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Mar 23 15

Let The Chateau be your house of relaxation…at relaxed prices

by Chris Chatelain

There’s nothing more soothing to me than imagining myself parked in a beach chair with my toes planted in the sand, warm rays of sun on my skin, cool Gulf breezes tickling my face and a frozen drink in my hand. That’s my idea of heaven.

The Chateau Panama City Beach with beachfront pool and view of the Gulf of MexicoWhat if I told you this was not only possible for you as well, but was actually available at affordable, discounted rates? You’d probably think I was either crazy, or you’d think that there has to be something wrong with the location, right? Well, a beach vacation to The Chateau Panama City Beach has the potential to be the best-ever Florida getaway – not only for its location directly on the beach, but also for the sizzling summer savings available.

To ensure that you have the best experience at the best price, The Chateau is now offering a 20 percent discount on stays of four nights or longer, and 15 percent off nightly rates when you book a three night stay at this beach vacation rental in Northwest Florida between April 13 – September 30, 2015. (This offer is not available during holidays and is subject to availability.)

If you’re looking to slow down and relax on vacation, then I encourage you to plan a stay at The Chateau motel, which is centrally located in the heart of Panama City Beach. This treasured vacation spot offers a peaceful retreat at a low-rise complex that is situated directly on the beach. In fact, all of the rooms here face the Gulf and are mere steps from the sugar-white sands at the water’s edge. And an ample array of amazing dining, entertainment and shopping is never more than a few steps or a very short drive.

Prefer sunbathing and swimming without all the sand? No worries, because The Chateau’s beachfront tanning deck and lagoon style pool allows you to enjoy the beach without actually being on the beach.

Other activities at The Chateau include walking on a soft, white-sand beach collecting seashells, perfecting your sandcastle-building skills, enjoying sensational sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico and enjoying a family cookout and watching the waves roll in from the grilling pavilion – to name just a few.

Treble Hooks beachfront bar and grill onsite dining at The Chateau in Panama City Beach, FloridaPerhaps the best part about this particular Panama City Beach hotel is that you can truly park the car and stay on the property – if you so choose – the whole time and never be bored or hungry. While enjoying some relaxation time on the beach is great, enjoying a fresh hot meal while enjoying the cool breezes is icing on the cake. Take advantage of the on-site Treble Hooks Bar & Grill, which is located on the pool deck and offers burgers, beer and more while taking in the waterside views.

So avoid the beach crowds…and enjoy the savings. Rooms always book up quickly at this motel, so call early to book your stay at The Chateau in Panama City Beach.

Mar 15 15

Special Events Lure Visitors to Gulf Coast Year-Round

by S. Lynne
A group of anglers with catch at the Destin Fishing Rodeo, one of many annual Gulf Coast events

Anglers of all ages are welcome to compete in the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Warm weather, emerald waters, and beaches so white that they dazzle the eyes are the major attractions for most visitors to the Florida and Alabama Gulf coasts. But the region also plays host to music festivals, wine tastings, fishing rodeos, and other special Gulf Coast events – some so big that folks regularly plan their vacations around them.

For example, more than one seafood lover has been known to mark his or her October calendar with the dates for the National Shrimp Festival. Celebrating its

Food tents along the beach at the National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores Shrimp Festival

44th year in 2015, the free event regularly attracts more than 250,000 visitors to Gulf Shores for four days of arts, crafts, live entertainment, and lots of food – including, of course, plenty of shrimp.

Another popular event that’s always a hot ticket is the Hangout Music Fest, also in Gulf Shores. The May festival regularly hosts national and international stars on its beachfront stages. This year’s headliners include Foo Fighters, Sam Smith, the Zac Brown Band, and Beck. In years past, appearances by the Dave Matthews Band, Jack White, Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, and other musical greats have made this a not-to-be-missed event.

Other Gulf Coast music festivals that regularly draw a crowd are the Highway 30A Songwriters Festival; the Seabreeze Jazz Festival and the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, both in Panama City Beach; and the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival, held at different venues from Gulf Shores to Perdido Key.

The 10,000-seat Amphitheater at The Wharf in Orange Beach is another spot worth a special trip. It regularly schedules concerts by noted stars, including Three Dog Night, Dave Matthews Band, Florida-Georgia Line, Jimmy Buffett, and Luke Bryan.

Thousands of motorcycling enthusiasts choose to spend their vacation time at the Thunder Beach Spring and Autumn Rallies in Panama City Beach. The fun includes bike shows and parades, stunt riding demonstrations, beauty pageants, food, and live music.

Another spring event that always draws a crowd is the Sandestin Wine Festival. Held every April at

Sandestin Wine Festival guest tasting wine

Sandestin Wine Festival is an annual spring event

Sandestin’s Village of Baytowne Wharf, the festival celebrates its 29th year in 2015 with hundreds of wines from around the world. Festival guests also get to talk with top winemakers, learn how to pair foods and wines successfully, and buy their favorite wines at discounted prices.

Anglers come from all over the country to vie for prizes at the Destin Fishing Rodeo. The month-long competition has been a tradition in the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” since 1948. Just about every game fish is recognized with awards during the rodeo, which takes place in and around Destin Harbor every October. Also in October, the Destin Seafood Festival celebrates the city’s fishing heritage with good food, live entertainment, arts and crafts, and more at HarborWalk Village.

Annual Gulf Coast Event -- Mullet toss at the Flora BamaLocated at the state line between Florida and Alabama, the iconic Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar offers live music daily and hosts special events all year long. Its New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dip usually attracts more than 1,000 people whose idea of a good time is a quick dip in the chilly Gulf of Mexico. And the annual Mulllet Toss, an April event that involves tossing frozen mullets from one state to the other for prize money, annually earns around $20,000 for local charities.

There’s always something going on at Bellingrath Gardens and Home, a 65-acre estate outside Mobile. Especially noteworthy is the Gardens’ Magic Christmas in Lights, when the grounds are ablaze nightly with more than three million lights and 1,000 fantasy displays. The light show generally stays up from the end of November through New Year’s Day. Another eagerly awaited attraction at the Gardens is fall’s spectacular Cascading Mum Display. Bellingrath also offers several popular activities for youngsters, including the annual Easter egg hunt, Kids’ Gulf Discovery Day, and the pre-Halloween children’s trick-or-treat party, Balloon Glow in the Gardens.

There’s a pirate invasion worth watching every summer in Fort Walton Beach when Billy Bowlegs and his dastardly crew come ashore to take over the city. In addition to pirate battles, the Billy Bowlegs Festival features Mardi Gras-style parades, fireworks, food, live entertainment, and lots of fun for the whole family.

Other special Gulf Coast events include weekly Fat Tuesday parades; the Thursday Red, White, and Blue Hero’s Fireworks presentations; and the free Rock the Docks Saturday concerts at Destin’s HarborWalk Village. Seaside, the picture-perfect town known for its pastel cottages and old-fashioned charm, is the site every February of the Seaside Half Marathon – 5K and 10K races featuring flat courses and ocean views. And Sandestin’s Village of Baytowne Wharf offers a free WednesdayNight Concert series that runs for most of the year, as well as special celebrations featuring live music, fireworks, food, and fun for all of the major holidays throughout the year.

