While Alabama’s shoreline may not be the very first place that pops into mind when planning for a winter getaway, it’s actually one of the most popular snowbird destinations in the country, featuring over thirty-two miles of white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise waters all along the Gulf Coast. This mild weathered state carefully combines a tropical year round climate with good old Southern hospitality-- all with a fraction of the crowds generally found in neighboring states such as Florida. It’s certainly the ideal spot to relax and soak up some sun, as well as to trek through a bunch of endless hiking trails, canoe through numerous waterways, and to engage in some nonstop golfing at the array of top-notch courses available all throughout.
So while those cold weather months can often become extremely brutal, make a change this year by heading down to this southeastern U.S. state, where retirees of all sorts flock to each year in order to bask in the glories of warm winter weather. Plus, the region is known to boast a number of terrific RV camping stops—not to mention some of the freshest seafood along the Gulf Coast! Get on going to the Yellowhammer State by visiting one of these top spots. Here are the five best destinations in Alabama for snowbirds.
Alabama's Best Snowbird Destinations
Located on the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the southernmost town in Alabama, with a permanent population of around 10,000, but plenty of day trippers and tourists hanging about during both summer and winter months as well. With pristine, easy-to-access white sand beaches, preserved natural areas, and always-fresh local seafood (especially at the infamous Original Oyster House, which has been serving the area for over thirty years with hand-shucked and fire-grilled oysters, as well as some legendary homemade gumbo!), the shores of this Baldwin County city are an unsurprisingly ideal place to relax and get a nice taste of the American South.
Golfers can unite together to play at one of the area's top-rated golf courses, Craft Farms and Kiva Dunes, while outdoors enthusiasts can choose to fish, kayak, bike, hike, or even to try out some awesome zip line courses stretching over Gulf State Park. Live music fans will even get a kick out of the annual Hangout Music Festival, a huge three-day event that takes place on the beach each May. There really is something for every snowbird in this small beach town!
Gulf Shores is incredibly close by to Gulf Shores is another snowbird favorite, Orange Beach, where dozens of even more fine dining-- ranging from upscale, modern American cuisine to more casual Southern comfort food-- line the streets of this coastal town. Seafood, of course, is also a prominent part of the dining scene here, so get ready to peel some shrimp and slurp on some fresh Gulf oysters after checking into the area’s more than lively local snowbird community.
Retirees of all kinds can be found at this (other) beachy Alabama favorite, which just so happens to host Orange Beach’s Snowbird Fest every January. It’s no doubt a town that loves catering to snowbirds, offering accommodations such as group snowbird dining events and weekly snowbird club meetings at hotspots such as Hazel’s. The casual and laid back vibe furthers the area’s relaxing appeal--- it’s also full of outdoors activities to participate in, especially for those fisherman out there.
As one of the largest recreational charter boat fleets on the northern Gulf Coast, Orange Beach features one of the most expansive artificial reef programs in the country, not to mention one of the longest fishing piers in the area at the Gulf State Park Pier. It’s a more than popular spot for fishers who come from all over the world to reel in endless schools of mighty red snapper, Spanish mackerel, grouper, and marlin. What’s more is that there's inland fishing, as well as kayaking in the bays and waterways that crisscross the area. Adventure awaits, mateys!
Gulf Shore’s and Orange Beach’s closest airport: Pensacola International Airport
Get ready to dance the night away at the home of the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. Situated on the Causeway between Mobile and Spanish Fort, it’s the ideal spot for Alabama-bound snowbirds hoping to learn about the history of the Deep South. Do some city exploring of World War II battleships, submarines, and fighter planes at the USS Battleship Memorial Park, or trek on over to the historic district to browse through 90,000 artifacts at the History Museum of Mobile. Learn about the history of Mardi Gras at the Mobile Carnival Museum, or learn about Africatown at the National African American Archives and Museum. The grandkids will also have a fantastic time at the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, where almost two hundred hands-on science activities will keep them busy for hours. There’s even an IMAX theater to go to!
