Spring break is now a March through May season all its own with students and families seeking fun in the sun on Alabama’s famous beaches. Boomers recall when Alabama schools were closed in March for only a three-day “AEA holiday” as teachers flocked to Birmingham for the Alabama Education Association convention. Meanwhile, college students enjoyed a quarter or semester break. Families might be able to squeeze in a long weekend at the beach or the lake. Now beach-bound “breakers” travel through Alabama for a week looking for more than sugar white sands and chilly surf to fill their time
With the help of the internet and social media pages like Facebook’s “Day Trips in Alabama,” families traveling through Alabama can build an eclectic itinerary (maybe even through the lake town of Eclectic) packed with a week that includes pre- and post-beach fun. The Alabama coast – from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan and the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area – attracts Alabamians and thousands from other states. Whether traveling by interstate or U.S. highways, state or county roads, cities and small towns offer spring breakers opportunities to spend a little time and some money.
I-65 connects the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Always a major path to Alabama and Florida beaches, the heavily traveled interstate highway has an abundance of stops that lure spring break motorists onto the exit ramps. The Alabama Welcome Center, with its 224-foot Saturn rocket, near Huntsville is a great photo op that may launch a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Ninety minutes from Huntsville is Birmingham with its popular zoo and moving civil rights landmarks. History buffs will enjoy a visit to Montevallo’s American Village where history comes alive with costumed reenactors and replicas of historic colonial buildings. Traveling south, it’s hard to avoid a pit stop called Peach Park in Clanton. The giant peach shaped water tower says this is peach country. Montgomery is rich in both civil war and civil rights history. Want to get wild on spring break? Drive through the Alabama Safari Park just a few minutes south of Montgomery where zebras, camels, and deer enjoy snacks from visitors’ cars. Since people like snacks, too, a stop at Priester’s Pecans in Fort Deposit or a turkey sandwich from Bates House of Turkey in Greenville is a spring break trip tradition.
Many travelers heading on to Florida beaches leave I-65 for other popular beach routes along U.S. Highways 231 and 331. Both highways lead to Florida’s Gulf coast. Along the way, U.S. 231’s popular stops are at Sweet Creek Farm Market south of Montgomery that offers a café, ice cream, park and market. U.S.331 runs through sweet small towns, like Andalusia, before reaching its southernmost Alabama point in Florala. Florala’s is known for Lake Jackson, the state’s largest natural lake that is a picturesque spot for an enroute picnic.
Beach goers are on the lookout for the state’s newest roadside attraction, a mega convenience store/gas station called Buc-ee’s. The Texas-based chain ventured into Alabama with locations in Robertsdale, Leeds (near Birmingham), and Athens. A fourth Buc-ee’s is expected to open next month in Auburn. Calling themselves travel centers, Buc-ee’s is so many things: a 50,000-plus square foot retail center with fresh food, drinks, clothing, home décor, toys, and more; a mega-gas station with 120 pumps and a car wash; and a rest stop featuring immaculate restrooms.
Whether it’s a quick stop for snacks or an attraction visit, many Alabama’s cities and small towns love to lure spring break traffic off the interstate and onto their main streets where local businesses and economies benefit. Last year, the Alabama Department of Revenue reported $747 million in lodging tax revenue from Alabama’s beaches and taxable retail sales last year exceeded $1 billion. According to the Alabama Department of Tourism, visitors last year spent $7.3 billion with area businesses in Baldwin County alone. The impact resulted in more than 63,000 travel-related jobs that generated $2.4 billion in salaries and wages.
Enjoy spring break on Alabama’s highways and byways and make time for some of the side trips along the way.