Boiled, fried, baked, grilled, blackened, stir-fried, or sautéed, no matter how they are prepared, we love fresh shrimp.
Freshly caught shrimp is one reason why we find the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, shrimply irresistible.
Another is that this coastal community nestled between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, offers 32 miles of stunning beachfront beside the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Attend the National Shrimp Festival
Our favorite time to visit is in the fall, when temperatures are a bit cooler, crowds are thinner, and many accommodations offer reduced rates. That’s also when the National Shrimp Festival is held.
Always the second full weekend in October, this year, 2019, marks the 48th annual National Shrimp Festival. This free crustacean celebration runs from Thursday through Sunday, attracting some 300,000 attendees who love fresh shrimp. Bring an appetite to savor the shrimp cooked by local and regional vendors. Every day, local chefs prepare 10,000 pounds, sharing free samples of their award-winning recipes at select times.
This beachside, family-friendly festival is accompanied by 100 hours of live music with performances ranging from zydeco to Motown. Additional activities include the Little Miss Shrimp pageant, high school singers competing for scholarships, games for kids, 5K and 10K races, and a sand sculpture contest. The boardwalk is lined with 200 booths manned by artists selling their creations.
Sample delicious fresh shrimp at local restaurants
If you miss the shrimp festival, don’t worry. Mouth-watering gulf-caught shrimp is on the menu at dozens of area restaurants.
Here are some of our favorites:
Cosmo’s Restaurant & Bar
For a decade, Cosmo’s has served scrumptious food in a casual setting. Its firecracker shrimp—lightly fried and tossed in a spicy remoulade sauce—has just the perfect amount of zing. Another delightful dish is the shrimp, crab, and andouille noodles, served with sweet peppers, red onions, and tomatoes. Before you leave, walk across the deck to Maggie’s Bottle & ‘Tail—a fun shop with gifts for humans and dogs.
Always lively, Lulu’s owner is Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy. The massive restaurant draws the crowds and caters to kids with a three-story tall climbing ropes course (opened at select hours for a fee), a beach arcade, and a sandy surface where they can play. Check the website calendar to see who is performing daily live music. A variety of menus cater to those with allergies and other food choices such as vegan.
When we want a simple dish, the peel and eat shrimp is our go-to choice. The main menu includes a nice selection of side dishes from seasonal fruit and black beans to Gouda grits and Jalapeño hushpuppies. Celebrating 20 years, Lulu’s party atmosphere with waterfront views is a Gulf Shores tradition
GTs on the Bay
Located in Orange Beach, patrons can sit on GTs outside deck or inside and see Wolf Bay. A huge fish pond in the dining room fascinates the kids while you wait for the meal. On a hot day, we recommend a shrimp cocktail. Another Southern fav is the shrimp po-boy lightly fried and served on a toasted French bread with lettuce and tomato.
On several visits, we’ve rented a condo at the Beach Club Resort & Spa, sited on a private beach spanning five football fields. Those who haven’t stayed here might not know about Coast Restaurant—an upscale establishment with gulf views and a veranda, located just down the road from Fort Morgan (It’s wise to make a dinner reservation, before exploring the historic ruins).
Start the evening with a cocktail and enjoy the sunset. Order one of the house specialties—blackened shrimp and Adluh Mills stone-ground grits served with roasted corn and tasso cream. Don’t leave Alabama without trying the local delicacy—Royal Reds. The rich deep-water shrimp are steamed and come with fire-roasted corn, new potatoes, coleslaw, and cheddar dill biscuits.
For a fine dining experience, Villaggio, at the Wharf, offers an Italian-infused menu with delicious shrimp selections. We met a friend for dinner and everyone shared. The thin-crust, shrimp and crawfish wood-fired pizza, with spinach, bell peppers, and prosciutto cream is fantastic. The honey truffle shrimp served over roasted tomato risotto and broccolini was a hit with everyone at our table.
Go early and do a bit of shopping at the Wharf, a retail/entertainment center in Orange Beach. The home goods and accessories at Bungalows make great mementos of your trip. How about a natural jute tote with an oversized rope tassel? During our dinner, we watched Spectra a choreographed light and sound show on the grounds. Check the Wharf’s website for the schedule.
Room with a view
The lobby of the recently opened, 350-room Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel in Gulf Shores, provides stunning views of sugar-white dunes and green Gulf waters. Designed to connect visitors with nature, the beachfront resort embraces sustainability.
Two pedestrian bridges provide easy access to the park’s 28 miles of hiking and biking trails. Signage along the 20-foot-wide Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier, the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico, describes native birds, fish, and wildlife.
We had a wheelchair-accessible balcony beach-view room. Other guest rooms faced the state park or a lake, but each of the hotel’s second through fifth floors has a covered patio, where guests can relax in a hammock or chairs and see the gulf.
One of our favorite spots to watch the sunset is from the hotel’s restaurant, Perch. The covered outdoor terrace faces the beach. Open only for dinner, the menu includes New Orleans BBQ shrimp served with a French baguette.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- While Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are known to be a family-friendly destination, the area is equally ideal for couples or for a girlfriends getaway.
- Nature lovers will find a wide range of activities from guided tours and kayaking to bird-watching and fishing. If you stay at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, all of these attractions are literally steps away.
- The Lodge at Gulf State Park has 13 wheelchair-accessible guest rooms; four with roll-in showers. A wheelchair-accessible ramp descends from the hotel to the beach. Beach wheelchair rentals are available from several local vendors.
- Summer is the peak season and draws the crowds. For a more relaxed visit, consider fall or spring.
- The two major airports are Mobile Regional and Pensacola International. Each is approximately an hour from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. You’ll want to rent a car to get around these beach communities.
IF YOU GO
While in Alabama, don’t miss A Grand Getaway in Alabama with a historic past
Disclosure: Portions of the authors’ stay were hosted by Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.
Photo credits: All images by Jim Twardowski except the National Shrimp Festival, which was provided by the CVB, and the Lodge at Gulf State Park, which was provided by Hilton.
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