Events Calendars on BeachGuide.com

Before heading to the beach on your next trip, check out the events in these locations:

Alabama Beaches

Gulf Shores events   ~   Orange Beach events

Florida Beaches

Northwest Florida

Destin events  ~ Fort Walton Beach events ~ Highway 30-a events   ~  Panama City Beach events  ~ Pensacola Beach events   ~   Perdido Key events

Forgotten Coast

Apalachicola events ~ Cape San Blas events  ~ Mexico Beach events  ~ St. George Island events

 

 

Mar 4 15

Fishing is King in Destin!

by Charlie Peay

Destin fishing boat going out through the East Pass to the Gulf of MexicoDestin is not known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” for nothing! The fishing action in Destin can be hot and heavy inshore, offshore, and from beach piers and jetties. All of you do-it-yourselfers will be happy to know that you don’t need a boat to enjoy an excellent day of fishing in Destin. Many species of sport fish can be caught right from the shore including pompano, whiting, sheepshead, bluefish, cobia, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel & jack crevalle. This type of fishing is best between April and October, during the peak pompano runs. Live bait, frozen bait, and

Men fishing from the Destin Jetties

Fishing from the Destin Jetties

artificial baits are all effective when fishing from the shore, depending on the tide and weather conditions.

Inshore fishing on Choctawhatchee Bay and its bayous is good year-round! You can expect to catch diverse species of fish including speckled trout, sheepshead, white trout, redfish, channel bass, and flounder. Of course, blue crabs are a favorite in this area and can be found in abundance along the shores of the bay. During the warm summer months from June through August, blue crabs move into the shallow bay and beach areas and can be netted by novices and serious crabbers alike.

The inshore trolling season runs from March through November and normally begins with the cobia run in the spring. The most popular and successful method for catching cobia is by sight casting from a boat, either to a single fish or to a school. Once you’ve hooked a 100lb cobia on light spinning tackle, believe me, it’s not an experience that you will soon forget! Inshore trolling can also produce great catches of Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, bonito, amberjack, and schooling dolphin. Inshore charter fishing trips are available for full day or half day excursions.

Most of Destin’s renowned fishing fleet specializes in deep sea bottom fishing for half day, full day or overnight trips. The favorite targets of these deep sea bottom fishermen are primarily red snapper, grouper, amberjack, scamp, triggerfish, and cobia, which are all highly prized fish for the dinner table. Destin maintains a large fleet of party boats for deep sea bottom fishing which can accommodate from 25 up to 100 persons. Party boats are available for full day or half

Red snapper caught during a Destin Fishing Rodeo

Red snapper caught during a Destin Fishing Rodeo

day fishing trips, and can be reserved for large groups.

Most offshore “blue water” trolling takes place beyond the 50 fathom curve (300 foot depth), from 25 to 50 miles out. This method of fishing has proven to be very productive for Destin anglers who want to go after white marlin, blue marlin,

sailfish, dolphin and wahoo. Billfish may be caught from April to December, but August through October is normally the most productive fishing period for this type of fishing.

Each year, the Destin Fishing Rodeo in October is the ultimate fishing tournament in Northwest Florida. More than 30,000 anglers compete during the month of October for over $100,000 in prizes! There are prizes given for men’s, women’s, and junior fishing categories and virtually every type of game fish is recognized with awards during the Rodeo. Best of all, it’s free for

Prize tuna caught during a Destin Fishing Rodeo

Tuna caught during the Destin Fishing Rodeo

anglers to fish aboard any of the boats which have been registered for the Rodeo, so make plans to come on down during the month of October and join in the fun! For help in planning your visit, check out this list of Destin Vacation Rentals.

Feb 28 15

Trade in your snow shoes for flip flops!

by Chris Chatelain

kids on the beach with snorkel and masks enjoying spring breakWith warmer temperatures just around the corner, now is the time to start getting into a Spring state-of-mind. And what better way to get into the spirit than with a spring break beach deal in Northwest Florida?

Luckily, ResortQuest By Wyndham Vacation Rentals is currently offering hot deals like 15 percent off your vacation rentals, through April 12, plus an additional five percent off March stays – which means you can melt the ice and warm your heart with savings of 20 percent on a stay between March 1 – 31.

So if you are getting tired of waking up to snow and sub-freezing temperatures, then the Sunshine State has a few great ideas on how it can help you thaw from this brutal winter. Here are a few ways you could put that savings to good use while here:

  • Play a few rounds of golf. Northwest Florida is known for its lush golf courses with fairways that stay green nearly year-round and greens boasting fantastic water views. Destin is the center of it all with championship courses like the Raven Course, which has actually been used for Champions Tour tournaments. Just imagine sinking birdie putts in the morning, followed by sinking your toes into the warm sands overlooking the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the afternoon.  It’s the best of both worlds, as you can work on your golf game on challenging courses and then work on your tan with a tropical drink in your hand afterwards. Now that’s the life!
  • Warm up with wine.There’s very few things more relaxing than sipping a glass of wine with your feet up and forgetting about the worries of
    Crescent Condominium rentals in Destin, Florida

    Crescent Condominiums in Destin, Florida is one of over 200 rentals available for this special offer.

    the world. Well, throw in the breathtaking views of the water and coastal wildlife along Scenic Hwy 30-A in South Walton, and you’ve got a dynamic one-two punch of ultimate relaxation. One of the many great things about booking a stay at a vacation rental along Hwy 30A is that you’ll be able to catch the 30A Wine Festival, which runs from Friday, March 6 through Sunday, March 8. The three-day celebration will feature renowned vinters, local culinary delights and, of course, tropical breezes and sensational sunsets over the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico waters.

  • Catch dinner. While some will undoubtedly still be shoveling snow from their driveways in March, you could be baiting a hook at the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier in preparation to dipping your line in the water while soaking up the sun. Sure, there are countless spots from which to fish, but Navarre Beach is a hidden gem on the Emerald Coast. It’s still relatively unknown to the masses, so crowds and noise are rarely an issue at this delightful destination. And, the fishing pier offers a vantage point unlike any other in the area. In fact, it’s the longest fishing pier in the Gulf – checking in at a whopping 1,545 feet long. A temporary fishing license is included in the small admission fee, and visitors can even rent fishing poles, rods and gear onsite. You can literally show up with nothing but your clothes, and walk back to your vacation rental in Navarre with dinner in hand.

So get out of the deep freeze and plan a trip to the deep blue seas, sugar-white sands and gentle golfing greens of Northwest Florida. Book today, and don’t forget to use the promo code FLIPFLOPS for your 20 percent discount when booking online at select ResortQuest By Wyndham Vacation Rentals accommodations.

DETAILS: Offer is valid on travel dates from March 1 through April 12, 2015, with a stay of 3 nights or more at any of our eligible rentals. To take advantage of this offer, call 888-210-5575 or book online using Promo Code FLIPFLOPS by March 31, 2015.

Find more Florida vacation deals online, from early booking offers to last-minute deals and more.

map of airports in Northwest Florida with routes from major southeastern cities

 

 

Feb 24 15

Fish-Flying Fun at Flora-Bama Mullet Toss

by S. Lynne
mullet toss bucket of fish

If you think a mullet is just a bad haircut, you probably haven’t heard about the Flora-Bama Lounge’s Annual Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party. Centerpiece of the Perdido Key event is a three-day competition that involves tossing a mullet ­– a small fish that’s found in abundance in local waters – from a 10-foot circle on the beach in Alabama across the state line into Florida. Tosses of more than 150 feet have been recorded for the winners. At the event’s end, organizers feed the used mullets (frozen not fresh) to the seagulls.

Dates for this year’s Mullet Toss are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 24, 25, and 26. The fun starts at noon on Friday and at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The cost for the privilege of tossing a mullet is $15 per person, and winners will be announced daily in each category (categories are based on age and gender).

