If you think Florida has a lock on great golf, you haven’t been to South Alabama. And don’t think Florida’s sand is any whiter than it is on the Alabama Gulf Coast. It’s not! Even Florida’s restaurants, while good, have trouble being compared to the restaurants found on Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. I know all this because I’m a Florida resident who recently spent a week in the neighboring Alabama Coastal towns. Why, some people up north, in the Midwest, and especially out west don’t even know that the Alabama coast line fronts the Gulf of Mexico.

Looking for the perfect place to take the family, gather with the gals (or guys) to play some celebrated golf courses, or fish the days away? It’s all available 12 months a year. There’s no black-out period here because of weather. The 32-mile stretch of white sand beaches spanning Gulf Shores and Orange Beach has long been a favorite vacation destination, but recently it’s become better than ever. Easier to reach than most of the Florida destinations, this area is one of the best winter destinations in the country. The Travel Channel added Gulf Shores to its list of the Best Gulf Coast Beaches, and Budget Travel magazine included it in a list of America’s Coolest Small Towns. Here’s why.

Family and Outdoor Activities Abound If you’re partial to history, Fort Morgan is a must along with the Indian Museum and the USS Battleship Alabama nearby. One can experience unusual thrills such as the ZipLines at Gulf Adventure Center, mingle with the prehistorics at Alligator Alley, or spend the day at Waterville USA, a 20 acre water and amusement park . By adding such activities as birding, backcountry trailing, and wildlife watching, the family that holidays together will stay together

Great Golf on the Gulf The golf I experienced here had five beauties, no beasts. Designed by Arnold Palmer ( Lost Key and both courses at Craft Farms), Jerry Pate (Kiva Dunes), and the unheralded Earl Stone (Peninsula), these courses don’t have to take a backseat to any found in the Southeast. All were meticulously maintained, challenging but fair, and certainly worth spending the day chasing a little white ball.

Fish That Bite Oh, so you’re into fishing are you? This area of the Gulf Coast offers exceptional inshore and offshore saltwater fishing so whatever you set out to catch is almost guaranteed. For many, fishing charters are the preferred way to go so rest assured there is a red snapper, tuna, grouper, marlin, or swordfish swimming around with your name on it. In fact, Orange Beach boasts the largest fleet of charter boats in the world

Kids Count Too There are so many activities for kids that you might have to extend your stay to see them all. Adventure Island, alligator alley, day crabbing, Sand Castle University, and the Gulf Coast Zoo are a few of the many opportunities to keep the kids active and fill them with memories.

A Gals Getaway and Where to Stay If ever there was an ideal destination for the ladies, this is it! Beach houses and condos front both the Gulf of Mexico and back-bay. Hotels, both boutique and familiar names are a housekeeping-free option while a variety of B&Bs provides an affordable alternative for staying in style. Shopping thrives down here and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, they’ll find it for you. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on Perdido Beach Blvd in Orange Beach because it fronts the Gulf of Mexico and is central to everything I was going to experience.

Sea Food at the Sea Shore Time will prevent you from getting to all the great restaurants down here so be sure to single out the wood fired oysters at Villaggio Grill, go under the Perdido Bay Bridge to Cobalt, voted the best seafood restaurant on the coast, and be sure to try the smoked cauliflower at Coastal.

Behold… What’s Coming Soon Easily the most important and newest addition to the area will be the Gulf State Park Lodge and Convention Center. Situated waterside, this important attraction to the Alabama gulf coast will feature a 350 room lodge plus a number of meeting spaces and restaurants designed to serve as a focal centerpiece for the entire gulf beach destination. In addition there will be dune restoration, about 10 miles of new walking, cycling, and running trails, and some 4 miles of enhancements to existing park trails. This coming attraction will include interactive exhibit space to host meetings and educational spaces while providing both indoor and outdoor educational information devoted to the unique coastal environment.

Oh, One Last Thing Beware the Bushwacker. It’s a specialty beach drink made famous in these parts by combining rum with a coffee/chocolate liqueur and vanilla ice cream. You’ll want to give it a go at such local bars and eateries as Lulu’s, The Hangout, Tacky Jacks and the “Home of the Bushwhacker,” the Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar. But you’ll only want to try one if you know what’s good for you.

John Mooshie, a freelance journalist fromWakulla Springs, Florida has unquenchable curiosity for almost everything andwrites on a broad range of golf, travel, and golf fashion for various magazines,newspapers, e-zines, and websites. Formerly an ad agency and billboardcopywriter, he switched careers, co-designed an 18 hole golf course, and nowwrites reviews on both golf course resorts and destination spas. He iscurrently conducting research to write biographical sketches about individualsand businesses that fly below the radar and will soon publish a golf bookpromising to cure the five bad shots in golf. www.johnsmooshie.com