Everyone has certain things they “have” to do on their annual beach trip. Whether it’s sipping a special boat drink, hunting for shells or visiting the local waterpark, it’s just not summer without activities that take advantage of both sand and surf. No matter which Southern beach you’re headed to this year, we’ve rounded up 10 things that should be on your “must do” list.
1.Eat a Cheeseburger in Paradise at Lulu’s in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Lulu’s is not only a restaurant owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister, it started out as a beloved burger joint “where life is good and lunch lasts forever.” From the beginning, burgers have been the star at Lulu’s so no need to amend those carnivorous habits. Today, their section on the menu called Cheeseburgers in Paradise — named for Buffett’s famous song — has two mouth-watering options to choose from. The first is specialty burger the “Pa-menna” Cheeseburger, dressed with “Pa-menna” cheese, fried green tomatoes and bacon. The second is the Crazy Sista’s Version dressed with lettuce, tomato, red onion, sweet pickles and your choice of cheese. Most burgers are served with a side of live music during the summer months, resulting in an experience Buffett calls “heaven on earth with an onion slice.”
2. Surf Folly Beach, South Carolina
One of the top spots for surfing on the East Coast, Folly Beach is referred to as “the edge of America” by locals. Hurricanes usually cause devastation, but for Folly’s surfing they’ve created the best surfing spot in South Carolina. Experienced surfers claim ‘The Washout’ in Folly has the best waves because the water “rolls” so well. Unlike a normal beach day, the best time for surfing is when a storm is nearby. Beginners can learn the art at Folly Beach Surf Lessons, Charleston Surf Lessons and Shaka Surf School. If you’d rather watch, Folly has surfing contests such as the Wahine Contest June 6-7 and South Carolina’s Governor’s Cup August 8-9.
3. Hunt for Shells in Sanibel Island, Florida
People come from all over the world to Sanibel Island for its shelling beaches. Sanibel is unique because it lies east to west instead of north to south like most islands. Therefore, Sanibel’s beaches catch large quantities of shells coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Participate in the “Sanibel Stoop” by bending over while searching for your “treasures of the sea” and make sure to bring a big bucket. The beautiful white sand beaches catch seashells of every shape and size, from sand dollars to Conch shells. For those visiting mainly for the shelling, we suggest looking at weather and moon phases before you book a trip. The stormier the weather, the better the shelling, and on a new or full moon, the tide recedes more than on a quarterly moon. But rain or shine, Sanibel Island always has an abundance of seashells.
4. Visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Estuarium in Alabama
The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab is a public aquarium, displaying the four main habitats of costal Alabama: Mobile Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The aquarium exhibits more than 100 types of species in the state, including a stingray pool where you can touch the creatures. Living marsh boardwalks with informative signs of surrounding marine life, facts of the oil spill and Katrina are part of an outside exhibit, along with multiple hands-on exhibits like feeding hermit crabs. The estuarium is educational, but also a fun away to learn about the fourth largest estuary system in the United States.
5. Spend a Day on Ship Island on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Ship Island is approximately 12 miles offshore from Gulfport, offering visitors beautiful Gulf waters for swimming, sunbathing, shelling and more. USA Today named this undeveloped barrier island one of the “Top Ten Beaches in the United States.” That’s because once you land on Ship Island, the stress and noise of everyday life leaves, and relaxation takes its place. Pack a picnic lunch, or eat and grab a drink at the Island Snack Bar before exploring Fort Massachusetts or snorkeling off the beach. Ferries depart and return twice daily during the week in summer, with three trips scheduled on Saturdays. For a less crowded visit, go during the week or on a Sunday.
6. Get a Signed Copy of Mary Kay Andrews’ Latest Book in Tybee Island, Georgia
Also known as Savannah Beach, Tybee Island is a tourist destination located 18 miles from The Hostess City. A quaint beach town, Tybee has all the amenities from dolphin cruises to jet skiing and exploring the local lighthouse, but the island has a literary side as well. Beach read queen Mary Kay Andrews is a part-time resident with several houses for rent on the island. She also makes up the trio that runs Seaside Sisters, a shop carrying coastal art, home décor, antiques and of course her books. Get signed copies of her latest Beach Town at the shop this summer, along with her collection of beach-themed “junk.” She may even be in the store to greet you when you come in.
