If you judged a book by its cover, or a town by its awards and accolades, Gulf Shores would be a serious contender for the No. 1spot in all of Alabama. Voted best beach getaway. Named among best small cities….coolest around…a favorite family-friendly escape…best luxury…etc.

Whew. A long list.

For those who live in this small Alabama town that used to be undiscovered, two events in the late 1930s paved the way to create the robust tourist market. One was completion of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The second was the opening of Gulf State Park. It might have been named the “park that has it all.” Besides the usual things you associate with state parks even those with two miles of white sandy beaches, it has all the usual things like fishing and swimming and hiking. But this park has several pavilions offering various food choices, nature programs, and even a championship golf course. Also tennis, a zip line, children’s play areas and a marina.

It’s simply got everything a family could want. Including places to stay.
There are almost 500 camping sites. Modern bathhouses. Primitive camping if that’s your choice. RVs also welcome.

Gulf State also offers 20 modern cabins and11 cottages, all within walking distance of the park’s Refuge Golf Course and 2.5 miles from the beaches. Some of the cabins are surrounded by palmetto forests and Longleaf Pines, the state tree. Costs for a comfortably furnished “small wood cabin” start at around $100, though larger homes of three bedrooms are more like $200-300.

Regular nature programs include “Yoga at the Beach” and “Snake Encounters.” Most are either free or at a small cost of $2 or so.

If there’s not a program for alligators, perhaps there should be. Because the park, in common with neighboring Florida, does get alligators at the golf course and in large ponds.

Park officials do point out that alligator attacks on humans are rare and suggest tips on how to cope with such encounters.

For those with golf on their mind, nearby Craft Farms is another of several choices. It has two courses with 36 holes of championship golf designed by the late Arnold Palmer. Something new to try for traditionalists and newcomers: FootGolf. Simplified, it combines golf and soccer. But the goal remains the same: as few strokes as possible.

For fishermen, the Gulf State Park pier offers 2,448 feet of rail-side fishing. There’s also indoor concessions and even a retail store to buy tackle and souvenirs. The Gulf Coast itself is also popular for fishing with tournaments and special events.

There are various events year-round in the area. And one oyster-lovers might want to attend is the “9th Annual Oyster Cook-Off and Craft Beer Weekend” Nov. 4-5 at the Hangout in Gulf Shores. It features cooking demonstrations and workshops. And oyster shucking contests.
For a healthy hike, take the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, which winds through rich flora and sauna all the way to Orange Beach. You can take one of seven trails that include 15 miles of hiking. Hikers can stop to see a Butterfly Garden, perhaps even view a fleeting deer or bobcat. And maybe even an alligator, also found here.

For indoor activities, the Gulf Shores Museum details area history in a beach home that was donated to the city after Hurricane Frederic in 1979. It explains the area with new and permanent exhibits as well as seasonal programs and events. Admission is free.

As a small fishing-oriented community, Gulf Shores’ history goes back the early 1800s. The second event that gave impetus to the area as a tourist haven, the Intracoastal Waterway, which encouraged visitors to pursue water-related activities.

But Gulf Shores did not even have a US post office until relatively recent times, 1947. Some of the first fishing and water-related events started in the early 1970s.

Shrimping, oystering, and fishing employed almost everyone in the area throughout the early settlement years until the 1970s. Fishing laws and regulations have since discouraged this way of life. As tourism and real estate replaced the fishing industries, Gulf Shores’ families were more inclined to look to tourism for economic well-being.

In recent years, the area was a sort of “hidden treasure” known to only a few visitors. But in modern times, that changed as the awards came pouring in. And tourists began to notice them.

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Categories: AL