Talk about your bargain vacation! Larry & I only use a credit card when we travel overseas, but we’ve been letting the points pile up for ages. So we took a short trip down to Gulf Shores & used the points we’ve built up on our card to pay for 2 nights in a nice hotel (via Choice Hotels), plus gift cards for dinners at Longhorn’s Steakhouse & Chili’s. Other than gas for the car – which wasn’t much when we’re driving a 50MPG Prius - & a few snacks, we didn’t spend a thing.
If you’re headed to the beach, pick up the free coupon books available at the Gulf Shores Welcome Center on Hwy 59 & the Orange Beach Welcome Center on Perdido Beach Blvd. They include some BOGO (buy 1, get 1 deals) & other good discounts for a number of restaurants + some attractions, as well as a bunch of dinky discounts like 10% off, etc. Rouse’s Market has several good coupons in there too.
We spent our first dollars on homemade peach pecan ice cream at Durbin’s in Clanton on the way down.
My newest discovery was Warehouse Market & Bakery (photo) in Atmore. Talk about fabulous! You can eat there or buy items to take home. The shelves are loaded with Amish products from cheese to baking products. I even found Pennsylvania Birch Beer, a delicious non-alcoholic beverage sort of like root beer (only better).
The next day, we treated ourselves to Hope’s Cheesecake in Gulf Shores.
We also did the grand tour of OWA, the big new amusement park & entertainment center in Orange Beach, and, as non-riders, paid zero for admission. The arcade area had $3 games to win stuff animals, but we passed on those. We did pick up the discount coupon sheet at the ticket booth – it included a BOGO for Auntie Anne’s Pretzels & another for a Crazy Donuts’ entrée donut. Among other choices, Crazy Donuts makes a burger on donuts instead of a regular bun. That’s a little too crazy for me.
If you haven’t been down to The Gulf, the blue stacked container outdoor eatery in Orange Beach just before the bridge over into Florida, you have to put that on your must-see list for a sunset stop. Sofas, chairs & rugs are all over the beach & you’ll have a perfect view of the sunset. If you like root beer, they carry the Abita Springs brand from Louisiana & it’s really good.
Next to the Dollar General on the beach road in Orange Beach is Surf Style’s outlet store with the best deals I’ve found on souvenirs t-shirts, etc.
Another good place to check is Island Thrift on Canal Rd. It’s a thrift store where I’ve picked up several gently used souvenir tees for me & Larry. There are several other thrift stores along Hwy 59 & we’ve found new & used ones at those too.
Hertha’s Second Edition has an upscale consignment shop on Hwy 59 & the tags are dated so that the oldest dates are 75% off Hertha’s regular price. Fairhope & a couple more nearby locations also have Hertha’s stores.
A nice free stop is the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum behind the city hall complex in Orange Beach.
And Fairhope is not too far away & has its own history museum on N. Section St. The city pier (photo) is a great place to visit for sunset views & nighttime strolls. The whole town is picturesque & fun to walk around in when the weather’s not too hot.
En route to Fairhope on Hwy 98 is Weeks Bay Estuarine Research Center with interesting exhibits in the visitors center, a boardwalk out into the wetlands & more. There’s a small admission charge, I think.
You can also turn off to the left & check out the little town of Magnolia Springs, where Jesse's is a fabulous but a tad pricey restaurant in this picturesque place. Rumor has it Fannie Flagg hid out here while writing Fried Green Tomatoes & Winston Groom did likewise while writing Forrest Gump.
And in a different direction, if you’ve never driven over the bridge toward Florida (on the beach road in Orange Beach) the Gulf Shores National Seashore area is a beautiful place to visit.
Guys will particularly enjoy the National Naval Air Museum in Pensacola. Admission is free and it’s a very short drive from Orange Beach.
Coming or going to the beach, you’ve got to stop at Buc-ee’s, the biggest service station you’ve ever laid eyes on. They make their food fresh right there on the spot, including yummy homemade potato chips, BBQ brisket sandwiches, fudge & tons more. There’s no place to eat at Buc-ee’s but nearby there are picnic tables, clean restrooms & more at Honey Bee Park on Hwy 59 in Robertsdale.
If you’re in the Birmingham/Bessemer area & want to make the trip there or home through small towns & backroads, going down you'd take Hwy 5 South to Hwy 28 East to Hwy 21 South – Larry & I actually had a bobcat cross the road in front of us on Hwy 21. Anyway, you’ll come out on I-65 South at Atmore & can take I-65 South from there. Reverse those directions to head home. (Photo - Camden, AL)
And that’s not even a dent in all there is to eat, see & do en route to & around Gulf Shores/Orange Beach. You’ll find more information at www.GulfShores.com, including a calendar of events & special deals.
You can see more information about Gulf Shores/Orange Beach & other spots by clicking the TIPS & TRIPS page, plus see a ton more money-saving & dollar-stretching info.