7. Kiteboard on North Carolina’s Outer Banks
Thanks to its topography, weather and water conditions, North Carolina’s Outer Banks is one of the world’s best places to enjoy kiteboarding. The sport got its start in the late 1990s and is a hybrid of wakeboarding and paragliding: You stand upright on a specially designed board and maneuver a kite to steer across the waves. Though you need not be a kiteboarding enthusiast to enjoy Waves Village Resort — you could just sit in a hot tub on the private porch of your rented condo — it’s the perfect place to do it, whether you want to try it for the first time or show off your skills. The sport has few limits, says Christopher Nygard, general manager of Waves in Rodanthe on Hatteras Island. “If you’re reasonably fit, can swim and are able to focus, you can learn to do it,” he says. “This is one of two of the best places to learn kiteboarding. From the resort, you can kiteboard 7 miles down the length of the island on either the sound or ocean side. Waves are generally bigger and the winds choppier on the ocean side, so beginners stick to the sound. (Written by Hope Philbrick. Read more about kiteboarding at Waves on Getaways for Grownups.)
8. Drink a Bushwacker at Florabama on the border between Alabama and Florida
The Flora-Bama is not just another bar at the beach. Since 1964, it has been a beachside attraction and was even named the best beach bar in the United States. The Flora-Bama has three levels, each with its own personality where you could find a millionaire sitting next to a biker any day of the week. The Bushwacker is the favorite local drink served here, and some say “it will give you the best time you’ll never remember.” Frozen with several liquors and a coffee/chocolatey flavor, the refreshing concoction is good morning or night. If you’re looking for a good time, cross either of the state lines to the Flora-Bama and make sure the first drink you order is The Bushwacker.
9. Peek inside the Kindred Spirit Mailbox on Sunset Beach, North Carolina
Frank Nesmith, the original “Kindred Spirit,” says he was inspired to place a mailbox on Bird Island, located at the west end of Sunset Beach, while walking during low-tide more than 35 years ago. In the mailbox are pens, pencils and notebooks where travelers to the island can write down their stories and thoughts. Entries contain anything from prayers to personal stories, and each is started with, “Dear Kindred Spirit … ” People come from all over to read about the lives of others and contribute their own story. Once notebooks are completed, a mailbox caretaker brings them to the University of North Carolina where they are now part of a special collection. To visit the mailbox, enter the public beach access located at West 40th St. on Sunset Beach and walk southwest for about a mile and a half or until you see the pole with the American flag. Then discover secrets and tales before writing your own thoughts to The Kindred Spirit.
10. Ride the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel
There’s so much more to do on Myrtle Beach than just lying in the sand. South Carolina’s beach playland is home to the SkyWheel, the second-largest Ferris Wheel in the United States standing 200 feet tall. The wheel is equipped with 42 glass-windowed gondolas, making the ocean view at the top spectacular. For a new perspective of Myrtle Beach, ride the SkyWheel gondolas around two or three times before strolling the boardwalk and promenade, surrounded by good food and great beaches. Gondolas are climate-controlled, so a ride aboard the SkyWheel is also a fun respite from the scorching sun.
Photo credits, from top: Cheeseburger in Paradise from Lulu’s Facebook page, Folly Beach by Ron Cogswell on Flickr Creative Commons, shells on Sanibel Island by J. Todd Poling on Flickr Creative Commons, Dauphin Island Sea Lab & Estuarium from townofdauphinisland.org, Ship Island from Flickr Creative Commons by Plan for Opportunity, Mary Kay Andrews books at Seaside Sisters by Deep South, kiteboarding on the Outer Banks courtesy of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, Bushwhacker by Deep South, Skywheel courtesy of VisitMyrtleBeach.com.