The town of Gulf Shores anchors the section of Alabama's Gulf Coast that lies east of Mobile Bay. This beautiful strip of snow-white beach rivals Florida's Emerald Coast, and there are several places along the shore that can be enjoyed. Gulf State Park has a resort inn, campsites and cottages, and activities include golf, tennis and fishing (from an 825-ft/252-m pier). Learn about the area by visiting two museums depicting the history of the area, Gulf Shores Museum (phone 251-968-1473) and the Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum (phone 251-981-8545). Nearby Fort Morgan State Historic Site (phone 251-540-5257) preserves what was a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War. The fort was active through World War I and displays an artillery gun from 1918. If you are at Fort Morgan State Park in the spring or fall, take part in bird banding with the Hummer Bird Study Group. Banding takes place on the beach from dawn until midafternoon (phone 205-681-2888; http://www.hummingbirdsplus.org). Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, which includes more than 7,000 acres/2,8330 hectares of territory, has been set aside to preserve the plant and animal life found in the coastal region (phone 251-540-7720. http://www.fws.gov/bonsecour). Follow the extensive nature trails to see hundreds of species of birds, or ride down Gator Lake to see its occupants. Horses can be rented for rides on the beach.
West of Gulf Shores is Dauphin Island (pronounced DOFF-in), Alabama's only barrier island. It's also home to another important Civil War fortress, Fort Gaines. (You can take a half-hour ferry ride across Mobile Bay to travel between Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines on Mobile Bay Ferry. Phone 251-861-3000; http://www.mobilebayferry.com.) There's a re-creation of an 1862 Confederate Christmas at the fort each December. Also on Dauphin Island is the Estuarium, which presents the ecology of the local environment, with interactive exhibits and two dozen tanks holding everything from oysters to octopi and baby alligators (phone 251-861-7500; http://estuarium.disl.org). The area is also a popular place for bird-watching, especially during spring migration. As part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary (164 acres/65 hectares) lists about 345 different species of birds (phone 251-861-3607). Dauphin Island is also a good place to lie back on the beach and catch some rays.
North of Gulf Shores, Daphne is home to the American Sport Museum and Archives (phone 251-626-3303. http://www.asama.org). With more than 1,000 pieces in the collection, it is one of the largest sport art collections in the world. The artists' town of Fairhope (A few miles/kilometers south of Daphne) has a thriving downtown and lots of bed-and-breakfasts. The town draws more than 200 national artists with an annual arts-and-crafts festival in March. Fairhope is also near the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of about two dozen estuaries in the U.S. that are under federal protection. Phone 251-990-5004. http://www.weeksbay.org.
Just a few miles/kilometers south of Fairhope, you'll find Point Clear, best known for its historic Point Clear Marriott Resort, which served as a Confederate Hospital during the Civil War. There is a Confederate cemetery on the grounds, which were used as a training area for the Marines during War World II. The Bay area and Eastern Shore is 275 mi/440 km south of Birmingham.
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