Travel within the U.S.

Welcome to the Redneck Riviera

July 15, 2013
By Barbara Bloom

It’s not as stylish as Saint Tropez, but this Alabama Gulf Coast vacation destination offers stunning beaches and a sweet slice of American pie, Southern style.

Souvenir stores abound on the Redneck Riviera

Souvenir stores abound on the Redneck Riviera and this one
is the granddaddy of them all.

Not what I really had in mind as my dream vacation destination, I reluctantly agreed to take a trip to the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Surviving Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the BP Oil Spill in 2010, this 32-mile stretch of waterfront is known as the “Redneck Riviera” and is the farthest east you can get before crossing the Florida state line. I was stunned to discover that instead of a natural and man-made disaster, this down home “riviera” offers stunning seascapes with  unique sugar white beaches and turquoise blue surf  as breathtaking as what you’ll find at the much pricier “rivieras” in France and Italy.

When I checked into my accommodations at the Regency Isle Condominiums, the weather was fantastic – offering a spectacular vista up and down the shoreline. My spacious two-bedroom, three-bathroom condo sat right on the sand and the view from the balcony provided an intimate connection with the stunning sea.

Redneck Riviera beach

The beach and the weather were beautiful – before the rain started.

I was looking forward to some fun in the sun, but by the next morning, it was pouring and the rainy weather continued throughout the duration of my stay. As Oprah says, “it’s all in your attitude.” I wasn’t about to let the weather rain on my parade, so over the next few days, I discovered some of the best indoor activities the area had to offer (including some I can’t mention here) and ended up enjoying a memorable and unexpected twist to my Gulf Coast getaway.

The people in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are survivors so they refuse to let a rainstorm interfere with their recreational activities. So even though it was raining, determined golfers were out on the fairway. I visited the clubhouse at the Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club to have breakfast and gawked at diehard players outside, teeing-off in the downpour, and noticed I wasn’t the only spectator getting a kick out of watching these fanatics.

National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.

National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.

The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola is just a 30-minute drive from Gulf Shores. The collection of military aircraft on exhibit is top notch. On top of that, the facility is on a naval base so visitors get to experience a real, operating military installation.

I have a strong interest in naval and air force history, so I stopped in to see the impressive USS Alabama Naval Battleship docked in Mobile. They offer a self-guided tour that takes you into the ship’s interior, through a maze of passageways, echoing rooms, steel bulkheads, cargo holds, giant galleys, crewmen’s quarters, the brig (jail cells) and a chapel. The battleship is the same as the USS Missouri — the ship where the Japanese officially surrendered in August of 1945. If you saw the 1995 film Crimson Tide, starring Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, you saw the USS Alabama.

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

Barbara cuddling a “joey” at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.

Later, still battling dreadful raindrops, I ventured out to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, where for a reasonable fee, you can arrange an up-close-and-personal encounter with snakes, monkeys, baby tigers and baby kangaroos. Animal Planet featured this zoo in a 13-week special called “The Little Zoo That Could,” detailing their complicated evacuation during Hurricane Ivan. For those of you who like to get really close to wild animals, this place is great. Personally, I felt like the big cats were eying me like Dom DeLuise does a deviled egg!

Hollis Ole Crush Antique Mall in Foley, Alabama

Rummaging around Hollis Ole Crush Antique Mall in Foley, Alabama.

Another great activity for a rainy day is antiquing. The town of Foley is jam packed with antique shops and is only a few minutes north of Gulf Shores. The store I liked most was Hollis Ole Crush Antique Mall, a small building loaded with artifacts and memorabilia. It was like rummaging through grandma’s attic.

One place not to miss when you’re visiting is a tacky landmark called Souvenir City– I mean this is the Redneck Riviera after all! A fixture since 1956, this store is the size of a Walmart and stocks its shelves with mountains of fun junk such as snow globes, kites, fridge magnets, shells, hats and bumper stickers. Souvenir City is worth a visit as long as you can surrender your inner snob and decide to just soak up some good ‘ole Americana.

Lulu’s at Homeport Gulf Shores, AL

Lulu’s at Homeport, you can count calories with Krispy Kreme donut pudding.

Of course, whether it’s sunny or cloudy, what’s a visit to the Alabama coastline without indulging in the local delicacies? In this part of the Gulf, the most popular fish are Red Snapper, Grouper and Royal Reds. The Royals are deep-water shrimp, fished 40 to 60 miles offshore at a depth of 2,500 feet. If prepared properly, the texture is similar to that of lobster and the taste is more robust than most shrimp because of the higher levels of iodine (don’t worry, it’s good for you).

My favorites:

  • King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant for their West Indies crab salad, Royal Reds, the bread pudding topped with whiskey sauce and their fried cheesecake (as if regular cheesecake wasn’t decadent enough).
  • Nolan’s for their grilled grouper, Greek-style beef tips and their special warm fudge pie.
  • Lulu’s at Homeport (owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister) for the fried green tomatoes, French bread crab melt and their Krispy Kreme donut pudding.

King Neptune’s makes their bread pudding from day-old bread and Lulu’s Krispy Kreme pudding comes from day-old donuts. Both desserts were delicious, but the fact that both establishments brag that their desserts are made from stale starches was even better!

One thing I really liked about Gulf Shores is how the locals are extremely down to earth. In fact, at Lulu’s, a complete stranger walked over to my table, pointed his index finger at my plate and said, “What’s that? Looks good!” That would be considered rude in Los Angeles, but on the Gulf Coast it’s just Redneck Riviera hospitality.

Copyright © Barbara Bloom/2013 Singular Communications, LLC.


Visit / Stay / Dine

Regency Isle Condominiums
Meyer Real Estate
29348 Perdido Beach Blvd.
Orange Beach, AL 36561
(800) 775-8945

National Museum of Naval Aviation
1750 Radford Blvd
Pensacola, FL 32508
(850) 453-2389

Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club
20 Peninsula Blvd
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
(251) 968-8009

USS Alabama Naval Battleship
P.O. Box 65
Mobile, AL 36601
(251) 433-2703

King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant
1137 Gulf Shores Pkwy
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
(251) 968- 5464

Nolan’s Restaurant & Lounge
1121 Gulf Shores Pkwy
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
(251) 948-2111

Lulu’s at Homeport Marina
200 East 25th Avenue
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
(251) 967-5858

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