Special Events Lure Visitors to Gulf Coast Year-Round
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
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’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.
Located 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: