Staycation. Workation. Flexcation! The practice of combing work and vacation is nothing new. But with flexible school and work schedules, families are starting to travel to their favorite destinations – but in the shoulder season. The result is a more affordable, longer-lasting, and increasingly enjoyable vacation – and Alabama’s beaches are the perfect destination.
Like baking a cake from scratch, all the ingredients need to be included in the correct portions at the proper time. It’s not necessarily a fifty-fifty split – you’ll need twice as much milk as vegetable oil. Measure the ingredients, add them in the proper order, and you’ll have that double-layered chocolate cake in about 45 minutes.
With a flexcation, the ingredients are simply work and play. Figuring out the fine balance between the two is the tricky part. Fortunately, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach provide everything you need to turn your flexcation into a savory cake.
What is a Flexcation?
June, July, and August are the “prime season” of tourism for most destinations across the U.S. Traditionally, this is a time when children are out of school, warm weather blankets the country, and destinations welcome vacationers with open arms.
Then, everything changed.
School schedules became more flexible, allowing students the opportunity to complete their coursework at home. Office workers were given similar freedom to convert dining rooms into home offices. With flexible school and work schedules and the ability to complete the work anywhere, a Wifi connection was available, families hit the road for non-traditional vacations.
After a recent study by Vrbo, the short-term rental company defined a flexcation as “an emerging travel trend where families rent vacation homes later in August, September, and October, consider staying longer to mix work and play, and often get better value in high-demand locales.”
Does all of that sound as appealing to you as it does to me?
Subtropical Climate (Outdoor Things to Do)
Traveling in the shoulder season is different from the popular summer tourism season. With a subtropical climate, the daytime temperatures are comfortable, and without the summer humidity, it could be even comfier. Water temperatures are warm enough for swimming through late October, keeping open the option for all sorts of water activities.
Inside Tip A flexcation requires packing more clothes than a typical vacation. For daytime activities, pack shorts and flip flops. But with chilly overnight lows, you’ll also need pants and hoodies to fend off the chills. It’s like packing for summer and autumn, all in one trip.
With the subtropical climate, there are still plenty of things to do in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach when the workday is done.
Miniature golf is a staple attraction of beach towns – and Alabama’s beaches are no exception. Most local mini-golf attractions are open by noon, and the temps are warm enough for a comfy game. Beachside Mini Golf, Shrimpy’s Mini Golf, and Adventure Island are some great places to putt around obstacles. The Track features a fantastic mini-golf course along with go-kart racing and an indoor game room – perfect entertainment, rain or shine!
The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail is an incredible system of 26 trails and 28 miles of paved paths throughout Gulf State Park. The trails skirt around Shelby Lake, an inland freshwater lake, and connect the furthest reaches of the park. Download the Bloom Bike Share App to your smartphone, and you can use one of 50 bicycles for free for the first three hours.
Did you know the animals in most zoos are more active in cooler weather? Autumn is the best time to visit these types of attractions, including the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. In fact, the cooler weather will be more manageable for the visitors, too! Spend a day visiting the animals, go for a thrilling zip line experience, and then get something to eat at the Safari Club.
Fort Morgan State Historic Site is a big site to explore. A small museum offers a peek into life at the historic fort before heading inside for a self-guided tour. Walk along the tops of walls, explore inside the cool rooms, and spend a day learning about the history of the coastal fortification.
Eager to get out on that gorgeous turquoise water? WildNative Tours offers guided kayaking tours and scenic boat charters for a relaxing evening on the water. The Fun Boats offers daytime dolphin cruises and sunset cruises aboard their large vessels. During the summer months – and maybe warm shoulder season days – water fights typically break out on the boat’s deck! Cetacean Cruises offers an exciting Dolphin and Nature Eco Tour aboard a comfortable pontoon boat. Half the boat has a top, while the other half allows endless views in all directions.
If you’re more interested in setting your own course on the water, you might want to consider renting a pontoon boat – the most common option – or a runabout with a center console. Hudson Marina offers several boats to choose from. In contrast, Orange Beach Boat Rentals, Flora-Bama Marina, and Happy Harbor Marina mainly offer pontoon boats.
Have you ever wanted to learn how to build impressive sandcastles? Janel Hawkins began SandCastle University to teach others how to build any type of structure, decorate it with landscaping, and add protective moats around them. The best part is that the team of instructors will travel to your patch of beachfront property for the lesson!
Smaller Crowds (Indoor Things to Do)
There are several advantages to a flexcation in the shoulder season of almost any destination. A more comfortable climate is one of those advantages. And so are smaller crowds. With the hustle and bustle of the summer tourism season over, you’ll likely find the entire beach to yourself.
What could you do with smaller crowds and shorter lines while on flexcation to the beach?
Shopping is an activity that can be enjoyed year-round. With the approach of the Christmas holiday season, you might even find that perfect gift! The Wharf is one of the best all-inclusive places to spend a day shopping. Explore local shops, restaurants, go for a ride on the Ferris wheel, and sample some spirits made by Kentucky Mist Distillery!
One of the most exciting places at The Wharf is the Cool Shots Selfie Museum. No, it’s not a museum – although they do feature facts about the art of capturing selfies. The concept behind the “museum” is an immersive experience with dozens of setups for capturing quirky, exciting selfies. A single admission fee gets a visitor in the front door, and you can stay as long as you like. So how many selfies could you capture in an hour?
An interesting thing to do indoors – while exploring the great outdoors – is to go for a helicopter ride! It will certainly be easier to book a flight with Lost Bay Helicopters with smaller crowds. The company was founded and still operated by several veterans from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
Stay Longer (Road Trips & Making Art)
According to data from Vrbo, rental properties in the shoulder seasons are at least 20% less expensive than the summer tourism season. Most short-term rental companies offer discounts if homes or condos are booked for at least seven consecutive nights. With these kinds of savings, a flexcation makes it possible to stay longer for the same price – or maybe even cheaper.
