Birding, golf, reading on the beach, and lazy days are a recipe for relaxation. At Dauphin Island, Alabama, that's exactly the kind of getaway that can be had through the fall season -- no wonder that the quiet Gulf Coast town is a favorite getaway for nearby Mobile's denizens. Here's a laid-back guide to this still relatively undiscovered gem.The Stay: Holiday Isle Condominiums offers spacious and well-appointed accommodations, 665 feet of Gulf beachfront, both an indoor and an outdoor pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room, and a fitness center. Tennis courts, balconies, outdoor grills and gourmet kitchens round out the luxurious amenities. Prices start at $150 per night in the off-season, and you can book your stay on Homeaway and VRBO.
Outdoors: Dauphin Island, with public beaches and several public boat launches for boating and kayaking enthusiasts, offers plenty to do for outdoor types ($5 per car parking fee). The beaches have soft, white sand, and it’s easy to find a low or uninhabited place to plop down your blanket and cooler. Bird watchers will want to pencil in time to visit the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, encompassing 137 acres of maritime forest, dunes and marshes, and a three-mile trail system. While the protected land is one of the top four locations in North America for viewing spring migrations, rest assured that peeping here is great any time of year.
Food and Drink: After a dip, hit Fins, a fun dive bar across from the public beach. For lunch and dinner, visit the Islander’s Restaurant, which allows you to come as you are (likely in flip-flops); breakfast at the Lighthouse Bakery is also highly recommended. A fan of midcentury modern architecture? You'll swoon over the building at the Isle of Dauphine Golf Club -- which you can do over fried shrimp and wings at the poolside Cabana or in the restaurant and bar in the building. Know that both could use a little TLC, so they're for the lovers of dives and cold domestic brews.
Nearby: History buffs won’t want to miss a tour of Fort Gaines. This historic site is one of the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites in America, because of shoreline erosion. But its cannons, museum, tunnels, and a blacksmith shop (with demonstrations) will delight anyone who enjoys American and military history. Many are likely familiar with the famous order from Admiral Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Heed the admiral’s advice and make time for the fort. (Admission is $8 for adults; $4 for children.)
Getting There: If you fly into New Orleans, Dauphin Island is a two-hour and 26-minute drive via Interstate-10 East. For a shorter drive, fly into Mobile, Alabama and get there in 42 minutes via Alabama-193 South.