During the summer, you spend as much time as possible on the water on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Quiet state parks, hidden bays, and gorgeous beach houses are on one side. Little islands and bright turquoise water are on the other. You pass mile after mile of powdery, white-sand beaches dotted with sunbathers, sandcastles, and volleyball nets. Streaks of puffy white clouds break up the otherwise clear sky. While a sea breeze, undetectable from the shore, stops you from sweating.
You usually start thinking about turning around when you reach Pensacola Beach. Your return trip gives you plenty of time to plan dinner and a perfectly paired cocktail. But today you kept going, first urged on by two dolphins swimming alongside the boat and then by a flock of gorgeous spoonbills at the edge of the water. Before you knew it, you had passed Perdido Key, Florida’s westernmost town, and sailed into Alabama.
The coast of Alabama looks just like the coast of Florida. They’re both part of the Gulf Coast, which stretches around the Gulf of Mexico’s northern border. You probably wouldn’t even know that you passed the imaginary state line if it weren’t for the Perdido Pass Bridge. But now you’re in uncharted territory, and you’re getting hungry.
Luckily, something seems to be going on along the waterfront in Orange Beach. A beachfront restaurant sounds perfect right now. As you get closer, it looks like a lot more than a restaurant though. Bright blue shipping containers have been repurposed into buildings. Wooden decks and a green lawn lead to the sandy beach. Wooden picnic tables, pastel chairs, white couches, and wide umbrellas dot the outdoor area that looks like a casual living room. White lights dangle between palm trees. Plus the smell of something that’s been cooking all day is wafting toward the water. Welcome to The Gulf.
The Gulf is part restaurant, part beach bar, and mostly a hangout spot. The vibe is casual. Very casual. Music plays on vinyl records. While the menus are written in colorful chalk on blackboards. You start with the freshly squeezed lemonade of the day, blackberry thyme, to cool off. The raw bar and the tacos seem to be in one direction; the regular kitchen in another. You begin with local oysters and giant prawn shrimp on a picnic table, move to the couches with peach sangria, and decide to share tacos as the sun starts to set. Housemade pico de gallo and guacamole with purple tortilla chips, locally grown rice, and tacos stuffed with mahi-mahi and beef brisket soon cover the little table in front of you.
Between the friendly vibe, the messy finger food, and the fruity cocktails, your detour into Alabama turned into a perfect summer evening. You should veer off track more often.