This past Thanksgiving our family chose not to fly due to COVID. Typically we spend our Thanksgivings in Oregon with extended family in a little coastal town. Cozy, chilly and a warm fireplace are the staples of our traditional Thanksgiving beach vacation. This COVID year, after having disappointed our kids for what felt like the 10th time changing vacation plans, we decided to find a beach that we could drive to. We’d been to the Gulf Coast before (Dauphin Island, Alabama) and because we love trying new places we decided to look a bit further down the coast to Perdido Key, Florida.
Perdido Key State Park
Most of the lodging we have seen along the Gulf Coast has been either little beach houses or giant hotels dotting the coastline with sunbathers and swimmers gathering on the beaches. One thing that attracted us to Perdido Key is Perdido Key State Park. This state park spans about two miles of the coast with beautiful views in every direction (though you can see a few giant hotels off in the distance). The beach itself is not too large and was never crowded the entire time we were there (November isn’t exactly high season, so take that with a grain of salt). Accommodations are available at a few of the larger hotels/condos nearby on either end of the two miles of state park beach or you can stay across the street from the state park beaches at a number of vacation rentals. Many of the rentals back to a beautiful lagoon and some of them have access to put a boat in.
VRBO House Rental
We searched for a house rental that we could enjoy as a family of six and ended up with this awesome one we found on VRBO. It was a three story townhouse that was well furnished and had all the amenities you could want in a beach rental. The deck boasted views of the gulf, the bay and it overlooked a swimming pool that was shared with the three other townhomes. Being November, we didn’t have to worry much about sharing the (unheated) pool, there was never a time we were using the pool that another family was using it too. Another tip in searching for vacation rentals: Sometimes you have to book for a whole week or a minimum number of days on rental sites. It can also get you a better deal or open you up to more options if you increase the number of days you are looking for.
One of the best parts about this rental was the short walk to the beach. It was just about 3 minutes away, and we enjoyed many morning walks, evening strolls and daytimes playing in the water, building sandcastles, reading and lounging in our little piece of paradise. If you are searching for a beach house rental, definitely scour reviews or ask the host a few questions about what kind of beach items are included. Our rental came with a beach wagon, boogie boards, sandcastle-building toys, frisbees, balls, beach chairs, umbrellas, etc… You name it, they had it. This made spending our time at the beach so relaxing that everything was already taken care of. If you have kids who love to boogie board I would recommend bringing a couple life jackets too. The weather was just perfect for boogie boarding, we lucked out with about 70-80 degree days our entire seven days.
One of our favorite vacation hacks whenever we are staying in a rental with a kitchen is grocery pickup. I always plan out our meals before we go, including restaurants we want to try (curbside pickup due to COVID this year), breakfast foods, lunch/dinner foods and we usually eat out or takeout about once a day. Before we leave I’ll pack up our pantry staples and then place a grocery pickup order. This makes it super easy to drive into town, stop for our grocery pickup time and then head straight to the rental without having to run around with a list gathering all the perishable foods we need for a week. If you are planning a family trip where you’ll be making meals this year, definitely do yourself a favor and order your groceries ahead of time.
Bike Rental Gulf Shores State Park
We kept things super simple this year due to Covid. Usually we like to get out and explore the area we are visiting a little more, but thanks to Covid we basically just swam, beached and ate. The one exception to this was a trip to Gulf State Park just over the Florida/Alabama border, where we felt we could appropriately social distance and wear masks when needed. This was one of the highlight activities of our trip and we had such a good time. We rented bikes from Beach Bike Rentals which was literally a stones throw from one of the bike trails at the park. They had bikes for all the kids and even a trail-a-bike attachment for our little guy. We rode all around the state park and enjoyed observing the lakes, alligators, marsh area, butterflies, armadillos and the beautiful views. Toward the end of our ride we were riding on boardwalks and even up and over an overpass to get to a beautiful beach. That beach was a little more crowded than we were used to at our Perdido Key beach, so we just headed back to turn in our bikes after our 9 mile ride around the state park. It was a definite highlight, and if you are in the Alabama/Florida gulf area it is definitely worth checking out.
One of the things we were most looking forward to on our trip was the gulf shrimp and fresh seafood. We are big foodies when we go on vacation, especially when it comes to seafood. Have you ever had gulf coast shrimp? It’s amazing and our favorite. Here are a few of our favorite spots we ate at on our trip:
The Gulf: Orange Beach We loved their fish tacos, poke bowl and lobster rolls and the ambience. This was the only place we actually sat and ate because you order your food and then sit at picnic tables right on the water. The ambience is so fun, and we were able to socially distance in the open air. The food was delicious.
Shrimp Basket: Good fried shrimp and other fish. This seems to be a regional/local chain. It was a quick place to grab some fish. We specifically liked the shrimp and fish tacos.
On a normal trip we often eat out once a day or so in order to sample all the regional deliciousness. Because we stayed mainly in the Perdido Key area and didn’t go in to eat at restaurants, we didn’t have quite as many food options but if we had ventured twenty minutes in either direction to Pensacola or down to Gulf Shores there are many more options.
I had a whole list of things we would have loved to do in a non-Covid year. These are a few more options for our next trip when things have hopefully returned more to normal (fingers crossed):
Kayak Rental: We wanted to do this but didn’t get around to it. There are some beautiful bays to kayak in.
Fort Pickens: An old military fort on the coast that is now a national park. Bring flashlights for the kids to explore and don’t forget to print out your “every 4th grader in a park” pass if you have a 4th grader (free national park pass for the whole year!).
We love Perdido Key as a vacation destination because you can make it as laid back or as “go-go-go” as you want it. The kids are already asking when we can go back and it has made the list as a top spot for a family beach vacation. What is your favorite beach destination? Are you heading to a beach for spring break this year? We love trying out different places and would love any recommendations!