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Top Reasons to Visit Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

SmarterTravel

Stretching along the Alabama Gulf Coast, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer a mix of beachy bliss, peaceful nature, and festival-rich culture. These seaside sister towns are a Southern foodie’s paradise, and make the perfect destination for anyone seeking a serene Southern-style escape. Here are four reasons you should plan a visit.

The weather is pleasant year-round

The warm, year-round warm climate makes Gulf Shores and Orange Beach a great shoreline escape in every season. But, I recommend visiting in the fall if you’re looking for some peace and quiet—because it’s the off-season, you can have the beach nearly all to yourself and restaurants aren’t overly crowded. When I visited in November, it was sunny, with temperatures in the mid-70s to 80s during the day, and little humidity. At night, it cools down into the 50s and 60s, but you won’t need more than a light sweater.

RELATED: 10 Beaches That Are Better in the Off-season

There’s plenty of outdoor recreation

Hiking, biking, boating and wildlife spotting are popular year-round activities in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. In November, I took a beautiful hike on a warm, sunny morning through the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge—a nature reserve that is home to endangered wildlife and native plants. You can also take a riverboat cruise or kayak through the intracoastal waterway, which runs from Brownsville, Texas to Chesapeake Bay—here, you’re likely to spot dolphins, blue herons, pelicans, and hundreds of other species of birds.

The food is out of this world

The culinary scene alone is enough reason to visit. With many Louisiana-inspired dishes and fresh seafood, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are on par with Southern food frontrunners like New Orleans and Nashville. You’ll find classic Southern dishes like gumbo, po-boys, crawfish, shrimp creole, red beans and rice, hushpuppies, and even beignets.

The Gulf Coast is home to hundreds of freshwater and saltwater fish species, many of which I hadn’t heard of before. Most restaurants offer specials based on what is caught that day— try anything from cobia, redfish, triggerfish, whiting fish, mangrove snapper and mackerel, and have it grilled, blackened, or cajun-style.

Where to eat: Bill’s by the Beach, Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar, Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar, and Flora-Bama Yacht Club.

RELATED: Deliciously Decadent Foods Perfected by the South

There are fun, year-round festivities

Mardi Gras parades and parties are held during the entire month of February, and in March, Orange Beach hosts an Annual Festival of Art, which brings together painters, sculptors, potters and glass artists to showcase their creations, while local songwriters perform.

Every April, locals look forward to the Mullet Toss and Beach Party in Orange Beach. Mullet fish is a local delicacy in Gulf Shores—the toss is a contest (and quite frankly, an excuse to party) to see who can throw the fish the farthest.

Here, the local kick-off to summer happens at Gumbo Key, a music festival held annually in June in Orange Beach, during which visitors dock their boats and hang out in the Gulf as they enjoy a lineup of Southern artists performing over a floating stage.

(Photo: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism)

RELATED: Why Alabama’s Emerging Craft Beer Scene is Worth Traveling for

For over 40 years, the National Shrimp Festival has been held in Gulf Shores in October. It’s one of the country’s top annual events and brings over 250,000 people to the Gulf Coast for a four-day celebration of music, fun, and lots of crustaceans. Despite its name, you don’t have to like shellfish to enjoy yourself—there’s plenty of other food and desserts to sample.

The Annual Songwriter’s Festival is a great reason to visit in the off-season. Held in November, the festival has been a celebration of music for over three decades, a time when award-winning songwriters and rising stars from all over the world have a chance to perform music across venues in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Perdido Key, and Pensacola, Florida. While visiting, I spent an evening at the Flora-Bama Lounge, where the singers and instrumentalists performed and shared the significance behind each of their songs.

Also held in November, the Oyster Cook-off and Craft Beer Festival at The Hangout, a beachfront music venue, brings local and celebrity chefs together to show off their unique versions of raw, rockefeller, and cajun-style oysters. Attendees can test out and vote on their favorites as they sip on local craft beer and enjoy live music.

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Olivia Briggs visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for a three-day trip hosted by the Alabama Tourism Department. Follow her on Twitter @Olileibri.

(Photos: Olivia Briggs)

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