Alabama Gulf Coast’s Best Restaurants: Eat Like A Local

Most visitors come to the beach with a hankering for seafood. Fortunately, Coastal Alabama is known for locally caught seafood delivered fresh to area restaurants.

On your next Gulf coast vacation, avoid the “tourist traps” and eat like the locals. So, if you want to know where the locals are dining, here’s a list of restaurants that keep area residents coming back time and time again.

Fried Seafood

Doc’s Seafood Shack has been a local standby for fried seafood since they opened in 1984. The sign says it all, “Laid Back Local Stuff.” You don’t go to Doc’s for the atmosphere. It’s a no frills, T-shirt and flip-flops kind of place. You go for the fresh seafood at a reasonable price. Doc’s has items on the menu such as grilled seafood and chicken, but it is best known for fried shrimp and oysters. Open for lunch and dinner, Doc’s has two locations in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, AL.

Fish River Grill 2 located on Highway 59 in Foley may not look like much from the outside, but don’t let appearances fool you. Inside you’ll find a menu full of seafood platters that come fried, grilled or Cajun seasoned. A personal favorite is the OMG Shrimp Feast Po’boy, and this is one item that lives up to its name. A foot-long po’boy filled to the brink with fried shrimp and covered in their crawfish pistol sauce, you’ll need a fork and a large appetite to eat it! Open six days a week, closed on Sundays, with live music nightly, this is a great relaxed atmosphere to enjoy some Southern style seafood and entertainment.

Indoor/Outdoor SeatingCosmos_Exterior2

Cosmos Restaurant and Bar on Canal Road in Orange Beach is a fun restaurant and bar scene offering specialty cocktails, and fresh and eclectic food. Favorites such as chicken roulade wrapped in bacon, sesame seared tuna salad and firecracker shrimp keep regulars coming back. Also, the Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish was also named one of “the top 100 dishes to eat before you die” by Alabama Food. Great patio seating and an indoor/outdoor bar make Cosmos’ bar equally as popular as its restaurant.

Pizza and Oysters

Papa Rocco’s built its reputation around the rather odd combination of pizza and oysters. And, yes, they excel at both even though their tongue-in-cheek motto is “Warm Beer and Lousy Pizza.” In fact, Papa Rocco’s has won the “People’s Choice Award” for Best Raw Oysters eight years in a row. Located on I-59 just a quarter-mile from the beach, Papa Rocco’s offers full menu service until midnight and live music nightly.

Casual, Fine Dining

Worth the drive is Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Bon Secour. Located four and a half miles off I-59, Tin Top was designed to be “off the beaten path.” Nonetheless, you will find it packed most weekends as locals go to enjoy food with a New Orleans/Southern casual flare. The best way to describe Tin Top’s food may be “casual, fine dining.” The atmosphere is casual. In fact, the restaurant has the vibe of an old country store. But the fresh, locally caught seafood, fresh vegetables and Certified Angus Beef entrees compare favorably with dishes served in higher-priced fine-dining restaurants.

The Orange Beach and Gulf Shores restaurant scene is exploding. More than 25 new restaurants opened in 2013. We’d like to hear if you’ve found any new favorites or have an old stand-by you frequent when you come to the beach.

 

Coastal Alabama’s Best Kept Secrets

Every town in America has some attractions that have yet to be discovered by the majority of visitors and Alabama’s Gulf Coast and surrounding communities are no exception.  Here are a few of the Gulf Coast’s best kept secrets.

A Quieter Beach

If you’re looking for a beach that is off the beaten path, the Mobile Street public beach access located 10 miles down Fort Morgan Road is a good option. This winding road passes by Gator Lake and dead ends into the Gulf of Mexico and borders the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. So, a long walk on the beach is likely to go uninterrupted.

Ferry Across to Dauphin Island

With a ride down Fort Morgan road, the ferry across the mouth of Mobile Bay runs cars and passengers toDauphin Island where the historic Fort Gaines and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab are located. The easygoing island atmosphere transfers over the narrow pass and on to Dauphin Island. The remote beaches and breathtaking wildlife of Dauphin Island are unlike anything else found along the Alabama Coast. And a fisherman’s paradise awaits those who make the venture over to the less populated Dauphin Island. The Ferry has seasonal operating hours, so make sure you check the schedule before heading out. 

Oak Hollow Farms

Oak Hollow Farms offers horseback riding, skeet shooting, pheasant hunts, archery, fishing, hay rides, and more. Located in Fairhope, Oak Hollow sits on 300 acres of timeless natural habitat unique to the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Hunts are offered seasonally and provide lunch and refreshments with your afternoon of sport.  Oak Hollow events are family friendly, so feel free to bring the kids and even the bird dog!

