Pristine sandy beaches and beautiful sunsets are two of the things Dauphin Island, Alabama, is best known for, but there’s a lot more to discover both on and off the island. Whether you’re looking for beachfront vacation rentals on Dauphin Island or prefer to stay a little more inland, there are plenty of options around this part of the Gulf.

1. Dauphin Island

The town of Dauphin Island is the only community on the actual barrier island. It’s a small town with only about 1,300 permanent residents, although there are plenty of seasonal residents and visitors throughout the year. Most shops and restaurants are locally owned for a unique character. Condos make up most of the vacation rentals here, although there are usually some single-family homes available.

2. Bayou La Batre

If you’re a seafood aficionado, Bayou La Batre may be the place to stay. This quaint little village relies heavily on the fishing industry, so it’s full of seafood restaurants and markets, and it has a strong shipbuilding industry, which can lead to some fascinating sights as newly built ships are moved to the water. The culture has a fairly heavy French influence, which sets it apart from many other towns in the area. Although it can feel like another world, Bayou La Batre is only about 20 minutes from Dauphin Island.

3. Coden

Coden offers a blend of country life and easy access to the Gulf. This unincorporated area is spread out and rural, so expect to see plenty of large fields and lush wooded areas. Like most of the region, ponds and streams dot the area. Coden itself doesn’t have many businesses, but it’s just outside of Bayou La Batre and about 15 minutes from Dauphin Island.

4. Heron Bay

Named after the bay on which it sits, this unincorporated community is popular among fishermen due to its calm, shallow waters and abundance of fish. Although there are some commercial boats fishing in the bay, it has a reputation as a quiet, low-key spot that attracts many kayakers and paddlers. There is a mix of larger luxury homes and condos along with older, more traditional homes available as vacation rentals in Heron Bay, along with a few restaurants and shops.

5. Alabama Port

So close to the sea that even the playgrounds have excellent ocean views, Alabama Port is a great place to look for an affordable waterfront house. Although there are a few condos catering to tourists, many vacation rentals in this area are single-family homes with yards, so it can be a great place to stay with young kids. If you can’t find a place to stay with its own ocean view, look for one within walking distance of Bayfront Park, a playground and picnic area right on the water.

6. Mon Louis

Named after the island on which it sits, this small community is situated about 20 minutes north of Dauphin Island right on the scenic Dauphin Island Parkway, which runs along the coast. Mon Louis has a fairly strong Creole culture, which flavors everything from the local accent to the delicious food. Between the river and the ocean, it’s also surrounded by water on three sides so there are numerous places with lovely views.

7. Irvington

This charming community lies a bit inland, but it’s still just a short drive to the beach. Irvington is also conveniently located on U.S. Route 90 and very close to I-10, so you can easily head out to explore other nearby areas. Vacation rentals in this area are diverse, although most are single-family homes. They can range in size from cute one-bedroom cottages and family-sized brick homes to sprawling plantation-style mansions.

8. Tillmans Corner

With both Route 90 and I-10 running through the heart of it and Mobile just minutes away, Tillmans Corner is a great place to stay if you want to explore the region while still enjoying a slow-paced southern atmosphere. Its convenient location makes it a popular choice for vacationers and people just staying through, so there’s a diverse mix of locally owned and chain restaurants and stores.

9. Mobile

This thriving port city is a popular destination in its own right. The colorful buildings, friendly atmosphere and numerous events and attractions draw visitors from all over the country. If you’d like to spend as much time watching world-class entertainment and exploring art galleries as you do lying on the beach and fishing, look for a vacation rental in Mobile.

10. Union Church

This upscale community is full of sprawling houses and large lots, so it’s a great place to look for a vacation rental if you want a luxury house with room to spread out. It’s one of the wealthier communities in the area, although plenty of middle-class families live here as well. Although it’s fairly far inland compared to many of the other towns, there are plenty of ponds and easy access to I-10.

11. Grand Bay

Bordered by I-10 to the north and the Gulf to the south, Grand Bay offers both easy access to the beach and convenient commutes to other areas. The town has a friendly, community-oriented atmosphere. Although the population has grown as people move from Mobile and other larger cities, Grand Bay still shows its agricultural roots with the acres of fruit orchards and watermelon fields surrounding the town.

12. Fernland

Nestled among the peach, pecan and satsuma orchards outside of Grand Bay lies the community of Fernland. Like Grand Bay itself, this town’s peaceful, friendly atmosphere and the quiet pace has attracted new development, yet it primarily remains a farming community. There aren’t many businesses in Fernland itself, but it’s easy to drive into Grand Bay or other neighboring towns thanks to its convenient location on Route 90. This area is also crisscrossed with streams and small rivers for a truly lush, beautiful landscape.