Alabama's coastline stretches 60 miles along the Gulf of Mexico from Dauphin Island off the coast of Mobile to the beautiful white sands of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Winter temperatures are mild enough to see most days top out in the 60s or even 70s. While these temps may not inspire a dip in the ocean, there are plenty of accommodations that feature heated indoor and outdoor pools, along with other amenities like hot tubs, saunas, workout facilities, game rooms and more. And winter means ideal weather for outdoor activities like fishing, hiking and biking.
With prices on everything from accommodations to dining are at the lowest of the year, it's the perfect time for a weekend or week-long getaway or even that month- or winter-long retreat you've always thought about. Snowbirds pour into Alabama this time of year from New York, Minnesota, Illinois and most everywhere. Even so, compared to summer crowds, the place is a ghost town.
Monthly rentals for oceanfront condos can run as low as $800, plus many owners and rental agencies discount for renters booking multiple months. The website www.VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner) lists thousands of area properties. Nightly rates at beachfront hotels like Best Western drop to under $60 a night.
Particularly when it comes to monthly rentals, careful price-shopping is imperative. It isn't uncommon to see enormous price differences for identical units in the same building - a recently interviewed snowbird said that he was quoted rates ranging from $950 to $3,100 for the same property's one-bedroom units.
Talk about food! No other time of the year brings such discounts to the area. A sampling of the deals: (1) King Neptune's on Hwy. 59 where lunch specials start at $4.95 and include beverage and dessert; (2) Shucker's Oyster Bar in Orange Beach with $5.99 lunches plus $6.99 Early Bird dinners from 4-7pm; (3) DeSoto's on Gulf Shores' West Beach offering $6.99 lunches; (4) Mikee's in Gulf Shores with 11am-3pm half-price lunch specials every weekday; and (5) Gulf Shores' Papa Rocco's with weekday lunch specials under $6.
Free magazines are everywhere from the welcome centers to grocers and pharmacies; most include coupons that can help you save even more. When you visit any beach area restaurant, inquire about specials before placing your order; many spots don't mention the deals unless you ask.
Bike lanes and bike paths stretch along the flat-as-a-pancake beach road (Hwy. 182) as well as the Fort Morgan Road (Hwy. 180) and most other major roadways, making it possible to ride for leisure or run your errands without ever having to get in your car. Within an easy pedal are grocers, pharmacies, restaurants, variety stores, souvenir shops, libraries, post offices and more. Installing a basket on your bike and taking along a backpack allows you to be prepared to transport any items you may pick up while you're out.
Just north of Gulf Shores is the city of Foley and a massive outlet shopping center. Though known for low prices year-round, winter is the ultimate clearance sale season and your chance to stock up on bargains.
Orange Beach is home to The Wharf, an all-in-one stop with accommodations, shopping, dining and entertainment venues. Included are a 10,000-seat outdoor amphitheater; a 15-screen Rave movie theater; a 210-slip marina; a five-story high Ferris wheel; and loads of specialty shops and eateries.
Other entertainment? For only $5 per person, play unlimited carpet golf at Zooland's course on Hwy. 59 in Gulf Shores. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on Fort Morgan Road (Hwy. 180) offers miles of hiking trails through its varied 7,000-acre landscape. Gulf State Park divides Gulf Shores from Orange Beach and covers over 6,000 acres, including a campground, cabins, cottages, trails, a fishing pier, a picnic area, an interactive Nature Center, two miles of beachfront and a whole lot more.