Two other Perdido Key events, held in conjunction with the Mullet Toss, are the Mullet Man Triathlon, scheduled for Saturday, April 18, at the Flora-Bama, and the Mullet Swing Golf Classic, to be held on Wednesday, April 22, at Lost Key Golf Club on Perdido Key. Part of the proceeds from the golf tournament go the Multiple Sclerosis Society; Florida and Alabama youth charities and the Leukemia Lymphoma Sociey benefit from the triathlon.

Proceeds from the Mullet Toss, which average around $20,000 each year, are donated to local youth charities.

Visit Florabama.com for more details about the Annual Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party, the Mullet Man Triathlon, and the Mullet Swing Golf Classic.

Need a place to stay? Find nearby Gulf Shores vacation rentalsPerdido Key vacation rentals, and Pensacola Beach vacation rentals at BeachGuide.com.

flora-bama mullet toss scoreboard

 

Feb 18 15

Sandestin Wine Festival Promises Food, Wine, and Fun in the Sun

by S. Lynne

dates for Sandestin Wine Festival 2015 are April 16 to 19Get ready to “Uncork Some Fun in the Sun” at this year’s Sandestin Wine Festival, scheduled for April 16-19 at the Village of Baytowne Wharf. Now in its 29th year, the festival offers wine lovers the opportunity to sample hundreds of wines from around the world, interact with top winemakers, learn what foods and wines go best together, and buy favorite wines at discounted prices.

Hosted by Rum Runners and presented by Mercer Wine Estates, the festival’s official kick-off party is slated for Thursday night, April 16. Guests will enjoy crab cakes and other goodies from the Rum Runners menu, Mercer wines, and a presentation by winemaker Jessica Munnell.

On Friday, April 17, the fun continues with the SunQuest Cruises’ not-to-be-missed Champagne and Seafood Lunch Cruise. The four-course meal, prepared and served aboard the luxury yacht Solaris, will feature Gulf seafood and premium Champagnes. A dockside reception at Baytowne Marina begins at noon, and the two-hour cruise starts at 1 p.m. Tickets are $80 per person and can be ordered online.

This year’s main events – the Grand Wine Tastings – are scheduled for Friday night from 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m. Appellations from all the major wine-producing countries will be represented, with a wide range of varieties, styles, and prices. Guests will also want to visit the Culinary Pavilion to sample the food and wine pairings.

Guests at Friday’s night’s Grand Wine Tasting will also enjoy the music of popular local group Free Monica and up-and-coming Nashville star Maggie Chapman. Live entertainment at the Saturday afternoon event will be provided by the Chris Alvarado Trio and Elenowen.

The festival wraps up on April 19 with Sunday Brunch on the Bay. Scheduled  from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the brunch takes place at Sandestin Marina Bar and Grill, overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay. Guests will enjoy live music, an array of lunch and brunch dishes, and generous pourings of margaritas, mimosas, and sangria.

Wines will be available for purchase at discounted prices in the Retail Tent, located at Baytowne Marina and open daily during the festival. Hours are 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information and to order tickets for the wine tastings and the brunch, visit www.sandestinwinefestival.com. Ticket prices start at $55 per person for the tastings; brunch tickets cost $60 each. Kick-off party times and ticket information will be announced soon.

Visit our website to find Destin vacation rentals, places to shop, and other things to do while you’re in town for the wine festival.

sandestin wine festival group tasting wines

Feb 16 15

Grammy Winners and More – Star-Studded Lineup for Hangout Fest 2015

by S. Lynne
hangout fest sunrise

hangout music festival gulf shores crowd shotStars will fall on Alabama beaches again this spring when the annual Hangout Music Fest returns to Gulf Shores on Friday, May 15. For the sixth year in a row, the nationally recognized festival is boasting a knock-your-socks-off lineup of performers. Styles and sounds are all over the board, ranging from electronic dance music to indie-pop and rock.

Headlining this year’s three-day show is returning favorite the Foo Fighters. Last seen locally at the 2011 Hangout Fest, where they shared top billing with Paul Simon and Widespread Panic, the Foo Fighters will be giving their final U.S. performance before embarking on a summer European tour. Also receiving top billing are alternative rock artist Beck, Album of the Year and Best Rock Album winner at the 2015 Grammys; four-times Grammy winner Sam Smith; and another returning act, The Zac Brown Band. In the lineup as well are My Morning Jacket, Skrillex, Foster The People, Paramore, Spoon, Umphrey’s McGee, Major Lazer, and more.

In another exciting development for the event, festival founder Shaul Zislin has announced that Hangout Fest is partnering with Goldenvoice, the company that puts on Coachella, New Orleans’s Jazz Fest, and the Firefly Music Festival. The arrangement, which helped bring in this year’s acts, is expected to offer continued access to nationally and internationally prominent performers.

Tickets for Hangout Fest 2015 are on sale now at www.hangoutmusicfest.com. Cost for a three-day general admission ticket is $249 per person; a three-day general admission ticket plus a three-day shuttle pass costs $299. All performances are held on the public beach in Gulf Shores.

Many area vacation rental properties offer Hangout Fest tickets as part of their reservations package. Click on our links for Gulf Shores vacation rentals, Orange Beach vacation rentals, and Perdido Key vacation rentals for more information on places to stay and Hangout Fest package deals.

Jan 14 15

She Sells Seashells But What Is a Seashell Anyway?

by Charlie Peay

girl holding seashells gathered from a beach in Destin, Florida

Did you know that seashells belong to the kingdom which is known as Mollusca?  Most Mollusca are soft slug-like creatures which have a hard external shell to help protect them in their ocean environment—it’s this outer shell which is more commonly known as a seashell.  The shell itself is primarily composed of calcium carbonate, which is secreted over time by the outer surface of the shell as the mollusk ages.

When the mollusk dies, its shell is the one part that generally remains intact. During your last trip to the beach, the chances are pretty good that you came across some interesting seashells which had washed up on the shore.

It’s the intricate design and colorful pattern of sea shells, of course, which so fascinates us. The shell’s design and color are actually dependent on the mollusk’s diet. In warmer waters you are more likely to find shells in all shapes and colors, while in colder waters you are more likely to find darker sea shells rather than those with vibrant colors.

Most mollusks use their shell for protection and can withdraw completely or at least partially into their shell when faced with danger. The mollusk is only loosely attached to its shell, although the animal may make use of the shell for buoyancy while crawling or swimming along on the ocean bottom.

Did you know that no two seashells are exactly the same?  That is because the growth process which the shell endures always varies, which produces irregularities on the outer surface of the shell.  When you find a shell that looks unique, that’s because it is unique!

Jan 10 15

How to Pack the Perfect Beach Bag

by S. Lynne

colorful beach bag on the white sand beach in FloridaThe best way to ensure a relaxing day at the beach is to start with a little planning. Giving some thought to what to pack in a beach bag means you won’t get settled on the sand only to discover that your bottled water and sunscreen are back at your condo or hotel room. Following are some tips on how to pack the perfect beach bag, along with some other suggestions to keep your day stress-free.

Choose the Right Beach Bag

Pick a roomy bag with a lot of separate compartments so you can organize and separate things that are wet or covered with damp sand. It should also be lightweight, water-resistant, and machine-washable. If you have kids, you’ll probably want to pack a separate bag for them.

Pack Enough Towels

Include at least one per person. They’ll most likely be the bulkiest things you’ll tote, so pack them in the bottom of the bag, adding smaller items on top.

