That’s because 6.1 million people visited the beaches of this coastal paradise during 2020 in spite of the pandemic closing beaches for more than a month.
We are often asked for a list of some our favorite things to do in the area. This is a list of 10 things to do in te Gulf Shores/Orange Beach that make the area the top place to vacation in the state!
Go To The Beach, Of Course!First and foremost, we recommend exploring some of the 32 miles of coastline stretching from Fort Morgan in the west to Orange Beach in the east. Be sure to remove all of your personal items as you leave the beach each day so your items are not removed during the cities’ nightly beach clearing run that is part of the Leave Only Footprints program. Not only is the program designed to keep the beach free of litter and debris, but it is also to protect wildlife and other beachgoers. Here are more beach tips.
Each community has its own vibe and beach access points. Fort Morgan is on “the quieter side” of Gulf Shores. Beaches here are likely to be less crowded than they are in Gulf Shores. There are even beaches to explore at historic Fort Morgan.
Gulf Shores has an energy all its own, with the main public beach area being a gathering spot for vacationers of all ages. At the main public beach area, called Gulf Place, you’ll find the Hangout restaurant at the center of much of the action. Nearby is Pink Pony Pub, other popular restaurants and shops for all your beach needs. This is also the site of the popular Hangout Music Festival, which draws tens of thousands of people to the beaches each May.
While visiting Orange Beach pay a visit to Alabama/Florida Point, which is just east of Perdido Pass Bridge. Here, you’ll find 6,000 feet of wide beach, sand dunes, boardwalks, picnic areas, restrooms and outdoor showers. Parking here is free. This is a popular spot to watch boats meander through Perdido Pass on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. This is also where you’ll find the Caribe Resort and Cobalt Restaurant.
Explore Gulf State ParkWith a beach, fishing and education pier, bike and hiking paths, beach pavilion, beach accesses, restaurants, a learning campus and education building, Gulf State Park is must-see while on vacation.
Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches for beach lovers. If you want a little different experience on the water, kayak or canoe in Lake Shelby.
The park is home to 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks in the park, making it more accessible than ever. Stroll under Live Oak trees draped in Spanish moss. Bike Rosemary Dunes and watch out for the elusive bobcat. Seven of the trails along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex are part of the Gulf State Park system. Borrow one of the park’s bikes for free and explore to your heart’s content.
One of the most unique aspects of Gulf State Park is the fishing pier that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico. With 725 feet of fishing space on each side of the pier, the pier is a great spot to test your angling skills. The pier also offers covered seating for the concession area, an indoor retail shop with tackle and souvenirs, and signs along the pier sharing information on native fish, birds and other area wildlife. The pier provides wheelchair accessible rail fishing. Fishing licenses and sightseeing permits are sold on site.
Be sure to walk the beaches of Gulf State Park. It will boost your mood and help you soak in that precious Vitamin D.
Play All Day At Waterville USAWith giant waterslides, a lazy river, an area just for the littles, an indoor arcade, an escape house, an amusement park and more, Waterville USA has been a staple activity for vacationers coming to Gulf Shores for decades.
This 20-acre facility is only about a mile inland from Gulf Place in Gulf Shores and is a great place to bring the kids for an off-beach day.
Slide on Dune Racer, Gold Rush, Great White, Rainbow Falls, Screamin’ Demon or Triple Dog Dare for fast-paced adventure. Laze around the lazy river. Other waterpark attractions include family-friendly Shrimp Boat Village.
Here is a list of condos that come with access to a lazy river!
Shrimp Boat Village is a water wonderland that features three stories of sprays, geysers, net crawls, slides, water cannons and dumping buckets. WaWa World is another great spot for little ones. It’s a pirate-themed waterpark limited to those under 42 inches tall and their parents. The littles especially love the frog, pelican and duck slides!
For those who want to test their surfing skills, Flowrider is a simulated surfing/body boarding/snowboarding attraction where riders can stand up, surf or bodyboard on an endless wave. Forty-thousand gallons of water is pumped over a soft, trampoline style mat up a five-foot incline to create the endless wave.
