It is a time to relax after months of hard work. To reconnect with loved ones. To take risks and make priceless memories. Summer offers this and so much more, and for those wanting to spend the coming months exploring our beautiful Southern home, we have a magnificent treat for you.
Take advantage of the clear blue skies and warm weather with a sampling of exciting, unique outdoor adventures. Whether you wish to find solo activities or something for the entire family, these exploits promise to impress. So grab your sunblock and go seize the summer days outdoors!
Got a Bite!
Sure, you can fish off a pier, a boat or the shore. But have you ever fished off a kayak? Anglers ages 16 and older can tackle the challenge this summer in guided classes from Wind and Water Learning Center.
“Kayaks are able to access areas that other boats cannot get to, making the conditions perfect for catching fish, ” says center manager Caroline Harris.
The three-hour class covers techniques and safety information specific to kayak fishing. Wind and Water only employs American Canoe Association certified instructors, so you can feel at ease on the water.
No equipment? No problem! The center also supplies everything you could possibly need, including cleaning services for your catch of the day.
Trips are scheduled around optimal tides and weather, and classes are offered every Wednesday morning.
26267 Canal Road, Orange Beach 424-5909 • windandwaterlearning.com
Get Wet 'n' Wild
Nothing says summer quite like strapping on a pair of skis and zooming across the water. Sounds like a blast? Well, race over to the Weeks Bay Plantation in Fairhope, and try some on for size.
You’ll learn the fine arts of slalom water-skiing, trick skiing and wakeboarding. Expertly maneuver around obstacles and buoys under the guidance of a master skier.
“We ride on our own lake, and we go until you can’t hang on anymore, ” instructor and Weeks Bay Plantation founder Tynes Stringfellow says.
With decades of experience under his belt, including an Alabama state champion title, Stringfellow brings enthusiasm and excitement to the sport, not to mention serious skills. Spots are limited, so call ahead and reserve your place!
12562 Mary Ann Beach Road, Fairhope • 279-8745 • weeksbayplantation.com
Ride Like the Wind
Adrenaline, speed and a touch of class. Experience the thrill of horseback riding in an encouraging environment at Silver Lining Farm Mimi C. Peters Riding School. The equestrian academy, located in a beautiful countryside near the heart of the city, offers a number of week-long summer camps for the kiddos, both during the day and overnight. And good news for parents: Sending your kids to camp at Silver Lining is tax deductible as day care.
The farm also offers traditional lessons year-round for children and adults. For hesitant riders, a single orientation class allows riders to see how the saddle treats you before opting into regular sessions.
And don’t be nervous about communing with these gentle giants. The farm specifically chooses horses with “quiet temperaments and good manners” to help riders get the most out of the experience.
10727 El Nina Drive • 634-1229 • silverliningfarm.net
Ahoy, young mateys!
Aspiring seafarers, ages seven to 14, are welcome aboard Wind and Water Learning Center’s Youth Sailing Camp in Orange Beach. Accommodating varying skill levels, the week-long camp teaches everything from water safety and nautical knot tying for beginners to solo sailing for the advanced group.
“Students build on-the-water confidence and learn steering, proper sail trim, capsize recovery and more, ” Harris explains.
With a maximum of five pupils per instructor, young seamen are sure to be sailing like old salts in no time. Hurry though: Beginner classes fill up quickly!
26267 Canal Road, Orange Beach 424-5909 • windandwaterlearning.com
Just Keep Pedaling
If bike riding solo is great fun, then cycling en masse must be a party! Luckily for us, a host of group races and rides around the region provide parties galore for the entire summer.
Whether you ride every day or haven’t pedaled since grade school, websites such as bicyclemobile.org share events to fit any level of experience and ability. The Crepe Myrtle Trail Ride on May 16 covers 11 “beginner friendly” miles. In June, RideYellow courses in Bay Minette vary from 10 miles to more than 60!
If you need to dust off the cobwebs, Bicycle Mobile lists several around-town jaunts to polish your skills for larger events. And with groups meeting every day, scheduling is convenient and easy. So strap on that helmet and make some new friends while spinning around the beautiful Azalea City. Bicyclemobile.org
Photo by Austin Powell
Under the Sea
Harry Houdini could hold his breath for more than three minutes – what about you? Freediving allows adventurers to experience a new underwater world without the bulky scuba equipment. Only the air in your lungs and the fire in your belly keep you going.
