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Having It All in the Alabama Sun

ALL SECTIONS

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— November 15, 2017

Having It All in the Alabama Sun

  • Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer many ways to play.
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Having It All in the Alabama Sun

The area that includes Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, on 32 miles of coastal Alabama’s beautiful white sands, is at once a natural paradise, a fitness maven’s delight and a place to get wild.

Getting crazy and plugging into nature in the same spot may sound counterintuitive, but those are perfectly compatible concepts given the great premium Gulf Shores and Orange Beach put on keeping the beaches clean (something the area’s many sea turtles appreciate, too) in the two cities’ “Leave Only Footprints” campaign. Whether it’s a beach umbrella, cooler or food wrapper, anything left on the beach an hour after sunset through the morning is discarded by eagle-eyed beach patrols.

Reflecting the destination’s diverse opportunities to lay back and unwind, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach host a cast of characters that includes the restaurateur sister of a music superstar, a kilt-wearing master of ceremonies of a raucous music bar, and a gator named Lefty that doesn’t behave like other members of his shy species.

Where to Get Fit
If it’s guidance you’re looking for, a Boot Camp class at the Fitness Factory (coastalfitnessfactory.com, @GetFitFactoryGS) with owner Rob Breckner will fit the bill. If you want a more casual workout with a pace you can control, jump around
on 12,000 square feet of trampolines—50 in all—at The Factory (thefactorygulfshores.com). You can play air dodgeball, try the basketball hoops for dunking and leap into foam pits. Still thirsty for thrills? Try The Factory’s Adrenaline Jump.

With all that training, you can test your mettle in either the Brett/ Robinson Alabama Coastal Triathlon or, for more novice but still skilled athletes, the Tri-It-On Triathlon. The Tri-It-On Sprint Triathlon begins with a 300-yard swim, a 10-mile bike ride, and a 2-mile run and is as much fun, participating or observing, as extracting yourself from the foam pits at The Factory.

Where to Get Close to Nature
Like your Gulf Shores fitness regimen, you can make your nature encounter in the area a guided affair or a self-propelled outing. We enjoyed both approaches. If a guide suits you, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better than Wild Native Tours (wildnativetours.com, @wnative) as Mike Dorie captains you along the Intracoastal Waterway, Oyster Bay, Bon Secour Bay, and the Bon Secour River. We were lucky enough to have a dolphin pod just yards off our boat, and our deeply knowledgeable guide Johanna along to explain their behavior as well as that of the ospreys, herons, pelicans and other wildlife surrounding us.

More of a workout was a kayak excursion, with vessels supplied by GoGo Kayaks (gogokayaks.com), from Little Lagoon by the Big Secour River. The waters are calm and shallow, making it a great outing for kayaking and fishing, but less ideal for getting your adrenaline going. If you’re more comfortable on land, rent a bike from Beach Bike Rentals (beachbikerentals.com), giving you quick and easy access to Gulf State Park and its wooded pedestrian and bike-friendly trails. It wasn’t long before we passed along a short bridge overlooking waters hosting an apparently familiar resident: an alligator dubbed Lefty who was perfectly content to engage in a short staring contest before we moved along. On our way out of the park, we encountered a snake in the path, giving our group a thrill; you can also see bobcats, armadillos and even wild boar.

Where to Stay
Despite the best efforts of hurricanes, these beaches are wide enough for sunbathers not to feel encroached upon, or literally overshadowed, by the high rises that dot the coast. We were at the luxurious Turquoise Place, with a long balcony featuring a hot tub, grill and killer views of the shoreline and horizon. You’d have to be Shaquille O’Neal to feel claustrophobic in the cavernous three-bedroom digs with high ceilings that we stayed in.

You can have fun even before hitting the beach. Among Turquoise Place amenities are indoor and outdoor (eco-friendly) saltwater pools, a 450-foot heated lazy river, tennis courts, and watersports. And you’re never far from those glorious views;
Turquoise Place elevators are glass. Turquoiseplace.spectrumresorts.com, @turquoise_place.

Where to Eat
Surrounded by water, many area restaurants naturally feature seafood as their dominant fare. At Big Fish (bigfishrestaurant bar.com; @BigFishResBar), for instance, owners tout their never-frozen, always fresh catches. But, as proven by the diverse menu at Lulu’s at Homeport Marina, seafood is not the only option. The pedigree and vibe of Lulu’s (lulubuffett.com, @lulushome port) are a perfect fit for this swath of coastal Alabama; it is owned by Lucy Buffett, sister of Jimmy, and touts live music and the Mountain of Youth, a three-story ropes and climbing apparatus for the inner adventurer who wants to work off some seafood gumbo or key lime pie. An allergy menu offers fare for people with gluten, dairy, and other food intolerances.

We also loved the food (amazing grilled mahi-mahi sandwich) and shabby-chic beachfront feel of The Gulf restaurant and bar (thegulf.com) in Orange Beach. For seafood with an Italian spin, we enjoyed the waterfront Café Grazie (café-grazie. com). And area restaurateurs have the health of their patrons and the environment in mind: Coastal Cuisine (coastal-cuisine.com) is a great stop for a mean smoothie made by Chef Brandi, who, growing up along the Gulf Coast, learned the “farm to table” concept early and prepares dishes with veggies from her gardens.

Where to Unwind
Though the facility is small, as spas go, The Spa at The Beach Club (the beachclub.spectrumresorts.com/ spa) massage therapists know what they’re doing as they deliver treatments like the Island Breeze facial and the Quench Cocoon body wrap.

For another kind of chillin’, check out FloraBama, a watering hole straddling Perdido Beach, Florida and Orange Beach, Alabama. Rebuilt after being virtually destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, FloraBama is big enough to host three bands at once that are likely to be introduced by Compton Smith, the kilt-wearing master of ceremonies. It is a magnet for local artists showing their chops but has also attracted the likes of Kenny Chesney, John Prine, and Jimmy Buffett. On our visit, an acoustic duo played in one room, a Grateful Dead tribute band in another, and a dirt kicking’ rock ’n’ roll cover band playing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and hard-edged versions of Johnny Cash songs on another stage. The latter band had the beer-chugging crowd in full throttle, with one young woman pushing past me as if in a bullfight. Politically speaking, it doesn’t get any more “red state” than this crowd; between songs in my pre-election visit, strictly in the name of comedy, I considered shouting, “What is this—a Hillary Clinton fundraiser?” I quickly thought the better of it.

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