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen and Lip Balm

Choose SPF 30 sunscreen (this is the optimal strength – going higher doesn’t provide a lot of additional protection) and SPF 15 lip treatment. Insect repellent is also a good idea. Another suggestion from a veteran beach-goer is white vinegar for jellyfish stings. In fact, a small first aid kit is not a bad idea, especially if your group includes children.

Add Sunglasses and a Floppy Hat

For maximum sun protection, choose a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection. (Inexpensive ones are best, in case they get lost in the water, stepped on, sat on, or otherwise damaged.)

Pack a Cover-Up or Long-Sleeved Shirt

When you’re wet, even a slight breeze can feel chilly, and it’s no fun to sit and shiver. Don’t cut your beach trip short because you are uncomfortable.

Protect Valuables From Sand and Water

Plastic food storage containers and plastic zipper storage bags are ideal for keeping phones, keys, cash, photo IDs, and other necessities clean and dry.

Include Something To Read

Check out the Internet or your favorite bookstore for the season’s most popular beach reads. Now’s a great time to read one of those books everybody’s talking about or that novel you’ve been trying to get to for months.

Carry a Cooler for Water and Snacks

Choose a cooler that’s soft-sided and lightweight to keep drinks cold and snacks fresh in the heat.

For the Kids

Don’t forget the Frisbees, beach balls, and other toys to keep young beach-goers entertained. Inflatables can be carried deflated to save space and blown up at the beach.

About Chairs, Umbrellas, and Tents

Instead of lugging these bulky, heavy items, consider renting them if there’s a rental option at or near your destination. Many of the management companies listed on our site offer amenities packages that include free beach chair and umbrella service seasonally.

For great accomodations, restaurants, and other fun things to do while you’re at the beach, check out our Gulf Coast beach vacation rentals.

Dec 30 14

It’s a Great Time for Horsing Around on the Gulf

by S. Lynne

The cool, sunny days of winter are perfect for enjoying a different kind of Gulf Coast vacation adventure ­ – horseback riding on the beach. Trail riding is an exciting way to get up close and personal with the area’s natural beauty, from pine woodlands teeming with wildlife to coastal forests skirting the rare dune lakes (where fresh and salt water come together). At Cape San Blas, near Apalachicola, riders can even enjoy a Gulf-side gallop over Northwest Florida’s beautiful white-sand beaches, with stops along the way to collect seashells and watch for dolphins.Family horseback riding on the beach in Cape San Blas, Florida

One of the few remaining spots in the country to allow horses on the beach, Cape San Blas is a quiet, off-the-beaten-track destination and home to Two-Bit Stable, which specializes in Gulf-side rides. Family-owned, the stable offers rides on dependable, well-trained horses for equestrians at all skill levels. Lessons are available for beginners. For more information, go to www.twobitstable.com or call 850-227-4744. Calling ahead for reservations is recommended.

Less than a mile from the Gulf in Santa Rosa Beach is Arnett’s Gulfside Trail Rides, a 20-acre ranch offering horseback excursions along picturesque trails lined with long-needle pines, palmettos, and native grasses. Here, too, novice riders are welcome, and lessons are available on the stable’s well-trained and smooth-riding Tennessee Walking Horses. And when the ride is over, the beach, the Gulf, and the shops and restaurants along Highway 30-A are just minutes away. To learn more, log onto www.gulfsidetrailrides.com or call 850-208-3114. It’s best to call ahead for reservations.

Not far from Gulf Shores, Alabama, in Fairhope, Oak Hollow Farm offers horseback rides over the wooded trails and pastures of Mobile Bay’s Eastern Shore. The area boasts plenty to see, from moss-draped oaks to grassy creek banks to wetlands alive with birds and other coastal critters. Riders meet at the main stable and take a hayride to the horse barn. The guided, one-hour rides are by appointment only, Monday through Saturday. For more information, go to www.oakhollowfarm.net. To schedule a trail ride, call 251-928-4840.

Finding places to stay in the area is easy. Just click on our links for Cape San Blas vacation rentals, Highway 30-A vacation rentals, and Gulf Shores vacation rentals. We also offer listings for restaurants, shops, golf courses, fishing charters, and other things to do.

Dec 29 14

Fort Morgan: Off the Beaten Path But Worth the Trip

by S. Lynne
fort morgan from above
fort morgan civil war re-enactors gulf shores alabama

Living history demonstrations bring the past to life at Fort Morgan.

You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy a trip to Fort Morgan. Located on Mobile Point, a little more than 20 miles from Gulf Shores, it’s off the beaten path but definitely worth the trip. Completed in 1834, the fort was designed to control the main ship channel into Mobile Bay, so it commands stunning views of both the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Birders will appreciate the fact that the site has been named one of the “One Hundred Globally Important Bird Areas” by the American Bird Conservancy. It’s also on the annual migration route for monarch butterflies. And parts of the scenic drive down Alabama Highway 180 to the fort run through the pines, wetlands, and dunes of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.

museum at Fort Morgan, AlabamaFor visitors who want to know more, a great place to start is the onsite museum. Small, but well organized, it documents the history of Mobile Point from 1814 to 1945 with weapons, uniforms, letters, photos, and personal items belonging to the soldiers stationed at the fort. There’s also a brochure with a map and an easy-to-follow self-guided tour.

Active during four wars, Fort Morgan is best known for its role in the 1864 Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. Loss of Fort Morgan and neighboring Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island to the fleet and forces of Union Admiral David Farragut was one of the final blows for the Confederacy. The two forts’ occupation by Union troops effectively closed the last open port on the Gulf of Mexico. The 150th Commemoration of that battle was held in August 2014. Souvenirs from the event are available in the museum gift shop.

Fort Morgan also saw action during the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. It was deactivated and turned over to the State of Alabama in 1946, and is now run by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Today, none of the wooden Civil War-era buildings remain at the 479-acre site, but the star-shaped fort itself is largely intact, and there are artillery batteries and buildings from later eras, including a lighthouse keeper’s home built in 1872.

The fort offers a living-history program, with re-enactments of historic events, and Tuesday evening twilight tours during the summer.

Fort Morgan visitor on the self-guided tourFort Morgan is open daily except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The fort and grounds are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the museum from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and $4 for children aged 6 to 12. Active, reserve, and retired military personnel, plus one guest, are admitted free with a military ID. For more information and a schedule of events, visit http://fortmorgan.org or call 251-540-5257.

For places to stay in Gulf Shores, local restaurants, and other things to do, click on Gulf Shores Vacation Rentals, Gulf Shores Restaurants, Gulf Shores Recreation, and Gulf Shores Golf.

 

 

 

Dec 26 14

Gulf Coast a Winter Wonderland for Cyclists

by S. Lynne

Couple enjoying a winter bike ride on Hwy 30a beaches in Florida.Winter’s a great time for biking along the Gulf Coast in Northwest Florida and Alabama. The beach is still beautiful, the crowds have gone home, and the temperatures and rental rates have dropped. Best of all, the area offers plenty of paved bike paths that are safe as well as scenic. In fact, all of the major roadways between Fort Morgan and Perdido Key have biker-friendly lanes on the shoulders, with the exception of Gulf Shores Parkway – and it has a sidewalk that doubles as a bike path.

Alabama's Eastern Shore Biking Trail

Alabama’s Eastern Shore Trail winds along and near Mobile Bay.

Away from the beach, Alabama’s Eastern Shore Trail winds along Mobile Bay and through the picturesque towns of Point Clear, Fairhope, and Daphne. Gracious homes, quaint shops, and trees trailing Spanish moss make this a truly pleasurable ride.

