Strange things your family has never done at the beach
Shouldn't we all just keep on summering?
Yes, fall is upon us, but shouldn't we keep visiting the destinations that allow us to come home with a tan, when everyone is bundled up in fall boots and scarves? Shouldn't we keep doing this for as long as possible?!
Keep on summering, I say like an activist with a defiant fist raised in the air.
The sandy destination
We took a trip down to the beach this month, courtesy of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, for their #KeepOnSummering campaign. They want families to know about this sandy destination, to keep this tiny beach town at the top of mind for fall getaways between the months of September and November, when everywhere else has dropping leaves and cooling temperatures.
We went down there to check it out. Would it still be warm enough to swim? Were attractions shutting down for the season? Would there still be things to do?
These were all the questions our family tossed around, while we road tripped down to the Alabama coastline.
We made the 7.5-hour drive from Nashville to Gulf Shores in a 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid. This sporty eco-friendly ride is the stuff that road trip warriors dream about. With 46 MPG on the highway, we only had to stop once in 8 hours for gas...which meant we would have extra dollars for oysters at the beach.
I bet you've never done this...
While in Gulf Shores, our itinerary was full of things we had NEVER done. I love when cities can do that--surprise us and show off a side to themselves that we haven't already read or heard about! The beauty of traveling is discovering a place: its quirks, its hidden local spots, its homegrown events and activities.
We all know that when you go to the beach, you lay out, swim, eat some great food, and relax some more. But is there anything else? Yes, we discovered during this last trip. So much more than we have ever known, and we wonder now-- have you?
So, I ask you...while at the beach, have you ever---
1. eaten raw ostrich or venomous lionfish?
Among other delicacies, these dishes can be found at Voyagers, a fine-dining restaurant located inside the Perdido Beach Resort. I have to admit, when I ordered the Ostrich Carpaccio, I had zero clue what that meant. I was going purely from the referral of a fellow travel writer who raved about this dish. Channeling my inner Anthony Bourdain, I tried it and loved the buttery smooth taste, which reminded me a lot of proscuitto. The other appetizer we tried was the Lionfish Tiradito, cold slices of lionfish in a zesty lime, ginger, and serrano chile sauce. I had heard about the lionfish, the pesky aquarium fish that was released into the wild by irresponsible owners and is now taking over the ocean's reef ecosystem because it has no natural predators. They estimate that for every lionfish that is killed, you save 1,000 fish. So, I did my part and devoured that appetizer with all its ginger zing.
It was only after we had finished when the chef came to the table to discuss the dishes that I had that, "Excuse me, could you say that again?" moment. Well, moment(s), to be exact.
As we raved about the appetizers, the chef said, "Most people are afraid to try raw ostrich." Excuse me, could you say that again? It was at that moment that it registered...carpaccio isn't just a fancy word used to make the title of a dish sound elegant...it means raw. Then my husband went on to ask the chef, "I thought the lionfish was extremely venomous, how is it that we were able to eat it and raw for that matter?" Excuse me, could you say that again, husband? It's venomous AND it was raw? I have never felt so wonderfully adventurous and misinformed in all my eating-solids-life. By the way, tiradito means raw, too, just so you know.
If you're in the area, have dinner here. Now that you are informed, you can enjoy your experience. Try the wonderful ostrich and the lionfish. Say a travel writer sent you.
2. seen bulls walking around on the beach?
Every year, bulls descend on the sandy shores of Orange Beach, just feet from the water and the street, adjacent to the Florabama bar. We drove by one day and saw a bull headbutting a guard rail and thought, what in all the actual hell is going on here? Where are we?
We had stumbled upon Bulls on the Beach, an annual fundraiser for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. A rodeo in the least likely of places, it is a yearly event that draws crowds and professional bull riders from around the southeast.
3. come face-to-face with a cowboy ON A HORSE in a bar?
A lost cowboy wandered over from the Bulls on the Beach and decided to hit the dance floor. Apparently, his horse likes to jam to Justin Timberlake. The Florabama Lounge and Oyster Bar is full of surprises like that. With multiple stages and bars, and even a church on Sundays, you may not always see a cowboy on a horse shaking it on the dance floor, but you could.
4. rented a pontoon and found a pirate's cove?
We had never considered renting a pontoon and exploring Gulf Shores and Orange Beach by sea, but this was the highlight of the trip for us. After we made a small scene trying to reverse the large pontoon out of the marina on a super windy day (and avoid taking the whole dock with us), we wandered.
We found a sandbar and a locals joint called, The Pirate's Cove. A classic boat-friendly bar on the water, this place won't care if you don't have shoes. In fact, I'm not sure if the cooks were even wearing shoes. There were very few rules here except be kind, have fun, and if you have a complaint for the staff, have another drink and keep it to yourself. If I lived in the area, we'd be here every weekend, not because the food is superb, but because I can't think of a better way to spend a day on the water. Few things make my family as happy as being in wet bathing suits, playing games and getting sun burnt. Pirate's Cove is an unapologetic coastal-dive-bar experience that you will either love or hate.
5. witnessed a doggie Olympics?
It was actually at Pirate's Cove that we saw our first doggie Olympics. When we pulled our boat up to the dock, I thought I had arrived in dog heaven. They were everywhere-- in the bar, on the beach, on paddleboards...everywhere, and not a leash in sight. Cuteness overload or nightmarish experience?? I guess that depends on how much you like these 4-legged creatures.
6. drank a bushwhacker?
Want to try a bushwhacker?
How do you answer that if you have no clue what a bushwhacker is? Much like you do when you order Ostrich Carpaccio--just say sure. We had our first bushwhacker on this trip and oh. my. yum. these are dangerous. It's a milkshake of sorts with liquor, like a Wendy's frosty, but for parents only. Said to originate from the Virgin Islands in the 70's, this popular drink is an art form perfected along the Alabama/Florida coast. We tried them everywhere we could find them during this trip (for research-sake of course), and discovered our favorite was at the Florabama Yacht Club, but the strongest was at Pirate's Cove!
I will continue my search for the perfect bushwhacker, for you, as your faithful travel writer.
7. had a whole cupcake in a milkshake?
Speaking of drinks, travelers make special pilgrimage just to order one of these. This place has become so popular that they've had to commandeer the parking spaces in front of the building, adding extra picnic tables.
Have you ever heard of The Yard? As in, my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard?
It is a dessert explosion, literally. They serve every milkshake on a dish to catch the overflow. This place takes sugar coma to an ungodly level. Whereas other establishments add in cute crumbles of cake or cookie to your milkshake, so it can be slurped up neatly through your straw, the Yard puts whole slices of brownie or cake. A whole donut. An entire banana. Southern demure is lost here. It's everything you would have put in a milkshake when you were 4 years old, if your momma would have let you.
Bring your cameras. Your instagram has never looked so delicious.
8. had lemurs lick your face?
For years, we've gone to Gulf Shores knowing there was a zoo but never having gone. We were astonished to discover that we passed it every year without even knowing it. But that's pretty typical for the unflashy and modest Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, it's easy to miss. Featured by Animal Planet and gaining in popularity, it is located right off of Gulf Shores Parkway, just a few hundred yards from the water, though they have plans to move the zoo to a larger space over the next few years.
Known as the Little Zoo that Could, the secret sauce of this attraction is its animal encounters. We paid the $10/person for the lemur encounter and spent about 10 minutes with the lemurs in an enclosure. We've been to numerous zoos and never seen this offered anywhere, so we considered it an extra treat that was worth every cent. For exotic animal lovers, other animal encounters included kangaroos and sloths.