Relaxation - Southern Style
Rick and I went to check out fabulous Gulf Shores,
Ala. Gulf Shores is the southernmost coastal region of
Alabama, 50 miles east of Mobile and 35 miles west of
Pensacola. It’s a barrier island, 30,000 acres with 32 miles
of sugar-white sand beaches and beautiful blue-green
Gulf of Mexico waters.
From Tampa International, it was a 75-minute flight to
the Pensacola Airport, then a short drive to the Alabama
Gulf Coast. The beaches are so different compared with
our Central Florida beaches, with huge sand dunes, tall
sea oats swaying in the breeze and winding boardwalks
to the beach. Just taking it all in starts to make you feel
relaxation is just around the corner.
We arrived at our accommodations quite late, so
imagine our surprise when we awoke to a stunning
view overlooking the Gulf of Mexico with all those
never-ending dunes and boardwalks winding themselves down to the beach.
Not only were we right on the beach, but we were
staying in an absolutely wonderful B&B called The
Beach House Bed & Breakfast. This is a big, rambling
wooden house high atop the dunes, with large porches
overlooking the gulf, complete with wicker chairs,
swings and hammocks – just perfect to help you relax
and enjoy the ocean breeze and views.
The main beach house, with an extensive library (actually each and every room has its own books) is home
to the kitchen and hot tub. Each morning you enjoy a
made-to-order breakfast. At other times you just help
yourself to the snacks, sodas, beer and wine that The
Beach House provides.
We stayed in the new additional beach house, separate
from the main house. It’s closer to the beach and has only
four rooms. Our room was incredibly appointed (as they
all are), with wonderful Laura Ashley-type furniture
and a very large and comfy couch and loveseat.
We had our own little kitchen area complete with
stainless steel coffee maker, refrigerator with icemaker
and dishwasher. Creature comforts included a Jacuzzi
bathtub complete with bath salts and candles and the
most heavenly bed in which I ever have slept. It was a
king-size poster feather bed, the kind where you just
sink into a down comforter and pillows and never want
to climb out because you feel so relaxed.
After enjoying a wonderful breakfast of fancy egg
custard French toast, maple sausage and fresh berries
prepared by Diane Childs, our innkeeper, we’re off for
an adventurous first day with a guided tour of the Bon
Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
This is 6,700 acres of coastal wetlands, ranging
from constantly changing beach dunes to rolling pineoak woodlands. At the start you are literally walking
through a forest, under the shade of all the thick trees,
and suddenly you see the terrain changes, ending up
at the sandy beach of the Gulf of Mexico.
Ranger Nancy, our guide, was very knowledgeable
and talked about the unique wildlife and habitats. One
of the more interesting creatures that live here is the
Alabama beach mouse. This poor little guy was added
to the endangered list in 1985 and contributes to the
plant life by distributing seeds to help perpetuate the
very important sea oats which help stem
erosion of the sand dunes.
There is a lot to do in this national refuge, with fresh and saltwater fishing, birding, kayaking and the many hiking
trails open and used year round. It’s a great location for nature photographers and truly is a little slice of heaven.
After our hike, we had certainly worked up an appetite. We headed for Jesse’s Restaurant, located in the Moore
Brothers Village Market in Magnolia Springs, Ala. It’s a historic, quaint town located on the banks of the Magnolia
River. The river was very important to early settlers as it was the only means of delivering communication to the outside
world. To this day, mail is still delivered via boat to those living along this beautiful spring-fed river.
Magnolia Springs is a beautiful community, and I do mean community. Everybody knows each other and says
hello, and it’s obvious they all just love their little town.
Jesse’s Restaurant (owned by Charles Hauser) is located where the original post office was in 1915. Hauser has added a small, gourmet butcher shop and grocery store to complete the package. Executive chef Joseph Gilley and staff have been invited to prepare a Gulfcoast seafood
extravaganza this fall for the prestigious James Beard Foundation in New York.
The menu features fresh gulf seafood, of course, and is also famous for its incredible homemade pies and desserts. The key lime pie we had was just divine!
David Worthington was one of our hosts and is also the very proud owner of Magnolia Springs B & B, a beautifully renovated 100-year-old home he transformed into a classic southern bed and breakfast. Magnolia Springs Bed &
Breakfast has been featured in Southern Living twice and on Bob Villa’s “Restore America” on HGTV. Worthington’s hard work is a classic example of what he and so many others have found in Magnolia Springs. They chose to live and invest in Magnolia Springs because of its beauty and its peaceful, serene lifestyle.
Dinner that evening was served under the stars as we found ourselves overlooking the beautiful Sportsman Marina with the gulf as the backdrop. The Bayside Grill is a fabulous place for fresh seafood as well as steaks, chicken and ribs, with a chef who knows how to marry the spices of the islands with the Creole tastes of the bayou, influenced greatly by nearby New Orleans. The combination of Caribbean and Creole made for a splendid evening. Our
favorites here were the Oysters Bienville and the coconut fried shrimp. Oysters are very popular along the Alabama gulf shore. Bon Secour oysters are world famous for their size and salty disposition.
We love ’em!
