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Snapshot: Orange Beach, Alabama

Snapshot: Orange Beach, Alabama
Written by Lia Grabowski West | Photo by Todd Douglas

Beach Town Rebound

A waterfront town of about five thousand people, Orange Beach is the last stop on Alabama’s Gulf Coast before Florida. It’s long been a family-friendly destination for those looking to get out on the water, but the town spent 2020 being pummeled by hurricanes and tropical storms that relentlessly hit the Gulf. Still, the tight-knit community came together, helping clean up debris and holding fundraisers for local families and nonprofits like the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in nearby Gulf Shores. This year, Orange Beach is ready for a comeback. The annual Orange Beach Festival of Art is back—with COVID-19 precautions like hand sanitizing stations and mask mandates in effect. There are new restaurants on the horizon, including a new beachfront complex from the owners of the iconic Flora-Bama Bar & Grill. And, of course, the beaches are back and ready for brighter days ahead. 

RISE AND SHINE

Start the day off right with housemade treats and locally roasted java from Buzzcatz. Each day brings unique breakfast specials––Flap Jack Monday, Tortilla Tuesday, French Toast Friday. Or step back in time and tuck into a classic breakfast at Sunliner Diner, a 1950s-style joint in neighboring Gulf Shores. 

GRAB A BITE

When in Alabama, barbecue is a must. Moe’s Original Bar B Que started with three students who met at the University of Alabama and learned the ways of fire-roasted meat under the direction of Tuscaloosa barbecue legend Moses Day. Today, they’ve got dozens of locations across the country, but it all started in Alabama. Smoked wings and white sauce––that’s all you need to know.

Spend an afternoon wandering Orange Beach’s shopping and dining destination, the Wharf. Your first stop? The outpost of Appalachian moonshine maker Kentucky Mist Distillery to grab a cocktail or slushy to fuel your exploration—the Wharf is an “entertainment district,” which means you can sip and shop. 

PULL UP A CHAIR

There are dozens of seafood restaurants to choose from in town, but your best bet is the duo at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina. The casual Dockside is perfect for sitting outside with a pound of peel-and-eat shrimp and a cold beer. For more refined dining, the white-tablecloth Upstairs is the place to be. Chef Bill Briand specializes in regional delicacies, from fried Louisiana frog legs to rabbit over Mississippi blue rice, but the fresh fish of the day—pulled straight from the Gulf—is the star of the show.

For an upscale evening, there’s Voyagers at Perdido Beach Resort. The kitchen is helmed by Brody Olive, an Alabama native who cut his teeth in Birmingham with chef George Reis before opening a handful of Gulf Coast spots. While the dry-aged prime rib and red curry roasted swordfish may catch your eye, keep an open mind about the meatloaf—made with Wagyu beef and served with boursin mashed potatoes, it’s nothing like mom used to make. 

ALWAYS A PARTY

Lest you forget you’re on the Florida-Alabama border, no Orange Beach trip is complete without a jaunt to the Flora-Bama Bar & Grill. Billed as the most famous beach bar in the country, it sits right on the state line and started as a roadside package store between the once-dry Baldwin County, Alabama, and alcohol-friendly Escambia County, Florida. Today, it’s got several beachfront bars to keep you quenched—and there’s still a liquor store on site if you need to stock up.

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