Back to the Beach: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

The luxury condo getaway

Turquoise Place/Spectrum Resorts

From our stone balcony eighteen stories in the sky, my mom and I shared the view with seabirds circling the condo tower. We saw fish darting in and out of the waves just feet from the shoreline, their bodies silhouetted against the ivory sand, and watched a group of kids sculpt an alligator, shaping the damp, soft sand with little hands. A sparkling strip of high-rise condos and hotels stretched into the distance, and because we had rented an end unit, we were also treated to equally impressive views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Turquoise Place Gulf Shores LargeThis feast for the eyes came courtesy of our four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot condo at Turquoise Place. Its two glittering glass towers rise high above Orange Beach, Alabama, like blue beacons calling to the world-weary and promising an unparalleled escape. It was the perfect setting for our girls getaway. We entered our condo through a large foyer that opened into a stunning, sun-lit space encompassing the kitchen, dining room, and family room. My mom opted for the adjacent bedroom with ten-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, while I laid claim to the master with an enormous en suite bathroom. Everything about the accommodations spoke of king-sized opulence.

Our favorite feature by far was our private balcony with its four-person hot tub and gas grill. We pictured ourselves hosting a gathering of family and friends, one manning the grill while the other scooped ice from the wet bar. We could easily have spent the entire vacation in our condo, watching free movies, tubing around the resort’s lazy river, and imagining lavish entertainments. But with so many other activities awaiting—dolphin cruises, parasailing, and golf cart eco tours—we finally, if reluctantly, left our luxurious quarters.


Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Soon after, I was seated in a kayak, paddling hard to keep up with my Down Under Dive Shop guide as we explored area canals on a two-hour tour. As we worked our way through mazes of marshland and past myriad sandbars, I searched in vain for turtles and frogs but never saw anything move. But as we crossed the Little Lagoon and paddled down a canal, under a bridge, and past a stand of stilted houses, my luck turned. We spotted a heron on a tree branch, an osprey in its giant nest, and a school of leaping mullet fish. There were even two pet turkeys gobbling away in someone’s backyard. My appetite for wildlife encounters whetted, I decided that next time I’d sign up for one of the company’s popular scuba classes and explore an artificial reef.

I thought I’d give my tender shoulders a break and do a little shopping at The Wharf, an outdoor mall with a giant Ferris wheel in Orange Beach. After browsing the specialty shops selling costume jewelry, nautical tableware, handbags, and hostess gifts, we stopped in at The Southern Grind coffee shop for a much-deserved scoop of creamy gelato.

We also stuffed ourselves silly with fresh seafood. On our first night, we feasted on garlic pepper calamari, grilled salmon with fried okra, and lemon cake at Coast, a fine-dining restaurant at The Beach Club. The next day we had lunch at The Gulf, a super-hip restaurant situated in repurposed shipping containers. Step up to the counter, order one of the killer cheeseburgers, and sit down at a picnic table overlooking the surf. For our final meal, we hit another local favorite, King Neptune’s. It’s the kind of place with a roll of paper towels on the table. No frills, just good food. Its known for its royal reds, big shrimp served with the heads still attached. Not being adventurous eaters, my mom ordered her customary coconut shrimp, while I opted for a platter of fried crab claws, a stuffed blue crab shell, and popcorn shrimp. We finished things off with a slice of fried cheesecake topped with a gooey praline sauce. Just the way every vacation should end.

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