Alabama Getaway: Hangin' Out in Gulf
Shores and Orange Beach
The twin communities of Gulf Shores and
Orange Beach are located on a gorgeous and clean stretch of Alabama's Gulf
Coast, tucked into the shoreline between Mobile to the west and Pensacola,
Florida to the east. The wide beach, far less crowded than many in the
region, is the obvious draw for visitors but you don't have to look too
far to find other types of entertainment; there's always a guy or a gal
ready with a guitar and a serenade, the tigers and lemurs that live in
the area would like to meet you and flying machines of all vintages are
standing by to show off as well. And there's a pretty good chance that
you're gonna get bushwackered too!
After a day of playing on the beach, music
lovers can keep things going by visiting the Flora-Bama, a large roadhouse
with two stages. The place takes its name from the fact that it straddles
the Florida/Alabama border and folks come from both states and beyond to
dance the night away or just sit and listen. The Hangout is another place
to hear live music; the brightly-lit restaurant with its collection of
Pez dispensers and lunch boxes has a great family atmosphere but as it
gets a little later in the evening the Hangout gets kind of rowdy. Both
of these venues are hosts for the annual Frank Brown Songwriters Festival
that takes place late in the year when songwriters of all sorts --- the
famous and hit song writers and unknown up-and-comers alike --- come to
Gulf Shores to play their songs on acoustic instruments and sing them the
way they originally conceived them. Despite their size, the Flora-Bama
and the Hangout are both relatively intimate venues where fans can get
up close to the performers and mingle afterwards to grab a photo or maybe
get a CD autographed. The Hangout also hosts an annual namesake festival;
the Hangout Festival this year takes place May 17-19 right on the beach
adjacent to the restaurant and features a huge line-up of contemporary
artists like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, Kings of
Leon, Grizzly Bear, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Afrojack, moe, Slightly Stupid,
Steve Aoki, the Breeders and dozens more.
Another place that music fans need to make
a pilgrimage to is Lulu's, the restaurant and bar owned by Jimmy Buffett's
sister. There's lots of Buffett and other music memorabilia in the place
and of course you can chow down on a "cheeseburger in paradise." All of
these places offer the area's signature drink, the bushwacker. Recipes
vary from bar to bar but the bushwacker is essentially an electric milkshake;
a concoction made with ice cream, coffee liqueur and several types of rum.
Yes, a few of these and you'll understand where the name comes from but
bushwackers are very refreshing in moderation.
There are two attractions in the Gulf Shores
area that are not to be missed. The first is the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo,
an impressively-stocked zoo that has an incredible back story (all but
completely destroyed by hurricanes then painstakingly rebuilt) that you
might have heard about when it was featured on the Animal Planet program
The Little Zoo That Could. When you go to see the animals you can
also find out about how the zoo is still recovering and hoping to expand
and maybe meet some of the folks directly involved in the heartwarming
effort. But for pure excitement, indulge in one of the zoo's animal encounters;
for an additional fee you can meet (hold them, pet them!) one or more of
the zoo's baby white tigers or go into the lemur enclosure where the playful
critters will be leaping about and playing, often jumping onto your lap
or shoulders. Cameras are allowed during these experiences so you can get
pictures to make all your friends jealous.
The other must-see attraction is the National
Naval Aviation Museum, located just across the Florida state line in Pensacola.
The museum sits on the grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the
home of the famous Blue Angels flying team, and there's lots of Blue Angels
memorabilia inside along with more than 150 other aircraft (and spacecraft.)
There's also a simulated flight ride you can take where your "jet" will
be "hit by a missile" but you'll "land safely" anyway. After the simulation
you just might need a bushwacker!
Most visitors to Gulf Shores/Orange beach
stay in one of the many condo towers that are right on the beach. I stayed
at Turquoise Place in Orange Beach and highly recommend them; they have
a great spot on the beach with spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico.
I also recommend Tacky Jacks for a breakfast stop (have a bushwacker there
with your eggs and bacon!) and the Compleat Angler in the Wharf entertainment
district for dinner; the seafood, wings and burger joint is owned by former
NFL star Bob Baumhower and he is often in the restaurant and very personable.
To plan your visit: www.gulfshores.com
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