We combed the bays and bayous of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to find 14 beach bars that give new meaning to the phrase "drinking in the view."
The Gulf of Mexico's shoreline between the Louisiana/Mississippi border and the southwestern tip of Florida presents an amazing array of coastal features -- barrier islands, bays, mangrove swamps, wetlands, inlets, bayous and lots of beaches. For boaters, this constantly shifting landscape offers plenty of challenges but just as many rewards. Its unmatched natural beauty is occasionally punctuated by seaside towns where one can partake of food and drink after a day on the water.
This is where the beach bar comes in. These rustic establishments typically involve weathered wood, corrugated tin, thatched roofs, open-air ambiance and copious amounts of cold beer and good food. Sometimes they're more upscale, but just a bit. They're usually on the beach or across the street; some are on a river or inlet.
The common thread is that they're always connected to the water, which is why boaters like to frequent them. They're the kind of places where locals gather to mix and mingle with vacationers and folks passing through, and where the proprietors, bartenders and staff go out of their way to make you feel at home.
With that in mind, we've compiled a list of beach bars along the Gulf -- everything from funky to fancy -- charting from west to east and then tacking south, beginning in Mississippi and finishing in Florida. Check them out when you're in the area.
Pass Christian, MS
Located on a crescent-shaped slice of beach, this walk-up establishment is beer-only, and the menu is posted on a chalkboard next to the window where you order. But what Sea Level lacks in restaurant-style amenities, it more than makes up for in quality and quietude. Whether you choose the certified angus beef burger, blackened shrimp, mahi mahi or jerk chicken tacos, hand-cut fries, fresh-squeezed lemonade or any other delicacies on the board, you can't go wrong. Pick up your order, claim a picnic table and enjoy the sunset.
Where to Dock: Pass Christian Harbor
Ocean Springs, MS
Just over the Route 90 causeway that spans Biloxi Bay, you find Aunt Jenny's, not a beach bar per se, but an all-you-can-eat restaurant on the water. No corrugated tin or tiki bars here. The restaurant's old southern manor has been around since 1852 and was converted to an inn before becoming an eating establishment in 1981. For nearly 40 years, they've offered the same simple menu catfish, shrimp and chicken mostly fried, with all the trimmings. Aunt Jenny's only serves draft beer in the dining room, but you can start off with drinks in the Julep Room Lounge downstairs before going topside for dinner.
Where to Dock: Ocean Springs Small Craft Harbor
Sitting at the mouth of the Mary Walker Bayou and West Pascagoula River, the restaurant's colorful back deck is a lush and laid-back place to spend time with a cold beverage and a grouper salad, bowl of gumbo or crawfish po' boy. For something more substantial, try a shrimp, chicken or crawfish basket or maybe a ribeye or filet mignon with potatoes, steamed veggies, salad and toast points. Smaller boats can tie up on the bayou out back.
Where to Dock: Mary Walker Marina
Spanish Fort, AL
Just off the Route 98 Causeway opposite USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, this rustic hideaway is on the water's edge with an expansive view of Mobile Bay. You'll find something for everyone here, from traditional fare like steaks, chicken and seafood to regional specialties such as cornmeal-fried oysters, turtle soup, crawfish-smothered pork chops with grits and the Big Bateau Platter -- fried shrimp, oysters, fish fillet and softshell crab on a crispy, fried green tomato. And don't forget the succotash and greens! "I will fly to Alabama from California... just for a meal here," one diner recently wrote on Yelp.
Where to Dock: Dog River Marina
Owner Pete Blohme is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has spent more than 20 years honing his skills in area restaurants before opening Sunset Pointe in 2014. Located on the west side of Mobile Bay, the view here is as much a star as the food. "Some of the most vivid and unforgettable sunsets you may ever look upon," says Pete. The menu is more upscale than your typical beach bar, featuring an array of bights that should appeal to boaters with an appetite for the unique: tuna crudo, mussels in beer broth, snapper collars, grilled slaw. Definitely not just beer and burgers, although Sunset Pointe does serve a great one ... topped with pimento cheese.
