22 July 2016
Weekending it in the Redneck Riviera
The Gulf of Mexico is beautiful--fine white sand, moderate waves, warm ocean water--but prices vary depending on where you choose to dwell while you are visiting. Traveling to Mexico is disproportionately dangerous, at least until they figure out how to wrestle political control away from the drug cartels. Louisiana's beaches basically don't exist, Central and South Florida is where everybody goes, and Texas and Mississippi are, well, Texas and Mississippi. Your best bet for a luxurious vacation on the cheap is to visit the magical land affectionately known as the "Redneck Riviera" on the north end of the Gulf. Pensacola, Florida is the nearest airport, and from there you can drive West into Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama along scenic Highway 292 and enjoy the views on either side--the Gulf to the South and Perdido Key to the North.
There are only so many days of digging sand out of everywhere and avoiding the careening traffic coming out of Surf Style shops a person can stand, but a weekend is a perfect amount of time to soak up the sun, do some swimming, and eat super-fresh seafood.
Lodging: In both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores you will find more vacation rentals than you can shake the proverbial stick at, but we stayed at the ridiculously luxurious Turquoise Place, where every bedroom had its own private bath and balcony access to great views, the kitchen was appropriate for filming a cooking show (like, fancier than PBS), and you were on the beach as soon as you rolled your lazy ass out of the lobby. If you don't like salt water, however, you could take advantage of a number of pools, hot tubs, saunas, and this magical creation called a "lazy river" (see above) right in the complex.
There are also cabin rentals further West at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores (referenced below in "activities").
Activities: Besides being a beach bum, there's paragliding, dolphin watching, chartered fishing, and water ski rentals at your disposal. There are planes flying overhead advertising all of the touristy services on banners all day (tacky, yes, but no worse than anywhere else in the aforementioned states), so just pull over and get out your cell phone.
There are also some great water activities as well as hiking and nature observations to be made at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. Cabin rentals are available but in short supply, so plan ahead if you want to experience a simpler living style on your trip.
Dining: You'll find a whole lot of fried food shacks along Hwy 292 near the beach, Sea N Suds being a local favorite, but if you want fresh oysters, crawfish, and shrimp, may I suggest:
Shux in Pensacola, which serves plenty of fried as well as fresh seafood. I loved both the raw and grilled oysters and the seafood stuffed potato skins. The grits with crawfish remoulade were also delicious.
City Donut: They do not serve seafood here (at least I hope not), but you have to have donuts, right?
Rouses: Rouses is merely a popular grocery store chain down here, but the incredibly fresh, and affordable, raw oysters and cooked crawfish were at least as good as any restaurant, but maybe even tastier eaten in our fancy kitchen at Turquoise Place.