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Hit the Beach Getaway Jackpot at Seaspray Condos

May 2 15
by Chris Chatelain

Aerial view of beachfront Seaspray Condos in Fort Walton BeachLooking for a Florida vacation spot where you can park the car and leave the keys on the counter for the duration of your stay? Seaspray Condominiums on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach is all about convenience and accommodation – which makes it the perfect destination for your next family vacation or group getaway, such as a family reunion or even a wedding week.

Group Discount at Seaspray Condos

Currently, this beach vacation destination is helping you dive into savings with special group rates that truly prove the old adage of “the more, the merrier.” Book as many as five units and get 10 percent off, or book as many as 10 units and get 15 percent off (three night minimum) each unit. Even without the special deals, visitors will find the rates quite comparable to hotels and other rentals. The regular rates (before discounts) are as low as a very affordable $146 per night for a two-bedroom condo during spring (through May 22) and as low as $247/night during summer (May 23 – August 17). One-bedroom condos are available for as low as $133/night in spring and $194 in summer. Considering you get a fully-equipped kitchen, easy beach access, a swimming pool, front-door parking, and private balconies with spectacular sunset views, this is a no-brainer value.

Meeting, reception, clubhouse and beachfront courtyard space

Those planning a large gathering will want to pay particular attention to the large open courtyard, full clubhouse, and the meeting/reception room that can seat up to 60 people. SeaSpray condos give you the space and accommodations to spread out and organize games and family activities.

Situated on the edge of the developed area of the island separating Fort Walton Beach and Destin, Seaspray offers the best of both worlds. Its location is tucked away just enough to be free of the large crowds and hustle of The Boardwalk and its restaurants and entertainment. That means you will enjoy a beachfront property with a small dose of isolation. Groups can gather here without much intrusion or bother at all. However, whenever it is fresh Gulf seafood you crave or affordable family fun you seek, then a short walk will open up a world of possibilities, from waterfront restaurants to marine shows and live music.

Speaking of The Boardwalk: This Okaloosa Island destination has everything you could want or need.

Wanna get a closer look at talented sea life? Take in a dolphin show at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.

Feeling like gaining an off-land vantage point? Take in the scenery or dip your fishing pole in the water at the extended Okaloosa Island Pier.

Hungry? Enjoy succulent seafood at Angler’s Beachside Grill, Floyd’s Shrimp House, or The Crab Trap – and wash it down with a view of the Gulf of Mexico from your table. Or, cross the street for sizzling steaks at Pandora’s or some smiles at Fudpucker’s.

Craving some nightlife to go with your daydreaming? Take in the live entertainment at The Swamp, which has hosted names such as Bret Michaels, Fuel, HoobaStank, Papa Roach, Lil’ Jon, and dozens of other popular acts.

Shopaholics will find that The Island Surf Shop is THE place to find surfing and beach attire and apparel.

Beach umbrellas with a view of the Gulf at Seaspray Condominiums in Fort Walton BeachWith so many options within walking distance, Seaspray Condominiums makes so much sense for large groups. Whether here for a retreat, business meetings, or a social call like a wedding party, this location affords groups the opportunity to split up and let everyone enjoy what they truly want. From shopping to dining to simply soaking up the sun and sipping tropical drinks on the sugar-white beaches, the options run the gamut here at Seaspray Condominiums.

Country Stars To Shine at Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam

May 1 15
by S. Lynne

Gulf Coast Ja, 2015 headliners Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, and Keith UrbanSome of country music’s brightest stars will have an opportunity to shine at the upcoming Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam. This is the third year for an event that has quickly become a Panama City Beach tradition. It attracts some 15,000 fans annually – as well as many familiar names, including Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Dirks Bentley, Brantley Gilbert, and Trace Adkins.

Headliners for this year’s show, scheduled for September 4, 5, and 6, are Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, and Lady Antebellum. Lambert was the winner of both Song of the Year (for “Automatic”) and Album of the Year (for Platinum) at this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards (CMA). Urban is a Grammy Award-winning member of the Grand Ole Opry and a judge on American Idol. Grammy Award-winning trio Lady Antebellum is a past CMA Top New Group and New Artist of the Year. Appearing with Lady Antebellum at Gulf Coast Jam are Hunter Hayes, a four-time Grammy nominee and CMA New Artist of the Year, and Sam Hunt, who in addition to recently releasing a debut album has written hits for Urban, Kenny Chesney, and Billy Currington.

Lady Antebellum, Hayes, and Hunt will perform on Friday, September 4. Lambert’s performance is scheduled for Saturday night. The festival closes with Urban’s Sunday night show.