“Living right on the coast, if you’re not on the water or in it, you’re missing out, ” says Michael Sumlin, a freediving instructor with Down Under Dive Shop.
Because of the fluidity and freedom without breathing gear, many spearfishers and sightseers prefer freediving. And according to Sumlin, it’s not as intimidating as you might expect.
“On average, I have people holding their breath for two and a half minutes on the first day. It’s easier than you think once you learn the technique, ” he explains.
Down Under Dive Shop offers events for both beginner and experienced divers.
1129 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores • 968-3483 • downunderdiveshop.com
toes in the sand
Simply lying on the shore and soaking in the sun can be the best vacation. Take a beach day and cruise out to Robinson Island, a lower Baldwin County bird sanctuary and hangout spot for boaters. The City of Orange Beach purchased the island 12 years ago to preserve the safe haven for sea birds and its tropical atmosphere.
On June 20, catch an on-the-water concert. Gumbo Key, a “tropical, mythical place that appears from time to time, ” provides live music from a floating platform on the water. Pull up by boat to enjoy some great tunes from the Wes Loper Band and Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars!
See you later, alligator
And we mean that literally. A quick half-hour drive from Mobile, Alligator Alley is a farm that allows visitors to get friendly with the reptiles. Wes Moore opened the attraction 11 years ago as a safe habitat for these “nuisance animals.”
Because you’re roaming the swamps on a 2, 000-foot-long boardwalk, you may encounter other wildlife, as well. But remember, nature does as nature pleases. “You may see any animals that live in natural swampland. People come in and ask, ‘Where do you keep your owls?’ But we don’t keep them: they live here, ” Moore says.
With more than 700 alligators on the property, you’re sure to get your fill of the toothy animals. “We get you up close and personal, ” Moore says. “No matter whether you’re four or 400 years old, there’s something for everybody to enjoy.”
19500 Highway 71, Summerdale • 1-866-994-2867 • gatoralleyfarm.com
under the microscope
Be a scientist for a day at the Dauphin Island Estuarium Summer Excursions. Throughout June and July, roam the salt marshes or beach dunes to examine plants, collect (and release) critters and learn about the local ecology.
“We’ve hosted these excursions since 2008 or 2009, ” Mendel Graeber, an educator at the Estuarium, says. There are no age restrictions, but for young explorers, Graeber recommends trying the dune excursion over the salt marsh.
With 75, 000 visitors annually, the Sea Lab educates students and individuals from around the state and beyond. Excursions last for about two and a half hours, but the memories (and knowledge) last indefinitely. Preregistration is encouraged.
101 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island • 861-2141 • disl.org
Take me to the river
Traditional campsites lining the banks of the Bartram Canoe Trail northeast of Mobile are plenty of fun. But are you ready to up the ante? Camp out on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Floating platforms in the water allow groups of eight or fewer to relax during the day or even sleep overnight, offering a whole new perspective for even the most experienced outdoorsmen and women. Access the raised wooden decks via kayak or canoe. And no worries – the platforms are built high enough so alligators won’t bother you.
“Anyone may use the floating or land-based campsites during the day. After sundown, visitors need reservations for the floating sites, ” executive director Jim Felder says. Plan ahead to make sure your party meets the requirements to participate in this unique camping experience.
625-0814 • bartramcanoetrail.com
Race you to the bottom! Waterville USA features all the classic water park attractions such as speedy mat races, adventurous slides, lazy rivers and fun-for-all wade pools. Bring your kids, your best friends and your parents because there’s something for everyone, from WaWa World for the little tykes to the 60-foot-high Screamin’ Demon that tests your nerves of steel. (And I triple dog dare you to take on the Triple Dog Dare water slide, the brilliantly colored, swirling and twirling slide that “gives a unique sense of weightlessness” as you speed down.) Then, once you work up an appetite, there’s no need to leave for lunch. With half a dozen snack shops to choose from, even your pickiest will find their favorite foods.