The 20-mile stretch of Alabama Highway 180 between Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan is another popular route for bikers. It runs along a narrow peninsula bordered on one side by the Gulf and the other by Mobile Bay. For six miles, this route includes a separate bike path, offering views of woods, marshland, and Little Lagoon. When the path returns to the highway, the road isn’t heavily traveled, so it’s still a pleasant ride.

In and near Gulf State Park, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system traverses a dozen scenic square miles. Bikers on its six trails can view the vegetation and wildlife of six different coastal ecosystems, ranging from pine and oak forests to lakes, marshes, and dunes. Birdwatchers will appreciate the fact that four locations on the trail, Gulf Oak Ridge, Twin Bridges, Catman Road, and Rosemary Dunes, have been chosen as viewing points by the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Animals commonly seen along the trail include alligators, armadillos, raccoons, coyotes, otters, foxes, and wild boar. Interpretive signs placed at intervals identify many of the area’s natural features.

There’s a 15-mile out-and-back ride along U.S. Highway 98 that takes cyclists from Destin to Fort Walton Beach and back. It includes a ride across the double-bridge crossing to and from Okaloosa Island, where riders can enjoy the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Choctawhatchee Bay on the other. A 7.5-mile stretch of the north side of U.S.98 on Okaloosa Island includes a lane designated for beach access, which makes it an excellent choice for cycling traveling east and west.

In the Highway 30-A area is the Timpoochee Trail, nearly 20 miles of paved surface that stretches from Dune Allen (Emerald Coast Parkway) at its western end to Rosemary Beach on the east. Wide enough to accommodate bikers cycling in either direction, it passes through forests of pine, oak, magnolia, and palmetto palm, runs over dunes and down to the beach. Lakes and marshes dot the route, which also runs through the picturesque villages that line Highway 30-A.

For places to stay and more information on the Alabama and Northwest Florida Gulf coasts, look no further than BeachGuide.com. Just click on the links for Gulf Shores vacation rentalsOrange Beach vacation rentalsPerdido Key vacation rentalsFort Walton Beach vacation rentals, and Highway 30-A vacation rentals. And don’t forget to ask property managers  about special deals. Biking tour packages that include meals, accommodations, and other extras are available year-round.

gulf coast paved biking trail

Dec 24 14

Sea Lab Estuarium Exhibits Make Learning Fun

by S. Lynne
sea lab estuarium seahorse
dauphin island sea lab estuarium mobile delta exhibit

The Mobile Delta, one of coastal Alabama's four main habitats

dauphin island sea lab estuaries sting ray tank

Sure to be a hit with the kids is the 7,000-gallon sting ray tank.


Visitors of all ages will have a ball at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium. Both educational and entertaining, the Estuarium features a 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 7,000-gallon sting ray touch pool, and a boardwalk showcasing the plants, animals, and other natural resources of the four main habitats of coastal Alabama. The Estuarium features 31 aquariums with showcasing more than 100 species of sealife.

Coastal Alabama’s Four Key Habitats:

• The freshwater Mobile-Tensaw River Delta habitat area features a cypress-tupelo swamp, alligators, turtles, and an air-breathing fish called a gar.

• Tanks in the Mobile Bay area are home to stone crabs, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, oysters, spadefish, and flounder.

• The Barrier Island habitat features saltwater tanks that blue crabs, hermit crabs, and shrimp call home.

• Saltwater tanks in the Gulf of Mexico habitat area hold octopus, barnacles, eels, seahorses, red snapper, sharks, jellyfish, and spadefish.

In addition to the colorful tanks and exhibits highlighting each habitat, the Estuarium features the Billy Goat Hole Gallery, a roomful of exciting interactive activities. Touch tanks here offer hands-on experiences with various species of aquatic animals.

Summer hours (March 1 – August 31) for the Estuarium are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Winter hours (September 1 – February 28/29) are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The Estuarium is closed on:

• New Year’s Day

• Easter Sunday

• Thanksgiving Day

• Christmas Eve

• Christmas Day

• New Year’s Eve

Admission is $10 per person for adults, $6 for children aged 5 to 18 and for students with ID, and $8 for seniors. Group rates are available.

For more information on the Estuarium, the field trips, and the educational programs, call 251-861-2141.

Visit BeachGuide.com to find a vacation rental in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach.

 

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Dec 22 14

Polar Bear Dip Marks New Year’s on the Gulf

by S. Lynne
polar bear dip sign

Continuing what has become a New Year’s tradition on the coast, the Flora-Bama invites everyone to take a quick dip in the Gulf on January 1, 2015. Scores of partiers, some in costume and others wearing nothing but their swimsuits, will gather on the beach outside the iconic roadhouse at high noon for the annual Polar Bear Dip. And it takes more than the chilly (think mid-fifties) water to dampen the enthusiasm of this crowd, which typically numbers 1,000 people or more.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Nelson Studios

The free event, which is open to all ages, starts around 11 a.m., with the dip in the Gulf scheduled for noon. The watery free-for-all is followed by a traditional feast of black-eyed peas, cornbread, ham, and more. There will be live music all day long, and plenty of fun for everyone.

The Flora-Bama is located at the Alabama/Florida state line, between Orange Beach and Perdido Key. For places to stay in the area, check out our listings at Orange Beach vacation rentals, Perdido Key vacation rentals, and Gulf Shores vacation rentals. And here’s hoping you have a safe and happy new year!

Dec 16 14

Dining In and Around Pensacola Beach

by Celest Bracewell
mcguire's pensacola irish coffee
pensacola fish house and atlas oyster house restaurants

Outside the Pensacola Fish House and neighboring Atlas Oyster House in downtown Pensacola

The white sands and turquoise waters of Pensacola Beach are the perfect backdrop for a beautiful Gulf respite. But we humans do not live by dolphins/golf/swimming/fishing/sandcastles alone. Fear not, however, because delicious food abounds. Whether you’re in the mood for casual attire and beach food with the kids or a romantic grown-up meal, the choices are plentiful, so let’s get started!

Pensacola Beach Restaurants

Flounder’s Chowder House, located at 800 Quietwater Beach Road near Margaritaville Beach Hotel and Travelodge, is a great spot for a casual Sunday brunch. Gather the family at a table for eight on the deck, or choose one of several dining areas inside the restaurant. The property has a beach, pier, and playground where the kids can play in the sand. You can’t miss the 55-foot, fully-rigged, M/V Flounder. Retired from shrimping in 1998, it now rests in front of the restaurant. Watch out for the nearby Man-Eating Giant Clam (shell, that is).  On the beach you’ll find a 15-foot Cuban raft with a Russian-built engine that once carried refugees from Cuba to Key West. In the Marlin Bar, a world-record catch 980-pound blue marlin is showcased, and the iconic sailfish sign that directed travelers to Santa Rosa Island since the 1950s now hangs over Flounder’s stage. The bar features beautiful stained glass from, of all places, an upstate New York convent. The huge carved-oak panels over the bar and at the end of the dining area are segments of confessional booths from a church in New Orleans. Beveled-glass panels and stained-glass pub windows are incorporated in the design. Look up or you might miss the vintage Santa Rosa moonshine stills from the thirties and forties while you listen to the live music. The menu is extensive, ranging from fresh seafood and steaks to burgers, tacos, and sandwiches. Save room for dessert, though, especially the triple decker Key Lime Pie, three delicious layers of yellow and green pie stacked high.