Also in the lineup for this star-studded show are Dwight Yoakam, Martina McBride, Scotty McCreery, Gary Allan, Ronnie Milsap, Kellie Pickler, Tyler Farr, Darryl Worley, Kristian Bush, Kirstie Lovelady, Nick Sturms, The Swon Brothers, Jack Ingram, Preston Summerville, and Them Dirty Roses.

The main stage for Gulf Coast Jam is at Frank Brown Park. The gates will open daily at 2 p.m., with shows starting at 2:30 and ending at midnight. There is no seating, but fans are welcome to bring their own portable folding lawn chairs. There is a handicapped-accessible viewing area, and personnel with golf carts will be available to transport those who need assistance. Shuttle service, operated by the U.S. Air Force Reserve, will be available all three days of the festival and is free for ticket holders.

A three-day pass for Gulf Coast Jam costs $119 per person.

For more information on Gulf Coast Jam, and to order tickets, visit www.gulfcoastjam.com. For places to stay in Panama City Beach, check out our links at Panama City Beach Hotels, Condos, and Beach Rentals. You’ll also find plenty of information about places to eat and other fun activities at our links for Panama City Beach Restaurants and Other Things to Do in Panama City Beach.

Enjoy a free night, stunning views, and fascinating marine life at Jetty East in Destin

May 1 15
by Chris Chatelain

Sure, relaxing and soaking up the sun on shimmering sands is always near the top of the list when taking a beach vacation to Destin, Florida. But there’s a lot you’ll miss if you just keep your toes planted in the sand.

Think the fun and adventure end at the water’s edge? Well, think again.

Jetty East Condominiums in DestinFrom your amazing accommodations at Jetty East, you can take a short walk out to the Destin East Pass and the jetties to find an entire day’s worth of activities the whole family will enjoy.

Kids snorkeling by the Destin jettiesBring along some equipment like your snorkeling gear or a fishing pole and you’re in for some of the most scenic vacation fun you’ll ever have. Dip your fins in and dive into the tranquil turquoise water and explore the underwater realm through a different perspective — as if through a fish’s eye.

Jetties are manmade “fingers” of rock that protect the Pass that connects the Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. While they certainly serve a protective function, they also serve as an artificial reef, providing an attractive home for a variety of sea life. Above the water, the jetties appear to be simply a pile of rocks, but the submerged portion of the jetties is where things really come to life.

Crab found snorkeling by Destin jetties

Crab found snorkeling by Destin jetties

Most of the area is filled with shallow water and a broad expanse of ocean floor made up of clean, quartz sand. However, the algae-covered jetties attract eclectic marine life that put on a show like a technicolor movie beneath the water’s surface. Snorkelers won’t have to look hard at all to glimpse invertebrates such as blue crabs, hermit crabs, and even the occasional octopus coming out of their hiding places within the crevices in the rocks. There’s also fish aplenty down there, as you’ll see sheepshead, small snapper, puffer fish, and deep-sea visitors such as grouper and barracuda. You might even spot some dolphins playing in the area, and might have an exciting interaction with these marvelous mammals.

Just be sure to time your snorkeling adventure to coincide with high tide, which brings in clear Gulf water and all the marine life that comes with it. So grab your gear, and it’s game on for some low-cost aquatic adventure.

Fishing from the Destin Jetties

Fishing from the Destin jetties

Or, if you would rather stay above the waterline, it’s hard to beat fishing from the jetties. You’ll have a magnificent view of the Gulf, the beaches, and the Pass while dipping your line in the water. Think you need to charter a boat to catch the best fish in Destin? Nah. Just wade out to the jetties, and you’ve got a shot at netting some of these popular saltwater fish:

Redfish, Bluefish, Pompano, Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel, Sheepshead, Ladyfish, Grouper, Snapper, Flounder, Bonito, Baitfish

Don’t forget to secure a Florida Fishing License (available at Wal-Mart and sporting good stores), and be sure to consult area experts/guides for the specific poles, reels, hooks, and jigs needed for the type of fish you want to target.

No boat or fancy, high-tech fish-locating gadgets needed here. Basic equipment will do to catch fish. Oh, and those sun rays bouncing off the water can really do a number on fair skin, so don’t forget to bring along the sun block…or else the fish you catch won’t be the only thing that is fried!

Current Special: Stay 3 Nights, Get 4th Night Free at Jetty East

Fish isn’t the only thing you’ll catch with a stay at Jetty East in Destin, Florida. You’ll net some serious savings as well. Currently, when you book a four-night stay at Jetty East, you’ll only pay for three nights. Yep, you read that correct — from now through May 20, 2015, you’ll enjoy a free night when you book a stay of four nights!