906 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores 948-7026 • watervilleusa.com
Blueberry Hill Thrills
Start your day right with a stroll around picturesque LA Berry Farms at Weeks Bay Plantation, where you may pick (and snack on) beautiful, plump blueberries. Cooler morning temps mean better pickings, so bring plenty of containers to take the delicious bounty home with you to savor for days to come.
The Plantation grows crops completely free of herbicides and pesticides, opting instead for natural solutions such as burning weeds and repelling insects with garlic oil. In other words, you can feel secure about munching your heart out. Tall stalks mean no stooping to pick your stash, though the staff recommends wearing closed-toe shoes. Picking season begins in mid-to-late April.
12562 Mary Ann Beach Road, Fairhope • 279-8745 • weeksbayplantation.com
party every day
Make summertime itself the main event down at the Wharf!
Every Thursday evening, revel in the carnival atmosphere with street performers, spectacular light shows and games for the whole family at the Sunset Festival. Take a break from the festivities to enjoy some good eats from any of a dozen different restaurants. Try the jalapeño chips at the Hot Spot Music and Grub, then follow up with the sweet and tangy Orange Beach Attitude from Island Time Daiquiri.
Once the munchies have passed, mosey over to the amphitheater to rock ’n’ roll all night. Catch exciting acts, such as John Fogerty on May 8, The Beach Boys and America on May 23, or Eric Church on June 12. Finally, sip on some of more than 150 craft beers at the Top of the Hops Beer Fest on August 15.
The high point of the itinerary? Taking an end-of-the-night ride on the famous Wharf Ferris wheel. Relish the breathtaking views of the Gulf Coast from one of the tallest attractions around while gazing out at the shimmering stars.
4830 Main St., Orange Beach • 224-1000 • alwharf.com
Don't Look down
The fun begins when the lunch rush hits at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. The daredevil’s playground, a 36-foot-tall ropes course, is a most memorable way to wait for your table. The brightly-hued apparatus originally sat secluded in the woods near The Wharf before LuLu’s bought it. It now stands outside the famed eatery and provides entertainment for kids and adults alike.
“It was Lucy’s mission to make sure people had something to do besides just wait, ” LuLu’s restaurant manager Cheryl Coesens says. “We have people in their 50s, 60s and 70s even participate. Take on your fear and go with it.”
Join the more than 35, 000 visitors who took the climb last season, and experience Gulf Shores from new heights. And for those who prefer to keep their feet on solid ground, Coesens recommends sipping on the popular Bama Breeze beach drink while you watch the adventurers climb.
200 E. 25th Ave., Gulf Shores • 967-5858 • lulubuffett.com
three, two, one, jump!
It’s not every day you get to gaze over the treetops or soar gracefully over lakes. Hummingbird Ziplines at the Gulf State Park gives thrill seekers the opportunity to fly 90 feet over south Alabama and behold our beautiful state unlike ever before.
“We don’t think of it as a ride; it’s really more of an experience, ” says Lisa Laraway, southwest district superintendent of Alabama State Parks.
Hummingbird takes advantage of the wonderful landscape surrounding the ziplines in a way similar companies around the country simply cannot. “The instructors talk about local ecology, the alligators in the lake and the birds and fish – about the ecosystem of the area, ” Laraway explains.
And with a photographer following your every flight, there’s an easy way to take the memories home with you, not to mention show off your bravery to friends and family!
21101 State Highway 135, Gulf Shores. 948-9494 • gulfadventurecenter.com
It’s the classic beach vacation scene: Out across the waves, some courageous souls fly high in the air, held aloft by a colorful parachute pulled by a motorboat. Parasailing combines excitement and sheer nerve, inviting the intrepid to fly among the clouds.
Ike’s Beach Service, affiliated with Gulf State Park, boasts various locations around Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. As many as three people are allowed to sail together, and with a minimum weight allowance of about 150 pounds, even your fearless little ones can get in on this action (as long as mom or dad braves the ride, too)!
Marvel at the incredible bird’s eye views surrounding you, and you may even request that your driver dip you into the water. So impress the land-bound watching from the shore, and take flight!
800 West Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores. 948-3757 • ikesbeachservice.com
Text by Chelsea Wallace