When I flew into the Pensacola, Florida airport late one night for a 4-day trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, I didn’t know how far of a drive to get to the Gulf Shores Plantation Resort on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, where I was staying.

As I neared my condo after a 40 minute or so trip, I knew we were getting close when there was nothing but ocean on either side of the peninsula. My spacious condo, which could have actually slept two adults in the master bedroom and two children in a built in bunk bed setup in the apartment’s hallway, overlooked the beach and ocean.

The first thing I wanted to do was step out onto my balcony and breathe the sea air. As a landlocked Midwesterner, it isn’t often I get to visit the ocean. I could hear the waves crashing on the shore and the night was comfortable enough and I felt safe enough on the 4th floor to leave the balcony door open. People actually pay a lot of money to hear that sound recorded and I yearned to fall asleep to the ocean.

The only thing I’ve found a little disconcerting on the Gulf is looking into what is supposed to be a dark horizon beyond the ocean and instead seeing a sea of lights, resembling tiny cities. These are, of course, either oil or natural gas platforms.

I awoke to those waves and sweet sea air with the sun rising over the sandy white beaches. By the time I made it to my deck, there were already guests filing to the beach chairs, which can be rented for a day of lounging in the sun. My fully equipped kitchen would have allowed me to make my own coffee, but there was a coffee shop on the resort’s grounds, so I chose to completely indulge myself for my stay.

On my first day, my tour of the area took me to Magnolia Springs, more reminiscent of the Alabama portrayed in “Forrest Gump, with sweet magnolia trees shading the main street and an old fashioned general store still in operation.

If you aren’t looking for a beach resort, Magnolia Springs Bed and Breakfast would be the place to be. Owner David Worthington can provide all of the southern hospitality you want and the large front porch is a great place to relax and maybe finish a book.  At the end of town, there is a fishing dock on the Alabama Coastal Waterway, where, if you’re lucky, you will run into the nation’s only postal carrier that delivers the mail by boat. 

As the daughter of a car inspector for the Santa Fe Railroad, I was excited to visit the Foley Alabama Railroad Museum and L&N Train Depot. Among other things of interest to a railroad enthusiast, or children, is a huge model train with a complete miniature city. It took at least an hour just to take in all of the sights in the intricate little model town.

It’s hard for me to say which of the water adventures over the course of my stay in the Gulf Coast region was the most exciting. I kayaked for the first time, along the waters of Grahams Creek, using the guide services from the Fair Hope Boat Company. The water of the creek, which empties into the Gulf were truly tranquil and full of birds and other wildlife that inhabit the region.

I also took a cruise with Sailaway Charters, along Longs Bayou and Wolf Bay, learning about oystering techniques, crabbing and shrimping.  My final foray into the Gulf of Mexico was with Cetacean Cruises to see if we could spot some dolphins. I was worried that these cruises might try to run down these majestic creatures just to satisfy their customer’s desire to capture them on film, but I needn’t be worried.

Our captain on this cruise, Bill Mitchell, is very respectful of the dolphin pods and was careful not to disturb them. As a result, he believes, he these smart creatures know his boat and are more trusting and playful when they see him coming. The mothers and their calves gave us an especially great show jumping and blowing water through their air holes.

Another thing I was mindful of while on this adventure to the Gulf was that it had only been two years since the disastrous oil spill. As a seafood lover, I wondered if the fare could be trusted and if so, had it affected the taste.

Again, unfounded fears, as I ate seafood the entire time I was on the trip, even giving oysters, which I didn’t previously like, another chance. No matter if I was enjoying a leisurely Po-Boy sandwich lunch at Wolf Bay Lodge, sushi at The Tin Top Oyster Bar, a feast of crab, oysters and shrimp in a party-like atmosphere at The Hangout or chatting up the owners while eating the King’s Seafood Casserole at King Neptune’s (don’t let the looks fool you, this is an awesome restaurant), the delicacies from the sea were delicious.

The only thing that made me sad on this trip was that my husband didn’t get to accompany me and enjoy this piece of paradise on the Gulf of Mexico, but it is a good reason to go back.