 
Located on the beach, Sidelines Sports Bar and Restaurant, at 2 Via De Luna at the Hampton Inn, is the place to go for a burger on the beach. Voted “Best Sports Bar” in Pensacola five years running and “Best Wings” for six, Sidelines features MLB Extra Innings, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Center Ice, NBA League Pass, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN GamePlan. Want more? Then try your luck at pinball! Sidelines opens at 11 a.m. daily and never closes before 10 p.m. The restaurant is often open later, so call for closing time, (850) 934-3660. Follow on Twitter: @SidelinesPBeach, and bookmark the Website, www.sidelinespensacola.com, to check the menu, events, and games being shown. Popular with kids and adults, with tables for eight, Sidelines is the place to go for a casual, fun meal while you root for your favorite team.

 
Paradise Bar and Grill is a hidden gem on the beach at 21 Via De Luna, behind the Paradise Inn, an old-style, cinderblock motel on the Sound side of the island.  An outdoor affair with fans and sea breezes, the Paradise is known for the live music and beach food: burgers, fried fish and shrimp, served in baskets. The restaurant invites diners to “boat it, bike it, or walk it to the hottest spot on the island!” Sit at picnic tables in the sand or gather at the big bar. The grill takes call-ahead orders, so dial (850) 916-5087 to place your eat-in or carry-out selections. You can dock your boat at the pier and pick up your order for a picnic on the Gulf. A favorite with locals, Paradise is kid-friendly and definitely casual.

 
At the base of the pier at 41 Ft. Pickens Road, Casino Beach Bar and Grille is an easy walk to delicious food. Want a special dish? Try the tropical salad with grilled chicken, Caribbean BBQ chicken sandwich, sweet potato fries, and conch ceviche. Or, if you’re in the mood for ribs, burgers, or seafood, you’ll find them here. Great cocktails and live entertainment . . . what are you waiting for?

 
Cactus Flower Cafe’s Boardwalk Cafe, located at 400 Quietwater Beach Road, serves delicious California-style Mexican dishes . . . fresh, flavorful, and healthy. Call (850) 934-5999 for more information or check the Website (www.cactusflowercafe.net) for other locations and menus. Two more Cactus Flower Cafes are in the Pensacola area: 3425 North 12th Avenue and 6881 West Highway 98.

 
Just the two of you and in the mood to dress up a bit for a leisurely, romantic dinner? The Grand Marlin Restaurant and Oyster Bar, located at 400 Pensacola Beach Boulevard,  is perfect. Enjoy beautiful views of Santa Rosa Sound and sunsets over Pensacola Bay. Fresh seafood specials are offered daily as well as tender steaks and delicious poultry dishes. The oyster bar is a great place to meet for lunch or the daily Happy Hour.  Private dining facilities are available for receptions, banquets, and private parties. Reservations for dinner are recommended. Call (850) 677-9153 or book reservations online at OpenTable.

Restaurants Across the Bridge in Pensacola

A short drive away, McGuire’s Irish Pub with its fun vibe, is located across the bridge in Pensacola’s original 1927 Old Firehouse, at 600 East Gregory Street. An authentic Irish bar and restaurant with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, McGuire’s has a world-class wine cellar and offers  great selections of ale, stout, and porters brewed on the premises, including a popular root beer served draft. Take a tour of the brewery or perhaps take some of McGuire’s yeast with you to use in your next batch at home. The large menu offers variety. A casual reviewer says this: “Can’t beat their steaks and burgers.  They know how to cook it Pittsburg style, burned on the outside and raw on the inside.  And the Senate Bean Soup [as an accompaniment] is 18 cents.” In an aside: “Watch out for the restroom signs lest you enter the wrong one. But once inside the ladies room, you’ll find a mirror guaranteed to make you look skinny. Dollar bills are tacked all over the walls and ceiling. Millions, I suppose, and they audit it every year!” You’ll have to see for yourself to gauge the accuracy of this claim. The Grand Hall offers banquet space for parties of 40 or more. No room fee is charged for wakes, weddings, or bar mitzvahs, and they will work with your group should you need meeting space for meetings or presentations. Call in advance for group reservations: (850) 433-6789. And be sure to visit their Website, www.mcquiresirishpub.com, for an accurate (to the second) countdown to St. Patrick’s Day.

The Fish House, Fish House Deck Bar, and Atlas Oyster House are located at 600 South Barracks Street in downtown Pensacola, adjacent to the historic Seville neighborhood, overlooking beautiful Pensacola Bay. Dine at the Fish House, a Pensacola tradition known for outstanding fresh seafood cuisine and world-famous Southern specialties such as Grits a Ya Ya –  smoked Gouda cheese grits smothered with a sauce of fresh cream, sauteed Gulf shrimp, spinach, portobello mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon, garlic, and shallots. Select from a handpicked wine list of more than 300 wines or enjoy a cocktail at the bar. Locals and tourists enjoy both the indoor and outdoor dining . . . a perfect spot for a delicious Sunday brunch. Craving the most delicious oysters? The Fish House Deck Bar is a great gathering spot with a bandstand, fire pit, and maritime-themed bar. Happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. The Deck Bar features live music nightly and Ladies’ Night with $2 drink every Wednesday. Go next door to Atlas Oyster House for a delightful casual dining experience and sample fresh, delectible Apalachicola Bay and East Bay oysters, raw, baked, or steamed. An award-winning establishment, Acme is also well-known for its sushi.

Another favorite spot, The Oar House at Bayou Chico, overlooks Bahia Mar Marina and is located a short distance from the beach and the Pensacola Yacht Club. Sit outside and watch the gulls and passing boats or soak up a magical sunset on the deck. A bit sunny? Then sip a cocktail and enjoy a meal underneath the tiki roof. The menu includes award-winning crab cakes, delicious fish sandwiches smothered in melted cheese, or authentic gumbo, étouffée, and red beans. The filet mignon is fabulous, as are many other authentic Southern and Caribbean dishes. It’s on a marina near Pensacola Yacht Club.  The Oar House offers lots of fun for kids. The marina offers dry boat storage with huge cranes to move the boats up and down. Children are fascinated by the action, watching as the marina workers fetch a boat from three stories up, bring it out, and launch it in the water. You can call ahead for take-out at (850) 549-4444. And check out the extensive menu and events at the Website: www.oarhousepensacola.com.

Dining Around Pensacola’s Seville Square

Dharma Blue, overlooking Seville Square downtown at 300 South Alcaniz Street, features fine seafood and Florida’s finest full sushi bar. The restaurant also offers a private party room that  seats 40. Call (850) 422-1275 for information.

Hub Stacey’s, a casual restaurant also located on Seville Square, is a great spot for eat-in or take-out, especially if you’re attending the Arts Festival or a Concert in the Park. Salads, outstanding sandwiches, wings, burgers: You’ll have plenty of choices.

The Happy Pig at 200 South Alcaniz Street is known as “a BBQ place with taste.” All meat is  slow-smoked with a special rub, and all side dishes are homemade. Call ahead for take-out or to check hours: (850) 912-8480.

Restaurants Located in Nearby Gulf Breeze

Located at 913 Gulf Breeze Parkway No. 20, Aegean Breeze is a MUST visit. Owners Gus and Tina are delightful and serve fresh-cut steaks, fresh local seafood, pasta, sandwiches, and salads with a delicious Greek flair. The menu is extensive, and the quality far exceeds the cost. Well worth the short drive, you can call ahead to check for specials or place a take-out order: (850) 916-0430.

