This Alabama Island Is Made for Summer
Throughout my childhood in southern Louisiana, my family would caravan to popular beach towns along the Florida Panhandle, like Pensacola and Destin, where we’d bury each other in scalding sand and trawl souvenir shops for T-shirts.
As an adult, I decided the Gulf Coast was too crowded, too commercial, until one day my husband and I explored Alabama’s narrow, 14-mile-long Dauphin Island. It takes a bit of work to get to — you either drive the high-rise bridge from Mobile or board the ferry at Fort Morgan — but with only 1,300 residents, the island is peaceful and pristine.
We now visit regularly during the high season, which runs April through September, to take nature walks, see dramatic sunsets from the beach, and eat seafood so fresh you know it was just swimming.
Called the “birdhouses,” these buildings near the marina serve as camps for fishermen who need an early start. The cheery structures capture the spirit of life on this island — they’re celebratory but not luxurious. They’re just enough.
Eating out is all about the seafood. We stuff ourselves with the local catch, which includes royal red shrimp, a deepwater species we buy from the family-run Skinner’s Seafood.
Audubon Bird Sanctuary
On Dauphin, home of the 137-acre Audubon Bird Sanctuary, herons are as numerous as Central Park pigeons. Some hunt in the shallows, while others linger next to fishermen, whose bait will potentially attract a meal.
Andrea captured a rare quiet moment at the public pool in the entertainment complex on Orleans Drive, the center of what little nightlife there is on Dauphin.
West End Beach
One of my favorite spots is this calm crescent of beach on the western end, next to the public pier. It’s popular with families because the water is as still as a pool, and warm as a bath come summertime.
The island has many vacation homes to rent, like this one, which is propped on stilts and ringed by saw palmettos. A homeowner who recently hosted us said that she’s had visitors come from as far away as the Pacific Northwest and Europe.
On our first trip, we asked locals for breakfast recommendations, and they all had the same suggestion: the Lighthouse Bakery, one of the few year-round restaurants on Dauphin. We have a morning ritual of eating a cinnamon roll on the shop’s breezy porch. The co-owner, Mary Scarcliff, starts mixing dough at midnight during the peak tourist season.