Enjoying a Gulf Coast getaway is all about relaxing along the 32 miles of pristine, white sandy beaches that line this spectacular stretch of coastline…ok, that’s one way of experiencing a trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and you certainly would be 100% accurate about this type of visit. After visiting this beautiful region of Alabama on several occasions, during our recent trip we decided to take a look at this area from a completely different angle, one that I will genuinely admit we probably don’t pay enough attention to when we travel the world but something that we are committed at being more aware of moving forward – sustainability!
We are not going to try to convince you to become vegan or share expert opinions on sustainable travel, we will leave that to the experts. Instead, we want to share just a few reasons why we think Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is doing an amazing job of becoming an eco-friendly destination and why during your next visit to the Gulf Coast we think you should be inspired to experience some of the awesome spots that are truly driving the “green” concept to the region.
From the most environmentally friendly hotel in the region to some of the best places to eat and things to experience, we hope that our eco-friendly weekend guide to the Gulf Coast will give you a few ideas that you can enjoy on your next visit. Let’s take a look at some of the ways Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is becoming a sustainable destination (a caveat here, this is by no means an exhaustive guide, this is simply covering a few areas/restaurants/experiences that we enjoyed on our recent visit to the Gulf Coast).
Where to Stay? The Lodge at Gulf State Park
When it comes to where to stay in Gulf Shores, you are spoiled for choice. High rise condominiums line the 32 miles of gorgeous beaches and there are several other options that you can consider dependent on budget and personal preference. However, when it comes to picking the perfect eco-friendly accommodation option, there really is only one choice – the incredible Lodge at Gulf State Park. Located along Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores, this ultra-modern coastal development epitomizes everything there is to love about hotels that are 100% focused on providing an environmentally friendly option for visitors to the area.
Part of the Hilton family, The Lodge at Gulf State Park is a flagship eco-friendly hotel for this brand to showcase their desire to move towards a collection of sustainable hotels. On November 1, 2018, the Lodge opened its doors and was proud to focus on the following.
A MODEL OF RESILIENT ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY COASTAL DEVELOPMENTThe Lodge at Gulf State Park
We all hear the words “sustainable tourism” and this has to start at the very top with global brands and we can 100% attest that Hilton has done an amazing job with the careful curation of this amazing hotel structure. In a nutshell, sustainable tourism is a combination of mainstream tourism and ecotourism by incorporating sustainable practices to benefit the local community (and the visitors also benefit from these initiatives also!).
At the Lodge at Gulf State Park, there are no details gone unnoticed. When it comes to providing the perfect experience to fit naturally into the existing environment of ecosystems, we are delighted to hear that this region is not only being preserved but also thriving because of the inherent features that the Lodge at Gulf State Park offers.
The moment you check in at the Lodge, you immediately realize you are in for an awesome experience. Offering 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space along with a plethora of outdoor reception areas, there is no shortage of space to enjoy the full hotel experience. If you are interested in learning all about the amazing natural resources and sustainability practices, check in at the front desk and ask to speak with the Lodge naturalist who will be more than happy to give you a full insight into these initiatives.
Some of the intriguing characteristics of this hotel that help create such an eco-friendly environment consist of the following, many of which may seem obvious, while others we would never even have contemplated as being able to benefit the local eco-systems:
- All the buildings at the Lodge at Gulf State Park are designed to reduce energy usage by 32% and interior water use by 35% in comparison to a standard hotel (or similar accommodation option).
- Natural daylight and ventilation in all regularly occupied spaces.
- Passive cooling techniques including building orientation and wooden screens to filter sunlight.
- Condensation from air conditioning units is collected and recycled to replace water in the on-site swimming pool. An average of 8,400 gallons are collected daily during the summer months.
- Lighting sensitive to wildlife are incorporated into every building and no lights are directly pointed at the beach. In addition, all lights are shielded away from the sea turtle nesting areas.
- Air conditioning units are installed with sensors that will switch them off automatically whenever balcony doors or windows are left open.
- Rainwater is collected and directed to nearby wetlands to help those eco-systems continue to thrive.
The above are just some of the core features that the Lodge at Gulf State Park can be proud to have implemented. When you add in basic components such as in-room “boxed water”, instead of the standard plastic bottle, this is certainly something that will not only help the environment but also perhaps encourage more guests to start thinking about sustainable initiatives they can continue when they leave and head back home.
Eco-Friendly Eats in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
The Gulf Coast is home to an amazing collection of seafood establishments and a myriad of cuisine options to satisfy every appetite. If you are focused on dining at eco-friendly restaurants, you are in for a real treat as there are a number focused on providing environmentally friendly service while catering to every type of diner. From extensive vegan options to the “behind the scenes” catering processes, you can be sure that a visit to one of the following restaurants will not only provide excellent cuisine, you can be reassured that there is a real focus on providing sustainable practices to help the environment.