Lunch With a Gator

Alligator Alley in Summerdale has an elevated viewing platform where you can see more than 450 alligators from hatchlings to mature adults, relaxing, sunbathing, courting and nesting in their natural habitat. Come during feeding times (11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and you can watch an alligator have lunch. Admission is free for children 3 and under, $10 for adults, and $8 for seniors and children 4-12. Alligator Alley is open six days a week (closed on Wednesdays). 

A Landmark Lighthouse

For lighthouse enthusiasts everywhere, Mobile Bay holds a truly unique hexagonal shaped lighthouse in the middle of Mobile Bay, which continues to be a landmark to boaters and an icon to the Mobile and Baldwin County community. Daily tours out of Fairhope will arrange for you to get an up-close and personal view of this historic lighthouse. Opened in 1885 to guide ships through the Mobile Bay, the Middle Bay Lighthousewas placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 after several attempts by local officials to demolish the dilapidated monument.

Lower Alabama Cheeseheads

Sweet Home Farms in Elberta is Lower Alabama’s only all-natural dairy farm specializing in non-pasteurized cheeses. With this hidden gem only open to the public on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the rush is on during the weekend to cram into the tiny country store to get a taste of some of the best cheese south of Wisconsin.

So, if you are looking for a non-touristy experience, check out some of Coastal Alabama’s best-kept secrets! We love to hear what other hidden gems you may have found in South Baldwin County!

The Unbeach Day: The Gulf Coast’s Off Beach Activities

Yes.  Most people come to the beach for the BEACH.  But what if little Susie gets sunburned the first day or if the thought of building one more sand castle make you want to pave over the coastline? If you stay more than a few days, the question always comes up. What else is there to do in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach besides go to the beach?

Luckily, the answer is “PLENTY.”

The newest attraction to the Gulf State Park is the Hummingbird Ziplines.  Consisting of seven towers and six ziplines as high as 90 feet off the ground, the mile-long course takes two hours to complete while offering spectacular views of the gator pond and Lake Shelby. The height provides a great vantage point for taking in spectacular views of the white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. A zipline tour costs $79 for adults and $59 for children 12 and under Discounts may apply for groups larger than 12.

This 20-acre water and amusement park, Waterville USA, keeps raising the bar on family fun. The popular Flowrider, a simulated surfing, body boarding and snowboard attraction got some competition last year from a new six-lane mat racer slide. The park is open seasonally from mid-May through Labor Day. Admission is $32.95 for adults, $25.95 for military, $20.95 for seniors and children under 42 inches tall, $18.95 for observers and free to children 2 and under.

An afternoon out on the water in search of dolphins is the perfect way to experience the friendly creatures up close. Several dolphin charters offer you a chance to view these majestic mammals in their natural habit. Expect to pay $20 and up.

The Little Zoo That Could” is Gulf Shores’ hidden treasure. With over 500 exotic animals and daily feeding schedules, this interactive zoo is just blocks from the beach. In spring and summer, you can even play with the babies—including tigers, kangaroos and lemurs. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 for children ages 3-12 and free for children 2 and under.

The Refuge contains 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat for migratory birds, wildlife and nesting sea turtles. The different trails appeal to hikers of all fitness levels–from a short one-mile hike to a trail of more than four miles. Each trial is unique and gives you a chance to discover habitats of the refuge: dunes, swales, wetlands, maritime forests and scrub. Admission is free.

Since 1834, Fort Morgan has stood as the guardian of Mobile Bay. Fort Morgan was active during four wars: the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. The fort is most famous for its role in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. Union Admiral David Farragut damned the torpedoes and went full speed ahead to win the battle. Featured exhibits include weapons, uniforms, letters, photographs and other personal items left behind by soldiers who served at the fort. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students and $4 for children. Children under six are admitted for free.

In our busy every-day lives, it’s sometimes hard to make time to see the latest blockbuster on the big screen. So, vacation is the perfect time to catch latest Chick Flick, action movie or animated feature you’ve been dying to see. See the latest first-run movies at Carmike Wharf 15 located at The Wharf or Cobb Pinnacle 14 In the Pelican Point Shopping Centre on Gulf Shores Parkway.

If you are a bargain hunter, there’s no place better than Tanger Outlets in Foley with more than 120 stores and designer outlets. Or if you a looking for unique gifts or beachwear, then check out the shops at The Wharf orSan Roc Cay.

 

We’d love to know what else you like to do on your off-the-beach days.

Alabama Gulf Coast Shopping–On and Off the Beaten Path

The first shopping stop for most serious shoppers is usually Tanger Outlets in Foley, where many high quality outlet stores offer all your favorite brands in one location. More than 120 name brands, including Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Michael Kors and Tommy Bahama, have outlets store there.

While Tanager Outlets gets its share of attention, there are several other shopping centers and local boutiques worth checking out.