Take A Walk Atop Fort MorganWhen you arrive at Fort Morgan, which is located about 23 miles from the intersection of Ala. Hwy. 59 and 180, you’ll immediately notice the peacefulness of your surroundings—Gulf breezes blowing, the scent of the salt air and the sounds of children exploring the grounds.
Get out of your car and walk inside the artifact-filled museum to begin your journey back in time to learn more about this fort that was operational as far back as the War of 1812 and the Civil War and those who were stationed there. Fort Morgan is one of the forts along the Mobile Bay Civil War Trail.
Then, enter the fort to explore all its brick-covered nooks and crannies. Then, get the best vantage point of Mobile Bay converging with the Gulf of Mexico by climbing the steep stairs and walking on top of the fort itself. The view is stunning.
The fort is situated on Mobile Point at the end of the scenic Fort Morgan peninsula. Preceded by Fort Bowyer during the War of 1812, Fort Morgan is a third system masonry fort built between 1819 and 1833. It stands guard where Mobile Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.
It played a significant role in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 and was used intermittently through the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. Fort historians will even fire off the cannon ever so often.
Site admission also includes access to nature areas, a boat launch, a picnic area and beaches, one of which is dog-friendly. Self-guided tours are available daily.
See A Kangaroo At The ZooA kangaroo is just one of many animals you might encounter during a visit to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
Originally opened as Zooland in 1989 just north of Gulf Shores beaches, the zoo today houses 500 animals (118 species) on 25 acres of land north of the Intracoastal Canal Waterway Bridge. The zoo was a complete build from the ground up in 2020.
Every animal at the zoo has a unique story. Some were rescues after being orphaned, abandoned or abused. Others were unwanted once they became too big or difficult to handle or grew too old or sick. Some of the animals were even born at the zoo or were gifted to the zoo.
See a lynx up close. Take a stroll with an African crane or touch an endangered lemur. The primary role of this zoo is to educate and teach compassion for animals as well as to enlighten the public about the treasured and vital role all creates play in the natural world. The zoo features picnic areas, rest stops, a gift shop, concessions and benches.
See Dolphins Swim And PlayIt’s one thing to spot a pod of dolphins frolicking in the Gulf from your vacation rental’s private balcony, but it’s quite another to get up close and see them jumping and surfing alongside your boat.
A unique way to explore a different side of the coastal ecosystem is to spend a couple of hours aboard a dolphin cruise. You’ll be taken into the beautiful backwaters of the area by an experienced captain and crew who are experts in facts about these gentle mammals that call this area home.
There are numerous dolphin cruise operators in the area, with one of the most popular being the Cold Mil Fleet, which cruises out of the Bear Point Marina. Cold Mil offers a 90-minute cruise that is affordable, relaxing and fun for the whole family. You’ll board one of the fleet’s 50-foot boats for a comfortable and smooth ride out into the scenic inland waters. For 360-degrees of dolphin viewing. You can choose daytime, sunset or private dolphin cruises.
Cetacean Dolphin and Sailing Cruises presents another option for vacationers interested in dolphin cruises or sunset sailing cruises.
Cetacean offers a two-hour dolphin and nature eco tour cruise, a dolphin/nature sunset cruise, a dolphin eco tour, a sunset sailing cruise, a dolphin and sailing cruise, private cruises, and even custom wedding cruises.
Get Into The Action At An Amusement ParkEnjoy go-karts, family rides, thrill zones, arcade games and more at the Track Family Fun Park just north of the Intracoastal Canal Waterway Bridge in Gulf Shores.
No matter your age, there’s a go-kart track for you. Go up three levels on the elevated tracks, enjoy a ride on the Family Track, and let the kids take the wheel on the Kiddie & Rookie tracks.
Other fun attractions include blaster boats, mini golf, bumper cards, the rides in Kids Country, and an arcade.
A relatively new addition to the amusement park scene on the Gulf Coast is OWA.
Situated only about seven miles north of the beach OWA offers a variety of entertainment options ranging from shopping and dining to live shows to amusement park thrills and even water-filled adventures. Just plan for at least a full day there to make the most of your visit.
The Park at OWA features more than 20 thrilling rides such as rollercoasters, swings, the air racer, and many kid-friendly rides for the little ones.
