Date of Trip: August 2004
Gulf State Park Accommodations:
Less like hotel rooms, and more like summer camp cabins, the hotel lacks many accommodations that most modern hotels have. The neat, large, wood-paneled rooms are housed in two-story buildings along the beach in a motel style; the main building houses the snack bar, dining room, lounge, front desk and a small gift shop. There is an outdoor pool near the main building and a pier perfect for viewing the beach and fishing not far from there. Vending machines and ice are located between each set of rooms. The hotel also has some advantages. It’s more affordable than local upscale places, and each room is large with huge windows and balconies overlooking the ocean; the rustic feel of the rooms adds to the natural feel of the surroundings. This isn’t a hotel room one would mind spending the day in, with the breathtaking views of the ocean waves.
For those who don’t want to lounge on the beach or balcony all day, there are areas for boating and fishing on the Gulf as well as a golf course near by. Near the hotel, there are also a number of attractions, such as the United States Naval Aviation Museum, outlet malls, and the Gulf State Park Nature Center for naturalists who want to learn more about the area. Lake Shelby, a freshwater lake, is available across the highway for fishing and picnics. There are also vacation cottages located on the lake. The weather was great during my stay, with only a few afternoon showers; it was humid, but manageable, with plenty of sunlight. I enjoyed my stay in the park, but in lazier moments, did regret the inconvenience of the main building, with its restaurant and gift shop, being so far.
Gulf State Park Beach
Activities available at Gulf Shores include fishing and bird watching. Both of these can be done at the main beach along the Gulf or near the freshwater lake just across the street. Though I didn’t venture off the beautiful, natural beach much, I understand that there is a golf course near by as well as cruises to spot dolphins in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There is also a boat launch site. Facilities: On the beach, the state park houses both a hotel and a campground. The hotel main building holds a restaurant, with a snack bar on the beach. It also provides a freshwater, outdoor pool. Changing facilities and showers are available, though at the time I was there, the building was under construction and they makeshift facilities weren’t the most comfortable. There is a large pier down the beach that you can fish off of or soak up some sun. The state park runs informative nature workshops for kids, adults and families. The program schedule is available at the hotel.
What it’s like:
I had a terrific time unwinding on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. The amazing surroundings seemed so peaceful and uninhabited, even though I was there for a work-related conference with about 200 participants. I appreciated the fact that the beach spreads out for miles, and never felt crowded despite the busy weekend and full hotel. In the middle of August, when I was there, the sea turtle nests were expected to hatch. I had the pleasure of meeting volunteers from Alabama who were protecting the nests along the coast. Though I didn’t get to see the turtles hatch, it was great to go out each morning and check on the two nests near my room on the beach. The Naturalist at the Gulf Shores State Park can help you find a nest as well as give you information on when it should be hatching.
Some highlights from my trip included reading on the beach as I watched a tropical storm roll in late one evening. The crickets, birds and waves were so loud; I could hear them over the thunder. It was great practicing yoga on the beach facing the ocean during sunrise. Before it got to hot or humid, laying in the cool, damp sand and rinsing off after a run in the salty waters of the Gulf was a totally rejuvenating experience.
The only draw back was that the local area is lacking in dining options, with the local flair being distinctively and nearly exclusively seafood. For a vegetarian like myself, I found Subway, Denny’s and gas station convenience stores to be my major source of nutrition. If you’re not a fan of seafood, think about packing some provisions, or making it to a grocery store while you’re there.