A micro-cation can be taken anytime, but many choose to vacation around weekends or holidays to avoid missing much work and to help keep expenses in check.
The Gulf Shores area is a perfect spot for a micro-cation. That’s because it’s an easy drive-to destination from U.S. Interstates 65 and 10. When you turn off one of these interstate highways once in Baldwin County, you can be on the white-sand beach a little more than an hour or so.
Depending on the type of micro-cation focus you’re interested in—adventure, relaxation, exploring nature, shopping, etc.—we thought we’d share some ideas for making the most of your less-than-a-weeklong stay on the Gulf Coast.
AdventureFor adventure lovers, there are numerous ways to get your high-adrenaline fun fix during a vacation to Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, Orange Beach and Perdido Key.
First stop, the beach. But let’s go high during a parasailing excursion. There are several companies that will get you out on the water to enjoy a bird’s eye perspective, with one of the most popular being Ike’s Parasail Trips.
The water sport recreation company specializes in parasailing trips in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. As you soar with the seagulls, you’re likely to see dolphins frolicking and other creatures of the Gulf swimming below.
Ike’s also offers Banana Boat rides and paddle board and kayak rentals.
Another high-flying adventure can be found at The Wharf in Orange Beach, where Hummingbird Ziplines is headquartered.
Here, you’ll find eight ziplines totaling 6,000 feet of excitement. The elevation of the highest tower is 115 feet. You’ll soar at speeds of more than 30 mph during your two-hour tour over pristine bays, the Intracoastal Waterway and through a federally protected wetland. You’ll begin and end your journey at The Wharf.
If you enjoy fishing, bring your boat with you and stay in a boat-friendly rental. Or, plan an excursion on a deep-sea fishing charter. There are boats you can charter for a private trip, or you may join a group of people on a party boat, where you pay per person.
Your typical catch, depending on the time of year, may be redfish, red snapper, black drum, tripletail, speckled trout, croaker, founder, pompano, bluefish and seasonal tarpon.
Numerous restaurants in the area will prepare your catch to your tastes. Or, you may prepare your own in the fully equipped kitchen at your vacation rental. Here are eight favorite restaurants that local residents love that will surprise you.
Check out the thrilling amusement park rides at The Park at OWA. Situated just a few miles north of the beach in Foley, the park features 21 rides that cater to all ages of thrill seekers, midway-style arcade games, a lake, a splash pad and more.
Browse the downtown area at OWA for access to restaurants like Wahlburgers, Groovy Goat, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, C’est Le Vin Win Bar & Shop, Cinnabon, Crazy Donuts, Hershey’s Ice Cream Parlor, Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant, Sushi Co., Trattoria Pizza and Italian Restaurant and more.
RelaxationRelaxation. That’s what a lot of micro-vacationers want to do during a less-than-weeklong stay on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Numerous day spas offer plenty of opportunities for pampering, with one of our favorites located at the Beach Club on Fort Morgan Road. Here, you can enjoy a massage, facial or salon-style services. Spend a couple of hours at the spa or make a day of it with lunch in between multiple relaxation treatments.
This one’s easy. How about relaxing on your private deck or balcony with that book you’ve been meaning to read for months? Grab a cup of coffee, tea or even wine and head outside for a little peace and quiet as you watch the sun rise or set and catch up on your reading.
Be sure to plan a trip to The Wharf in Orange Beach for a ride on the Ferris Wheel. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the beaches, buildings and beautiful natural surroundings. Breathe in that salt air and enjoy the view! After the ride is over, check out the restaurants at The Wharf for dinner.
One of our favorites is Villaggio, where there’s always a fresh catch special on the menu. The wood-fired pizzas are yummy, too, if you’re looking for something a little smaller.
Walk over to Red or White Wine and Gourmet for tapas and a glass (or bottle) of wine. Dine inside or out and enjoy the waterfront views.
Be sure to stop in High Cotton Bath Company during your visit to The Wharf. This adorable shop specializes in customizing high-quality home, pet, bath and body products. Choose from 40 bases and products and 200 fragrances to mix and match to create your perfect combination.
Exploring NatureNature lovers have many options during a micro-cation to the Gulf Coast.
One idea is to bike or hike the backcountry trails in Gulf State Park. There are miles of paved trails set amidst business districts, along waterways, and near the beach.
