"A day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be bettered."
Author Nicholas Sparks could have been writing about Dauphin Island, a 14-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Alabama in the Gulf of Mexico.
The little parcel of paradise is so famous for its sunsets that it is known as the Sunset Capital of Alabama. But don’t overlook the sunrises; they’re pretty spectacular, too.
As layers of oranges, pinks and purples climb upward, they meld with skies colored blue by the sun and hold the promise of another wonderful day in this habitat for serenity. Dauphin Island is known not only for its sunsets but for its abundant wildlife, outdoor activities and coastal cuisine. It is a place made for slow strolls along the beach or amid the birds, lazy-day biking on trails running along scenic waterways and whiling away the day lulling about, reading or, yes, dreaming.
Wintertime is quiet here — with a marked absence of hustle-bustle. It’s not quite warm enough to dip a toe into the ocean, but that’s what the heated pool is for, especially if it’s one overlooking the ocean and with plenty of deck space for gathering and grilling, dining and watching the sun slip into the Gulf.
One of the most ideally situated beach houses here is Island Time 4, a rental property through Dauphin Island Beach Rentals (dauphinislandbeachrentals.com) and Airbnb. The house is smack on the beach so the sound of the waves is close enough to lull guests into drowsy afternoon naps and a relaxing night’s sleep, yet it is removed enough from the other houses to feel completely private.
Plenty of space
Multigenerational traveler and family-and-friend bubbles wishing to vacation together in a place with plenty of elbow room will love the five bedrooms in this open and airy house. Two of them are master suites with private bath and, of the three remaining bedrooms, one is a pajama party for kids waiting to happen with bunk beds plus full-size bed and location right off the game room. A total of four bathrooms ensures everyone has their own space.
The main level is open concept with kitchen, dining room and living room all oriented to take in the view of the white beach and lapping waters from windows running across the back of the house. There is plenty of comfortable seating and a nicely equipped kitchen with a large island for prepping the day’s feast. A washer and dryer it tucked conveniently in a closet on the second floor.
The big draw with Island Time 4 is its two-level deck. On the main deck, a dining table and chairs are positioned for sunny afternoon lunches. Just a couple steps down, a sparkling heated pool is sunk into the lower deck and surrounded by lounges and Adirondack chairs. Steps lead directly to the beach and shoreline for fast and easy access. Both decks are situated to take full advantage of the ocean, the breeze and those color-saturated sunsets.
Some island idylls for winter wanderings
- The beach: It’s hard to resist the siren song of soft sandy beach for a morning or afternoon of strolling and shelling. There are no crowds, but plenty of colorful shells on Dauphin Island’s seven miles of beach.
- The fort: "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!" Yes, that was here, at Historic Fort Gaines, which sits strategically at the eastern tip of Dauphin Island, looking out on the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. In August 1864, during the Battle of Mobile Bay, Adm. David Farragut shouted the command that is now etched in history. Explore original cannons, a tunnel leading to a bastion preserved in its original condition, the Officer’s Quarters, bakery and even the latrine.
- The aquarium: The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sealab is small but worth the visit, with 31 aquariums totaling 30,000-plus gallons with about 100 species on display. The staff is generous with its time and demos to give visitors a peek at life in the estuary. (Mobile Bay is the fourth largest estuary system in the United States.) Additionally, they have a 7,000-gallon stingray touch pool and the Living Marsh Boardwalk. Note: The aquarium closed on Jan. 19 until further notice due to COVID-19.
- The bird sanctuary: The three-mile trail system meandering through the Audubon Bird Sanctuary ushers walkers into a world of protected forest, marshes and dunes that is home to hundreds of bird species. Recognized by the National Audubon Society as being "Globally Important" for bird migrations, it is the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.
- The bakery: Blueberry turnovers, cinnamon pecan rolls, muffins and more — all scratch-made — beckon from the glass cases at the family-owned and -operated Lighthouse Bakery. But that’s not all. Gourmet coffees, including lattes, au laits and cappuccinos are made with freshly ground espresso beans from coffee roasted in Mobile, just across the Gordon Persons Bridge. There are savories, too, like bacon wraps and pigs in a blanket, and breakfast specials including omelets stuffed with crabmeat, ham or sausage and other goodies. This place is a daily temptation and so worth the calories.
Author and travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there’s just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at KathyWitt24@gmail.com, @KathyWitt.