The Year-Round Beach


Ginger Rueve's son Charlie plays along the shoreline

Ginger and Steve Rueve’s son, Charlie

Written by Lauren Lockhart

Photos provided by interviewees

 

We Alabamians love our beach vacations. Sure, we deal with the hot southern weather for the better part of the year, but there is something about packing up the car and heading down to our favorite beach for a much-needed summer vacation. It’s as if the arrival of June flips a switch in our brains that signals “Beach! Beach! Beach!” And once we arrive at the shore, there is nothing better than that first time we slip off our flip-flops, sink our toes in the warm sand, and feel the summer sun on our skin. This is the beach trip we dream of all year long.

But is it really?

Let’s face it. We dream of a fuss-free summer getaway, but we all know that is easier said than done. We struggle to find the ideal vacation week around work schedules and kid schedules, and when we finally find that one gloriously available week, the rate on that lovely beachfront condo is at an all-time high. Once we’ve squeezed the car full of suitcases, fold-up beach chairs, and the all-important gargantuan pool float, we make it to the beach only to find that every other family in the state had the exact same idea. The beach is packed; the traffic is jammed, and the wait at any nearby restaurant is at least an hour.

So why do we continue to do it every year? Because we love our beach vacations.

This year, try something new. Take the “summer” out of your summer beach vacation.

More and more Birmingham families are choosing to visit the beach during the off-season, a period that includes the months outside of peak beach season, which is generally April through August. Sure, a non-summer beach trip may sound paradoxical to some, but others are finding the off-season to be prime time for visiting the beach. They are reinventing the idea of a beach vacation—perhaps for the better.

“We go less in the summer than we do in the off-season,” says Courtney Lundberg from Mountain Brook, whose favorite time to visit the beach is—believe it or not—January. “We have taken friends down in January and had a ball!” she says.

Other popular times include Thanksgiving and in between Christmas and New Year’s, not to mention long weekend holidays like Labor Day.

Lisa Jones relaxes on the water with her dog, Babs

Lisa Jones

“The beach can be a great long weekend […] if you have kids and get that extra day off school,” says Lisa Jones, who owns a condo in Orange Beach. “For us, it is just a relaxing way to escape the stress of day-to-day life—even if it’s just for a short time.”

Conversely, scheduling beach trips around major holidays tends to create new traditions in and of themselves. Jill and Ken Watson choose to extend their Christmas break at the beach.

“We really look forward to hitting the road to the beach on Dec. 26,” says Jill.

Ken adds, “It’s just great knowing that we can relax at the beach for a few days or even a week once the festivities are over.”

Jon Myer, who owns Myer Beach Properties with his wife Reba, also prefers to spend the holiday season at the beach with his family.

“This year, we plan to open Christmas gifts and have our family Christmas celebration at the beach instead of at home,” he says. The couple will be joined by their kids and grandchildren as they put a new spin on a Christmas tradition.

No matter when they prefer to go, off-season beach travelers agree on two main reasons why the beach is better in the non-summer months: the prices (renting in the off-season can be up to 40 to 50 percent cheaper than in the summer) and the crowds.

“There are no people—I’m serious!” says Lundberg. “You don’t have to wait in line, and when you’re on the beach, you can pretty much have it to yourself, so you don’t feel like you’re dodging people.”

Ginger and Steve Rueve, who recommend the month of October for beach trips, agree. “The water is warm and clear, the beach is wider, the crowds have diminished, and you can sit outside all day without getting overheated or eaten up by bugs!”

So the prices are affordable, and the beach isn’t crowded, but summer vacation traditionalists would argue that the off-season lacks the fundamental sizzling hot summer weather that makes the beach, well, the beach. Not according to these off-season beach-goers, who enjoy the beach year round.

“The weather is great probably 9–10 months out of the year. There are even some great days in the middle of winter,” says Jones.

Some even argue that fall and winter beach weather is not only nice, but actually better than summer weather.

The Myers enjoying a casual evening at the beach with family

Jon Myer’s wife, Reba

“Summer can be so hot, but in the off-season—since we are in the South—it is very nice and rarely too cold to be outside,” explains Myer.

Cindy Bembry, who owns a family home in Seacrest, agrees. “The water is always so beautiful during this time of the year, a really pretty blue-green color [that] you don’t really see so much in the summer. And it’s always much clearer. To me, it seems that way.”

Beach weather is nice for a large part of the year, but don’t expect a scorching summer day in the middle of the fall or winter. Mildly warm to cool days are often accompanied by cooler nights in the off-season.

“As long as my girls know what to expect and the clothes to take, they’re fine being on the beach,” says Lundberg of her two teenage daughters, Mallie and Kassey. “But it’s not fun to say ‘We’re going to the beach,’ and expect bathing suit weather [when] you need a sweatshirt and sweatpants.”

Jones, who most often visits the beach in the spring and fall, describes the weather as “still warm, but not too hot.” She says, “It’s even great when you can throw on a sweatshirt and some shorts and enjoy slightly cooler weather.”

“The weather usually doesn’t limit our beach activities, except for maybe swimming in the ocean,” says Ginger Rueve. “I set up camp on the beach in all types of weather and stay out there until it gets dark!”

