I turned to my fiancee and said, “I don’t think I belong here.”
The Impulsive Traveler: Details, Gulf Shores, Ala.
Now, I had nothing against Bibles, nor factory outlets, but I’d never seen them together in the same sentence. And, since I’m a lefty Democrat and a Catholic, it made me wonder whether this was the beach for me.
That was 21 years ago. This is the beach for me — and for lots of other people, be they families, students, beer-swilling bubbas or shiraz-sipping sophisticates. And more come all the time, despite the hurricanes and the oil spill. The scents, scenes and sounds of Gulf Shores are a tempting and lively cocktail.
Yup, those ocean scenes you saw on the news during the 2010 BP oil spill are real. Take away the guys in the hazmat suits, and you were looking at some of the prettiest beaches in the country. I like Southern California as much as the next guy, but the gulf’s warmer, the sand’s whiter and you don’t have to elbow your way through baked rollerbladers to get to the ocean.
The oil spill disaster proves the adage: “The only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.” Gulf Shores is enjoying its busiest year ever. Locals say that the oil spill exposure made a lot of people realize that Alabama has a beach, and a big, beautiful one at that.
“Business is up 32 percent from last year,” says Marty Hoffman, co-owner with his brother Johnny of Waves Beach convenience store. “People come in here all the time and tell us they never heard of Gulf Shores till the oil spill. So they come to check it out and now they don’t want to leave.”
I once called Gulf Shores the Jersey Shore of the South, and my wife almost slung a bowl of crawfish gumbo at me. She was offended that I would compare the beaches of her youth to those of Snooki and Pauly D. But in some ways, it’s true. If you’re from Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi or the Midwest, this is your closest, best ocean beach. Like New Jersey, it draws from a wide area — geographically and otherwise. But comparisons probably end there.
There are no kitschy boardwalks. It’s more grits and less guido. The beaches are free. Alcohol and food are permitted. And, for all that’s consumed, the beaches stay pretty clean. Visitors respect the beauty of the place.
Summer is the busiest season. Spring jumps, too. As a Northerner, I find it too hot in the summer. Southerners don’t. Ninety three and humid in Gulf Shores is a lot better than 93 and humid in Birmingham. April is a great month: low humidity, gentle breezes, romantic sunsets, drunk college kids hurling in the back of their F-150s. Okay, that last part isn’t so great, but it’s a fact of life.