What’s more is that after working up an appetite after all that adventuring, you and the munchkins can end the day by grabbing a nice and fresh seafood meal at the Mobile branch of the Original Oyster House. It’s got the same sort of vintage seafood house charm as its sibling in Gulf Shores—not to mention an even more fantastic salad bar! Savor a hot, steaming bowl of seafood gumbo, oysters on the half shell, po'boys, crab claws, and so much more. It’s Cajun and Southern cooking at its very best. Yum indeed.
Mobile’s closest airport: Mobile Regional Airport
Situated on bluffs overlooking the Mobile Bay and lined with Spanish moss-draped trees, this Baldwin County city has an abundance of natural beauty, as well as a nice array of boutiques, art galleries, and panoramic coastal and cliffside views to enjoy. History pours into almost every nook and cranny of this southern Alabama town, which even to this day, manages to prosper by maintaining a “cooperative” community spirit, as residents continue to pay annual dues (and jointly own the town's land) instead of property taxes to keep things running smoothly—a tradition that’s been in the works since Fairhope’s 1894 founding. There’s truly a bohemian sort of mindset in this antiquated little town, where volunteerism is widespread and artistry is always abound, making it the perfect spot for eclectic and creative snowbirds wanting to settle down in a region that’s synonymous with names like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
Artists from Jimmy Buffett and Fannie Flagg, to Andy Andrews and Winston "Forrest Gump" Groom have all called Fairhope their home. Plus, with dozens of galleries, studios, and antique shops lining the streets, as well as a monthly town art walk where residents can sample art, hors d'oeurvres, and live music, the town is a culture-rich hub that’s filled with an ever-vibrant literary and musical legacy like no other. Adventure lovers and RVers will equally enjoy the ample amounts of outdoor opportunities available as well, including hiking, biking, canoeing, and birding. This is really is any retirees’ dream destination!
Fairhope’s closest airport: Mobile Regional Airport
This one’s a popular spot for military retirees, especially those who have had the pleasure of visiting the community at one point or another in their careers. It also happens to be a hub for techies, since it has one of the highest concentrations of PhDs in the nation and is often seen as a southern version of the Silicon Valley. Needless to say, this Madison County snowbird favorite blends an interesting array of high tech culture with southern hospitality, as well as a plethora of outdoor activities that are available to nature lovers hoping to explore the nearby foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
With miles upon miles of hiking and biking trails, ample boating options a bit further south of town at Tennessee River, and seven world-renowned golfing spaces including the famous Hampton Cove courses (which are part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail) retirees of all sorts will for sure fall in love with this ever-thriving North Alabama community. Plus, Huntsville also plays host to spectacular quality medical care, a lower than average cost of living, as well as the state's oldest symphony orchestra. It’s the ultimate way to experience music and magnificence in the heart of the Tennessee Valley.
Huntsville’s closest airport: Huntsville International Airport
It may be first and foremost a university town—not to mention one that lives for its football team (the Auburn University Tigers)-- but with mild winters and toasty summers, Eastern Alabama’s largest city is also an ideal place for snowbirds, especially since it’s got a much lower than average cost of living than other similar towns. Due to the presence of the college, retired residents have full access to the school's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, as well as other fabulous cultural amenities. For art lovers, there's the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, which is home to a permanent collection of American and European Art, as well as a plethora of city-wide festivals such as Auburn CityFest (an outdoor spring arts festival attracting more than 10,000 visitors) and On the Tracks (a series of mini food festivals in the spring and fall where local restaurateurs offer samplings of their best food and wine).
Plus, with a full city block dedicated solely to its 86,000-seat, always-orange-shirt-filled football stadium, the town’s constantly vibrant and buzzing with lots things to do and events to attend. It’s even been ranked as a top golf city in America by Golf Digest, as it is home to the renowned Grand National Golf courses surrounding the 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee, the Ward Northrup-designed Auburn Links course sitting along the picturesque Parkerson Mill Creek, as well as Indian Pines, another 18-hole golfer’s dream featuring an island green in the middle of the lake.
Auburn’s closest airport: Columbus Metropolitan Airport
This article was written by Pamela Chan.