The beaches of Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, Orange Beach and Perdido Key attract millions of vacationers every year.

Many even visit multiple times per year, especially those who live within a day's drive. And some have even been visiting Alabama/Florida Gulf Coast beaches for decades, tagging along with their parents when they were little and now passing on the tradition to their own children and grandchildren.

Many who have visited on multiple occasions fancy themselves “professional” beach vacationers. That’s because they know how to make the most of their Gulf Coast beach stay. They know being a pro at vacationing on the Gulf Coast requires thought and preparation before, during and after a visit.

Do these 10 things, and you’ll be among the most professional beach vacationers who visit the Gulf Coast.

1. Choose Comfortable Accommodations For Your Group

Becoming a professional beach vacationer starts well before you arrive at the beach. It requires proper planning so that all beach essentials are accounted for, including accommodations for everyone in your party to enjoy maximum coastal comfort.

Comfy room, lots of spaceFirst, make sure you have a plan in place for locating the appropriately sized vacation rental. Do your research to ensure you find the perfect one.

When it’s a trip for two to four, a one- or two-bedroom condo could be perfect.

When you need space for the kids, the grandparents or maybe some extra kiddos, a three- or four-bedroom condo or house could do the trick.

Maybe multiple families are traveling together to help save on expenses, or if it’s a family reunion you’re organizing, a 5+-bedroom house would provide the space you need.

The good news about selecting a vacation rental over a hotel room is there’s space not only for people but also essential beach gear.

Beach condos and houses come with fully equipped kitchens (no need to keep icing down your cooler, just use the fridge), living areas for family and friends to gather (no bunching up on hotel room beds), closets to stow gear, and private bedrooms and bathrooms when you need a little quiet time. Vacation rentals also come equipped with your own washer and dryer to avoid wet swimsuits and beach towels having to dry out on the backs of the desk chair or over the hotel room balcony railing.

It’s also important to plan enough time at the beach to enjoy activities that appeal to everyone in the group and give the adults in the group the optimal amount of time away from work and life’s responsibilities to de-stress.

The Park at OWA 2019There are so many things to do. Exploring the natural surroundings is one option for fun: visiting the beach, exploring Gulf State Park, hiking the back country trails, visiting the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge or historic Fort Morgan.

There are also lots of fun amusements such as The Park at OWA, just north of Gulf Shores beaches; arcades; shopping at Tanger Outlets in Foley, The Wharf in Orange Beach and lots of coastal-inspired boutique shops. Don’t forget about spending a day at Waterville USA, the area’s iconic water park featuring giant water slides, a lazy river, adrenaline pumping rides, mini golf and more.

If you encounter typical yet brief afternoon rain showers, there are plenty of options for indoor fun, such as a trampoline park, movie theaters and more.

Bottom line: choose your accommodations as soon as possible, as many families book their favorite vacation rentals for their Spring Break or summer weeks as far as one or even two years in advance.

2. Get It Together: Proper Beach Gear Is Imperative

Having the proper beach gear makes a beach trip more organized and enjoyable.

If you have lots of kids in tow, they come with a lot of stuff. Consider a durable, easy-to-maneuver, high capacity pull-along wagon or stand-up cart with all-terrain wheels to Proper beach gearnavigate the soft, wide, white-sand beaches of the Gulf Coast. Make sure your cart is deep enough to carry beach towels and mats, hats, sunscreen, drinks and other essentials.

In addition to the typical beach necessities, consider bringing along plastic bags to stow mobile phones, keys and other items you don’t want exposed to water or sand. Plastic bags can also be used (and reused) to store items temporarily while they are wet.

Building the ultimate sandcastle is a must when visiting the Gulf Coast’s beautiful white-sand beaches, and it’s important to bring along your tools. “Professional beach vacationers always bring their sandcastle-building tools—a large plastic shovel, a five-gallon bucket and sculpting tools for a start,” suggests Meyer Vacation Rentals Guest Relations Manager Kathy Harr. “If you are having a bit of trouble getting that sand to stick, reach out to Sand Castle University to help. It’s loads of fun!”

Many vacationers have also realized the ease with which they can haul their gear in a beach cart across the new ADA-compliant, wheelchair-accessible blue Access Mat that reaches Gulf Shores Beach Access Matfrom the sidewalk down to the beach at the Gulf Shores Public Beach near The Hangout.