So book now and dive in for savings, stunning views below the water, and fantastic fishing from the rocky jetties. Jetty East vacation rentals in Destin offer easy access to pristine beaches, as well as beach volleyball and balconies with stunning views of the sun setting over the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico.

Choose from 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-bedroom units with fully-equipped kitchens, a Gulfside pool for swimming and sunbathing, tennis courts, and much more.

What are you waiting for? Pack up the family and the car, and head down to Destin for some work rehabilitation.

Snorkeling at the Destin Jetties

Snorkeling by the Destin Jetties, just a short walk from Jetty East Condominiums.

 

 

Pensacola Beach Deals – Extend Your Stay in Paradise!

Apr 28 15
by Chris Chatelain

Say ‘I do’ to sun, sand, surf, and love with special savings on spring stays at Paradise Beach Homes this season. Take a break and save in spring when you book one of Pensacola Beach’s most accommodating accommodations.

Romantic retreat and family fun

Wedding-friendly beach house rental in Pensacola Beach, Florida, managed by Paradise Beach Homes.

Wedding-friendly beach house rental in Pensacola Beach, Florida, managed by Paradise Beach Homes.

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, and a vacation to Pensacola Beach is a great way to not only celebrate that, but also experience it. Whether you are renewing vows or you are just beginning the journey by planning a wedding, a vacation rental in Pensacola Beach is a perfect place to ensure love is in the air. Exchanging vows or renewing your commitment to one another in a beach ceremony with the gentle waves as a backdrop makes your most memorable day even better. Paradise Beach Homes has vacation homes, cottages, town homes, and condos that can accommodate any number of guests ranging from a romantic getaway for two to a very active 30 guests for a family reunion.

Give your budget a Spring Break  

So if the thoughts of warm rays and cool Gulf breezes are not enough to convince you, maybe a free night will entice you instead. All you have to do is pay for a four-night stay at a Paradise Beach Homes rental through May 25, and you’ll get a fifth night for free! It’s like getting an extension on your dream getaway — which gives you extra time to ensure that you can enjoy all that Pensacola Beach has to offer:

Beach time — There’s something magical and memorable about the sugar-white sands and sparkling blue-green waters of this Florida Sugar-white sand beach and sand dunes in Pensacola Beach, Floridavacation destination, recognized by TripAdvisor as one of America’s Top 25 beaches in its Travelers’ Choice Awards. Pensacola Beach is conveniently located just far enough from the city to provide peace and relaxation, so go ahead and plant those toes in the sand and slouch in your beach chair. Mix in a cool drink on a warm day, and you could easily believe that this is heaven.

Eat, drink, and be merry — While our Pensacola Beach vacation rentals might offer a retreat-like location, they are also just a few minutes from eateries serving succulent seafood, live games at a sports bar and grill, or shopping and nightlife at the Boardwalk. It’s the best of both worlds, because you can return to the relaxing waterfront retreat later to wind down.

Natural beauty — Sure, the bright sands and crystal-clear waters are pretty and colorful. But, there is something else about this coastal location that sets it apart. Despite having plenty of vacation spots, the Pensacola area is also known for its eclectic natural beauty. From kayaking along the bay or the Sound, to trekking through the adjacent Gulf Islands National Seashore and photographing pelicans, cranes, and even the occasional dolphin, there is always some natural wonder to watch and observe.  Do something different. Recharge your batteries with a free show of the simple life, as provided by Mother Nature.Tourists kayaking in Pensacola Beach Florida

As you can see, the Emerald Coast offers everything from exciting daytrips to relaxing stay-ins. Paradise Beach Homes has been accommodating those dream vacations to Northwest Florida for more than 30 years, so they know how to help you plan an affordable stay at one of their amenity-filled condos, townhomes, beach cottages or Gulf-front homes. From luxury to economy, there is a vacation rental in Pensacola Beach made to fit every budget, so book a stay and savor the savings.

You’re invited to come and make memories that will last a lifetime at Paradise Beach Homes. Visit Paradise Beach Homes  today to book your stay and get your free night.

Key West Fishing is the Stuff of Legends

Apr 19 15
by Charlie Peay

Troll fishing in the Florida KeysWhen you fish in the crystal clear turquoise waters surrounding Key West, Florida, you’re entering into a world where fishing legends were born. There’s no escaping the influence that fishing greats such as Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey have had on generations of fishermen, whether they’re seasoned professionals or just taking up the sport. Hemingway is best known, of course, for his high adventures on the waters of the Florida Straights between Key West and Cuba, where he pursued giant blue marlin, while Grey preferred backcountry fishing for acrobatic sailfish and tarpon. With more than 225 species of game fish prowling these waters, it’s little wonder that Key West has developed a lofty reputation as one of the top saltwater fishing destinations in the world. From big game sport fishing in more than 1,000 feet of water to backcountry fishing for tailing bonefish in mere inches of water, Key West has it all! In addition to sailfish, tarpon, and marlin, there are opportunities to catch bonefish, permit, dolphin, cobia, amberjack, wahoo, and pompano. 

