While the beaches of Florida tend to get all the glory, once you’ve seen an Alabama Gulf Coast sunset, you don’t want to see anything else. The area, from the state lines of Florida to Mississippi, may be a tiny stretch of sand, but it’s among the best in the region.
Settled in the 1800s as a part of the Mississippi territory, tourism has been the main industry for many years, along with seafood. Royal reds are a famous export, a type of shrimp only found in deep water.
Hurricanes and oil spills in the last few years have caused problems for the coast, but the area is resilient and keeps visitors coming back for more. Annual events include food festivals, the coastal triathlon, and the Hangout Fest music festival.
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What to Do
Gulf State Park Pier– Explore the miles of walking and biking paths, beaches, and fishing. There is also a championship golf course, beach pavilion for picnics, rental cottages, tennis courts, and campsites. Rent a beach cruiser from one of the nearby shops. 20115 State Highway 135, Gulf Shores
Wild Native Tours– Learn about the unique ecosystems of the Alabama Gulf Coast firsthand with these boat tours that go to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. You might spot dolphins and other creatures. The company also leads kayaking tours. Book your spot here. 4205 County Road 6, Gulf Shores
Helicopter tours– See the stunning coast from above on a helicopter tour. Choose the area you want to see and time length. Options include beach, sunset, island, and sea life tours. You must have two people to book a tour. Orange Beach
Fort Morgan State Historic Site Museum– Built between 1819 and 1833, this fort was used in the Battle of Mobile Bay. It was later used during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. Exhibits include the evolution of seacoast fortifications and adaptations made by the U.S. Army for the defense of the country. 110 State Highway 180, Gulf Shores
Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail– Built in 2003, these trails wind through the area down the coast with playgrounds, bathroom facilities, and benches along the way. Bring your own bike or walk the paths, but be on the lookout for the area’s resident alligator. Eco-tours are another way to get to know the area, as well as Coastal Segway Adventures. State Highway 161, Orange Beach
Gulf Shores Museum– For the occasional rainy day, visit this free museum, housed in a historic house that was moved after a hurricane. Permanent exhibits include displays on the area’s history and natural disasters while rotating exhibits feature a time capsule and war defenses. 244 W. 19th Avenue, Gulf Shores
The Wharf at Orange Beach– This multi-use development has shops, restaurants, and a massive Ferris wheel that soars over the beach. Mini golf and live music are also a part of the fun. The complex also has hotels and condos for rent. 4550 Main Street, Orange Beach
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo– Bring your little ones for an afternoon with creatures great and small at “the little zoo that could.” Favorites include the tigers, sloths, and lemurs. 1204 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores
The Factory Gulf Shores– A trampoline park maybe not what you think of for a trip to the beach, but both adults and kids will enjoy a bounce here. There are also American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle courses and arcade games. 18948 Oak Road West, Gulf Shores
Alabama Gulf Coast Dolphin Cruise– See the coastal areas around Gulf Shores and Orange Beach by boat. The daily cruises spot wildlife including birds and dolphins.
Water Warrior Paddleboarding– Get out on the intercoastal with the team at Water Warrior for an afternoon of paddleboarding. They can teach beginners how to stand up or lead experts through the water in search of sea creatures. They also provide all your gear. Available in Pensacola and Orange Beach.
Where to Eat
The Hangout– More than just a restaurant, The Hangout is also a store, music venue, and bar. Their menu features Gulf Coast favorites like fresh seafood, burgers, and strong drinks with a tropical twist. They even have a 32-ounce cocktail, best enjoyed on the patio with a view of the ocean. 101 E. Beach Boulevard, Gulf Shores, (251) 948-3030
LuLu’s Gulf Shores– Owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister, Lulu’s is set on the Portage Creek, which allows guests to dine while watching ships pass by. Their menu focuses on sustainable seafood, so you can be sure that there is as much local product as possible. In addition to seafood, sandwiches and burgers are available, as well as allergy-friendly dishes. Be sure to come on weekends for live music. 200 East 25th Avenue, Gulf Shores, (251) 967-5858
Anchor Bar and Grill– Set in the harbor alongside other ships, Anchor is an alfresco eatery is as laid back as they come. Fare is simple, including tacos and burgers, and the drinks menu includes beer, wine, and cocktails like the local favorite The Bushwhacker. 4575 South Wilson Boulevard, Orange Beach, (251) 200-0250
Flora-Bama– This Gulf Coast institution once straddled the state line between Alabama and Florida. While it’s primarily on the Florida side today after hurricane damage, this place is an oyster bar, live music venue, store, and so much more. Experience it for yourself on a Saturday night. 17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, (251) 980-5118
Big Fish Restaurant– The chef and his wife traveled the world before settling down here, so the dishes have an Asian influence. They have fresh fish daily, some you may have never heard of before. 25814 Canal Road, Orange Beach, (251) 981-5516
Hog Wild BBQ– The coastal-inspired restaurant is the best place around to get barbecue. They make their own sauces and their fries are a favorite, topped in pulled pork. 911 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores, (251) 540-9453
Where to Stay
Turquoise Place– Condos come in three, four, and five bedroom suites with balconies complete with hot tubs. The resort also has all the amenities of a hotel like wristband entry. 26302 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach
The Island House Hotel– This DoubleTree hotel boasts private beach access and an oceanfront pool. Suites come with balconies and living areas. 26650 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach
Hotel Indigo Orange Beach – Gulf Shores– The boutique hotel on the beach is connected to area bike trails. It has its own restaurants as well as two pools. 22843 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach
Hilton Garden Inn Orange Beach– The hotel is a family-friendly option with in-room kitchenettes in the rooms and suites. They even have a poolside tiki bar. 23092 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach
The Lodge at Gulf State Park– The stylish Hilton hotel is surrounded by 6,000 acres of protected beach and forest. It has family-friendly rooms and a gulf-front infinity pool. 21196 East Beach Boulevard, Gulf Shores
The Shores– The Diamond Resorts property has an outdoor pool with a waterfall, beachfront fireplaces, and a fitness center. Two-bedroom suites have full kitchens and ocean views. 24060 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach
Camping- If you’re camping, Buena Vista RV Resort is top-of-the-line, with resort amenities like a pool, pet facilities, and pavilions. Southport Campground has many of the same amenities but also allows tent camping. If you don’t have your own RV, you can borrow one from Outdoorsy.
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My stay in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach was coordinated by Gulf Shores-Orange Beach Tourism and Geiger Public Relations.