The Bridge Bar is located at the base of Three Mile Bridge in Gulf Breeze, 33 Gulf Breeze Parkway. A friendly spot with great views of sunsets on the large deck, The Bridge Bar is a great place to gather with friends for a drink and popcorn.

Do Not Stop Reading!
Two Special Suggestions

On one Friday night each month, enjoy music, art, and fine food provided by dozens of local businesses. Gallery Night is a festive evening not to be missed . . .wander through shops, art galleries, along the brick sidewalks, and savor the sights and sounds. The choices are so plentiful that you’ll want to return again and again. The dates can be found at www.visitpensacola.com/articles/pensacola-gallery-night.

Joe Patti’s Seafood Company, a seafood market/deli/sushi bar/wine shop is not to be missed, located at 524 South B Street in Pensacola (intersection of South A Street and Main Street). Whether you’re in the mood to cook at your condo or you want to pick up some tasty selections to carry home, this is THE place to buy fresh seafood at wholesale prices. You can take a two-hour dolphin cruise, eat in the restaurant, shop for wines, specialty items, even equipment. They will steam your purchases for you. Call at (850) 432-3315 or (800) 500-9929. And check out the Website, www.joepattis.com, for a full list of all of the fabulous offerings.  A Pensacola tradition since 1931, you’ll return here every time you visit Pensacola/Pensacola Beach.

Before you leave, don’t forget to book another Pensacola Beach vacation so that you can experience more of the fabulous Gulf Coast food. You can find vacation rental listings at www.beachguide.com/PensacolaBeach-vacation-rentals.

Bon appétit!

grand marlin restaurant and oyster bar pensacola seared scallops

Seared scallops at Grand Marlin Restaurant and Oyster Bar

Dec 10 14

Beach Plants and Sand Dunes Were Made for Each Other

by Charlie Peay
sarasota siesta key.szd

sand dunes, rosemary, and sea oats at the Gulf Coast in Northwest FloridaWe all know how pretty sand dunes are, but did you know that sand dune systems on the Florida and Alabama beaches are formed by wave and wind action and help to protect mainland areas from tropical storms and hurricanes? The sand dunes, which have evolved over millions of years, actually help to absorb the vast energy created by storm waves and to minimize their damage. During storms, sand erodes from the beaches and is deposited on shallow sandbars, while during calm weather, sand is returned to the shore in an ever-continuing cycle. Waves and offshore winds are responsible for bringing sand to the shore in the first place, but it is obstacles such as plants and even driftwood that cause the sand to accumulate. As sand continues to build up on the dunes, different species of plants begin to emerge that are specially adapted to the beach environment and help to stabilize the dunes. In fact, without these specialized plants and vegetation, blowing sand would migrate inland in short order, and there would be no dunes!  As it turns out, the quality of coastal sand dunes goes hand in hand with beach plants and vegetation, which is a big key to the entire coastal ecological system, since sand dunes provide important food and shelter for numerous bird and animal species.

Dune plants are specially adapted to living in their harsh environment, where they must contend with extremely hot temperatures, sandy soil that  is sunset over dunes and sea oatslargely devoid of nutrients or moisture, and a continuous barrage of saltwater spray. The specialized plants that grow naturally on sand dunes along the Alabama and Florida Gulf coasts are responsible for trapping sand around their roots and branches, thereby stabilizing the dunes and promoting new dune formation. Along the Gulf of Mexico’s scenic coastline, there are many species of native plants growing among the sand dunes.

Some of the more easily recognized beach plants include sea oats, beach elder, bitter panicum and Gulf bluestem. Perennial grasses are the primary stabilizers of frontal dune systems, both on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  Of these, sea oats (Uniola paniculata) easily make up the most dominant plant species that grows on sand dunes. They are critical to the maintenance and well-being of sand dunes along the Gulf Coast.

As any tried-and-true Gulf Coast enthusiast will tell you, sea oats are the tall, wheat-colored grasses that give coastal sand dunes such a large part of their identity. In fact, it is the striking appearance of sea oats, particularly while in bloom, that has made protection of this plant necessary to avoid illegal harvest. Sea oats are perennial, warm-seasonal grasses with tall stems and narrow, elongated leaves, and are native to coastal sand dunes from Virginia to Mexico. During the early fall, flower spikes appear that produce the seed heads. This creeping species of grass also has an extensive underground root system, enabling it to grow seaward of sand dunes as well as behind the dune crest. Ecologists now know that the submersion of sea oats under the sand actually stimulates their growth!

Beach elder, also known as Seashore Elder or Seacoast Marshelder (Iva imbricata), is a low, vivid-green perennial shrub with multiple branches that  you often see growing on sand dunes along the Gulf Coast. This woody shrub grows mainly on frontal dunes and reaches a height of 40 inches with upright stems. It has narrow, alternating leaves ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide and approximately 2 inches long. This beautiful shrub has small lavender blooms that first appear in late summer, and it continues blooming into early fall. Beach elder is very beneficial to sand dunes since it tends to accumulate sand rapidly and typically produces low, rounded dunes.

Bitter panicum (Panicum amarum), known in some areas as Running Beachgrass, is a tall perennial shore grass with narrow, elongated, silver-green leaves; it is found on sand dunes from Mexico to New England.  Given that its upright clumps generally stand out from other types of beach plant species, it’s generally not too hard to spot if you look closely. The panicum family is actually a rather large genus of 450 grass species that grow in tropical regions throughout the world.

The other beach grass that you have likely come across on your travels to the coast is called Gulf bluestem (Schizachyrium maritimum), considered to be the most important species of bluestem grass on the Gulf of Mexico. This is another perennial species of creeping grass that is readily identifiable by its silvery-blue leaves. The seed heads of this species mature in late summer and are distinguished by dense, silvery hairs.

The next time you visit the Gulf Coast, take a look around at the plants and vegetation. Only in that way can you begin to appreciate the natural harmony that exists between the beautiful beach plants and the magnificent sand dunes!

Dec 3 14

Annual Song Fest Brings Stars to Highway 30A

by S. Lynne

Rock legends Graham Nash and Leon Russell top an exciting line-up of more than 150 performers participating in this year’s Highway 30A Songwriters Festival. Scheduled for January 16, 17, and 18, the star-studded event, which also features the Indigo Girls and Jason Isbell, will be held at 25 different venues along the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – with Crosby, Stills, and Nash in 1997 and with the Hollies in 2010, Graham Nash has become legendary as both a singer and a songwriter. The Grammy Award-winning artist is known as a philanthropist as well, supporting efforts for peace and social and environmental justice. In recognition of his contributions to music and philanthropy, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. He is also an award-winning photographer.

Another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Leon Russell began making a name for himself in the 1960s, doing session work with the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and Phil Spector. He is known as well for his production work with Bob Dylan, Delaney and Bonnie, Joe Cocker, and George Harrison, and as the writer of the often-recorded “A Song for You.” He has appeared onstage in recent years with the Zac Brown Band and Elton John, and teamed up with Sir Elton for a duet album, The Union, in 2010. Most of all, Russell is a powerful performer in his own right, captivating audiences with a dynamic style that ranges from romantic ballads to gospel-flavored rock and roll.

Produced by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County and presented by Visit South Walton, the Highway 30A Songwriters Festival is now in its sixth year. Proceeds are used to fund the arts in Walton County. General admission tickets for the three-day festival cost $200 per person. The cost of a three-day pass, plus either a Saturday or a Sunday night wine dinner, is $400 per person. For more information and to order tickets, visit www.30asongwritersfestival.com.

Need a place to stay in the area? Just click on our link for Highway 30-A vacation rentals for details on hotels, condos, and houses offering everything you and your family need for a perfect winter stay at the beach.

