Turquoise water crashing onto the fine white sand. Palm trees waving in the wind. Eating at local restaurants. Exploring the scenic drives. Some things never change. But traveling in the shoulder season comes with a warning label.
Caution: it will be different.
It’s not necessarily a dire warning. On the contrary, there are many benefits to traveling in the shoulder season – the months before or after the prime tourism season for a destination. Lodging is less expensive and easier to book, crowds are thinner and lines move faster, and you’ll likely have the entire beach to yourself.
But there are a few things to keep in mind when planning a flexcation to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Vrbo, the short-term rental company, defines 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.”
What do you need to know about a flexcation to Alabama’s beaches?
Businesses Open or Closed for the Season?
Local businesses rely on high school students off for the summer and college students who come home. When the school bell rings for the first class of the fall semester, miniature golf courses and restaurants are left with fewer workers.
After the Labor Day weekend rush, the last hurrah of the summer tourism season, many local businesses shift their hours. Some will open later in the day and close earlier in the evening. Others will only be open for long weekends. Then, as time slowly creeps toward autumn and winter, some businesses like water parks and boat rental companies will shut down entirely.
You’ll be able to play a round of putt putt at Shrimpy’s Mini Golf or The Track, where you can also go for a heart-pounding go-kart race. Gulf State Park’s trails are open year-round but check for hours at the fishing pier and nature center. But don’t worry; the coffee shops are still open. The locals need their caffeine just as much as travelers.
When planning a flexcation to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, check the hours of every restaurant and attraction you want to visit.
Pack for Summer and Autumn
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are in a sub-tropical climate that never really gets cold. The specialty milkshakes at The Yard Milkshake Bar are the coldest things in town. But it does get chilly.
Average daytime temperatures along Alabama’s beaches in the shoulder seasons are in the lower 60s. October days frequently reach the lower 80s. Pack shorts and sandals.
But at the same time, October nights dip into the upper 50s. With just a tiny gust of wind off the Gulf of Mexico, it can be quite chilly. Pack pants and a wind jacket.
And don’t forget the swimwear. The water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico at Gulf Shores peaks in the upper 80s throughout August. Even as late as October, the average water temperature is 78 degrees – still plenty warm for a ride through the waves.
A flexcation to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in August, September, or October will require packing for two vacations. Summer clothing for the warm days, autumn clothing for the cloudy days, and chilly nights.
You’ll Meet More Locals
The locals are the heart of a destination. During a typical summer vacation, you’ll meet the locals working in the restaurants, attractions, and tour boats. But you likely won’t see many on the beach, playing putt putt, or going for a walk.
Residents who live in popular tourism destinations know that the busy months of June, July, and August are reserved for out-of-town vacationers. Rather than sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic and deal with long lines at restaurants, they merely wait for the season to end. Then, it’s their beach again.
Visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in the shoulder season means you’ll meet more locals doing some of the same activities – especially on the weekends. Locals are a great source of information. Ask about a secluded beach access, the best food in town, or a special event happening that weekend.
You’ll learn everything cool about a destination when you meet the locals.
Tours are Limited but Available
One of the best ways to enjoy the scenery in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is on a boat! Sailboat or motorboat, sunset cruise or dolphin cruise, there are many ways to get on the water with a guided tour. However, the shoulder season brings some changes to the schedule.
Instead of a guided tour every hour, some companies only offer one per day. Instead of seven days per week, the companies might reduce the schedule to just a few days per week. Fortunately, most guided tour boat companies have excellent online booking platforms to show their availability.
Cetacean Cruises is one of the versatile companies offering cruises for sunset, dolphin watching, nature, and an exciting sunset sailing excursion. Back Bay Sailing offers day trips and sunset cruises aboard the Arminda, a 39-foot sailing yacht. Looking for an entirely different kind of experience? Book a Cruisin’ Tiki Bar to spend a few hours on the water with your own bartender!
Last Minute Bookings are Okay
One of the greatest advantages of traveling in the off-season is the availability of lodging for last-minute bookings. How often have you found the perfect rental home or condo only to see it was already booked for your dates?
