By E. Nolan

Alabama’s Gulf Shores has a San Diego climate with Iowa prices. How’s that for an opening statement? I’ve advocated strongly for the region the past five years, and snowbirds continue to flock there. What’s more… the locals seldom leave.

A: Once a Best Kept Secret, Alabama’s 32 miles of soft white Gulf Coast sand and accompanying crystal clear-blue waters now have the magnetic pull of the sun, keeping visitors in a constant orbit. When part of your family history involves a Gulf Coast vacation, that history is likely to repeat itself. And if that vacation involved a dining stop at the Sassy Bass Amazin’ Grill or a round of mini-golf at Adventure Island… you know you’re going back there too.

B: Golf Gulf Shores offers a multitude of Stay & Play packages through some of their more flexible house and condo proprietors – like Brett/Robinson. With a plethora of pools, play areas, floor plans and beach access boardwalks, their Bonanza of accommodation options are kind of astonishing.

C: The legendary golfer and course architect, Arnold Palmer, makes his strong presence felt in the Gulf Shores region with a stellar one-two punch at Craft Farms – Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend. For those looking to stay and play at Craft Farms, Foremost Property Management offers vacation rentals at the Cypress Point Condominiums (and the Links Condominiums at Peninsula).

D: A “family favorite” activity on the Gulf Coast is the ferry ride from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan (and/or reverse). Your best bet is to do it on a day when you can visit the USS Alabama in Mobile (read “U” below) and to time it right to make the ferry ride a “sunset cruise” you’ll never forget. Likely with a dolphin escort.

E: A local legend, Earl Stone, designed three notable courses in the Gulf Coast region, including Rock Creek, Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club, and TimberCreek Golf Club in Daphne. I constantly make a case for Rock Creek being the most underrated course in Alabama.

F: You Might need help Finding Florida’s Lost Key. You probably never knew it was missing, but now that Arnold Palmer has renovated it, Lost Key is worth searching for. Hint: It’s not in Alabama. Florida steals so much of the national limelight from Alabama, that most people don’t realize they’re geographically connected – same sun, same beach. Not that Alabama actually minds sharing one of its courses… especially when the word-of-mouth reciprocity brings so many Floridians to the other amazing Gulf Shores courses.

G: Fishing is such a big draw to the Gulf Shores, with dozens of charter companies launching daily expeditions, and the renowned Gulf State Park featuring a gorgeous beach and Fishing Pier that attracts pole wielding dreamers and exaggerators by the thousand.

H: I wish I’d never heard of Hog Wild Beach & BBQ, and wish I’d never seen the table next to me order the “Big T’s Sampler.” Good golly Miss Molly. I also wish I didn’t go back there the very next day. $22 says I repeat the process on my next visit, too.

I: One of the perks of staying at the beachfront Island House Hotel – all rooms on the Gulf with private balconies – is the easy access to the Orange Beach Shrimp Basket. At least, that’s how my wife saw it. My son and I took off for the local Island Wing Company.

J: The Gulf Shores area is downright loaded with eateries. Trip Advisor lists 145 of them. I think their data entry person got tired of typing. Traveling with kids means you’re going to look for pizza at least one night, and Janino’s Pizza was a concierge tip that paid off.

K: The only beachfront resort in Alabama is Kiva Dunes – a luxurious Stay & Play facility with an ingenious Jerry Pate designed golf course that has so many elevation changes below the golf course surface.

L: Golf Gulf Shores promotes the Orange Beach Live Bait franchise whose motto is “Dead Food. Live Music. Live Bait.” The Oyster Bar and Seafood hotspot gets even hotter after dark down the boardwalk at the Live Bait Nightclub. And then there’s Lambert’s, in Foley, the Home of Throwed Rolls. This is my son’s favorite place in the world to eat because they literally throw hot buns (as in bread) at you from across the room – sometimes as far as thirty yards away. Lambert’s is additionally unique in that the appetizer buffet is essentially the entrée.

M: America’s Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, Alabama, not New Orleans, and the “Carnival” is still celebrated in Mobile from November through February each year. If you’re coming down for any portion of the festival, but want to stay on the beach somewhere, Meyer Vacation Rentals claims to have “the best selection of vacation rentals on the Gulf Coast” – with over 1,250 house and condo options.

N: And if you’re Nuts for donuts, or just want a budget breakfast, there are MANY people who consider Orange Beach’s City Donuts the “Best in America.”

O: You can’t have an authentic “A to Z” representation of the Gulf Shore without acknowledging more of Orange Beach’s Diverse Restaurant Scene – specifically Cobalt and Cosmos. Cobalt offers a waterfront dining experience underneath the Perdido Pass Bridge, and Cosmos provides one of the more intriguing palette pleasing menus you’ll find anywhere with dishes like Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish.

P: Earl Stone’s Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club is 27 holes of surprising diversity, considering the seemingly flat land and vanilla name. But this public access loop is the fast track to fun for golfers, and you won’t walk off the course thinking it was either flat or vanilla.

Q: The Question I’m asked most is, “Where do I play if I can only play one round in Gulf Shores?” As a conflicted Arnold Palmer loyalist, but honest writer, my reply is, “Rock Creek.”

R: One of the Top 10 Pleasant Surprises I’ve had in the 308 courses I’ve played in America is Rock Creek. Earl Stone’s genius – on this course in particular – just wowed me, and the coastal accents and views remain vivid in my memory.

S: Three of the region’s most popular full-service resort properties, The Beach Club, Caribe the Resort and Turquoise Place, are managed by Spectrum Resorts, and if a hotel is more to your liking there’s always the Staybridge Suites in Gulf Shores.

T: Tacky Jacks is an eclectic breakfast, lunch and dinner establishment with a longstanding “Best of” reputation… with infinite labels – Best Happy Hour, Overall Bar, Atmosphere, etc. – and with three locations (in Orange Beach, Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores) you’re sure to find a table. The Track in Foley is one of many family entertainment hubs in the region, with mini-golf, bumper rides, and an enormous 3-story wooden go-cart track. And TimberCreek Golf Club is yet another diverse Earl Stone creation – this one teleporting you to the Carolinas for your round, with all the Magnolias, Dogwoods and Loblolly Pines.

U: Okay, so it’s technically in Mobile, a 40-mile drive from Foley, but the USS Alabama is also in Mobile Bay – Gulf Shores’ northern border. You could paddleboard to there. Maybe. Or take the ferry (read “D” above).

V: The newest addition to the Golf Gulf Shores arsenal is the Bruce Devlin/Robert Von Hagge Vista Dunes Course at Glenlakes Golf Club and the accompanying “sporty” Lakes 9-hole course.

W: Kaiser Realty and Wyndham Vacation Rentals are yet another luxurious host choice for visitors looking for a beachfront condo or vacation home.

X: Railroad X-ing. Hey, it works. The old L & N Railroad Depot is now a Museum in Foley, and an ideal stop for a rainy day – particularly if you have Chuggington, Thomas or other train addicted juniors in tow.

Y: Realistically, You are the only thing missing in the Gulf Shores and only YOU can correct that.

Z: Okay, so there are infinite Zip-lines popping up all over the world now in some pretty dramatic places. But if you haven’t been to any of those locations Hummingbird Ziplines is a great virgin run! And if you’ve never been to a zoo… (can’t believe I just wrote that) then the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is legitimately worth your family time – assuming your kids like animals (can’t believe I wrote that either).