Nov 21 14

Things To Do in Gulf Shores

by Amber Garrett
GulfShores-beach-pier-600

With more than 32 miles of sugar-white beaches and rolling sand dunes, it’s no wonder Gulf Shores is one of the South’s best vacation spots. The main attraction is the beach, but many more family-friendly options await you.

– Spend the day at Gulf State Park, where you can visit the largest pier on the Gulf of Mexico. More than 1,540 feet long and 42,000 square feet, the pier offers plenty of room for fishing, sightseeing, and leisurely walking. Admission costs $3 per day for ages 12 and up; an adult fishing permit costs $8 per day. Adventurous types, the Gulf Adventure CenteGulf Shores fishing pierr at Gulf State Park is for you! Take the Hummingbird Ziplines for spectacular views of Lake Shelby and the Gulf of Mexico. If you fear heights, then explore the coast via paddle-board or kayak instead.

– Grab your binoculars and do a little birdwatching at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, whose name means “safe harbor” in French, offers more than 7,000 acres of protected wildlife habitats for migrating birds, nesting sea turtles, and the endangered Alabama beach mouse.

– Explore the waters of the Gulf by boat. Charter a fishing boat at nearby Orange Beach for a day of deep-sea fishing. See dolphins in their natural habitat on a dolphin cruise. Certified diver? Gotcha covered. Check out the LuLu, a sunken freighter. At a maximum depth of 115 feet, it’s a perfect site for divers of all skill levels.

West Indies Salad at Lucy Buffet's Lucy B Goode Cafe

The famous West Indies Salad at Lucy B Goode Coastal Cafe

– Find some good eatin’ at one of the area’s many seafood restaurants. You can go where the locals go – the Original Oyster House and King Neptune’s are long-time favorites. Or try a popular franchise like Tacky Jacks in Gulf Shores, which also has  locations in Fort Morgan, Orange Beach, and Mobile. Be sure to try some of those crab claws!

– Take a drive up to Foley and shop till you drop at the Tanger Outlets. More than 120 brand-name stores await you.

– Channel your inner child – and give the kids some thrills and chills – at The Track Family Recreation Center, which offers Go-Karts, bumper cars, and other rides as well as miniature golf.

Teen surfing on the Flow Rider at Waterville in Gulf Shores

Riders can stand-up surf or body board on the Flow Rider, a popular attraction at Waterville.

– Cool off in a lazy river, then play a round of mini-golf, at Waterville USA. Set on 20 acres about 1/4 mile from the beach, Waterville is both a water park and an amusement park. It’s open seasonally, so make sure you check out the hours before you go.

– Go crabbing at night. Grab some flashlights, a net, and a bucket (kids optional) and look for crabs. Expect endless giggles and lasting memories! Be sure to practice catch and release.

– Spend a day at historic Fort Morgan. This star-shaped fort was built to control the main shipping channel into Mobile Bay. Its original purpose was simple – to prevent enemy forces from entering the bay. Be sure to bring your camera. Historic arches and natural light will ignite your creative juices.

– Take a walk on the wild side at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Known as “The Little Zoo That Could,” it features more than 500 animals, including tigers, lions, bears, birds, and reptiles, plus a petting zoo. Interactive animal shows are offered during the spring and summer months.

– Jam out to a live performance for a smorgasbord of night-time entertainment. Sipping ice-cold drinks and listening to some good music is a great way to end the perfect day at the beach. LuLu’s at Homeport Marina offers live entertainment every day. So does the Flora-Bama, a short drive down the highway at the Florida state line. Also check out the concert schedule at The Wharf Amphitheater in nearby Orange Beach.

– Relax. The most important thing to do. Whether it’s just lying on the beach listening to the waves crash or a day at the spa. Just say ahhh!

Find Gulf Shores vacation rentals and more fun things to do in Gulf Shores on our website, or download the BeachGuide iPhone App from the Apple Store.

beach and sand dunes at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL

Miles of white-sand beaches at Gulf State Park

 

Nov 19 14

Annual Light Show Dazzles at Bellingrath Gardens

by S. Lynne
bellingrath magic christmas poinsettias

More than three million lights will illuminate the skies over Bellingrath Gardens and Home as the Theodore, Alabama, estate celebrates its annual Magic Christmas in Lights. The show, which starts November 28 and runs through January 3, includes some 1,000 displays throughout the 65-acre property.

The English Renaissance-style Bellingrath mansion will be dressed for the holidays as well with poinsettias, twinkling lights, Christmas trees, and magnificent arrangements of seasonal greenery. Nightly choral performances will be held on the home’s South Terrace.

Guests can also have their picture taken with Santa and shop for Christmas presents in the estate’s well-stocked gift shop. And the on-site Magnolia Cafe will be serving dinner, with specials offered daily.

Admission prices for Magic Christmas in Lights are $15 for adults (13 and older), $7 for children aged 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and under. Prices for Magic Christmas in Lights and a tour of the Bellingrath mansion are $24 for adults (13 and older), $13 for children aged 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and under.

Magic Christmas in Lights is open daily from 5 to 9 p.m. through January 3 (closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day). Home tours are given every hour and half hour until 8:30 p.m.

Advance tickets can be ordered online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/920145. Tickets are also available at the door.

For more information about Belllingrath Gardens and Magic Christmas in Lights, visit http://www.bellingrath.org.

For links to area vacation rentals, restaurants, and more, visit www.BeachGuide.com/GulfShores and www.BeachGuide.com/OrangeBeach.

 

 

 

Oct 28 14

Beach Music: 30th Annual FBISF Comes to the Gulf Coast

by S. Lynne
frank brown festival 2014 artwork

The Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival opens November 6 for 11 days of great music, written and performed by some of the most talented songwriters in the world. This is the 30th year for the festival, which will feature more than 200 performers on stage at the Flora-Bama Lounge on Perdido Key and at other Gulf Coast venues in Pensacola, Orange Beach, and Gulf Shores.

frank brown festival at flora-bama

The iconic Flora-Bama Lounge is one of the concert venues for the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival.

Described as the “grandaddy of songwriter festivals” by both Billboard and American Songwriters magazines, the event is named for the late Frank Brown, long-time night watchman at the Flora-Bama. Mr. Frank, as he was known to Flora-Bama regulars, loved music and was the last person the performers saw every night at closing time.

A one-of-a-kind event, the FBISF focuses on the composers and the stories behind the songs – how and why they wrote some of the world’s greatest hits – rather than on the performers who made them famous.

This year’s lineup includes Austin Church, whose compositions have been recorded by Lyle Lovett and Jimmy Buffett; Jim McBride, who has written hits for Conway Twitty, Tammy Cochran, and Alan Jackson; and Scotty Emerick, who both writes for and performs with Toby Keith.

Also appearing this year are Dean Dillon, writer of some 50 songs performed by the legendary George Strait, and Jamey Johnson, a Country Music Association Awards winner who has performed with Kid Rock and Willie Nelson.

Admission to most of this year’s venues is free, although some may have a small cover charge. Performances will continue daily through November 16.

For more information, log onto www.fbisf.com/.

November is off-season at the beach, and plenty of vacation rentals are available at reasonable rates. For places to stay in the area, check out our listings of condos, beach houses, and hotels at Gulf Shores Vacation Rentals, Orange Beach Vacation Rentals, Perdido Key Vacation Rentals, and Pensacola Beach Vacation Rentals. Some properties are offering special rates and package deals during the songwriter festival.