Stick around for a live Legends in Concert show and see tribute artists portray some of your favorite performers. Think Elvis, Cher, Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra, Reba McEntire and many more. Or, book your spot at the Brandon Styles Theater for a lineup of ever-changing acts and shows. Styles is a comedian, magician, impressionist and outstanding performer.
Completely free to explore is Downtown OWA, where you’ll be able to shop for souvenirs, clothing, candy, ice cream and more; enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer; or dine at a variety of restaurants that serve sushi, pizza, seafood, family-style cuisine and much more.
Dine, Shop & Play At The WharfWhether a big-name performer playing at the amphitheater or a quiet dinner for two at Villagio Grill, the Wharf in Orange Beach is a must-visit family-friendly entertainment complex.
Perched along Wolf Bay with a boat-filled marina, the complex is composed of a 15-screen movie theater, restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets, adorable coastal boutiques, an escape house, a miniature golf course, a Ferris wheel, a 10,000-seat outdoor concert venue, a nature and dolphin cruise operator, night life venues, and even vacation rental properties. In summer, there’s even a free nightly laser light show. Surround sound music is set to choreographed lighting effects on the palm-lined Main Street.
The kids (and adults) will enjoy Arena the Next Level, which contains the newest arcade games, Bazooka Ball, Mission Impossible and laser tag. Outer Limits VR arcade features five fully immersive rides.
The Wharf is also the site of fireworks displays for Independence Day, New Year’s Eve, and weekly displays during the summer months.
“Freshen” Up The Beach MenuWhile on the Gulf Coast, you’ll have the option of indulging on some of the freshest and tastiest seafood in the world. And, your fully equipped kitchen in your vacation rental is the perfect place to prepare your meal!
There are numerous fresh seafood markets where you can pick up your bounty; you’ll see shrimp, including Royal Reds, snapper, tuna, oysters and much more from local fishermen. One of our favorite markets is located only a few miles from Gulf Shores in the historic fishing community of Bon Secour. Billy’s Seafood is an open-air market where captains unload their catch daily. Seafood from the boat to your table! While in Bon Secour, try out the Tin Top Restaurant where the menu includes fresh seafood, steaks, live music and more.
With seafood in hand—or you can even pick up seafood here—head on up to the farmer’s market adjacent to Wolf Bay Lodge in Foley for your fruits and veggies.
Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fisherman’s Market is open Tuesdays from November through March and every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Here, you’ll find local fruits, vegetables, seafood and non-certifiable agricultural products from local vendors, farmers and fishermen. While you’re there, visit Wolf Bay Lodge for lunch, dinner, drinks or dessert. It’s a locals’ favorite dining and shopping spot for the friendly staff and delicious food.
If you want to collect your fresh fruits and vegetables on your way to the beach, stop in at Burris Farm Market and Bakery on Ala. Hwy. 59 in Loxley. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Burris has been a local staple for seasonal produce for more than 30 years. You’ll also find local honey, jams and jellies, freshly baked pies and treats, and ice cream. It’s a real treat to visit Burris and, for some, stopping in is an annual beach tradition.
Shop Deals To Your Heart’s ContentOne of the most popular spots to visit in the state of Alabama is Tanger Outlets in Foley adjacent to OWA.
We recommend you plan ahead for your visit to Tanger and stop by customer service to pick up a coupon book before you embark on your shopping excursion.
Need tennis shoes? Try Nike, Adidas, Rack Room Shoes, Reebok, Under Armour and more. Looking for trendy outfits for your teenagers? Aeropostale, American Eagle, Charlotte Russe, Forever 21, Francesca’s and Gap are here. There are even outlet shops for sunglasses, sandals and accessories.
If you get hungry while you’re here, dine at Chick Wrap, Peachwave, Bella’s Pizza, PS Taco Company, Rock N Roll Sushi or the food court.
When you’re looking for some of the locals’ favorite hotspots, look to the 10 above, and you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
Make the most of your Gulf Coast vacation by staying in a vacation rental instead of a hotel room. Choose a three-bedroom condo in Orange Beach or Gulf Shores as your vacation headquarters.