Home to fine white sand, warm southern hospitality and even warmer blue waters, this sliver by the sea is a surprising destination for affordable and environmentally friendly travel.
Visitors and residents of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are an environmentally sensitive lot, committed to preserving the natural wonders that make these Alabama beach towns unique among coastal communities. And by doing a bit of homework and making informed choices, your commitment to living a greener lifestyle can extend to your Gulf Coast vacation, too.
Start by choosing the type of vacation you're after. Whether it's a back-to-nature camping trip or a luxurious stay in a deluxe resort, locally-owned and eco-conscious accommodations are plentiful and include beach rentals, hotels, condos, resorts, campgrounds, RV parks, and bed-and-breakfast inns. Property managers here are heavily invested in the community, supporting projects like Coastal Cleanup and the Clean Coast Partnership that benefit the region's residents and economy. When making your reservations, ask about sustainable practices like recycling and energy and water conservation, and then do your part to conserve the environment once you're here. The 22nd annual Coastal Cleanup will be held in September, and is a terrific opportunity for locals and visitors to show their commitment to the Gulf Coast's unique and treasured waterway system.
It's simple and eco-friendly to begin your island discovery on foot, bicycle, or boat. From the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail in Orange Beach - newly recognized as a prestigious National Recreation Trail - to the earthen, asphalt, and boardwalk paths within Gulf State Park and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, there are plenty of opportunities for exploring wildlife habitats and ecosystems.
While nature is on your mind, cool off on a dolphin cruise and watch these gentle marine mammals frolic alongside your boat. Or, get up close and personal with lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, and birds at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Then make time to visit alligators rescued from dangerous or unnatural conditions at Alligator Alley. By respecting the natural environment, following designated trails, and supporting conservation efforts at parks, wildlife refuges, and protected sites, you're doing your part to sustain valuable coastal resources.
Originally a series of small fishing villages, coastal Alabama's agricultural and maritime heritage remains strong. Home to one of the Gulf's largest charter fishing fleets, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are committed to sustainable fishing practices, meaning you can feel good about netting and consuming your catch. Some restaurants will even cook it up for you - just call ahead. Restaurants thrive on locally-sourced seafood, and chefs are known for supporting area farmers who harvest everything from organically-grown fruits and vegetables to responsibly-produced milk, cheese, eggs, and meats. Aside from the obvious health benefits, eating locally eliminates the need to transport food from faraway places to your plate.
Indeed, eating in local restaurants, shopping in local stores, patronizing local attractions, and attending local events go a long way toward greening your vacation. So, consider a day trip or two to some of the area's abundant ecological attractions. Begin your journey with a fuel-saving ferry ride from Fort Morgan across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island, home to an Audubon Bird Sanctuary and Alabama's primary marine education and research center, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Estuarium public aquarium. Then head north toward genteel Mobile and the 65 acres of flora and fauna that make up Bellingrath Gardens and Home. Travel along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to 5 Rivers - Alabama's Delta Resource Center and the state's newest facility for outdoor recreation, conservation, and land stewardship.
The road back to the coast is studded with shops featuring antiques from all over the world - the ultimate in recycling. And don't miss the farmers markets and u-pick fruit and vegetable farms. But before heading home, stop by Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, an important site of scientific research on estuarine ecology and a public resource for learning about coastal habitats. And garden lovers shouldn't miss Biophilia Nature Center, an ecological restoration project, native nursery, and bookstore in rural Elberta.
Whew! Tired yet? Bet you didn't know coastal Alabama was so rich in ecological treasures. The truth is, living responsibly and harmoniously with nature is the essence of beach living. One visit and you'll see - it really is easy being green on the Alabama Gulf Coast.