Luckily, you don’t have to be a fishing legend to catch fish in Key West. You can enjoy the thrill of big game fishing year-round in this southernmost tropical paradise. The months from May through October are all productive fishing months in Key West. If you fish offshore during this time of year, you can match wits with fast-running dolphin, or you can fish inshore for bonefish and giant “silver king” tarpon with a fly rod or light spinning tackle on the Atlantic and Gulf flats. The world-renowned flats in Key West are alive this time of year with migrating permit, which are returning from spawning and traveling in large schools. Bonefish are also plentiful during the summer, and you can have some great fun reef and wreck fishing for red snapper and grouper. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can charter a boat and a guide to take you out to the Gulfstream just like Hemingway, where you can test your “blue water” angling skills by trolling for sailfish and marlin. Party boat charters also make daily trips as far west as Dry Tortugas to fish for black grouper and mutton snapper, and there are plenty of kayak and eco tours available. Best of all, you won’t have any trouble finding a restaurant in Key West to cook your catch when you return, making for the perfect ending to a successful day of fishing!

 

Special Events Lure Visitors to Gulf Coast Year-Round

Mar 15 15
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

 

 

Fishing is King in Destin!

Mar 4 15
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 aDestin fishing charter 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.

Trade in your snow shoes for flip flops!

Feb 28 15
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

 

 

Fish-Flying Fun at Flora-Bama Mullet Toss

Feb 24 15
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 rentals,  Perdido Key vacation rentals, and  Pensacola Beach vacation rentals at  BeachGuide.com.

flora-bama mullet toss scoreboard

 

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

Feb 18 15
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

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

Feb 16 15
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.

She Sells Seashells But What Is a Seashell Anyway?

Jan 14 15
by Charlie Peay

Seashells gathered from a beach in Destin, Florida after a beach renourishment.

Did you know that seashells belong to the kingdom known as Mollusca? Most Mollusca are soft, slug-like creatures with a hard external shell that helps protect them in their ocean environment. It’s this outer shell that 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 that had washed up on the shore.

It’s the intricate design and colorful pattern of seashells, of course, that 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 colorful shells, while in colder waters you are more likely to find seashells in darker shades.

Most mollusks use their shell for protection and can withdraw completely or at least partially into it 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’s because the growth process the shell endures always varies, producing irregularities on the outer surface of the shell. When you find a shell that looks unique, that’s because it is unique!

The Best Beaches for Shelling

Some of the best shelling beaches in the country can be found in Florida, especially along the Gulf Coast. And while Alabama beaches aren’t known for their seashells, there are still treasures to be found, if you know where – and when – to look. Following are some of the best spots to find shells and other treasures from the sea, such as sea glass and driftwood:

– Alabama Gulf Coast. It’s more a matter of timing than it is location when it comes to shelling in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. The best times to find shells, most of which tend to be smaller species, are at low tide and after a storm. In Orange Beach, the area around Alabama Point is sometimes a good spot to find several different kinds of scallops, tellins, arks, and sand dollars. Some beachcombers recommend the quieter beaches of the Fort Morgan Peninsula and Dauphin Island as the best spots to find shells.

– Anna Maria Island. Sixty percent of the land on this seven-mile-long barrier island, which lies between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, is open beach, so there are lots of spots for shelling. And while there are no buildings more than three stories tall in this tiny tropical paradise, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, art galleries, and other things to do, plus vacation rental choices that range from beachfront condos to villas with private pools. Learn more about vacationing in Anna Maria Island.

– Caladesi Island State Park. Located near Dunedin, Florida, Caladesi Island can be reached only by boat or ferry, so it’s never crowded. In addition to great shelling, park activities include fishing, swimming, camping, picnicking, hiking, and boating. There are also restrooms and a concession stand that serves food.

– Captiva Island. Along with neighboring Sanibel, Captiva Island is tops as a spot to find shells. Smaller than its sister island, it still has five miles of beach, plus plenty of places to stay, shop, and eat.

– Cedar Key. Small and secluded, Cedar Key is about 50 miles southwest of Gainesville and accessible from the mainland by bridge. Once a busy railroad, lumbering, and fishing town, it still retains its Old Florida charm. In addition to the beach, it offers tidal pools and mangroves, marshes, mudflats, and pine forests. It’s also a birdwatchers’ paradise, with plenty of egrets, herons, ospreys, and even the seldom-seen roseate spoonbill.

