Weekend Guide to the Secret Southern Sanctuary of Dauphin Island, AL

by  Melanie Warner Spencer | Sep 10, 2015
Dauphin Island, Alabama
Dauphin Island, Alabama / BarbHauxwell/iStock

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 getting an island getaway without leaving the country at this still relatively undiscovered gem.

Get to know Dauphin Island, AL

The Gulf Shores have plenty of fans, so you’ll appreciate this less-well-known location if enjoy laid-back (and less crowded) vacations. There’s plenty to offer the whole family and a wide variety of interests, from outdoorsy, active types to history buffs. Pick what suits you below to craft the ideal weekend getaway at the island that will make you a repeat visitor.

Dauphin Island Hotels

We’re fans of Holiday Isle Condominiums, which 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.

Things to do in Dauphin Island

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). Depending on the length of your stay, you might want to do some planning. Here’s a quick rundown of all the activities the island has to offer so you can start working on your schedule:

Bird Watching: 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.

  • Family-Friendly: Head to The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab for a sneakily educational outing for the entire family. The Estuarium features four hands-on displays of key habitats of coastal Alabama.
  • Beaches: There’s a lot to love about the Dauphin Island public beaches, too. The beaches have soft, white sand, and it’s easy to find a low or uninhabited place to plop down your blanket and cooler.
  • Camping: There are several campgrounds and RV parks on Dauphin Island, several of which have pools on the property. You won’t want to miss out on the sunsets in the “Sunset Capital of Alabama,” and the best way to see it is around a campfire.
  • Historical Tourism: History buffs won’t want to miss a tour of Fort Gaines. This historic site is one of the 11 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.)

Dauphin Island Restaurants and Bars

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 mid century modern architecture? You'll swoon over the building at the Isle 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.

How to Get to Dauphin Island, AL

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.

Dauphin Island Ferry

The Dauphin Island ferry runs between the island and Mobile, AL. Although it runs twice a day during the summer months, this schedule slows down after Labor Day. Fares also vary by season. In the off-season, from October through April, it’s $16 for a car or truck with one driver. An adult ticket will cost you $6, and kids ride for free. Check their website for a printable schedule and fares for every type of passenger.

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