If you are looking for an extensive vegan guide to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, our friend Ashley from Wild Hearted has put together quite the collection, many of which we are going to recommend also but some others that perhaps you wouldn’t think of. From decadent coffee shops to high-end luxury restaurants, the Gulf Coast may surprise you at the variety of options that are available for the eco-friendly minded traveler. We are going to give you an option for breakfast, lunch and dinner but we would love to hear other recommendations on what you have found to be sustainable eats in the area.
What better way to start your day than a healthy, nutrient packed bowl of deliciousness. Head over to Soul Bowlz in Gulf Shores to enjoy “a bowl of heaven found on the Gulf Coast!” From the traditional Acai bowl to alternative Pitaya, Acerola and Graviola super fruit options, Soul Bowlz has a creative menu of fruit combinations that will leave you wanting to go back for me. This is certainly one of our “go to” spots for breakfast, particularly if you are wanting to start the day with one of the healthiest spots on the Gulf Coast.
The Sunrise (Goiaba blend, Hemp Granola, Strawberries, Raspberries, Banana and Honey) is a definite favorite of ours but there are so many unique offerings that you should try something different each time until you find the perfect bowl. Soul Bowlz offers these in two different sizes and also has a collection of smoothies. Whether you are wanting to dine in or take this “to go”, it’s the perfect way to start your day and have plenty of energy to explore the beauty along the Gulf Coast.
A “picnic at the beach” or “picnic in the park” is surely an appealing thought and while you may not want to go to the effort of packing your own picnic basket, you can head over to Picnic Beach to enjoy your very own “picnic” experience while indulging in a delicious collection of menu items. Renowned as being a casual dining spot in the heart of Gulf Shores, the moment you approach Picnic Beach you can see the typical picnic surroundings with benches, blankets and artificial green turf to represent the “park”.
Enjoy locally prepared food that follow the traditional BBQ theme and for those that prefer to eat plant-based cuisine, there are plenty of options available. The Buffalo Cauliflower Wings with homemade vegan ranch are a popular choice among every visitor, regardless of your cuisine preference.
An extensive menu is available, from light snacks to a variety of fresh seafood options, and of course, a visit to Picnic Beach wouldn’t be the same without sampling the resident “Beachwacker” which is a play on the traditional Gulf Coast Bushwacker which is popular in this region.
Safari Club Gulf Shores
Recognized as Alabama’s first “Green Restaurant”, Safari Club Gulf Shores is part of the all new renovated Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Regardless of your opinion on zoos, we highly recommend taking some time to visit Safari Club to not only enjoy an extensive menu of vegan, vegetarian and other cuisine options but also to learn about the initiatives that we believe makes this the most eco-friendly restaurant on the Gulf Coast.
After sitting down with head chef, Greg Buschmohle, we learned about the intricate details of how this restaurant is focused on providing excellent service while providing the most eco-friendly environment to not only support sustainable initiatives for the local community but primarily to help provide a better environment for the animals in the Zoo. Zero styrofoam is utilized, no plastic straws can be found at the restaurant, and all all to-go containers are biodegradable and/or recyclable. These are just a few “common” ways that Safari Club differs from your regular restaurant.
Some of the behind the scenes approaches include onsite composting that can be utilized for animals in the Zoo along with the interior architecture of the restaurant that is designed to meet the core principles needed for this to be considered “green”. All ingredients are sourced locally and in conjunction with the City of Gulf Shores recycle program, any waste products follow appropriate recycling protocols to ensure as much can be utilized as possible.
When it comes to the menu options, you cannot go wrong with anything offered at Safari Club. Whether you are craving a pizza (the Moroccan is definitely a popular choice), or sandwich, there is plenty of variety for every taste palette.
Things to Do to Enjoy the Local Environment
Embrace the great outdoors while exploring the Gulf Coast and enjoy the plethora of ecosystems that are thriving in the region by experiencing some of the following things to do that we believe are the perfect way to protect the local environments. We should all take pride in helping to preserve the Gulf Coast ecological environment and take a moment to understand how the 32 miles of pristine beaches continue to serve as the heart of soul of not only the locals/visitors that enjoy this stretch of coastline, but also how this serves as a natural habitat for a myriad of wildlife.
Here are some of our recommendations on how you can learn about the environment and continue to understand the initiatives that are taking place to protect this region.
Cycle the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails
Perhaps the best way to experience a wide variety of eco-systems is to hop on a bike and explore the 15 miles of Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex. A collection of intertwining paths make this a perfect area to explore and if you followed our recommendation of staying at The Lodge, you can take advantage of the Gulf State Park Free Bike Share program and pick up your bike outside the hotel and head across Beach Boulevard to begin your journey exploring this myriad of trails. Alternatively, head over to Beach Bike Rentals and pick up a bike for a small fee and enjoy the trails all day.