Where to Dock: Fly Creek Marina
Gulf Shores, AL
If you're on Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores, AL, you're right on the Gulf of Mexico. At Bahama Bob's, there's nothing but water between you and Cancun, 600 miles due south. That's some view. Like they say at BB's, "The lower the latitude, the better the attitude." The menu lists exotic drinks, a dozen beer brands, fried, grilled or steamed seafood, and the requisite burgers, salads, and sides. Add some sand, surf and a Gulf breeze, and you've got the quintessential seafood shack.
Orange Beach, AL
Sail through Perdido Pass and into Terry Cove, then hard to port, and you find Fisher's Dockside at Orange Beach Marina. Featuring open garage doors, sailcloth curtains and cypress walls, the open layout is breezy and laid-back. Settle in with a cold draft or frozen daiquiri and check out the menu to see an array of burgers, sandwiches and po' boys, with a handful of fish and chicken entrees for bigger appetites. Sides include collard greens, yellow grits and black-eyed peas, among others Alabama favorites. A slate of interesting appetizers, a kid's menu and bread pudding for dessert round things out.
Where to Dock: Orange Beach Marina
Right on Miramar Beach, Pompano Joe's has been called "the ultimate beach snack shack and one of the world's best beach restaurants" by The Travel Channel. It certainly looks the part. Weathered wood, tropical- tone accents, a deck facing the beach lined with multicolored umbrellas, even the thatched-roof tiki bar outside the main entrance ensures you don't go without a beverage one second longer than necessary. The extensive menu is dominated by Gulf and Island-style fare such as Bajan mahi mahi, jerk chicken, coconut shrimp and PJ's award-winning seafood gumbo, as well as scallops, oysters, shrimp, lobster and four types of fish.
Where to Dock: Destin Marina
Grayton Beach, FL
An institution in these parts, the original Red Bar, housed in the old Grayton General Store a block from the beach, was destroyed by fire in February 2019. But a new Red Bar has risen from the ashes, reopening on July 15, 2020. In the aftermath of the tragedy, owner Oli Petit promised, "We will be back, and we will rebuild to the exact previous specifications, maybe with a better bathroom." True to his word, Red Bar is resurrected with its original menu and its kitschy interior lovingly recreated. Drop in for a drink and order blackened grouper, gumbo, shrimp and grits, a po-boy, a signature salad, or other tasty pub grub.
Where to Dock: Sandestin's Baytowne Marina
Tarpon Springs, FL
The Anclote River bayous around Tarpon Springs are legendary for their twists and turns, creating scenic coves and canals. Rusty Bellies sits on one such inlet, and its westward-facing dock, deck and tiki bar offer spectacular sunset views. The owners opened the restaurant as a gastronomic tribute to the local fishing trade, and they continue to operate their own fleet of boats, as well as Pelican Point Seafood Market next door. This makes for exceptionally fresh shrimp, snapper, grouper and mullet, all of which Rusty Bellies serves in massive proportions along with a full slate of other surf, turf and pasta entrees.
Where to Dock: Turtle Cove Marina
Sanibel Island, FL
Across the street from Blind Pass Beach at Sanibel's northern tip, the Lazy Flamingo bills itself as "the best sort of beach dive bar and as casual as it can get." One look inside confirms that. First, the place is tiny: half a dozen booths, a couple of high tops and maybe 10 stools around the bar. Second, it's strictly self-serve. Place your order, grab a seat and pick it up when it's ready. The vibe is laid-back friendly. The beer is icy cold. The mesquite-grilled grouper is flaky, smoky and incredible. The creamy Caesar salad is served in a clamshell bowl the size of a small satellite dish. Dead Parrot wings will set your soul on fire. And don't get me started on the garlic bread!Where to Dock: Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa
Fort Myers Beach, FL
Just off Fisherman's Wharf on San Carlos Island, Doc's huge outdoor deck facing Matanzas Pass is the perfect waterside watering hole. After you work through the voluminous drink menu, check out the food. You'll find something for everyone: a full raft of apps, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, chicken...even a dry-rubbed ribeye for landlubbers...as well as surf-inspired twists such as conch chowder, seafood tacos, paella, cedar plank salmon, and shrimp and grits. Also check out Dinkin's Bay Raw Bar, where you can order fresh peel-and-eat shrimp, oysters, ceviche or Doc's signature dish, Yucatan Shrimp.
Where to Dock: Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina