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Dauphin Island is one of those rare places that is truly unspoiled, yet full of history. Living in Florida in the middle of a concrete jungle where sand dunes once stood, it's pleasant to find a place that still has building height limits, and no fast-food restaurants. Approaching Dauphin Island from Mobile via 193, it's a bit disconcerting at first, since you will travel on a two lane road through the woods with pecan trees on the right, and Mobile Bay on the left. Suddenly, you reach the causeway, a 6 mile stretch of road and bridge that is surrounded by marshland, and the shallows of the bay. Wildlife is abundant in this area, with egrets, blue heron, and pelicans.
When visiting the island, take time to visit the Estuarium and Fort Gaines on the east end. The only other entertainment options are fishing, bicycle riding (a new bike path covers the island from the Marina to the Fort), golf on a links course, bird-watching, and just enjoying the beach. While the beach isn't the sugar-white sand that is familiar to those used to the Gulf Coast from Panama City to Gulf Shores, it is still wonderful for sunning and gathering shells. The West end really has taken a hit from the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, with several hundred homes washed away. There are still remnants of what once were homes, pilings sticking out from the sand, however the residents have done a remarkable job of pulling together and rebuilding. (EDIT: Most residue of the damaged homes has been replaced with new homes or cleared and are just sandy lots) Where the road ends on the West End, the beach continues for another mile before the island disappears. This stretch of beach offers a shell collector the opportunity to find hundreds of different kinds of shells without find them trampled by beach-goers. (EDIT: There is now a paid parking area administered by the Town of dauphin Island with beach rentals, AC/bathrooms, food/drink vendors and lifeguards during the season)
There is only one motel on the island, a campground, but several condominiums and private homes available for rental. During the bird migrations in April, tourists flock to this tiny island from all over the world to catch a glimpse of some rare species. The only draw back of this unspoiled island is the lack of restaurants. Currently, there are just a couple of small mom and pop seafood restaurants, and a bakery that serves freshly baked breads and pastries, as well as deli-style sandwiches. There is a seafood market at the base of the bridge (EDIT: Skinner's Seafood has moved to a new purpose built building just to the West of the water tower and owned by this seafaring family) that brings in fresh shrimp from their own boats, and will steam them for you to enjoy at your own place. Beside them is The Common Loon Restaurant, and it serves seafood, sandwiches and drinks.
For the visitor who wants to see the Gulf Coast like it was 30 years ago, Dauphin Island fits the bill. Those who enjoy the peace and quiet of this environment don't want to see it become a clone of nearby Gulf Shores with its high rises.