If you prefer to streamline your gear, consider making use of beach chair rentals at near your accommodations, suggests Meyer Operations Specialist Sarah Kuzma. “Last fall, we played tourist on the island at a condo with family and rented the beach chairs and umbrellas in front of the accommodations. It was so great to just take our towels, sunscreen, etc., to the beach without having to drag beach chairs and umbrellas like we do when we go to the public beach areas.”

3. Prepare For Sunny Skies

Items for sun protection should be among your list of essentials: waterproof sunscreen with a high sun protection factor, lip protection, sunglasses, hats with a brim to cover your face, swim shirts for the kids, flip flops or sandals for walking on the sand, etc.

Sun protectionProfessional beach vacationers know to reapply sun protection frequently. Calming Gulf breezes can be deceivingly cool on the skin, making you think you’re not getting too much sun exposure.

Even on cloudy days, be sure to wear a hat and sunglasses and remember to frequently apply plenty of sunscreen and lip protection. Just because the sun is not bright in the sky does not mean you’re not being exposed to the sun’s strong rays. Clouds don’t block as much of the UV rays as you think, with only about 10-20 percent of UV rays being filtered by clouds. It’s also important to note that UV rays ricochet off reflective surfaces such as water and sand.

Make sure you also bring along plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and keep hunger pangs at bay until you’re ready to return to your vacation rental for a snack. If you’re planning a full day at the beach, consider a cooler with large wheels. Maybe consider freezing food and drinks, such as bottled water, grapes or strawberries, and even stick yogurts to help avoid the need for lots of ice throughout the day.

Providing shade for the family is also important. Large umbrellas stored in bags with handles may be more convenient than canopy-style tents since they are easy to carry as well as easier to erect and dismantle at the end of the day.

Lightweight beach chairs with straps to carry them to and from the beach enhance your comfort and make setup and removal easier.

Leave Only Footprints Gulf Shores, AlabamaWhatever you bring to the beach, remember to remove it all before sunset to remain in compliance with the area’s “Leave Only Footprints” initiative. Local municipalities are charged with removing all items left on the beach shortly after sunset.

The cities’ Leave Only Footprints program also reminds visitors to follow simple steps to protect the fragile ecosystem: avoid walking on beach vegetation, as plant roots hold together the fragile dunes; explore away from bird nesting areas; remove trash and recycle what you can; refill all holes to avoid causing injury to wildlife or people in case of collapsing sides.

The program also identifies various items not permitted along the beach, including glass containers, metal shovels or excessive digging, litter, tents or structures larger than 12 feet by 12 feet, overnight camping, fireworks, loud music, fires, pets and vehicles.

4. Soothe, Comfort And Care After The Sun

If you or one of the kids happens to experience a sunburn or maybe encounter a jellyfish while in the water, there are some great products to soothe irritated skin.

Soothe your skinBe sure to bring along Aloe Vera-infused lotion products to relieve sunburn and help avoid peeling skin.

As suggested by Meyer Vacation Rentals Vacation Planner Mai-Lek Nicely, “A professional beach vacationer would always have a large bottle of vinegar handy to rinse possible jellyfish stings for at least 30 seconds and hydrocortisone cream and/or an oral antihistamine to relieve itching and swelling.”

The acetic acid in white vinegar can help relieve pain and inflammation from sunburns.

5. Make Time To Soak In The Sunrises & Sunsets

Some of the best sunrises and sunsets in the world happen along this little slice of paradise. And professional beach vacationers know to venture out during these special times.

Gulf Coast SunsetAt sunset, walk out to your private balcony or deck for a great view, venture down to the beachfront, or even head to a restaurant with outdoor seating such as The Gulf at Perdido Pass in Orange Beach or Bahama Bob’s, situated a few miles west of The Hangout in Gulf Shores.

Kuzma particularly appreciates sunrises. “At home, I’m surrounded by woods, so it’s rate that I see a sunrise,” she says. “But on vacation at the beach, it’s one of my favorite activities. Although it seems counterintuitive to rise early on vacation, I simply love walking on the beach at sunrise, even if I nap later to compensate for the early morning.”

6. Learn The Beach Warning Flag System

Those who consider themselves “professional” beach vacationers are well aware of the local beach warning flag system and always look for the flags before entering the water.

Beach warning flagsFlags are displayed at public beach accesses throughout the area, and the various colors are intended to provide information about conditions at the Gulf. Green means low hazard, with calm conditions. Swimmers are still urged to exercise caution in their activities. Yellow indicates a medium hazard, with moderate surf and/or currents. Purple indicates the presence of dangerous marine life. One red flag indicates high surf and/or strong currents, while two red flags means the water is closed to the public.

7. Get A Taste Of The Gulf

When visiting the Gulf Coast, it’s always a good idea to bring your sense of adventure, especially in trying new coastal-inspired cuisine.

Taste the GulfTry something new at one of our many seafood restaurants. Maybe it’s a dozen oysters at Acme Oyster House. Try them raw, as a shooter (freshly shucked oyster with cocktail sauce and vodka served in a shot glass), or chargrilled.

Locals love visiting the local fisheries to pick up a box of oysters to shuck themselves and grill, bake or serve raw. Lots of options!

There are numerous restaurants in the area to try that serve everything from grilled and fried seafood freshly caught from the Gulf, steaks, burgers and so much more.

“I never tire of trying new dishes at our large variety of wonderful restaurants,” adds Kuzma.

8. Ready, Set, Relax!

Relaxation is key to a successful beach vacation.

Stake out a spot on the beach with a good book as the rhythmic sounds of the waves rolling onto shore soothe the soul. Or, enjoy your private balcony at your vacation rental. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning as you watch the sunrise over the Gulf or a peaceful moment on your balcony watching as the sun disappears in the horizon.

Relax on the Gulf CoastAnother great way to relax is by enjoying a visit to one of several day spas in the area.

One of our favorites is the Spa at the Beach Club, where men and women can feel comfortable refreshing mind and body with luxurious spa treatments, premium salon services and holistic approaches to massage therapy.

Enjoy a simple scalp massage ritual or manicure, a spa sampler, or a five-hour spa experience with your besties treating everyone to a 50-minute Swedish massage, signature manicure and pedicure, 50-minute Beach Club Signature Facial and Luxury Body Polish.

Bridal parties are also welcome at this spa and others in the area, including Fusion Spa Salon at The Wharf in Orange Beach, for example.

Maybe you enjoy relaxing to the sound of live music. There are concerts throughout the year at the Amphitheater at The Wharf and bands play venues from Fort Morgan to Perdido Key all year long. “Finding live music is a great joy to me anytime, but especially on vacation.

Music lovers who enjoy learning the stories behind the songs rave about the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival in November.

Check out our Concert Page to keep up with performances all year long.

9. Bring Your Sense Of Adventure

Maybe your adventurous spirit kicks in during a beach vacation. If it does, venture out to theBring Your Sense of Adventure
Wharf for a zipline experience and a look at the coastal terrain from the treetops. Whenyou’re finished, head over the Ferris wheel for another great view.

Maybe you’d like to spend a half-day or day out on the water on a deep sea fishing excursion. Or, if you’d rather stay closer inland, there are plenty of captains who know just where to go to catch fish on the back bays.

Parasailing high above the Gulf or taking a Jet Ski tour of Wolf Bay are two other options.

10. Plan Ahead For The Next Visit

Smart beach vacationers understand that vacation rentals fill quickly in this popular destination, especially during the spring and summer months.

Plan ahead for your next beach vacationThat’s why it makes sense, especially while the family is together, to plan for the next visit. Especially for those who need a beach house, it is imperative to make reservations early, as beach houses tend to be reserved many months—sometimes even years—in advance.

There is a bit more flexibility in reserving condos in advance, but there is no doubt the most popular ones are the first to fill for spring and summer weeks.

Professional beach vacationers know to select and reserve their favorite rental for their next trip before they’ve departed from their vacation.

Whether it’s your first visit, your 10th or your 100th, those who spend time on the beautiful white-sand beaches of Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, Orange Beach or Perdido Key quickly learn how to become a professional beach vacationer.

Consider these 10 tips next time you visit and be sure to choose a Meyer Vacation Rentals beach house or condo.