Alabama’s Beaches: Down Time Down South

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.

Fort Morgan and Dauphin Island, AL

Beach house

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.

At Fort Morgan's historic site

At Fort Morgan’s historic site

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.

The Dauphin Island Fishing Pier, which lost its water

The Dauphin Island Fishing Pier, which lost its water

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’.”

Childhood memories

Childhood memories

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.

Coming in for a landing on the Mobile Bay ferry

Coming in for a landing on the Mobile Bay ferry

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.

Family walks

Family walks

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.

Sunset on the coast of Alabama

Sunset on the coast of Alabama

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.

Sunset on Dauphin Island

Sunset on Dauphin Island

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.

Fort Morgan at sunset

Fort Morgan at sunset

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.


Beer in Brussels

Lisa drinking beer in Brussels

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.



  1. Judith Shaw says:


    I was very taken with your photographs, especially sunset on the coast of Alabama and the seagulls. Your post brought back memories of early childhood summers on Cape Cod, back in the ’50’s, before it was a trendy holiday destination. I loved reading about Dauphin Island and Alabama a beaches.

    Thanks for writing.


  2. One note: the house shown above was just a gorgeous one we saw, not the pet-friendly one that we rented.

  3. I had no idea Alabama possessed such beautiful beaches. It sounds absolutely wonderful, as I am the kind of soul who loves the idea of traveling back to a simpler, slower time. Your article evoked feelings of nostalgia, but for a place I’ve never been. I’ve got a hankering now for bonfires, walks on the beach, board games and fresh seafood. Alabama is on my radar.

    • There are several ways to rent a house on DI including,, Boardwalk Realty (which has been in business forever), Dauphin Island Realty. We like the far west end of the island best. It is about 2-4 houses wide so virtually every house has both Bay and Gulf views and access.

      Driving to DI, we stocked up on veggies at a farm stand, then stock up at Skinners for seafood. One of my favorite things to do is to “cook local” while on vacation. Please post if you visit DI or Fort Morgan!

      • I will definitely let you know, and thank you for the extra information! Farm stands and fresh veggies? The AL Dept. of Tourism needs you heading up their advertising campaign. You paint a vivid – and enticing – picture. 🙂

        • Thanks! Another little gem…we took a day trip to Fairhope, Alabama which is worthy of more than a day. Very nice small town with a place called Panini Pete’s. It has been on Drive-ins, Dives and Diners. The homes on the bay are straight from Southern Living.

  4. Ann Mc says:

    I’m with Leigh…I had no idea the beaches were so lovely. Your photos were absolutely stunning as well!

    • Thank you for your praise of our photos! My idea of a relaxing vacation is taking photos of any and everything!

      • Ann Mc says:

        I know EXACTLY what you mean! If I haven’t taken 400 pics a day, I just didn’t have enough fun!

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