It’s entirely possible to meticulously plan a flexcation well in advance. Choose your travel dates, search for the perfect lodging, and schedule everything months before leaving. But if you opt for a spontaneous trip with only days to spare, chances are excellent you’ll find plenty of available lodging.
In addition to available bookings for last-minute trips, lodging is typically about 25% less expensive in the shoulder season. Stay longer for the same amount you would spend for just a weekend in the summer. The shoulder season would be an excellent time to spend a week at Turquoise Place by Spectrum Resorts!
The Visitor Center is Still Open
Tourism officials don’t really take time off. Sure, they get the weekends and holidays. But just because it’s the shoulder season doesn’t mean they go on their own vacation.
The Gulf Shores Welcome Center at 3459 Gulf Shores Parkway and Orange Beach Welcome Center at 23685 Perdido Beach Boulevard are open year-round and staffed by knowledgeable locals to help you plan a flexcation. Each welcome center features travel brochures, guides, discount books, and everything you need to make the most of your trip.
Explore the Christmas Destination series for places to visit, then browse the Holiday Gift Guides.
The Summer Solstice marks the official beginning of the summer season, and it has the longest daylight time of the year. In Gulf Shores, daylight shines brightly for 14 hours. But by mid-October, the length of daylight has decreased to barely 11 hours. Throughout October leading up to the annual time change, sunset is around 6 p.m. But after Daylight Savings Time ends, sunset is painstakingly early, around 5 p.m.
Traveling in the shoulder season means less daylight for outdoor activities. On a flexcation, it might be better to schedule work hours for late evenings after sunset and leave the daylight hours for outdoor activities. If that isn’t possible – or if you’re a morning person for getting work done – consider alternating workdays and play days to take full advantage of the limited daylight hours.
Construction is Inevitable
As soon as the busy tourism season ends, the construction equipment is moved into town. With significantly smaller crowds, less traffic, and fewer bookings, property owners take advantage of the lull to tackle much-needed repairs and renovations.
Don’t be surprised – or dismayed – to hear the irritating echoes of power tools and heavy machinery in your condo building or at the rental house next door. Highway construction is inevitable; towns will frequently use the opportunity to pave roads, fix infrastructure, or complete long-term projects.
But there are some ways you can help minimize the disruption to your flexcation.
Check with the property manager about potential construction in nearby units before completing a booking. Call the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach tourism folks and ask about highway construction that might disrupt your travel plans.
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Office Supplies are Available
Gulf Shores is not a remote town wedged onto a mountainside in the Rockies. It’s not an island village accessible only by boat. Gulf Shores is a town where nearly 20,000 people live and work. The town has everything you need for a flexcation.
Walmart and Target have many office supplies that might be needed during a remote work flexcation. Office Depot is a short drive to Foley – an interesting small town to visit while you’re staying in Gulf Shores. If you need something more specialized – like a Best Buy – you’ll have to drive about an hour to Pensacola. On your way, stop at Flora-Bama for lunch and a drink and learn the music venue’s history.
It Will Be a Different Experience
Turquoise water crashing onto the fine white sand. Palm trees waving in the wind. Eating at local restaurants. Exploring the scenic drives.
In many ways, visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in the shoulder season will be much the same as the prime summer tourism season. But there will be differences – some subtle and others apparent.
Beaches normally crowded with a patchwork of tents, umbrellas, and blankets will instead showcase more sand like a blank canvas. The murmurs of a thousand conversations are replaced with squawks from seagulls and wind blowing through the tall coastal grasses. A walk on the beach is a solitary adventure in nature with nothing, just you and the Gulf.
The wait staff at local restaurants and coffee shops will actually have a chance to chat. Far from overworked with a dozen tables to serve, instead, they are left with far fewer – and an eagerness to earn a better tip. It’s doubtful you’ll have to wait long for a table, instead, you’ll find yourself sitting shortly after walking through the door.
The entire town is quieter. Parking spaces are available wherever you go. It’s like Sunday morning back home, except it’s every day during the off-season at the beach.
Visiting Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for a flexcation in the shoulder season will be a different experience – one I am certain will be better. You might miss out on a few outdoor activities, and you might miss out on a boat tour, but everything else will be at your fingertips. Are you ready for a flexcation to Alabama’s beaches?