Updated for 2016!
Well, despite my best intentions on going somewhere fabulous for Spring Break, we decided to STAYcation this year to save money for trips upcoming over the next 18 months. My husband and I are teachers, so we get a full week off from work. We live in Foley, Alabama, which is a short 15 minute drive from the Gulf of Mexico. People pay thousands of dollars a week to stay at the beach on the Gulf. So what do you do faced with 10 days and no amazing beach house or upper floor condo?
Well, you try to eat nice meals as cheaply as possibly and find FREE stuff to do. Alabama’s Eastern Shore is full of excellent places to visit and tons of free stuff to do.
My daughter was home from college, so we were feeding five adults for 10 days. Man, food is expensive. Even the simple food items are expensive. We headed to Big Lots and picked up some items on sale, the best of which being cookies. $1.50 is good, but you gotta love cookie mix for $.50 each.
We ate a lot of meals at home, which in the grand scheme of Spring Break, is not a lot of fun. It’s certainly more cost-effective for us. Discount cookies might have been one of the most fun things that took place in the kitchen this week.
Orange Beach has a wonderful shopping, dining, and recreation complex called The Wharf. We’ve stayed at the Wharf for the weekend, and it’s a fabulous place to spend some time, overnight or just for an afternoon visit. For more information on our unit, use this link:
You may not find many bargains, but the Wharf shops are fabulous for window shopping.
You have to stop in one of my favorite coffee shops anywhere, The Southern Grind. Free WiFi, nice music, satellite TV, and comfortable lounging areas make The Southern Grind an ideal location to meet with friends or family. It’s a totally relaxed atmosphere both inside and out.
I don’t drink coffee, but they have tons of other selections including breakfast and lunch items, gelato and bakery items. My fav. is the lemon cranberry muffins, while my daughter favors the cinnamon bun. With water, we are in and out in under $7. Don’t rush though, because the atmosphere is fantastic and all the beach-sea inspired trinkets you see are for sale. Use this link for their menu and operating hours.
Fairhope’s Grill and Bar
My mom lives 30 minutes away in Fairhope, so we took her to dinner one night. The owners of the Fairhope’s Grill and Bar also own Julwin’s Restaurant, which is Baldwin County’s oldest restaurant and located in downtown Fairhope. This dining and drinking establishment is a family friendly grill and bar. Use this link for more information.
No deals or coupons were used here; we just enjoyed a nice meal with prices that were very reasonable. Nothing we ordered was over $11. Pictured below are the Cowboy Burger and the BBQ sandwich on Texas toast.
After dinner at the Fairhope Grill and Bar, we headed down to the Fairhope Pier.
Walk the Pier
The pier is located at the West end of Fairhope Avenue on the site of the city’s original commercial pier, which dated back to the late 1890s. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the existing pier in 2005, the 1448 foot pier was rebuilt. Designed for both strolling and fishing, the pier features benches, covered areas, restrooms, a marina and a restaurant.
While you will need to purchase a license to fish, it’s free to walk on the pier.
The park by the pier is has a lovely rose garden and a fountain, plus picnic tables, pavilion, duck pond, tree trail, and a large sandy beach. Non-Fairhope residents are charged park admission during the summer season, but we could drive down to see the beach and duck pond for free, given it’s not summer just yet.
Grab a Coffee!
My college age daughter has a Starbucks Reward card. Starbucks ran a promotion in late arch where you could earn 5 Bonus Stars when you spend $10. So we stopped by for a drink and then walked a couple of miles at the Tanger Outlet Mall.
Walking is free, and so is window shopping.
Lunch at Sonny’s
Feeding a family of five adults doesn’t come cheap, you know what I mean? Eating out can be crazy expensive. By logging onto talktosonnys.com and describing our last dining experience, we received a code that gave us a free appetizer on our next visit. We ordered the Redneck Egg Rolls, which are a BBQ Pitmaster’s take on egg rolls. Light, crispy egg rolls loaded with slow-smoked pulled pork, homemade coleslaw and Jack cheese.
And the Redneck Egg Rolls were free with our survey code when we purchased an adult meal.
I can’t ever finish my lunch at Sonny’s, so we bring the leftovers home. That’s dinner, which means I really got two meals for the price of one. And we take a to-go cup home as well. Skip the ice and you get more! Try the strawberry lemonade – you’ll thank me!
So a free appetizer, lunch and dinner for the price of my lunch, and a take-home drink. That’s a bargain no matter where you dine.
Walk the Bridge
One of our family favorites is walking across the bridge in Orange Beach. Perdido Pass forms a water passage that connects Perdido Bay with the Gulf of Mexico to the south, about two miles west of the Alabama/Florida state line. The bridge spans Perdido Pass, which connects Alabama Point with Florida Point in Alabama.
At the entrance into the Gulf of Mexico, two rock barriers extend from the beaches forming the west jetty and east jetty. While the surrounding areas is heavily developed with condos and businesses, there are nearby beach-front parks.
We like to walk over the bridge.
Once you reach the other side, drop in Cobalt the Restaurant for half price appetizers between 3 and 5 p.m., and then walk out to the Gulf. Cobalt may be THE best coastal restaurant in Alabama, in my opinion.
They change the hours throughout the year (winter can be 2-6 and spring is 3-5) but select appetizers are frequently half price. We get the firecracker shrimp, sauce on the side pictured here, for $5 and the personal cheese pizza for $6.
This trip, we went all out and got cupcakes for $2 each. Compare that to $6 cupcakes at Disney World, and these are a bargain. So super sweet, one was enough to fill you up before appetizers arrived. Our picks were salted caramel, vanilla, and Oreo cookie. It was tough to make my crowd share, and look at that view outside!
Following dinner, walk out to the Gulf. This is public beach, so there is no charge and parking is free. You can see how long a walk you’ve made when you reach the beach by the jetties.
Then walk back over the bridge to your car. If you stay long enough, the walk back at night is exciting!
Walking Past the Grand Hotel
There is a beautiful 100-year-old, 1.5-mile boardwalk that stretches along the shore of Mobile Bay near Mariott’s Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama. From my car, past the hotel to the end of the boardwalk and back is about three miles. Simple cottages were built along the boardwalk years ago by families in Mobile serving as summer vacation homes. Original homes now blend in with fantastic mansions. So with Mobile Bay on one side and stunning homes on the other side of walkway, along with giant live oak and magnolia trees, it’s a beautiful place to get some exercise.
Walking is good exercise and totally free.
Beach Window Shopping
I have been a world-class window shopper since I was a child. There are tons of souvenir stores up and down the streets of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. The most interesting souvenir we did not purchase while window shopping for free were the Hermit Crabs.
We don’t all have the financial resources to book a vacation every time the kids get a break in their school schedule. Lucky for us, we live in an area many people want to visit.
We hope you’ll give some of these fantastic locations a look over when you’re in the area. You won’t be disappointed.
Amanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.
Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches high school seniors Leadership in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast.
We hope we can help save you some money too. Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from our Princess Travel Experts with Destinations in Florida travel, Erin, Julie, and Elizabeth. You can also e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.