From wildlife sightings to admiring the local flora and fauna that is thriving in these environments, the Backcountry Trails are the perfect way to get away from the stereotypical “beach life” associated with the Gulf Coast and instead explore another side of the region. The amount of wildlife you will see is a clear indication of the positive, sustainable efforts that the local authorities are having on the area as the untouched natural habitats continue to thrive.
Sustainable Initiatives at Gulf State Park
Thanks to Ashley from Wild Hearted for contributing the sustainable initiatives that can be found throughout Gulf State Park.
Gulf State Park is comprised of two miles of beaches, a large campground, the Lodge at Gulf State Park and a variety of activities to enjoy. Whether you’re interested in relaxing on the beach, biking the trails, or wildlife watching, there’s plenty for you to do. But, make sure to stop by the Interpretative Center [located adjacent to the beach pavilion] to learn more about how they are preserving their environment and natural resources.
On top of being able to learn more about the land and marine wildlife, you can learn about all the amazing sustainability initiatives including: collecting, storing and treating 105% of the water needed by guests and the surrounding landscape, being self-sufficient and actually generating more energy than the facility uses, using locally sourced building materials, and more.
The facility includes a multi-use space, an amphitheater, public restrooms, bike parking, sand play area, covered porch with an interactive exhibit, and view of the beaches. The Center is truly unique being classified as a Certified Living Building and LEED Platinum-certified – the highest possible LEED designation, and Fortified Commercial certified.
Protect the 32 Miles of Gulf Coast Beaches
It goes without saying you will want to experience the inherent beauty of the gorgeous beaches along the Gulf Coast. Whether you are enjoying the epic sunrise and sunset experiences you get in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, or simply looking to relax on a secluded part of the beach throughout the day, please be sure to follow the basic principles that should be adhered to in any public space.
- Be considerate of wildlife in the area – remember, you are visiting their natural habitat so please be sure to give them plenty of space and allow them to feel at home.
- Be sure to remove any trash from beaches before you leave – while it goes without saying you should take your own trash with you, why not lead by example and take any other trash that you may see so that others may follow suit!
- Choose organic and eco sunscreens that do not use chemical solar filters which can cause harm to the Gulf.
- Use refillable bottles instead of taking plastic water bottles.
- It may seem like a great idea to take as a souvenir but please don’t take any sand home with you – leave it so you don’t destroy part of the natural eco-system.
Of course, all of the above are fairly simple practices that should be considered on any beach getaway. If you do this, you can thoroughly enjoy the breathtaking beauty that attracts so many visitors to the Gulf Coast every year.
Enjoy Golf on the Gulf Coast
Heading to a golf course may not be everyone’s idea of a fun activity but regardless of whether you are aspiring to be the next Tiger Woods or simply enjoy the great outdoors, visiting one of the many courses in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is not only an opportunity to perfect your skills but also to enjoy breathtaking natural environments.
From the gorgeous links at Kiva Dunes to the 27-hole complex at Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club, there is a collection of courses along the Gulf Coast that are proud to have sustainable initiatives that help wildlife continue to thrive on and around the course.
Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club is located close to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and together, they combine to offer over 7,800 acres of natural habitat for migratory birds, nesting sea turtles, among many other species. Peninsula covers 800 acres of beautiful live oaks, cypress trees and more natural vegetation, so it’s no surprise that you will likely stumble across a resident alligator or eagle as you play your way around one of the three 9-hole courses.
Enjoy the beauty of Craft Farms Golf Resort by playing both the Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend courses (36-hole complex) and you will experience fairways lined with live oaks full of Spanish moss, and ideal surroundings for native wildlife to flourish.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is a destination that is near and dear to our hearts – it’s our home away from home when it comes to vacation spots and following our recent visit, we truly have a much greater appreciation for the environmentally friendly initiatives that many of the local businesses are focused on promoting. The more organizations that develop such initiatives, the better it will serve the collection of ecosystems that together create the beautiful environment that can be seen along the 32 miles of the Gulf Coast in Alabama.
We strongly encourage you to consider staying at The Lodge at Gulf State Park during your next trip to the Gulf Coast. Not only does this offer an amazing accommodation option that is conveniently located in the heart of Gulf Shores, it is also the most eco-friendly hotel in the region. With a myriad of dining options to choose from and plenty of things to do to foster the sustainable tourism along the Gulf Coast, this is certainly a region that may fall under the radar for sustainable destinations but many of the local establishments deserve praise for their ongoing efforts to help promote this philosophy.