With more time with a longer stay, it’s possible to do some of the activities you might have otherwise discarded. One such activity is to take an art class at the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach. Learn how to sculpt pottery or spend an afternoon in The Hot Shop learning how to make your own blown glass ornaments and décor!
Connect with nature, the past, or local food with a day trip adventure on Alabama’s Coastal Connection, a 130-mile route connecting the parks, attractions, and destinations around the beach areas. Visit Dauphin Island and take the car ferry across the entrance to Bon Secour Bay, explore Fort Morgan State Historic Site on your way through Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and then travel along the shoreline of Mobile Bay to a stunning scenic overlook.
One exciting possibility for a one-day road trip would be to take the Fort Morgan Ferry across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island. Make a stop at The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and take a walk through the remarkably preserved Fort Gaines. Continue across the Dauphin Island Bridge to the mainland and visit Bellingrath Gardens & Home, the premier botanical garden in the coastal Alabama region.
Explore the Christmas Destination series for places to visit, then browse the Holiday Gift Guides.
Fantastic Local Eateries (Food, Drinks, and Dessert)
One of the best ways to save money on a flexcation – or any type of vacation – is to cook a few meals. But that doesn’t mean you have to cook all your own meals! When the work is done, and you’re ready to get out, there are dozens of fantastic local restaurants to explore.
Sunliner Diner is a retro-style 60’s diner serving the best breakfast in Gulf Shores. The gargantuan menu includes just about every breakfast item cooked any way you could imagine, but they cook to order just in case. Arrive early and request to sit in the classic car booth – you’ll know what it is when you get there.
The Hangout is one of the most popular places to visit in Gulf Shores because it is more than just a restaurant. The waterfront complex includes an amphitheater for outdoor concerts, a sand volleyball court, and lots – and lots and lots – of seating. Get an inside table beside one of the large open-air windows to enjoy the meal.
In 1983, Joe and Mary Lou Roszkowski and David and Jane Dekle opened the Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores – indeed, it was the first oyster restaurant on Pleasure Island. Expanding over the years, the restaurant now features 300 indoor seats with views of the water leading to Little Lagoon. Fresh seafood is the staple on the menu – really good fresh seafood.
Lucy Buffet’s LuLu’s is one of the most exciting dinner destinations along Alabama’s beaches. Live music, an outdoor play area, an indoor arcade, and a gift shop surround the waterfront restaurant with views of the Intracoastal Waterway. The menu includes everything from seafood to burgers, and special allergy-specific menus are available upon request.
In 1979, Tacky Jacks Grill & Tavern opened its doors to the small fishing village that existed before Orange Beach was founded. Since that time, Tacky Jacks – with an eclectic décor featuring sticky notes – has expanded to Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores.
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At GTs on the Bay, enjoy a casual upscale seafood meal inside a gorgeous restaurant – but you might also want to sit outside on the wood deck overlooking Wolf Bay. The family-friendly restaurant features brick oven pizza, fresh seafood, and “dinner between the buns.”
The Gulf provides the most stunning view with a meal of any restaurant along Alabama’s beaches. Only outdoor seating is available – picnic tables scattered on a wooden deck, spread out on the sandy beach, comfortable couches and chairs – all with a view of the turquoise water at the Perdido Pass.
Big Beach Brewing may be the only brewery in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic. Rod Murray runs the brewery operations with six fermenters and a steady stream of 12 beers on tap at any time. Sit inside or out, it will be a great experience with a cold craft beer in your hand.
At The Yard Milkshake Bar, you’ll find an interesting dessert concoction. A Mason jar is filled with a milkshake of your choice, then topped with cheesecake, brownies, or another savory sweet. It’s the largest dessert on the island – eat it with caution! At Flavr Ice Cream Lab, you start with a cup or cone, pick a flavor of ice cream, and start adding your own toppings for a truly made from scratch dessert.
Opened in 2013, City Donut is a family-owned business offering the best donuts on the beach. The donuts are fried fresh every day and displayed in their small shop in Orange Beach. Kayden’s Candy Factory whips up homemade candies, truffles, and ice cream along with a small assortment of donuts – all made from scratch. BuzzCatz Coffee & Sweets is known for their savory cinnamon rolls – glazed, topped with cream cheese, or smothered in pecan praline.
Variety of Accommodations (Places to Stay)
A flexcation is not a vacation – work still needs to be done. But how can flexcationers complete work – either for a boss or as a homeschool teacher – while visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach?
By choosing the right kind of accommodations.
Ideally, the best place to stay for a flexcation has multiple rooms, separate bedrooms, and a fully equipped kitchen. Bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, and hotels offer cozy accommodations, but not for this purpose. Instead, consider booking a resort, condo, or rental home that would include everything needed for a successful flexcation.
These accommodations often have dedicated dining rooms that can be transformed into a home office or classroom. Fully equipped kitchens provide the opportunity to cook meals at home and save time and money on eating out three times each day. Work hours can start early or run late without disturbing others with separate bedrooms.
The twenty-mile stretch between Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan mostly features rental homes – perfect for the flexcation. Most of the resorts are located along the waterfront between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, putting them right in the middle of all the things to do.
Turquoise Place by Spectrum Resorts is a perfect example of a great place to stay for a flexcation. The towering waterfront resort features all the amenities of home – spacious rooms, dining room for a home office or classroom, and fully equipped kitchens. The amenities throughout the resort – indoor and outdoor swimming pools, beach access, and entertainment – offer a few things to do once the workday has ended.