The next day, Rick is off to play golf. Golf is plentiful in this area, with more than 460,000 rounds played on some of
the finest courses in the Southeast. Rick played Cypress Bend, an 18-hole championship course designed by Arnold
Palmer. The golf at Gulf Shores is giving Myrtle Beach, S.C. a run for its money as the premiere golf community in the Southeast. Rick played 18 holes at Cypress Bend,
rated the No. 1 most playable new course by Golf Digest. As part of the Craft Farms golf resort, this is just one of three (plus Cotton Creek and Woodlands) fabulous Palmer designed courses. I decide to spend the morning enjoying
the beach. Aaaahhh, the beach! I grab a handy beach chair and it’s a quick stroll right out my front door down to the
beautiful white sand where soft breezes, intoxicating rhythmic sounds of waves crashing on the beach and peace and quiet bring you to yet another level of relaxation.
A trip highlight was all the great seafood. Rick and I met for lunch at King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant. What an
incredible find! It’s where the locals go, and unless you know where it is, you might easily overlook it.
We started with those great Bon Secour oysters, this time on the half shell. Cold and salty, you know they are fresh and just perfect, especially with all the great set ups that come with them. Another treat was King Neptune West Indies Salad – jumbo white-lump crabmeat marinated in a vinegar dressing with sweet Vidalia onions. Tasty!
Also a house specialty is the fried cocktail crab claws
– served with a homemade White Remoulade Sauce.
The recipe was featured in Southern Living. Let me know
if you want it, I’ll share it with you!
One thing stands out in the seafood preparation there
– their love of frying. Part of it is the Southern culture
of frying and another is the strong influence of New
Orleans, with its Cajun influence. Rick absolutely loves
fried seafood, and coming from a New Orleans and
Cajun background, that’s understandable. I like broiled
or blackened fish better; rest assured that method of
preparation is readily available.
Next we were off to another nature tour, this one
by water. Welcome aboard the Miss Janet, a 48-person
pontoon-type boat. We’re going on a 90-minute Alabama
bayou trip. Captain Skip and first mate Janet were great
fun on this very informative cruise. We learned how
fisherman catch shrimp and crab and harvest oysters.
Did you know that all oysters start as male, and
then after they are about an inch long, they change to
female? Did you know that oysters grow about an inch
a year? You can tell how old an oyster is by its width.
It was really neat when the shrimp nets were pulled
in and we could see different kinds of sea life. We saw
pink shrimp, brown shrimp and royal red shrimp. Baby
shrimp larvae start as specs in the water, and within
two weeks they’ve grown to four inches. That’s when
they head from the marshes into the bayous. Shrimping
is very big business here. Just like in the movie Forrest
Gump, there are lots of shrimp boats in the bayous of
We also checked out a crab trap. Females will lay more
than 2 million eggs at a time! Isn’t that amazing?
In addition to the oysters, crab and shrimp, we caught
and released puffer fish, croakers, bay anchovy, pinfish,
flounder, tonguefish and a stingray. We also spotted
many dolphins and, even though we’re spoiled in our
Tampa Bay area, they are still such a treat to see.
People squealed with delight when they spotted one.
We also saw herons, pelicans, cormorants, osprey and
plenty of seagulls. It was a delightful day on the water,
plenty of shade to enjoy the views with a nice breeze
and very educational. The kids will love this. Aaahhh,
I feel another notch of relaxation kicking in.
Now it’s time to do what we love to do on any vacation: That’s right, time to eat again! We kid all the time
that if we’re not eating, we’re talking about what we’re
going to eat, or how great the last meal was. So tonight
it’s off to Calypso Joe’s Caribbean Grille in Orange
This popular spot is located in a marina right on
the water where charter fishing boats come in with the
day’s catch. Before dinner we get to see the bountiful
harvest our wonderful Gulf of Mexico provides as some
of the prettiest red snapper, grouper and amberjack are
displayed by the competent charter captains.
Calypso Joe’s specializes in a tropical menu, so of
course we sampled the conch fritters and jerk-seasoned
chicken tenders, which were delicious. I enjoyed the
fresh catch of the day, grouper, served with curried
coconut pineapple compote.
Rick had snapper grilled in a lime butter topped with
tequila vinaigrette. With a nice tropical drink, a beautiful sunset and fabulous company, we were quite happy.
Another really fun part of Calypso Joe’s was the crab
racing. This is the home of the authentic thoroughbred
racing crab and is just a hoot for the kids and those who
are young at heart.
Our trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach was just a
lot of fun. It’s designed for families who enjoy outdoor
activities, the beaches and great seafood dining.
The prices are budget-friendly and the service was
super-friendly and very competent. You can stay at a
romantic B&B or enjoy all the amenities of a beachfront
condo. The best recommendation you can ever give a
place is to say you’d go back again. Let’s just say Rick
and I are looking forward to our return trip next year.
To see more, visit www.gulfshores.com on the Web
or call (800) 745-7263 for a free visitor guide.
Contact the Visitor Burea:
The Beach House Bed & Breakfast........(800) 659-6004
Magnolia Springs Bed & Breakfast.......(251) 965-7321
Calypso Fish Grille and Market............(251) 981-1415
Jesse’s Restaurant....................................(251) 965-3827
King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant ....(251) 968-5464
Bayside Grill.............................................(251) 981-4899
Sailaway Charters ...................................(251) 974-5055
Gulf Shores Golf Association.................(251) 968-5319