There is a total of seven trails to explore that will take you throughout six distinct ecosystems. Be sure to see the butterfly garden, the freshwater marshes and the coastal hardwood swamps. You may even see a bobcat on the twin bridges or a white-tailed deer on Gulf Oak Ridge. Alligators are also local residents in this stunningly beautiful, peaceful area.
If you don’t want to bring your bike, rent a bike at Pedego Electric Cycles of Orange Beach. Or, borrow a bike in the state park for the day.
The newly formed Coastal Alabama Back Bay Blueway is a beautiful spot for kayaking and canoeing. There are four trails—Fort Morgan, Little Lagoon, Gulf State Park and Orange Beach—and 21 launch sites.
Be sure to include a visit to the Wind and Water Learning Center during your kayak or canoe trip. The center provides training to people of all ages and skill for paddling and sailing. The center is located on Wolf Bay for easy access to the water.
Another way to explore nature on the water is to board a nature cruise hosted by Cetacean Cruises at The Wharf. The company features a two-hour dolphin and nature eco tour to observe dolphins and native birds such as osprey, herons, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks. You might even see an alligator or two. Another touring option is a sunset cruise and even private sailing cruises.
A visit to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge near Fort Morgan is another must-do for nature lovers taking a micro-cation.
The refuge is home to more than 360 different species of birds, with spring and fall being a perfect time to view migratory bird populations as they travel between their breeding and wintering grounds.
Endangered and threatened species also call the refuge home, such as the Snowy Plover, loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, and the Alabama Beach Mouse.
In Perdido Key, visit Big Lagoon State Park, one of the best spots in the area to fish, hike, kayak or take pictures. Here, you can fish off the dock while watching boats pass by under the bridge; hike the nature trail with more than five miles to roam; or enjoy a picnic under the pavilions.
Tarklin Bayou Preserve State Park is home to four species of endangered pitcher plants, including the carnivorous white-top pitcher plant that can be found only between the Apalachicola and Mississippi rivers. A boardwalk offers a view of the bayou.
The beaches in Perdido Key make a peaceful environment for hunting sand crabs, quiet walks in the early morning, or moonlit walks in the evening.
Get close to exotic animals at the Gulf Coast Zoo, which has relocated to a larger site north of the Intracoastal Canal Waterway, just a few miles north of Gulf Shores beaches. Enjoy animal presentations, up-close encounters, a meal at the on-site restaurant, and browsing at your leisure.
ShoppingWhether you need to shop for school clothes, Christmas gifts, or maybe you just want to update your wardrobe with a few of the latest fashions, this area is a mecca for shoppers.
Tanger Outlets in Foley is home to more than 100 stores, ranging from Ann Taylor and American Eagle/Aerie to Zales The Diamond Store Outlet and Zumiez (and so many more in between).
The Tanger Factory Outlet Center is one of the top attractions in the state of Alabama and is a bargain hunter’s dream come true.
The Wharf in Orange Beach is a great spot to browse the latest in casual coastal fashions. Whether you’re looking for some cute sandals, swimwear, a Tommy Bahama shirt, or décor to give a beach vibe to your design back home, the Wharf is a great place to shop, dine and be entertained. You can even see the latest movie at the AMC Classic Wharf 15 Theater, purchase a piece of homemade fudge at a candy shop and bakery, or enjoy a steaming mug of coffee at Southern Grind.
If you like to shop for fresh seafood, you have plenty of options, including Billy’s Seafood in rustic, quaint Bon Secour, Ala., which is a few miles north of Gulf Shores. Billy and his crew unload fresh fish and shrimp off the fishing boats daily and meet the needs of retail and wholesale customers throughout the region. They’ll even ship the bounty home for you packed in a cooler.
When you’re in the mood to shop for art, visit the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach. Here, you’ll enjoy the scenic Wolf Bay view from the stunning 10,000-square-foot art gallery that displays works by Gulf Coast artists. The on-site Hot Shop and Clay Studio offer classes to learn how to make your own works of art. A gift shop area features original unique items by local and regional artists.
This area is also known for its antiques finds. There are antiques shops throughout Baldwin County where you may uncover that unique piece of jewelry or fascinating piece of furniture you’ve been looking for.
If you only have a few days for a vacation, it’s good to embrace the options. There are many fun ways to fill your days and nights that will give you a glimpse into the various stories and places that comprise the very best of the Gulf Coast.
Stay in a one- or two-bedroom condo if it’s just you and a few friends. If you are searching for a budget-friendly option for your Gulf Coast adventures, we have plenty of off-beach/near-all-the-fun condo and house options.