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Playful bottle-nosed dolphins
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When I tell Kirk that I’ve been sent by American Way to check out the coast of Alabama, he nods, putting it together. So that’s why the bird reacted. Who wants some nosy journalist letting everyone know that Alabama has a coast?

“You think people don’t know that Alabama has a coast?” I ask him.

“I know they don’t,” he says, pointing at the broad, unpeopled beachscape as solid, happy proof. “Do me a favor,” he adds. “Have a good time, but don’t tell everyone what they’re missing, OK?”

“OK,” I promise. “It’ll be our little secret.”

All five of the Gulf-?bordered states have coastal carrots. Mississippi has Biloxi and all those casinos. Louisiana has New Orleans. Texas has Padre. Florida has, well, Florida.

What does Alabama have? As it turns out, a deceivingly expansive and thoroughly enjoyable, if oft-overlooked, piece of this pie.

On a map, Alabama’s thin slice of shore — barely 50 miles long — wedged between Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and the Florida panhandle, may appear tiny. Apparently even nonexistent to some. But look closer. It’s there. And it’s nice. You can bob in its waves.  
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The peaceful coast of Gulf Shores, Ala.
Darryl Vest/Alamy

Walk on its soft, warm sand. You can Jet Ski, parasail and golf on hundreds of holes designed by the likes of Arnold Palmer and Robert Von Hagge. You can eat, imbibe, dance, mingle with locals and toss mullets over the state line (in no particular order) at the Flora-Bama, a famous roadhouse straddling the Florida-Alabama state line.

You can meander along the Alabama Gulf Coast for days — yes, days — from its lower-key western-side Gulf Shores/Fort Morgan to its marginally higher-key east-end community of Orange Beach and realize that 50-odd miles of sandy coast accented with cozy beach cottages and condos, gumbo joints and upscale surf-and-turf tables, and various other requisite roadside beach-vacay staples is actually a pretty decent length. Compare that with Bolivia’s coast. Or Tennessee’s.

Better yet, you can vanish even deeper here along endless back roads and more than 600 miles of indented? shorelines filled with hidden bays, natural wonders, timeless communities and other only-in-L.A. finds where — according to at least one nosy journalist — ?Lower ?Alabama’s rich, crenulated coast really hits its stride.

The Gulf of Alabama (our deserving new title for the area) boasts one of the South’s most important bird-and-wildlife habitats, with its 7,000-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, 6,000-acre Gulf State Park and equally vast Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve — all hiding on the edge of the country’s second-largest delta. There’s rock-solid history to explore on the tip of this coast, at one of the country’s most storied (and easily missed) 19th-century American military fortifications, Fort Morgan. There’s perhaps the nicest Oak Street you’ll ever care to walk down in a town you’ve probably never heard of, Magnolia Springs. And there’s a little zoo offering some of the biggest animal encounters you’re likely to experience anywhere.