I don’t think Alabama necessarily intends to keep their best-kept beach getaway a secret, but somehow, it’s quiet, hidden under the shuffle. In fact, it’s so calm and perfect there that I almost didn’t want to share it. After all, if I spill the beans and let you know about my favorite beach vacation, what’s to keep you all from rushing there? But then I realized that a good beach vacation spot is just too good not to share.
For being a secret, Dauphin Island really isn’t too much of a secret at all. After all, it recently ranked in the top 8 Southern Islands You Should Be Visiting This Summer by Huffington Post and that isn’t it’s first time receiving a similar nod. But somehow, tucked away between Florida beaches and the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores area that everyone’s familiar with, Dauphin Island is the perfect quiet getaway, especially for families.
After nearly a decade of summer vacations spent at Dauphin Island, I’ve made a list of the absolute most important things to do, see, and enjoy on the Island, as well as a few reminders that the best part of the island is the fact that you can just sit and relax.
Where We Ate
For me, food is a huge part of life. Those of you who stop by my blog often know that when it comes to food, I don’t mess around. So I want to start off with the absolute best things to eat on Dauphin Island, and share a little bit about how my family does things when it comes to our annual trip.
I’m pretty sure any place that uses the tagline “Sunsets served daily” is right up my alley, but the fact of the matter is, JT’s Sunset Grill is the best place for seafood on the island, hands down, unless you’re planning to cook it yourself. With freshly fried fish, fantastic cole slaw, and awesome burgers, you just can’t beat JT’s food. The best part? This great Sunset Grill has indoor AND outdoor seating, so if you want to watch the boats come into the bay or bird-watch, it’s perfect. While there, we ate inside by the window and had a great view of the birds landing. One thing to note about JT’s is that when I was there, I saw everyone from travelers to locals eating there; any place the locals eat is a place I want to stop at, because the locals have time to decide what’s best, and clearly, JT’s takes the prize there. While JT’s has only been open 18 months, it’s no newbie to great food, so definitely check it out. We went during the Father’s Day rush, and they happened to be shorthanded because one of the waitresses and one of the kitchen staff were ill, but they still provided fantastic service when busy. The waitress even took time to look at the drawing Zach was working on. There’s a reason we usually make two stops there anytime we’re on the Island for a week.
If you’d like to connect with JT’s Sunset Grill, you can find them on Facebook. If you’re on the Island and want to stop by, the address is 1102 De Soto Ave, Dauphin Island, AL 36528.
Sno Cones are traditional fare for my family when we visit Dauphin Island. It seems we’re always on a quest to find just the perfect flavor. Ice Cream Haven really hits the spot when we’re looking for such a treat. Not only is Ice Cream Haven awesome because there’s a bounce house near it that the kids can play in while waiting, but it’s also got some great portion sizes. The service there isn’t quick, so make sure you plan some time for a stop, and I noticed that the vanilla ice cream only worked about half the time we went, but for sno cones, it’s definitely worth a visit! Ice Cream Haven specializes in Sno Cones, Soft Serve, Shakes, and Root Beer Floats. While Zach loved that the small chocolate ice cream was a HUGE serving, I found a personal favorite in a specific flavor… once I got it, I had trouble trying any other flavors, even after making a personal goal not to try the same flavor twice. Wedding Cake sno cone with Sweetened Condensed Milk? Mmm, it tastes just like the snow ice cream I grew up with as a child.
While Ice Cream Haven doesn’t have a way to connect with them online at the moment, they’re right off of the main drag, Bienville. You can find them at 906 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, AL 36528
One way we save money on vacation is by eating in our condo! Almost every place to stay on Dauphin Island includes a great cook space, making saving money and custom tailoring your menu to your favorite foods is easy. We make a big trip to Walmart before we drive onto the island and pick up fare for the week, which is a great way to save money by not eating out every night. It’s also a lot easier to work meals in between sitting on the beach or enjoying the pool by taking advantage of the grills or kitchens that the condos on Dauphin Island offer. Our rundown of awesome meals for the week that took little time to prepare included:
Breakfasts: Cereal and bagels were big at breakfast, but we also loved homemade biscuits and gravy, fresh fruit, and frozen waffles topped with bananas, nuts, and syrup.
Lunches: Lunches mostly consisted of sandwiches, fresh fruit, and dinner leftovers. My newest fave? The Flat Out foldit, which is a delicious sandwich flatbread. I used it for egg sandwiches at breakfast and again for turkey sandwiches at lunch. Yum!
