The Redneck Riviera: 7 Unexpected Reasons it Beats St. Tropez

The Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida get a bad rap. Known as The Redneck Riviera some travelers turn and run instead of giving it a try. It certainly isn’t St.Tropez but it’s not all mullet tossing either.

1 – Luxury boats vs. Fishing boats

fishingboatBoating in the French Rivera is expensive. Luxury yachts and beautiful sailboats cost a lot of money. Fishing charters or Jet Ski rental is downright cheap in comparison.

The Gulf Coast is home to a vast fleet of fishing boats and almost any waterfront view will include at least one or two in your field of vision.

It’s not as sexy as a sailboat skimming over the water but it makes for some great deals on fresh, local seafood in restaurants and fish markets.

2 – Beaches full of beautiful people vs. Your own private beach

alabama-beachBeaches full of beautiful people in tiny swimwear might be the norm on the French Riviera but on the
Redneck Riviera things are a bit different. There are fewer hot bodies and almost no celebrity sightings.

Some of the tiny swimwear choices seem questionable and you’re likely to see people covered up in garish tourist T-shirts but if you go off the beaten path, you can find yourself on a beautiful beach with no one else.

Head towards Fort Morgan – the actual Fort, not the town – in Alabama, and just before you enter the gates, make a left turn. Down the very bumpy road there is a great beach that almost no one goes to. Just don’t get all four wheels off the pavement or you will get stuck in the soft sand – not good when no one is around to help you out.

3 – Finely tuned motorcars vs. Hot, loud go-karts

alabamagokartsWant to see an Aston Martin or a Bugatti? Go to the French Riviera. If you want to drive on the track yourself, go to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

One of the most popular evening activities is buckling up in a go-kart at The Track. This is no kiddie ride either. There are 4 different tracks including one for adults only. There’s a mini-track for little ones, a standard go-kart track, a slick track with faster karts for adults and then, there’s the Woody; a three-story wooden go-kart track that you have to drive to believe.

You spiral up the levels then whoosh down, teeth chattering from the constant fact of wheels on wood. Before you know it, your turn is over and you want to get back in line. Anyone can ride double, even two adults, or there are plenty of karts for those going it alone. You’ll have more fun than you ever expected.

4 – Fine dining vs. Throwing food

foodtossingWhile on the French Riviera you might find restaurants with linen tablecloths and crystal glasses or cutting edge cuisine. The Redneck Riviera offers ice cream shops, fast food, an amazing variety of fresh seafood – all fried and throwed rolls.

If you go to Lambert’s in Foley, Alabama expect a roll of paper towels on the table in place of napkins, servers with big bowls of fried okra, fried potatoes and other side dishes walking amongst the tables dishing them out and giant yeasty dinner rolls flying through the air. That’s right, as you eat the hot roll cart comes through.

At the call of “Hot, fresh rolls” hands go up and a guy wearing oven mitts starts tossing them out. Diners close by get an underhand lob; those across the room get more of a baseball pitch. Portions are huge and sides and rolls are unlimited.

5 – Designer style vs. Surf Style

surfstyleSouvenirs of the French Riviera might include designer handbags, stylish sunglasses or some stunning jewelry. The Redneck Riviera offers T-shirts, boogie boards, bikinis and tacky souvenirs at dozens of Surf Style stores. Of course you can get several T-shirts for under $10 if you need to bring home something for your friends.

And if you’re looking to expand your surf wear or beach attire, you’ll find some great bargains. If you get off the main drag you can find some unique places to shop too.

Fairhope, Alabama is known as an artist’s haven and offers a wide variety of unique art at affordable prices if T-shirts aren’t your thing.

6 – Elite Hotels vs. Options for Every Budget

alabamatownLuxury hotels with impeccable service are to be expected on the French Riviera. You won’t find a Motel 6 in St. Tropez.

The Redneck Riviera offers lodging at just about any price point you could want. Primitive camping, budget motels, RV Resorts and mid-range hotels and beach house rentals are all possible. You should be able to find a place that fits your budget without too much work.

One thing to keep in mind though – if you aren’t staying on the beach, you’re going to want to find out where the best beach access is. In Gulf Shores the waterfront is packed with hotels and there is one little sliver of public beach. If you’re not in those waterfront hotels, ask around where you are staying for advice on the best beaches to visit.

7 – Unique and Fabulously Trendy vs. Unique and Fabulously Tacky

giantsharkAlong the French Riviera you might spot some great new trends you want to try out back home or a great outfit by a new designer. On the Redneck Riviera you’re going to see a lot of tacky. T-shirts with a bikini-clad silhouette in size 3XL, souvenir shops that you have to enter through the jaws of a giant fiberglass shark and beer cozies in an amazing array of designs are just a few sights along the way.

There are two options if tacky isn’t your thing. Go to the beach, eat fresh seafood, charter a boat and just ignore all the shops. Or have a little fun and embrace the weirdness. Take a silly photo in the shark’s mouth, but some off-the-wall souvenir that will always remind you of the Gulf Cost, albeit in a weird way and just give in a little. C’mon, you know you want a water globe full of glittery crabs to take home.

Photo credits:
Fishing boat photo by LA Lassie on flickr, surf style store by argusfoto on flickr, giant shark at Souvenir City by argusfoto on flickr, all others by Robert Clark

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Older comments on The Redneck Riviera: 7 Unexpected Reasons it Beats St. Tropez

imaginarycolours
26 August 2009

…and how does the redneck riviera beat St. Tropez?

docaltman
02 September 2009

I just went to the Alabama Gulf in February as a last minute escape from the winter up north. It was the only place with warm temps in the US I could drive to in one day. If you want a low-key, mid-winter escape that you can take a whole family to without spending very much, it was great. What I loved most was the deserted beaches and the sand. It is perfect to lay on the sand and do nothing. If you like super-soft white sand there are miles of it. The sand is better than most tropical destinations. This is a good place for the relax-and-do-nothing vacation in the US. That is probably the biggest different I see from St. Tropez

Ginny Humber
03 September 2009

My family has visited Gulf Shores almost every summer since I was born, and I never get tired of it. It’s extremely laid-back, well-stocked with interesting seafood restaurants, and you don’t have to search very hard to find that perfect spot of sand to stretch out your towel on. The water is usually nice and warm (even swimmable in November) and if you’re like me, and you go to the beach to relax and, well, be at the beach, Gulf Shores is the perfect vacation spot.