The White Beaches of Alabama

One hour on the I-10 from Mobile leads you straight to the southernmost tip of Alabama, a dreamy resort town called Gulf Shores.

The Gulf Coast sweeps 27,000 acres between Mobile and Pensacola, drawing thousands of visitors annually to its expansive sugar-white beaches. Tourism from neighbouring states is not uncommon; the proximity to New Orleans and Biloxi makes this an accessible weekend getaway for many southerners.

For northerners, Gulf Shores provides a different appeal: the sands are always sun-drenched, the skies are always clear, and the humid climate is tempered by cool sea breezes. Though the town, as well as nearby Orange Beach (located nine miles up the coast), sees an upswing in tourism after Memorial Day, the temperature is comfortable year-round.

Still, the allure of Gulf Shores has, and always will be, its unique white sands, unlike anything you can expect to find anywhere on either the Pacific or Atlantic coasts. The beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are a striking pure white. How they got that way is a fascinating lesson in American geography. The hollows around the Appalachian Mountains, particularly one stretch known as the Blue Ridge belt that runs through most of North Carolina, have long been known for possessing a wealth of mineral and quartz deposits.

This oft-forgotten part of middle America may not be on your radar, but it is certainly valuable to Silicon Valley; quartz crystals from the Blue Ridge backwater are used by every major technological company in the world to manufacture computer chips. When these precious crystals rush downstream through the mountains, they inevitably wind up in Gulf Shores.

When you look upon the glittering white beaches of Alabama, you are looking at the evidence of the same quiet geological process that enables us to digitally document our vacations online. It is humbling to acknowledge that the rare natural resource used to power our cell phones is also the main allure of Gulf Shores in the first place.

Whether you are an artist seeking solitude to complete a project in a pristine beachfront setting, a traveler with an affinity for cutting-edge music and culture, or a wanderer simply hoping to soak in the rays and collect some sand dollars, Gulf Shores is teeming with opportunity — for an unforgettable vacation or a chance to lay down roots. This town has been unofficially adopted by plenty of its snowbird residents, and many have passed along the tradition to their children and grandchildren.

There are thirty-odd hotels in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and plenty provide luxurious amenities, including waterfront balconies from which to watch dolphins and catch the early morning breeze coming in off the sea.

If you are looking for a convenient and comfortable place to rest your head, you won’t struggle to find it; the Perdido Beach Resort, for instance, is built on prime real estate in one of the most exclusive spots in the area, known colloquially as “The Pass.” Directly on the Gulf, the Perdido is only a few miles up the coast from the sunny storefronts and buzzing nightlife of Gulf Shores.

Sophisticated though the hotels in this region may be, frequent visitors insist that there is only one way to authentically experience Gulf Shores, and for that, you must book a rental.

There are numerous fully furnished waterfront vacation rental homes here, from the spacious Bella Vista to the cozy Wharf 2217 to the elegant Turquoise Place. Be advised that during the summer months they’re snatched up quickly, so it’s advisable to book your trip relatively far in advance.

Right before peak season is the deep south’s coolest music festival, Hangout Fest, which takes place over one weekend in mid-May in Gulf Shores. Produced in collaboration with Goldenvoice and a local seafood restaurant called The Hangout, the event draws big-name acts as well as indie artists. With the giant Ferris wheel and the Wharf visible in the distance, it’s almost like a smaller, more southern Coachella.

If you visit Gulf Shores for the food and drinks, you won’t leave the palm-lined streets disappointed. The Wharf Entertainment District is known for its upscale boutiques and restaurants, and when the sun goes down and the beach volleyball games are finished, the nightlife is impeccable.

From delectable artisanal brunch at Another Broken Egg to craft beers at dog-friendly Big Beach Brewing, there is an endless array of options for the foodie traveler seeking a friendly yet classy ambience in which to enjoy some good old-fashioned southern hospitality.

The local specialty, of course, is seafood — particularly lobster, crab legs, and oysters, all freshly and locally caught. Over one hundred charter fishing boats leave the shores of the Gulf every single day, some headed into trophy fish territory, where rare delicacies such as marlin and sailfish are netted and brought back to the mainland.

If you’re an angler yourself, you can hop aboard a charter boat and catch your own; if you prefer to observe marine life from afar, you’re likely to see a blue heron or pelican wandering through the shallow waves or along the sandy shores.

On the other hand, environmentally conscious visitors with a heart for animal welfare can partake in a time-honoured local tradition by sponsoring a sea turtle nest. Thousands of endangered turtles return annually to hatch their eggs on the beach, and Alabama’s Share the Beach program enables locals and tourists alike to volunteer their efforts to sponsor a nest. Money raised helps fund turtle tracking devices to ensure that mothers and babies are able to navigate the sand dunes and return to the sea.

 

Carly Bush
Carly Bush is a nomadic writer and editor whose adventurous mentality and passion for travel began at an early age. Her explorations of North America over the past several years contributed to her desire to write about travel in a new and accessible way. She strives to write engaging, uplifting, and challenging content.