Ok, let me guess. You have never been to Gulf Shores before or it’s been a long time. You’re not alone, over half the people we rent to every year are just like you, new to Gulf Shores. Let me guess something else, you’re giving Gulf Shores a try because it takes less time to get there by car, you heard that it has not nearly as crowded as other resort towns on a beach and that it is a lot less expensive. Those are the three top reasons guests give me when I ask them why they are coming to Gulf Shores and they are all true. So, you are all set all you need now is a little background on our little town on a big beach so here’s your Newbie’s Guide to Gulf Shores.
Gulf Shores has always been a popular place in the South. In the 60’s and 70’s it was a sleepy little town with a McDonald’s on the beach road, an occasional motel and a gas station at the main intersection of town. There were a few small family restaurants and hamburger joints serving the families and kids migrating to the beach in the summertime. Off season, November through February, in those days was really an off season. Everybody just closed up.
Well, a lot has change in the last 15 years. Most of it for the good. First what happened was the real estate boom in the early 2000’s. Real estate developers saw the pristine beaches, the cheap land prices and saw opportunity. The real estate boom and bust hit Gulf Shores hard. The lucky ones got out before the market broke in 2006. The not so lucky went broke and lost everything but what was left was a row of brand new condominium complexes on the beach.
The tallest building being about 18 stories tall. Suddenly for the first time, Gulf Shores now had modern and comfortable accommodations available for vacationers. It is common now to rent a place with granite counter tops, tiles floors in a complex with work out area and a sauna.
The second big change was hurricane Ivan in 2004. It was devistating and destroyed many of the quaint, yet poorly constructed, buildings left over from the 60’s and 70’s. The new high rises had all been constructed to modern building code standards and were able to withstand up to category 5 hurricanes but older buildings were simply swept away. There is a display at the Gulf Shores Museum that has a video about Ivan. The beach road was under 12 feet of water. This was another devastating blow to property owners. Some just gave up. Others got caught in the terrible situation where the building housing their condo was destroyed and there was not enough money to rebuild. Those unlucky soules ended up having to pay off a mortgage on what now was no more than a plot of sand… But, many rebuilt with newer construction.
At the time it was hard seeing anything good coming out of Ivan. There was a lot of pain but out of the rubble of that devastation came new construction built to modern building codes. Today if you drive down the west beach road you will see the most beautiful homes on the beach. Some of them ar more like mansions. They come in all colors and sizes. When in Gulf Shores you should make a point of just taking a drive out that way. The upside to having everything destroyed is that it is rebuilt with something newer and better.
The final impact on Gulf Shores was the BP Oil Spill. In this case the damage wasn’t done so much by the spill itself as by the media. The oil spill never hit Gulf Shores nearly as hard as the media implied. Yes, there were tar balls washing up on the beach (sand mixed with oil) which ranged in size from a marble to slightly larger than a golf ball.
Every morning teams of people employed by BP would walk the entire beach and pick these balls up. It was a great time for vacationers “In the know” because rental rates fell in half and once again property owners took it on the chin,
But, again, just like with the real estate boom/bust and Hurricane Ivan something good came out of it. That something good this time was BP. Regardless of what you might have heard, BP took full responsibility for the disaster and did everything it could at the time to help. I was one of the property owners that got paid for my losses and I think I recieved a fair amount. That is not to say some people didn’t get the help they needed fast enough. Sadly, today BP is being repaid for its liberal reimbursement policies with thousands of people trying to scam the system.
The good that came out of BP oil spill was advertsing. BP spent 100’s of millions of dollars in advertising throughout the midwest over a 2 year period of time. It is very possible the reason why you think about Gulf Shores today is because of a BP ad that ran in your area.
Today Gulf Shores is still the “little town with a big beach” but now everything is new and the good news is it won’t be able to get much larger. Before Gulf Shores was Gulf Shores it was called Paradise Island and that is what it is, an island. There is limited land mass to build on. There are some spaces left to build but pretty much everything that can be built has been built. Gulf Shores will always be that little town.
Before I let you go, I recommend you read my Blog on how to save money in Gulf Shores while on vacation. Just Click Here to read that article.
Enjoy your stay and remember the hard road Gulf Shores took to be the great vacation destination it is today.