Looking to go to Dauphin Island between Christmas and New Years and we have a few questions. Seems to be a fair amount of stuff to see with the Estuary and the fort there.
I just noticed your inquiry about Dauphin Island, and, while I haven't been there myself in a few years, I am in contact with some people that live on the island. I queried them on some of the things you asked about and got the following responses.
1) What about the hurricane damage? Have they been able to clean it up?
Yes, the island is back in business as usual. The only problem that is storm related is on the West end of the island, and has to do with replenishing the sand that was displaced by Hurricane Ike. Although that storm did not hit the island, the resulting surge washed sand up on the road in that area. This is an area of the island that visitors don' normally frequent anyway. The replenishment is about finished at any rate.
2) How is the island campground?
The campground is located on the Eastern end of the island, and so does not suffer as much from storms as other locations. Reports say that it is in good condition. As you may know, it is run by the Dauphin Island Beach and Park Board, and it is suggested that you call them to check on availability of space. Here is a link to their website.
3) Would Gulf Shores be better?
It depends upon your personal preference. If you consider the restaurants, I would say that it probably would be, but for other considerations, maybe not. Here is how it was put by one of my contacts.
If anyone comes to Dauphin Island looking for all the glitz & glitter, so to speak, of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach/Panama City, they'll be sorely disappointed. DI is a very sleepy type beach community. Charter boats, kayak rentals, gift shops and one general store, are pretty much it. There are three very nice condo buildings(7 stories each, I think), so they don't compare to the FL condo complexes like the Phoenix properties as far as numbers or amenities. We have stayed in two of them and they are very nice & well furnished. There are smaller condo complexes available also (Sand Castle is one). The Common Loon restaurant is tops, but primarily take-out. The others are about equal to some in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach. DI offers a quiet, restful vacation without the traffic & crowds we find in GS/OB, but we love that area, too.
4) Is there a lighthouse on Dauphin Island?
Someone already answered this one for you. The lighthouse on Sand Island is about 3 miles offshore and is only accessible by boat. There is a tour boat that runs in the summer, but I'm not sure if it is seasonal or not. The lighthouse is now owned by the island park board.
5) What are the local eateries like?
The best one seems to be the Common Loon that is mentioned above. Some say that it is best for take-outs only, others say it's fine for both, all agree that it is one of the best, if not the best. One comment by a local is listed below.
As far as restaurants...well...this has been hit-and-miss. Right now, in my opinion, we have a great one in terms of food quality (The Common Loon) but in my mind it is strictly takeout. I believe that you can't find better fried seafood anywhere.
The other restaurants are said to be comparable with the ones in Gulf Shores, with reviews being mixed.
6) Any good seafood places?
Already addressed above. Almost everyone I talk to, say it can't be beat.
7) What about grocery shopping?
There is a small local grocery on the island, but your best bet is to stock up at the Walmart that is located just before you go over the causeway to the island.
8) What about the snowbird crowds?
The limited hotel and other rental space on the island probably limits the crowds to a degree. I have heard that there are some that stay in the campground, but the campground manager could best answer that question.
I hope this helps in your decision to make your trip. I have been to Gulf Shores recently, and all is well there, but it is, perhaps a lot more 'active' than the island. The campground at the state park is in good order, I have a neighbor that stayed there about 3 weeks ago with good results. I think the final decision is probably going to be based on your personal preferences, as I stated previously.
By the way, the best campground on the Gulf Coast is located just outside of
Destin, Florida at Topsail Beach, but that's a story for another time. There is also good camping here in Panama City Beach. Let me know if I can be of further help to you.