Alabama doesn't have a very long coast on the Gulf of Mexico, but it gives visitors plenty to see and do there in the spring from nature hikes to sandy beaches to fishing. Now all you need to do is look through a few Web travel guides to get acquainted and start your planning.
For casual nature lovers and dedicated bird watchers, there's an Alabama Coastal Birding Trail (www.alabamacoastalbirdingtrail.com/) ''a birder's paradise'' that you can follow to spot full-time avian residents and birds passing through on their flights north following winters in warmer territory. Click on ''Birding Trails'' for descriptions of the half-dozen loops along the area's wetlands, islands and beaches.
The Alabama coast also features wildlife refuges you can visit. the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a clickable map (tinyurl.com/dkrfbr) that will take you to Web sites of the Grand Bay and Bon Secour national wildlife refuges. And the Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuaries (www.coastalbirding.org/) covers seven locations on that popular barrier island.
If birds are not the sort of wildlife you want to pursue on your vacation on the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama's Gulf Coast (www.gulfshores.com/) has a section devoted to fishing. Here you can search for charter and cruise operators, check out the latest saltwater fishing reports, and look up fishing license details. If that's too much wildlife, try the golf course directory. And take a minute or three to browse the photo gallery.
Between the golf courses and the fishing, there's a lot of bright sandy beach for playing and lounging. Click on ''Things to Do'' at Alabama's Gulf Coast for a guide to beaches with info on which ones are free and which ones have restrooms, showers and parking. Then look under the ''Things to Do'' heading for ''Beyond the Beach,'' with suggestions of attractions in the area, and even shopping if you have the need and the time.
Dauphin Island (www.dauphinislandcoc.com/) is a barrier island sitting off the coast the between the mouth of Mobile Bay and the Mississippi state line. According to the Web site, it's the sort of place you can enjoy whether you're parking an RV or renting a luxurious beachfront home. Catch the ferry out to the island and board a charter boat for a shot at the area's red snapper, grouper, mackerel and amberjack, or just stay on land and see how many seafood restaurants you can cram into one visit.
On your way to or from the shore, try to spend some time in Mobile (www.mobile.org/) the bustling port city with a cruise ship terminal and a host of places that offer dining, music and nightlife. Take a look at ''Outdoor Recreation'' to learn about boat tours, outfitters that will send you on treks through the Five Rivers area, and Bellingrath Gardens (www.bellingrath.org/) a 65-acre estate with vast gardens and a mansion you can tour.
There's always more to see and do. Drop by the state's official Sweet Home Alabama (www.alabama.travel/).