– Honeymoon Island. Located off the coast of Dunedin and separated from neighboring Caladesi Island by Hurricane Pass, Honeymoon Island is home to a state park and more than 3.5 miles of beach. Shelling is especially good at the state park, which also has a 2.5-mile nature trail that winds through one of the few remaining South Florida virgin slash-pine forests.

– Jupiter Island. On Florida’s Atlantic side, north of West Palm Beach, Jupiter Island is another shell hunter’s paradise. More than 200 varieties have reportedly been found at the island’s Coral Cove Park. The park also offers picnic areas with grills, a playground, and restrooms, so it’s a great spot for a family outing.

– Little Talbot Island State Park. One of Northeast Florida’s few remaining undeveloped barrier islands, Little Talbot boasts five miles of unspoiled beaches, plus dunes, salt marshes, and maritime forests. Park facilities include picnic pavilions, a campground, and hiking and nature trails. Nearest city to the park is Jacksonville.

– Marco Island. Sand bars help trap the shells at Marco Island, 30 minutes’ drive west of Everglades National Park. The island boasts more than three miles of beaches, but the best spots for shelling are South Beach and the northern part of Tigertail Beach. The best place to find sand dollars is a sand bar off Tigertail, named, not surprisingly, Sand Dollar Island. Away from the beaches, there’s plenty to do in the area, with lots of shops and restaurants, golf courses, boating and fishing charters, and more.

– Sanibel Island. Without a doubt, Sanibel is one of the best shelling destinations, not just in the United States, but in the world. The experts believe that the abundance of shells is due to the fact that part of the island runs east and west, while most Florida islands have a north-south orientation. Sanibel’s orientation creates a south-facing beach that slopes into the Gulf and catches shells, which otherwise would roll past the island. Approximately 400 species of shells can be found on Sanibel beaches, including tulips, olives, and the rare junonia. Sanibel also boasts plenty of vacation rentals, shops, restaurants, and the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

– Shell Island. This seven-mile-long barrier island lies between the Gulf and St. Andrews Bay in Panama City Beach. There is no development on the island, which can be reached by tour boat or the Shell Island Shuttle. The shuttle runs every half hour daily, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., during the summer, but hours may vary the rest of the year. There are no restrooms, picnic tables, or other facilities on the island, so visitors should plan accordingly. The western portion of Shell Island is part of St. Andrews State Park.

– Shell Key. This long, narrow barrier island is a short boat ride from Passe-a-Grill beach, near Fort DeSoto. Part of Shell Key Preserve, the unpopulated island has no amenities (no restrooms), but the beach yields everything from ark and conch shells to sand dollars.

– Venice Beach. The charming Florida community of Venice, located midway between Tampa and Fort Myers, boasts four beaches, including one that welcomes pets. In addition to shells, Venice beachcombers will find plenty of fossilized sharks’ teeth – evidence that area waters were once home to an incredible number of sharks.

Here’s How to Make the Most of Your Shelling Trips

– Plan shelling excursions for low tide, after storms, and early mornings before everybody else hits the beach.

– Know the moon phase. These can affect shell yields, too, because moon phases affect tides. The most extreme tides take place during a new or a full moon.

– Collect only dead shells. Collecting shells that still have their live occupants has been banned on Sanibel Island and many other beaches.

– Take along a bag or bucket to hold your finds. You also might want to include a small shovel or rake for digging shells out of the sand.

– Be patient, and be flexible. No one place is consistently the best spot to find shells – don’t expect to build an interesting collection with one outing. And keep in mind that the search is part of the fun!

Need a place to stay while you’re at the beach? Check out our listings for vacation rentals, plus restaurants, shopping spots, and other fun things to do at BeachGuide.com.

How to Pack the Perfect Beach Bag

Jan 10 15
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.

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

Dec 30 14
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.

Fort Morgan: Off the Beaten Path But Worth the Trip

Dec 29 14
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.

 

 

 

Gulf Coast a Winter Wonderland for Cyclists

Dec 26 14
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 rentals,  Orange Beach vacation rentals,  Perdido Key vacation rentals,  Fort 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

Sea Lab Estuarium Exhibits Make Learning Fun

Dec 24 14
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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Polar Bear Dip Marks New Year’s on the Gulf

Dec 22 14
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!

Dining In and Around Pensacola Beach

Dec 16 14
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

Beach Plants and Sand Dunes Were Made for Each Other

Dec 10 14
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!