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Three of the Best Places to Vacation on the Gulf Coast Featured

05 May 2015 Chloe P. Ballard 

Have you ever been to a vacation spot so fast and so beautiful, that you wish it were your home? That’s how I feel anytime I stay along the stunning Gulf Coast. From the shores of Mississippi to the vast, emerald waters of the Florida Panhandle, to the sugar white sands of the Alabama Gulf Coast, the area offers numerous vacation spots boasting genuine, natural beauty.


Whether your idea of a perfect vacation involves lazy days in the sand, naps in the sun, leisurely hours by the pool, or deep sea fishing and/or water sports, there are many appealing places to visit. The Gulf Coast truly does offer something for everyone. 

With a reputation as a world-class vacation destination, the Gulf Coast has excellent facilities, combined with beautiful scenery, making it a top-of-the-line destination for recreation. Here are some of my favorite Gulf Coast vacation places that you shouldn’t miss on your next visit.


Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Ocean Springs is a gem along the Gulf Coast. Known as the “city of discovery,” Ocean Springs is the perfect place for art lovers and beach lovers alike, and it’s ideal for culinary vacations.  This hamlet on the Gulf coast is the perfect convergence of Southern charm, blossoming new (independent) businesses and a plethora of arts.

What to Do:

Ocean Springs is perfect for art lovers. The city boasts a phenomenal art house cooperative and it is home to a slew of wonderful art galleries, including Hillyer House, which features the work of more than 50 local artists. Art is truly at the center of the economy in Ocean Springs.

When it comes to music, there is live music almost every night. Top hot spots include Leo's Wood Fired Pizza at the courtyard, the Government Street Grocery, and Mosaic Tapas Restaurant.

Where to Eat:

Ocean Springs has more than 100 restaurants, many of which are aligned in the small historic district. Vestige restaurant is the leader, with innovative recipes inspired by local catch, including a delicious panko-crusted red snapper. Aunt Jenny's Catfish Restaurant has skilled staff to serve catfish in a family-style. The Shed BBQ and Blues joint is a great spot for pulled pork.

Where to Stay:

The pastel-hued Front Beach Cottages will not disappoint. They are located in a luxurious, mini art colony with hammocks, kitchenettes, and private patios. Rates start from $95.

Fairhope, Alabama

Towering oak trees shade the streets of this peaceful town on serene Mobile Bay. Fairhope, Alabama, is a compact and vibrant area with colorful buildings that channel a French Quarter feel.

What to Do:

Days in Fairhope can be spent on licensed fishing boats probing the bay for the daily catch, or biking throughout town to the Municipal Pier, where local fishermen entertain visitors with stories and sometimes offer a piece of their bounty.

If shopping is your thing, enjoy strolling through downtown Fairhope’s many antique stores and art galleries. 

Where to Eat:

The Fairhope Inn and Restaurant is a calm retreat in the busy downtown. Candlelit tables pull out through a glass-encased balcony and out against a tree-lined patio. Pan-seared salmon is served with a perfectly peppery lentil risotto, making it stand out.

Where to Stay:

The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club, and Spa presents sweeping views of Mobile Bay from chairs on guest room balconies. It is a perfect place to watch the sunset and the city lights twinkling across the water. Take a stroll along the Grand’s stunningly landscaped grounds, or visit the marina.

The Grand Hotel offers a grand experience. Each afternoon at 4 p.m., tea and cookies are served in the lobby, which boasts a three-story stone fireplace. This family friendly resort keeps bikes on hand for guests who want to go exploring, and fishing poles for those who want to angle off the nearby pier.


Grayton Beach, Florida

Perhaps my favorite spot along the Gulf Coast is Grayton Beach, Florida. Located along the famed 30A Florida highway, Grayton boasts extraordinary coastal dune lakes and, in my opinion, the most beautiful sugary white beach anywhere in the world. Grayton is a true beach village. The area has an “Old Florida” feel that is difficult to find anywhere else. It is truly unique, and not to be missed. 

What to Do:

Grayton Beach is the ideal place to enjoy water sports, whether it be surfing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, or just boogie boarding. Grayton Beach State Park is a gem. Visitors can also take a walk on the “wild” side, enjoying some of the best birding around along Western Lake. There is also a 4.2-mile Grayton Beach Hike and Bike Trail that makes it easy for families to enjoy all of the natural beauty that a 30-A vacation has to offer.

Where to Eat:

Ah, this is my favorite thing to do in Grayton Beach! The “locals” in 30-A have always loved to hang out at Picolos – The Red Bar, and with very good reason. The menu offerings are wonderful (do NOT leave without trying the outstanding crab cakes), and the after-dinner entertainment at The Red Bar is not to be missed. The Red Bar Jazz Band is top notch, and things really get rolling later in the evening.

The Red Bar is located on Hotz Avenue, smack in the middle of downtown Grayton, and trust me, if there’s a wait? It’s worth it. 

Where to Stay:

There are no hotels in Grayton Beach, but before you say “forget that,” know that the area boasts a wonderful Bed & Breakfast, along with numerous rental properties that can easily accommodate large families.

I have two favorite spots to stay in or near Grayton, the first being the Hibiscus Coffee and Guesthouse, located on Defuniak Street. This cozy, charming retreat is perfect for couples. And don’t miss the breakfasts!

If you’re going for a more upscale resort kind of vacation, you can’t go wrong with The WaterColor Inn and Resort, located in Santa Rosa Beach (very close to Grayton). The WaterColor is a luxury escape in a natural paradise nestled on the shores of the gorgeous Gulf Coast. The resort is an ideal place to spend your night. It is popular for its excellent and accessible facilities such as air-conditioned rooms, a bar, beach access, free WiFi, outdoor pool, and a spa. 


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Emerald Coast Living is Pensacola, Florida's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

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