Soul Music on a Full Stomach
If you are looking for a music-filled getaway that combines gourmet seafood, beautiful sand beaches, and a laid-back relaxing attitude, look no further than Alabama’s Gulf Coast. During my trip in early November last year I was able to enjoy a songwriter festival, craft beer festival, and oyster cook-off. Aside from the live music and large selection of gourmet and southern cuisine, I basked in the beautiful coastal setting and authentic southern hospitality.
This fall, as the weather up north begins to chill, it’s the perfect time to head south to Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Oyster Cook-Off & Craft Beer Weekend
Held at the Gulf Shores seaside venue The Hangout, the Oyster Cook-Off & Craft Beer Weekend is a perfect combination of seafood, gourmet beer, and live music. The weekend begins on Friday with dozens of craft beers to sample. Enjoy the live music and dance the night away.
On Saturday, more than 40 chefs prepare oysters in three categories (Cajun, Rockefeller, and raw). If you love seafood, you will surely enjoy some of the unique combinations created just for this event. Oyster Cook-Off admission is just $10 and tasting tickets are $25 for a book of 15. Live music plays throughout the day on two stages.
There are also food preparation demonstrations by celebrity chefs, as well as live music throughout the day.
Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival
Each November, the annual Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival welcomes more than 200 songwriters from around the world for intimate performances of original songs. Ranging from Grammy-winning professionals to young hopefuls, songwriters perform for 11 days on dozens of stages along the coast. The festival is dedicated to the late Frank Brown, a beloved former night watchman at the Flora-Bama beach bar for 28 years.
The Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival venues include “listening room” experiences, restaurants, family friendly locales, as well as gritty roadhouse stages. Most are free to attend; just a few charge a modest cover at the door. It’s a unique opportunity to peek inside the mind of a songwriter and to hear the inspirations and stories behind their tunes.
The official festival headquarters is Orange Beach’s oceanfront Flora-Bama. An authentic slice of Gulf Coast culture, Flora-Bama, established in 1962, is considered one of the best beach bars in the US. Named for the fact that it used to straddle the Florida and Alabama state line, Flora-Bama is known for a wide range of uniquely hilarious annual events like Bulls on the Beach: Professional Live Bull Riding, Sandstock, and the Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast Beach Party.
World Class Eating
This year, the second week in November brings the World Food Championships (WFC) to Orange Beach, Alabama. Coinciding with the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival, music lovers and foodies can unite for the perfect week of sampling food and music.
The WFC is the largest competition in Food Sport. In its 6th season, the even is considered a springboard to up and coming culinary stars. It is free to attend the WFC and there are numerous grazing and ticketed events for attendees to enjoy gourmet food.
Aside from these special events, you will want to sample the large variety of dining options in the area. Here are a few I sampled during my visit:
- Anchor Bar & Grill—Located on Terry Cove in Orange Beach this casual gem has delicious and unique cuisine, offering dishes like Cuban Sandwiches, Tuna Poké Bowl, and Short Rib Nachos. and don’t miss the fancy and creative signature cocktails like Blonde Bushwacker, Raspberry Beret, and Alabama Pimm’s Cup.
- Ruby Slipper—An Orange Beach version of a New Orleans favorite the Ruby Slipper Café. The original Ruby Slipper was founded in May 2008 in an area of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Specialized in comfort foods like breakfast and brunch, enjoy homemade buttermilk biscuits, gourmet pancakes, fancy grits, and over-stuffed breakfast sandwiches. Also, enjoy their award-winning bloody Mary’s and designer cocktails.
- Original Oyster House—Though oyster is in the name, the menu includes a wide variety of fresh seafood, steaks, chicken, salads, and pasta. A Gulf Shores favorite since 1982, signature dishes include seafood gumbo, cheesy grits, and blackened shrimp or Mahi.
- Kitty’s Kafe—This home-style dinner menu with a southern twist serves breakfast all day long, including six different kinds of eggs benedict and omelets made to order. Or choose from a wide variety of southern diner favorites.
- King Neptune’s—This family run Gulf Shores restaurant serves all fresh, local seafood. They are known for their select oysters and royal red deep water shrimp. Combination platters allow you to sample many local seafood favorites.
- Voyagers at Perdido Beach Resort—This 2017 Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winning eatery offers stunning sunset views in a fine dining venue. It’s expertly created menu features local produce, sustainable seafood, and organic meats.
- Fisher’s—Fisher’s offers two possible dining experiences, both overlooking beautiful Orange Beach Marina. Fisher’s Upstairs is a fine dining experience, while Fisher’s Dockside is more casual. Both offer incredible dishes and signature cocktails.
- Matt’s Homemade Ice Cream—The only homemade ice cream shop in the area. They’re always at least 40 unique flavors to choose from at Matt’s two locations on Gulf Shores Parkway.
Relaxing and Adventure
Don’t forget to include time in your vacation to also enjoy the destination. Lounge or walk on Alabama’s 32 miles of white sand beaches and try out the many public access points in both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Take a hike or bike ride on the trails through Gulf State Park or board a charter boat for a sailing trip you won’t soon forget. Or if you are feeling more adventurous try your hand at deep sea fishing, parasailing, jet skiing, or kayaking.
November Calendar of Fall Musical Events:
November 3-4—Oyster Cook-Off & Craft Beer Weekend
November 8-14—World Food Championships
November 9-19—Annual Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach boast more than 15,000 rooms with a view. There are some traditional full-service hotels, but if you want the experience of beach living at its best rent a beachfront condo and house. These offer home-like accommodations with full kitchens and are a great choice for both families and couples. Campsites for RVs and tent camping are also available
The Gulf Shores & Orange Beach website (www.gulfshores.com) and convenient Welcome Centers can help you with everything from planning the details of your vacation to finding music venues and choosing dining options. The Orange Beach Welcome Center (23685 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, 251-974-1510) and Gulf Shores Welcome Center (3150 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores, 251-968-7511) are open all day, seven days a week. They are closed only for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
It’s easy to get to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. They are located about an hour’s drive from both Mobile and Pensacola airports.