Dinners: We went a little more all-out at dinner because it was our primary time to connect as a family after a day playing on the beach, at the pool, or even taking a nap. We ate: pizza (take and bake from Walmart), Hamburgers and Hot Dogs using the grill, chicken flautas, chicken pot pie, and a pepperoni sausage baked pasta.
Where We Shopped
Food isn’t the only highlight of our trip. Another favorite way we spend vacation is taking a peek into the local souvenir shops to see what they have to offer. Because Dauphin Island is smaller and isn’t wall-to-wall tourists like Orange Beach or Gulf Shores, you’re also spared the overwhelming kitschy surf shops that flood those two areas. Once you’ve been in one there, you’ve been in them all, as these two story monsters tend to have the same merchandise. Luckily, on Dauphin Island, you’re treated to smaller, quieter, less cheesy shops and merchandise.
Treasure Trove is an island staple, and it’s one that has a rich history; the building used to be a church, and it’s a beautiful location. We love to swing by Treasure Trove because it’s got a fantastic selection, from toys for the little ones to tee shirts and even messages in a bottle that you can mail home to friends and family. It’s a good one-stop-shop for souvenirs, and has small souvenirs like anklets and postcards, as well as bigger, costlier items like authentic pirate coins and replicas. If you forgot a ball to throw in the pool or broke your shovel from over-agressive sandcastle building, it’s the perfect place to stop. Apparently there is even an attached arcade which has been getting more attention, but I haven’t stopped in that side yet!
Treasure Trove doesn’t have an online presence to interact with, but you can find them right as you come onto the Island from the bridge, at 200 Lemoyne Dr.
If you want the best prices on the Island, and the nicest service, you definitely want to stop by Beach Bums Beach Shack. They had the most affordable merchandise available by a long shot, and the owner was amazing. My brother is very much into Skim Boarding, but when he got to the Island this year, his Skim Board broke on the first day! After shopping around, he found a great Skim Board price at Beach Bums, and even better, the owner gave him tons of tips and told him how to do a few tricks on the Skim Board that he was quickly able to master! The atmosphere there was amazing, and it was a great one-stop-shop for all of our souvenir needs. I love that the owner took the time to give Jeffrey some instruction that really helped him throughout the week. Beach Bums is great because they also offer rental gear, so if you just want to try something out, they do have some rentals available for use. They also work on ding repair for your surfboard, and even build their own boards! While we were there, he gave us a peek in back at the party board their building– a massive board built to accommodate multiple people! Beach Bums is great for rentals, too. You can rent all kinds of gear to save packing space, including bikes and boards. Make sure you look around outside and see if you see Quackie, the unofficial pet of Beach Bums! He comes by to check out the cat’s food.
Find Beach Bums Beach Shack on Facebook, or stop by and shop at 1514 Bienville Blvd Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528.
We don’t do a ton of shopping now that we’ve been there for 10 years, but we do love to pick out a new item or two each year. For us, the best experience of the island is just spent enjoying time together. Part of that is finding a great place to stay.
Where We Stayed
We have been staying at the Dauphin Island Beach Club for a few years now, and you can’t beat the affordable prices. For those who are used to staying in the more “popular” gulf spots like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, you’ll find Dauphin Island condo prices to be incredibly affordable compared. The best part? Every condo at Dauphin Island Beach Club has a great view of the ocean! What’s better to wake up to than gazing at the beautiful white sand beach? And we love to sit on the balcony for dinner to catch the sun dipping down past the horizon– the colors are unbeatable! With two pools for Dauphin Island Beach Club renters and owners to use, the free beach just beyond the pools, and comfortable amenities, it’s really a great place to stay. I love the fact that the condos have kitchens so we can save money by cooking in-condo, and that they have laundry (I mentioned in a post recently about how laundry helps me save packing space!). For me, Dauphin Island Beach Club is literally a second home. I love going there, enjoying the great view, lounging poolside… I feel at home in the condo there because everyone is friendly, and the condo is pretty well-maintained. Any time we’ve had a maintenance issue where we’re staying, they do their best to solve it quickly. I personally like renting through an owner because you can get the best price and if there is an issue, they may be able to get through to someone more quickly than your traditional rental property.
For an example condo at Dauphin Island Beach Club, check out this great condo that sleeps as many as 12 and this great condo that sleeps up to 8. I’ve been in both of them and they’re so great! You can also find more ideas of where to stay at VRBO or check out the Dauphin Island Beach Club facebook page.
We love where we stay because on Dauphin Island, it’s so close to everything we love to do.
What We Did
As I mentioned earlier, the owner of Beach Bums was so helpful when it came to learning how to skim board. If you don’t already have a skim board, check that shop for the best prices on boards and wax. Jeffrey had an amazing time skimboarding. Dauphin Island is just perfect for it because they’ve got a good beach with a great flatter surf, perfect for that skim experience.
