Alabama’s Beaches: Down Time Down SouthBeaches, STAFF, USA MAINLAND — By Lisa A. White on May 15, 2014 at 23:11
Story by staff writer Lisa A. White. Photos Copyright © Lisa A. White.
ALABAMA IS NOT well-known for its beaches. If you look at the state’s map, you quickly realize that somehow Florida scooted to the west and took what could have been a lot of Alabama coastline. Depending on how it is calculated (do you count all of those nooks and crannies or not?), Alabama has under 60 miles of coastline compared to Florida’s 1,000+ miles.
Roughly in the center of Alabama’s coast is Mobile Bay. Dauphin Island sits to the west of the Bay’s mouth and Gulf Shores sits to the east. Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan were built to protect the Bay just after the War of 1812 and are historic parks today. A ferry runs from Fort Morgan to Dauphin Island in case you want to visit both without the long drive around the bay.
One word of warning though: don’t plan to go fishing on the Dauphin Island Fishing Pier. Hurricane Katrina shifted the sand, and the pier of my youth—which still stands—is now completely landlocked.
When I was about nine, my parents loaded my brothers, me, and our dog in our station wagon and headed to Dauphin Island, Alabama. After we passed Mobile, we all began having serious doubts about finding the “beach.” All we saw were perfectly straight rural roads, an occasional farm stand, and here and there a house-converted-to-restaurant named something like “Mama’s Home Cookin’.”
Finally, we reached the long, low Dauphin Island Bridge. We crossed and found ourselves in a time warp. Dauphin Island was (and still is) a beach town from a bygone era.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our big thrills were to go fishing on the pier and to get ice cream at the Tastee Freeze. We made 1-2-3 Jello with what we all now call a Dauphin Island mixer. In case you missed this culinary delight, this 1-2-3 Jello stuff required a lot of high-speed power mixing—or simply wearing out 3 or 4 kids with the old red-handled, kid-powered mixer.
Our family went deep-sea fishing with Captain George Esfeller, spent a lot of time on the beach, and ate a lot of seafood. Life was slow; laughter was free.
In the past few years, Dan and I have headed to the Alabama beaches during the off-season(s)—mid-October, early December, now in early April. Most of the time, we go to Dauphin Island; however, most recently we decided to stay in Gulf Shores, on the narrow end closest to Fort Morgan.
We scour around and book a “pet friendly” house, pile the two dogs and two cats in the car, and head south for some serious relaxation. Daily trips to Skinner’s Seafood (Dauphin Island) or Billy’s Seafood (Gulf Shores) keep our plates full at night. The sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico are simply amazing.
Dauphin Island is a long sliver of an island and the westernmost part of Gulf Shores is very similar, although a peninsula. Both have colorful beach houses built on pilings, ultra-white sand, very few people (especially off-season) and even fewer businesses.
If you get bored walking on the beach, swimming, reading, fishing, playing board games with your family at night, an occasional bonfire, and watching the sun rise and set, you probably want to go somewhere else. But if true “down time” is your idea of a vacation, then pull out your flip flops, put on your sunglasses, and head to the coast of Alabama—a time warp into the 1950s is calling you.
Lisa White has wandered through world like she has wandered through professions. In both pursuits, she always has more to explore, more to learn, and more to do. Currently she practices law in the area of dependency and neglect as well as other cases that address the well-being of children. Often this is an area of law that feels exceptionally “heavy.” When it becomes too emotionally burdensome, she catches a flight somewhere—anywhere—to remember the good, positive, beautiful, tasty, and fun of the world.