From sea kayaking to paddle boarding to playing Bocce ball, these beach-goers make the most of the ocean and sand no matter what time of year it is.

“We just like being on the beach,” says Lundberg. “Everything that we do is on the beach.”

And when the beach is far less crowded in the off-season, beach-goers can take full advantage of the open shore. Bembry’s family, for example, has started a tradition of nighttime bonfires. “We have wine and cheese and crackers and just enjoy sitting around with neighbors and friends around a bonfire,” she says.

Ken and Jill Watson

Ken and Jill Watson

While spending time surfside is still enjoyed during the off-season months, what many off-season travelers find is that their beach vacation allows them to explore more of the area when they don’t feel pressed to spend all day on the shore.

When the Watsons most recently visited the beach during the peak season, they wanted to soak up every minute of the hot summer sun. “There were a lot of things we wanted to do but didn’t because we didn’t want to miss time on the beach,” says Ken. “Those are things we do in the off-season!”

Jill adds, “There are some great antique stores in the Destin area; we brought back a round coffee table made from barnwood last Christmas. And Seaside and Rosemary Beach have unique shops we love to browse through. Each time we go, we discover new shops.”

Bembry agrees that an off-season beach trip brings new adventures. “If we have a cool day, we’ve got 30 miles of biking paths. We can just jump on our bikes and go biking all over the place, like through the neighborhoods or up and down 30-A.”

Jones explains that no matter the season or weather, she and her friends manage to stay busy. She particularly enjoys the Naval Air Museum, the Wharf movie theatre, and dog-friendly restaurants like Sunset Grille and Cosmo’s on Canal.

“The beach is so much more than just the beach!” she says.

Visiting the beach in the off-season months opens visitors up to more than just sand and surf. In the month of October alone, Destin vacationers can experience annual local events like the Pensacola Beach Songwriters’ Festival, the Festival of the Arts, and the Baytowne Wharf Beer Festival. For some, sipping a cold brew or browsing artwork seems just a little more relaxing than sweating bullets in the sun.

Ginger and Steve say that in the off-season, there is no need to schedule the typical summer “tourist activities,” which can be fun, but often stressful to accommodate.

“The vibe is more relaxed in that it seems as if most people aren’t in a hurry to do anything in particular,” she says.

With the relaxed atmosphere comes the freedom for off-season vacationers to go wherever they want, whenever they want. They can stop by a local restaurant or attraction or just stay in for the day.

“That’s the charm of it. We don’t feel the need to really go anywhere,” says Bembry, who enjoys nothing more than a simple, no-fuss day of leisure with her family.

Cindy Bembry (L) with girlfriends

With more room to breathe in the off-season, vacationers feel they can focus on quality bonding with the people for whom they care the most. For Myer, the beach has become more than just a vacation spot; it holds special meaning for his family.

“Jamie, our son, got engaged on the beach two years ago right in front of our condo,” he explains. “We all got to play a part in it by setting up a tent on the beach with Christmas lights. We yelled cheers from our balcony and felt really honored to help him put it all together.”

Ginger and Steve have also made their Destin property feel like a second home for their family year round. Says Ginger, “My parents are deceased, so for the past six years [we] have traveled to the beach for Thanksgiving. It was too hard to stay home with so many empty seats around the table, so we decided to start a new tradition.” After a casual day spent on the beach, the Rueves abandon traditional Thanksgiving fare in lieu of their favorite foods. “Steak, crab legs, jambalaya, and grilled shrimp have all been on the menu,” she says.

Our beach vacation is what we make of it, no matter where or what time of the year it happens. For most, a vacation is simply a time to unwind and enjoy the company of family and friends. Bembry has found that to be just the case for her family’s fall beach vacations. The frenzy of day-to-day activities makes it difficult for her to find time to spend with family friends—that is what an off-season beach trip is perfect for.

“There are several families here in Homewood, and we live within a mile of each other. We don’t ever get the opportunity to see each other here at home,” she explains. “But we go to the beach—we try to plan to be there at the same time—that’s when we spend our time together.” Setting aside a distraction-free weekend at the beach gives Bembry’s family quality time with neighbors.

She laughs, “We have to go away four to five hours to get together!”

Courtney Lundberg with daughter Mallie and friends

It is easy to forget what a luxury it is having magnificent beaches so close to Birmingham. While a trip to the beach is a multi-day drive or plane trip for many in other parts of the country, we can make it from city to shoreline in a few hours.

“We can go for a weekend,” says Lundberg. “And if you happen to be lucky enough to have a long weekend, it’s really close enough to go.”

When you see a flexible weekend approaching this fall season, consider turning it into an off-season beach getaway. It won’t be just like a summer vacation. Rather, it will be a relaxing retreat all on its own.

“It’s a different type of family time at the beach, but who says ‘different’ isn’t as good?” says Ken.

We Alabamians love our beach vacations. So shouldn’t we make our beach vacations work for us? Some see the busy crowds and bustle as part of the beach experience, but if you are a vacationer who finds more stress than relaxation when visiting the beach during peak season, give the off-season a try. Chances are you’ll be an off-season regular after your first trip.

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