Annual events draw festive crowds to Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
By Jeff Atwell
My introduction to Alabama’s Gulf Coast started with beads on the brain. As a recent transplant to the Gulf Coast, I had heard stories about how Mardi Gras lasts for weeks here, and how every community has a special take on the parades and parties that make the event part of the local culture.
We were heading to Dauphin Island for their Mardi Gras parade on a Saturday morning in early February. We took the scenic route through Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, and might have lollygagged a little. We stopped at one point to cheer on joggers in a charity run. We stopped again to grab a coffee and walk along the water. We got to the ferry dock with 15 minutes to spare, but we were not the only ones who thought it’d be fun to take a ferry over to a parade. Turned out we were 10 cars too far back in line. Wait 90 minutes for the next boat, or head back to Gulf Shores? We flipped the car around.
Over lunch at Lulu’s, a bustling spot packed with locals and visitors with a huge patio overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, we chatted up our server and checked online to find an amazing calendar of events here. Sure, we’d come back to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for their Mardi Gras parades and costume balls, but the more we looked, we found events every week that we wanted to attend.
Concerts at the Coast
Top performers come to Alabama’s Gulf Coast year-round. The Amphitheater at the Wharf in Orange Beach sees a lot of action, with Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and Darius Rucker coming up this spring. Major music festivals hit the beach, too. The Hangout Music Festival in May draws 35,000 fans to see 70 bands over three days. My personal favorites The Avett Brothers will be at this year’s festival, along with headliners The Killers and The Black Keys. Later in the summer, Flora-Bama hosts Shindig on the Sand, another huge concert that runs for three days on the beach. Flora-Bama hosts another big draw in November, when the Frank Brown Songwriters’ Festival plays for ten days and ten nights.
The Wharf Boat Show and Bama Coast Cruise bring watersport and car enthusiasts to the Gulf Coast each spring to check out each others amazing gear. Fishing tournaments are big here in the summer. Orange Beach Billfish Classic is a major sport-fishing tournament on the Gulf of Mexico, and pays out big cash to the teams that bring in the biggest fish. At the Blue Marlin Grand Championship, visitors might get to see what a 500-pound marlin looks like. Each spring and fall, birders come to Alabama’s Gulf Coast to spot many species that stop over during annual migrations. And then there are the festivals that celebrate what comes out of the water. Gumbo Fest, Interstate Mullet Toss, Shrimp Festival and the Oyster Cook-off add local flavor to the lineup in coming months.
One week with my feet in the sand, and I’m already catching on. LA means Lower Alabama in these parts. Southern hospitality is for real. Everything revolves around food, music and the beach. And as the group at the table next to us at Lulu’s taught us, it’s not the beads you want to catch at a Mardi Gras parade, it’s the moon pies!
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