There’s nothing quite like celebrating the holidays in the Gulf Coast communities of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Fort Morgan and Perdido Key.

On the coast, the season officially gets under way after Thanksgiving (with wonderful Black Friday sales at the Tanger Outlets in Foley and other shops throughout the area), but there are even family-focused holiday activities to enjoy before Thanksgiving.

Just north of the beach in Foley, OWA will open its holiday festivities with a tree lighting ceremony in Downtown OWA on Nov. 16. Throughout December OWA will bed aglow with Christmas magic throughout The Park at OWA and Downtown OWA. Visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, have your photo taken, enjoy nightly light shows, and see the beautiful fountain on Lake OWA dance holiday music. Downtown OWA is open every day and is always free to enjoy.

From November 29 to December 31, the night sky lights up with a dazzling display of lights featuring more than 1,100 set pieces, three million lights and 15 scenes throughout the 65-acre Bellingrath Gardens and Home grounds in Mobile. During “Magic Christmas in Lights,” the Bellingrath Home is decorated for the holidays, and tours of the home are every hour and half hour until 8:30 p.m. Santa is on hand for photos, and choral performances are held nightly. Make a trip to Bellingrath one evening during your coastal holiday visit. It’s well worth the drive.

The City of Orange Beach will officially bring holiday magic to life on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving with its official Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. Main Street at The Wharf comes to life each year with dancing lights, a giant Christmas tree, hot chocolate and cookies, Christmas carols, and more.

In early December, the coast really kicks off its holiday celebrations, with the Gulf Shores Lighted Christmas Parade and Beach Celebration on Dec. 6. The parade will progress from the Gulf Shores Public Beach to Sims Park, where families will enjoy a manmade blizzard and ping pong ball drop complete with prize balls.

On Dec. 7 is the 34th Annual Christmas Lighted Boat Parade, which takes participants by boat from LuLu’s to Cobalt. Sponsored by the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber, the parade will include more than 45 decorated vessels, including sailboats, charters and even a kayak or two. The largest lighted boat parade in the Southeast, the parade comes right by The Wharf in Orange Beach, making viewing easy as you dine, dance, shop and more.

Also on Dec. 7, a lineup of 70+ exhibitors will fill the exhibit hall at Perdido Beach Resort for the 8th Annual Merry Market Unique Gifts and Arts & Crafts Expo. A Coastal Christmas tradition, this event will inspire you to purchase one-of-a-kind gifts for family and friends. The event is open Dec. 8 also.

On Dec. 10, the Gulf Shores Cultural Center will come alive to the sounds of the Baldwin Pops for its Christmas Concert. This event does not require a ticket and also serves as a collection site for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program. Patrons are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy.

Lucy Buffett’s LuLu’s will present Billy Claus and the LuLubelles family holiday experience on Saturday, Dec. 14. Billy Claus, Santa’s brother who prefers warmer weather and lives in the Caribbean, visits LuLu’s every year to listen to children’s wish lists, take photos with the children and more. Kids’ arts and crafts activities and a reading of “Billy Claus and the Spirit of Christmas” children’s book written by Lucy Buffett is also part of the events.

Flora-Bama kicks off the holidays with the annual Santa Drop. See Santa skydive onto the beach, visit with him while he’s there, and enjoy activities, sweets, hot chocolate and juice. Or, if you prefer an adult beverage, be sure to order one of the Flora-Bama’s famous frozen Bushwackers.

Children love visiting with Santa during the city of Gulf Shores’ annual Breakfast with Santa event. Enjoy a wholesome breakfast complete with sausage, bacon, eggs and pancakes; pictures with Santa and fun activities. Tickets are $5 for children 3 and up.

Holiday festivities continue on New Year’s Eve at The Wharf with its Reelin’ in the New Year at the Wharf celebration. Admission is free, and various kids’ activities range from $5 to $10. Live bands as well as family-friendly and adult-centered entertainment keep the atmosphere lively and fun at The Wharf until midnight when the marlin drops and fireworks light up the sky.

A quick drive north of Gulf Shores beaches is an enchanting place for families to partake in holiday activities. The Wales West Light Railway will operate its Arctic Express train leading up to Christmas Day. Santa Claus will be on hand for photos. There is also a petting zoo and pony rides in addition to manmade snow to play in.

This year, bring the family to the beach to enjoy the holidays. Finish off your holiday shopping with unique coastal gifts from The Wharf or shop for stylish bargains at Tanger Outlets in Foley.

Restaurants throughout the coastal area are open and welcoming to families, with seasonal selections mixed in with typical fare.

Weather is generally very pleasant, and often warm enough for short sleeves during the day and light jackets in the evening during the months of November and December.

Want to swim? Meyer has plenty of vacation rentals with indoor pools, hot tubs and saunas.

With winter rates in play during the holiday season, you’ll enjoy great prices on vacation rentals, whether on or off beach. Keep the budget in check in one of our budget-friendly condos or houses. Meyer also boasts a large selection of dog-friendly beach houses and condos in the area, so bring your pup along!