crowds and daily high temps hover in the mild 60s, making it the perfect time to visit. Fly into Mobile or Pensacola, Florida airports, which are each about an hour’s drive to the shore town — the latter has a backdrop of the scenic coast. And although you won’t find many crowds in Gulf Shores in the winter months, you’ll find sugary, white sand beaches, fresh seafood, and plenty of opportunities to get out on the water.
The Lodge at Gulf State Park is the only hotel located inside Alabama’s 6,500-acre recreation area, with a long stretch of it encompassing the white sand beachfront overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The Lodge opened in 2018 as a Hilton property, with breezy rooms (many with Gulf-view balconies) and a pool with a pretty spectacular panoramic view — all with an eye toward sustainability. The hotel was designed to use less energy and water, has adopted passive cooling techniques to combat the hottest Alabama days, and drew from recycled building materials during construction.
While the resort offers plenty of pool-adjacent lounge chairs and an outdoor bar serving frozen cocktails, as well as easy access to a wide stretch of sandy beach, it’s also in prime position to explore the sprawling state park. Grab a complementary bike and hit some of the 28 miles of paved trails, or take a stroll down the 725-foot fishing and education pier, also free for hotel guests. Spend the day catching up on your book club reading in a lounge chair on the beach, or rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard and get out on the water. Or venture off the resort and hop aboard one of Sail Wild Hearts’ 53-foot yachts, which set sail around the coast in search of dolphins and pristine views.
Dining around the shore town is typically casual and seafood-focused, and many restaurants have scenic outdoor dining options. Try Lulu’s, run by Jimmy Buffet’s sister Lucy, for peel-and-eat shrimp, salads, and burgers, plus a long list of margaritas. Seating overlooks the water and the wait for a table is usually long, but while you pass the time, embrace the live music and kitschy activities — an on-site beach arcade, ropes course, and caricature artist, to name a few. At lunchtime, head for The Gulf in nearby Orange Beach. The outdoor restaurant is a collection of picnic tables and couches set up on the sand. From there, you can order from a menu of snacks, sandwiches, and salads. Try the lobster roll or shrimp tacos paired with a fruity cocktail. For a slightly swankier dinner, try Fisher's Dockside, overlooking the Orange Beach Marina. Helmed by five-time James Beard Award semifinalist chef Bill Briand, the menu is filled with southern coastal classics like local Alabama oysters, shrimp and grits, and thejust-caught Gulf fish of the day. Inside the State Park, try Woodside restaurant. The casual spot serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner al fresco, at tables surrounded by leafy trees. Go for a low country boil or barbecue plate, and enjoy it to the tune of live music. On the way in or out of town, stop into the family-run seafood shop Lartigue’s and order fresh Gulf shrimp, which they’ll steam and season for you on site. Conveniently, there’s a cache of picnic tables behind the shop, where you can dine before you dash.
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