Pelican Place

Pelican Place at Craft Farms houses, among other things, Pinnacle theater, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Books a Million and a variety of other specialty shops and restaurants.  Be sure to check out LifeBytes for all of the latest Apple products and stop by Mikato’s Japanese Steakhouse for great sushi and hibachi.

 

The Wharf

In Orange Beach, no shopping experience would be complete without a trip to The Wharf which offers a wonderful variety of specialty shops, a movie theater and numerous restaurants. Located within the Wharf complex, you will find Fusion Spa, Lucca, The Bag Lady, Build-A-Bear, Carmike Cinemas, and several restaurants including Villagio Grille, Ginny Lane and Compleat Angler.

The Boutiques

The local Gulf Shores and Orange Beach community has several unique boutiques that offer something different than you might find at home.Tallulah’s Treasures in Orange Beach sits right on the beach and holds a collection of clothing and upscale, trendy specialty items—many with an Alabama Gulf Coast twist.

Other favorite local boutiques are located in SanRoc Cay Marina. In particular, be sure to check out Too Hot Mama’s, which specializes in women’s clothing, jewelry and other accessories, and Blue Lagoon Swimwear, where you will find extensive swimwear collections year-round.

With so many options, you will be hard pressed not to find the perfect memento on your shopping excursion.

Do you have any other favorite places to shop in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach? If so, we’d love to hear about them.

Gulf Coast Must See Annual Events

The annual beach trip is a ritual as common to many families as movie night and lunch at Grandma’s. Most people don’t need more allure than the warm waters of the Gulf and the sugar-white sand. However, the Coast is becoming known for several festivals and events that may just be worth planning your next beach trip around.

Oyster Cook-off

Enjoy live music, football on the big screen, and, of course, oysters prepared by more than 40 of the best restaurants in the region at the 6th Annual Oyster Cook-off on Saturday, Nov. 9.

The event, being held at the Hangout, is free to the public and tasting tickets are $2 each or $30 for a book of 20 tickets.

The Hangout Music Festival

The Hangout Music Festival is quickly growing to be one of the most popular events on the Coast. Nationally recognized musical acts converge on the beaches of Gulf Shores to perform for more than35,000 people on the beautiful sugar white sands of the Alabama Gulf Coast for three days each May. Headliners such as Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Mathew’s band have graced the stage on the beach to rock the Alabama Gulf Coast and the thousands that attend this annual event. The 2014 Hangout Festival is scheduled for May 16-18. Although prices have not been announced yet, expect general admission to cost around $210 for a weekend pass.

hangout music festival gulf shores

The Mullet Toss

The infamous Flora-Bama Bar, located on the Alabama/Florida border in Perdido Key, sponsors the Annual Interstate Mullet Toss. Hundreds of people wait for the opportunity to throw a mullet from inside a circle in Florida over the state line into Alabama in hopes of being crowned the new champion. The Mullet Toss is always held the last full weekend in April. There’s a small cover charge to get in the Flora-Bama, and a $15 entry fee if you want to toss a mullet yourself.

National Shrimp Festival

The National Shrimp Festival is a staple of what Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are all about. This annual four-day event, always the second weekend in October, brings more than 300,000 people together to enjoy local gulf shrimp, art and live music. Shrimp Festival is held at the Hangout, and admission is free.

Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival          

The Gulf Coast Balloon Festival, will be going into its 10th year in 2014. The event draws more than 50 hot air balloons for two days of family fun at the Foley Sports Complex. The balloon festival, which includes arts and crafts, music and a Kids Zone, is held in mid-June. Admission is free.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is a Gulf Coast tradition that is not just limited to the widely known party in New Orleans or the “Family Mardi Gras” in Mobile, but rather something that each Gulf Coast town takes and blends into something unique.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are no exceptions, with each town offering a one of a kind take on Mardi Gras with boat parades that stream right down the Intracoastal Waterway. Be sure to bring a large bag to stash your daily haul of beads and moon pies. Mardi Gras will fall the first week in March during 2014.

SEC Beachfest

The United States is a football-obsessed country, but in the South, football fans are a different breed. TheSEC Beachfest is right up every football fan’s alley with talks from legendary coaches, skill clinics by former players, and plenty of entertainment to hold a fan over ntil SEC football season kicks-off in the fall. Beachfest, held on the main public beach in Gulf Shores, is the third weekend in August and weekend passes are $25.

Since most of these annual events happen off peak season, it’s a great way to check out the Gulf Coast at a different time of year and start a new family tradition.

Check This Packing List Before You Head to the Beach

Getting down to the beach with all your gear can be exhausting. As soon as you get situated, the inevitable feeling comes over you, “I’ve forgotten something important!”  Here’s a handy checklist to help you remember some of the essential items to pack for your next trip to the beach.
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