One of the coolest parts about staying at a Gulf Shores vacation rental is that you never know what's going to be just around the corner. You could be just steps from a pristine beach, sprawling golf course, delicious restaurants or some other kind of attraction and not even know it until you explore the area for some hidden gems. That is certainly the case with the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, which is set just a few short blocks from the beach but offers a whole new world of wonder for families to enjoy during their Gulf Coast vacation. 

'The Little Zoo That Could'

Check out some of the exotic animals that call the Alabama Gulf Shores Zoo home.Affectionately called "The Little Zoo That Could" in a special Animal Planet series, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo originally opened in 1989. Back then it was referred to as Zooland Animal Park and was only a fraction of what it is today. Over the years, land was donated to the Zoo Foundation and the facility began expanding, eventually becoming a home to more than 250 animals. 

This zoo may not be like others you have visited in the past. While it does have traditional exhibits like lion, tiger and bear enclosures, you'll also a get a chance to tour a reptile house, petting zoo, aviary and much more. 

Whether you're looking for a place to visit during your vacation or the perfect spot for a birthday party or family reunion, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo could be the perfect choice. Thanks to its location right in the heart of Gulf Shores, it is easy to get to this park from most Gulf Shores beach houses

Interactive experiences

Perhaps the most exciting experience offered by the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the animals that call the facility home. The zoo provides visitors with the special chance to go into the habitat of reptiles, tigers, lemurs and kangaroos to interact with these creatures. Guests get to enter the enclosure and handle the animals, all under the supervision of a zoo staff member. 

Some of the encounters are only available on a seasonal basis, and all of the schedules are subject to change based on the development of the animals. For example, the lemur encounter is available Tuesdays, Friday, Saturdays and Sundays without a reservation in the fall, but there is a mid-day break so the creatures can eat and nap, while the reptile encounter is only available depending on the season. Before you make a trip to the zoo, call ahead and see what the options are for your family.

There is an additional charge for animal encounters, on top of the standard admission fee. All children need to be accompanied by a paying adult. Anyone who wants to handle the animals must be dressed appropriately: Socks, long pants and closed-toe shoes are required for visitors who want to interact with the creatures. 

Hours and admission

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is open each day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last guests entering the zoo at 3:30 p.m. It is closed on major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Anyone visiting the zoo with young children can take advantage of a wagon rental to shuttle the kids around. Each wagon is $4 to use. 

There is an admission fee charged for all visitors. Adults are $10 each, while seniors ages 55 and over are $8 and kids ages 3 to 12 are $7. Children under the age of 2 are given free admission. Military members can show their ID to get a $1 discount off each member of their party. 

Anyone traveling with a large group may be able to get a group rate. Parties of 13 or more paying guests can book experiences at least 48 hours in advance, ensuring they get discounted rates for each individual as well as admittance to a scheduled animal show and the use of the on-site picnic area.

You can contact the zoo office at 251-968-5732 for details on group events or animal encounters.