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Snowbirds in Alabama
Retreat to Warmth
Snowbirds, people who escape the wintry North for several months, have increased in the state of Alabama in recent years. Many end up staying permanently. Our weather is mild and often sunny; today is January 17th and it's a balmy 74 for the high! As the Alabama people are very hospitable, the Convention and Visitors Bureau ( of the various cities) works diligently to plan activities the visitors might be interested in. The majority seem to fly in from the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, with some of late flocking in from South or North Dakota. Although the area did get some oil from the BP oil disaster, we have been surprised how little we have been affected. Truly the beaches seem cleaner than ever and the water's clarity purer than I have ever seen.
Mobile County(West of bay) & Baldwin County(East of bay)
An Overview of Towns to Stay
Most snowbirds are interested in the beach communities of Alabama. The water quality is better than the Mississippi Gulf Coast's and there are the white sugar sands derived from quartzite on the beach. Dauphin Island in Mobile County or Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach in Baldwin County are popular picks.
The beach communities of Baldwin County feature a long beach that goes the length of the county almost like a barrier island; in addition, on the back side are the back bay areas. Due to the silty Mississippi River, the further east you go, the clearer the water quality. An Intercoastal Waterway runs from Mobile Bay all the way to Perdido Key in Florida. A large Tanger Outlet is just north of Gulf Shores in Foley. The nearby farming towns of Foley and Robertsdale offer extended shopping in antiques, in particular. In addition, Fairhope and Point Clear on the Eastern Shore side of the Mobile Bay have been popular winter retreats since the 1800's. Fairhope is a quaint bayside village, not really a beach town, but it features boutique shopping. I have used VRBO, or Vacation Rentals By Owner, to rent in these areas. I have used two realties to rent: Kaiser Realty & Meyer Realty. They will mail you a glossy book with great pictures to help in your choices.
Meanwhile, in Mobile County, Dauphin Island is the only real beach area. The city of Mobile, founded as a French colony in 1702, is nearby with a vibrant downtown and art scene. The strong point of the city, population 500,000, would be the museums downtown, mostly focused on various histories of different aspects of the city, such as Mardi Gras. While the water on Mobile Bay is dark and murky due to the emptying of five rivers, some of the best seafood in the USA is available on the Causeway.
Meyer Realty Link
Further Reading on All Things Alabama
Further Resources For Armchair Planners
Map of the Beaches of Baldwin County
Touristy and over-built, Gulf Shores has plenty to do. Most people think of Gulf Shores when they think about the beaches of Alabama, but Orange Beach and Fort Morgan are right beside it. It was the first area to grow quickly and features beach or bay view areas. I remember when the area had few condos with a long, desolate beach road lined with beach-worn family retreats. With a glut of condos or beach area homes for rent, you may find a good price to rent or even to buy. The area is coming down from the effects of the Recession on condos built on speculation so, if you have the money, consider buying a condo or house as a second home. Some condos may feature indoor pools. Gulf Shores features a mix of condos on the beach and small beach homes that are just a walk across the highway.
When I think of Orange Beach, I think of giant condos and better traffic than Gulf Shores. This is where our family chooses to stay. What we give up in restaurant or shopping choices, we gain in water quality, roomy condos with granite kitchens, and several pools. The exclusive enclave, Ono Island, which features a gated entrance with guards, is in this area. The good news is that there are plenty of state beaches to experience how the Alabama coast used to look, while you are able to retreat to your upscale condo. Lately, boat-centric condos have been built along the back bay side of Orange Beach to take advantage of the boating fun of the fairly clear water of the Pass. The Pass is a large bridge to allow big boats access from the intercoastal waterway. Perdido Key, Florida adjoins this beach. One of the most popular places to stay is Caribe, which features pools with a lazy river overlooking the Pass. It's also nearby a famous bar, the Florabama.
If you wish to get back to how things used to be and wish to avoid row after row of condos, look no further than Fort Morgan, which is a community to the west of Gulf Shores, adjoining the Mobile Bay. The name is for one of the Civil War-era forts that protected Mobile during the Battle of Mobile Bay as the last port to fall in 1865. The huge downside to the area is you are really giving up shopping and restaurant options and there is only one way in- through Gulf Shores. It is a very long drive and honestly, I've never stayed there due to this. A bonus is there is a car ferry that connects Fort Morgan with Dauphin Island, which has a better-kept fort to visit, called Fort Gaines.
Dauphin Island Overview Video
This barrier island was first named Massacre Island due to piles of bones found by the first French colonists; later it was named in honor of the prince of France, the Dauphin. It is connected to the mainland by the bridge and features a wonderful Civil War era fort, Fort Gaines as well as a shell Indian mound. A lovely thing about the island is you can really get back to how the natural coast looked since the area has strict rules about building. This makes it a superior location than Fort Morgan, in my opinion, if you are wanting that natural look. However, you still somewhat have restaurants and a little shopping, but you may be bored after three days. There is an excellent Dauphin Island Sea Lab to learn about the area's animals and habitats and the island is a major stop for North America's bird watchers. Bird watchers have a large park to view birds. Mobile is around 35 minutes away. There are very few condos, which are only allowed a certain number of stories. A bike trail goes the length of the island. The remainder of the Mobile county coast area is not a place to stay; Coden and Bayou La Batre were once retreats more than a century ago but hurricanes destroyed them. Some of the rental agencies I have used are Pickett Real Estate and Boardwalk Realty(Dauphin Island).
Enjoy Alabama Hospitality
Enjoy our coast and your time away from the snowy drifts of the North. With our low cost of living, you may decide to make it a permanent visit. May you warm yourself with our sunny beaches and Alabama hospitality.