I’ll admit it right now… I love looking at the ocean, I love being near the ocean, but I’m not a huge fan of swimming in the ocean, so I love to stay at a place that has a pool. We did a lot of pool swimming during our week at Dauphin Island Beach Club. Zach used a swim trainer suit from SwimSchool that helped him, since we only have a zero entry pool in town.
One of the yearly favorite activities is crabbing. Essentially, you go down at night when the crabs are out and seek them out using flashlights. Using a net and bucket, you scoop them up and take a peek. Of course, we always release the crabs back into the ocean, but it’s a fun kids’ activity that doesn’t require extensive equipment. A lot of places on the Island sell buckets and nets to help your kids enjoy this fun activity at night.
Jeffrey and dad went Kayaking around the island last year and had a blast. It can be hard to kayak in ocean waters (moreso than in a lake), but it’s a great workout and it’s tons of fun. There are a few places to rent Kayaks on Dauphin Island, and it’s a good activity for bonding!
There’s a great children’s playground just off of the main street of the island. Complete with a slide, swings, and sand, it’s a great little place to unwind and just play for awhile. It’s a perfect spot for the younger crowd.
Dauphin Island also has a very cool skate park that is so fun to visit. If you enjoy skateboarding, it’s right off of the main drag on the Island and is near most of the condos! If you have a kiddo who loves to skateboard but is just too old to play at a park in their mind, it’s a good stop for them!
Dauphin Island, being a barrier island and one of the first islands birds reach when flying back home after a winter south, is a great place to spot diverse bird life and other wildlife– 347 species have been reported there! The excellent hiking trails are fun to explore and a really great way to look around at the various natural features Dauphin Island has. It’s located on the Eastern end of Dauphin Island and has a 3 mile trail system over 137 acres. Find more information on the Dauphin Island Park website. You can also learn about the remarkable SEVEN great Birding spots on this small island on the Coastal Birding website.
As a homeschooling family, one thing we love most about Dauphin Island is the amount of educational opportunities they present.
First, there is a sea lab called the Dauphin Island Estuarium that has all kinds of displays of sea life from the area, and a few touch tanks, too! If your child has any interest in sea life, or if you want to make your annual vacation a learning experience, this is a great way to do it. The sea lab is a great way to infuse a little education into a trip, and allows you to explore tons of tanks of different fish, jelly fish, even an octopus! I love the visit every time I go there. They’re open year round, and pricing can be found on their website. If you’re going for education, you won’t want to miss this awesome curriculum set they have, with worksheets for kindergarten all the way through high school. It’s a good way to make sure your kids are keeping track in the sea lab if you’re after that. Even without the curriculum, the kids will learn a lot! They also have a facebook page.
If you feel like you’ve gotten your science fill between the Sea Lab and the Bird Sanctuary, you can also brush up on your history at Fort Gaines. This incredible historic fort has held it’s ground for over 150 years, standing at the tip of the eastern end of the Island. It was instrumental in the Battle of Mobile Bay, and you can actually take your own tour by scanning a QR code on the website with your smartphone, allowing you to have a voice tour of the facility. On certain days, they even have a blacksmith demonstration and selling pieces at reasonable prices. Typically, they’ll have a sign on Bienville Boulevard (if you’re going over the bridge and turning towards the fort, you can’t miss it) announcing whether or not the blacksmith is there. They also occasionally fire the cannons! Find out more information about Fort Gaines on the Dauphin Island Park and Beach website or learn more about the history of Fort Gaines.
When I talk about the little slice of heaven that is Dauphin Island, I’m speaking from my heart. This place truly feels like a second home to me, and, while everything thinks I’m joking that I want to retire there someday, I mean it. I have been going to the area for 10 years now, and I’ve been staying on Dauphin Island for 6 of those 10 years. It’s a can’t-miss trip for my family and the best way to unwind and just take a week surrounding ourselves in the beach, the pool, the sunsets, the food, the great island activities, and most of all, each other. If you’re looking for a peaceful ocean getaway, skip the crowded beaches in Florida and the rest of Alabama, and park yourself right here on this tiny island, because it is truly one of the best places to be.
Looking for more great travel information from DigitalEraMom.com? Check out my post on road trip ideas to keep your family sane, my post on can’t-miss vacation photos (featuring some beautiful photos of Dauphin Island), or try my post on how to pack two people’s clothing in a carry on bag!
Do you have a favorite vacation spot? Let me know in the comments below!