Do you like the idea of spending time on beautiful, almost deserted sandy beaches, warm ocean water lapping at your feet and affordable accommodation? If so, Gulf Shores, Alabama, could be your ideal vacation destination.
Gulf Shores is a sun-soaked Floridian coastal resort that just happens to be in Alabama, meaning many people overlook it. That's their loss. If you want endless, unspoiled beaches, this is the resort to visit. You can stay in self-catering cabins a few yards from the dunes, rent boats at bargain rates and charter fishing equipment and expert guides from the local marina.
Back on shore, family members can unwind at water parks like Waterville USA, drive go-karts, battle it out at mini-golf courses or play the real thing, before heading to first-class seafood restaurants like De Soto's Seafood Kitchen. It's an idyllic part of the world. The only amazing thing is that more people haven't discovered Gulf Shores. Well, now's your chance.
Gulf Shores is primarily a beach destination - and what a beach destination! The resort itself has a fine, soft, sandy beach, but when you get out of town, you'll see why people rate Gulf Shores so highly. Orange Beach offers plenty of sports and sunbathing space, while Gulf State Park provides much more room for your family to stretch out.
Whether you love paragliding, water-skiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing or sailing, Gulf Shores has companies that will provide all the equipment you need at prices that beat almost any other Florida or Alabama resort.
Gulf Shores is on the Gulf coast, which can mean only one thing: fresh, delicious seafood everywhere you go. Gourmet seafood lovers will not be disappointed by local favorites like Calypso Joe's, Flippers Seafood and the Original Oyster House.
Florida may be more famous for its golfing resorts, but if you want to play challenging courses at low prices, Gulf Shores has it covered. Fantastic courses like Craft Farms and Emerald Greens are ten minutes from most Gulf Shores hotels.
All of the family can enjoy a trip to Gulf Shores. Dad can play golf, while the kids can head to water parks like Waterville USA or the Alabama Gulf Zoo and everyone can have fun with the go karts or mini golf at Adventure Island.
There are 32 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico to enjoy in Alabama. White sands and turquoise waters make the Gulf Shores Beach a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. It's the perfect place to relax with sun and sand, but if a more active day is on the agenda, there is a variety of water sports available including kayaking, surfing or even just playing a game of beach volleyball.
This publicly owned park extends for two miles along Alabama's Gulf coast in Baldwin County. It is available for day visits to enjoy the sugar white sands and beautiful blue waters. There is also the option to extend your stay overnight as there are 20 cabins with modern conveniences, 11 cottages beside the lake and the Gulf State Campground with almost 500 campsites with full hook-ups and amenities including laundry facilities and swimming pool.
The Gulf State Park Pier is a haven for fishing lovers, with 2,448 feet of space to fish. It's the second longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico and the only public pier into the Gulf in the state. Along with fishing, the Pier features an indoor seating area with food concessions and a shopping area to purchase fishing tackle and bait. The pier is open 24 hours a day, with fees payable by an honor box outside of regular hours (between 6am and 6pm).
The Zoo covers about 17 acres of land, using a walk-through system with wide pathways that offer close-up views of the animals. There are over 500 animals exotic to the area, including lions, tigers, leopards, apes and monkeys. For smaller children there is a petting zoo and there's also an aviary for bird lovers. The zoo features animal encounters according to the season, and talks with keepers for more insight into the running of the zoo can be organized. A shaded picnic area is available for lunches, with food concessions available seasonally.
The name means "Safe Harbor" and that is what this vast refuge provides for native fish and wildlife in the state. The Refuge incorporates several different types of wildlife habitats along the Alabama Gulf Coast including dunes, wetlands, forests and scrub areas, with a system of trails allowing you to explore the area on foot. The Refuge is home to a number of endangered species, including the Alabama beach mouse. A number of activities are available including kayaking and other boat tours and seasonal events such as observing the sea turtle hatchlings.
One of the best things about Gulf Shores is that the area is at its best when other parts of the country are becoming cold and dreary. Locals will tell you that the best time to visit is from around the end of October through to December, when the weather isn't too hot, rain is hardly a factor and accommodation won't be too expensive. Summer is a good time to visit if you can deal with big crowds and extreme heat. Spring is also an excellent time to go, but you may have to contend with some rain if you visit from April to June.
If you intend to fly into Gulf Shores, Pensacola is the nearest airport, and it's just 40 miles or so from the resort itself. Check with your hotel to see whether they offer a shuttle bus pickup from the airport. If not, taxis will cost around $50.
I-65 is the major road into Gulf Shores, and runs all the way from Chicago in the north. Those coming from Florida need to take I-75, then change to I-10. Anyone driving from Texas and Louisiana can take I-10 eastbound, while if you are driving from the far west, I-40 or I-10 are the roads to take.
If you want to cover part of your journey by bus, the best option is to take Megabus or Greyhound services into Mobile, Alabama, and transfer to a taxi or shuttle when you get there.
One of the great things about Gulf Shores is its relative calm and lack of major resort hotels. Because it doesn't receive hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, the resort has a tranquil atmosphere that many nearby destinations lack. However, there are some exceptional accommodation options. The best of all is the Perdido Beach Resort, which provides an all-round family vacation experience, with on-site bars, restaurants, and sporting facilities. Most of the other accommodation options involve renting self-catering apartments or cabins. Check out the 600 properties at the Gulf Shores Plantation or the condos at Martinique On The Gulf for comfortable, beachside accommodation.
Gulf Shores – Gulf Shores itself is a small resort town with some beautiful beaches in the immediate area. If you stay in town, you'll be well situated to rent fishing tackle and boats at Gulf Shores Pier, right next to the slides and pools of Waterville USA and near the Alabama Gulf Zoo as well, the area's premier family attraction.
Orange Beach – Orange Beach lies a couple of miles east of Gulf Shores, and it is one of the most beautiful beaches you'll ever see. With its pearl white sand, dunes and tranquil waters, it's the perfect place to relax in the sun, paddle or snorkel. It also has family attractions of its own, including the go-karts at Adventure Island and the huge charter fishing fleet at Zeke's Marina.
Bon Secour – Founded by French fishermen in the 1800s, Bon Secour is a charming historic seafront town with some of the best seafood on the Gulf. If you love freshly caught shrimp, head to local restaurants like Safe Harbor or the Tin Top Restaurant for a real treat.
There are a few public transportation routes in Baldwin County (the location of Gulf Shores), but few tourists rely on them to get around. However, they do become useful during major festivals like the National Shrimp Festival or the Orange Beach Annual Festival of Art, when the local government puts on special shuttles from Bon Secour and Gulf Shores. Whenever you use them, the basic fare is $2.
Taxis aren't the cheapest way to get around Gulf Shores, but they are very convenient, and local companies like Beach Buggy Taxi are always available to take you to or from remote parts of the region's coast. Services like Uber and Lyft have come up against local opposition and do not currently offer an alternative to mainstream cab companies.
Renting a car makes it easy to skip between beaches and resorts. All you need to do is follow Highway 182 up and down the coast. Most beaches have ample parking, and both Hertz and Enterprise have local offices in Gulf Shores.
If you want to shop for vacation souvenirs, you'll have no trouble finding places in Gulf Shores. The seafront is packed with gift stores that double up as surf shacks, with some of the best including Alvin's Island Gulf Shores and Souvenir City of Gulf Shores, where shopping for humorous souvenirs is great fun. For a slightly more upmarket shopping experience, try Bayou Village, where you will find excellent seafood restaurants like the Original Oyster House alongside apparel stores like Jubilee, and Taylors Serendipity.
Anyone who chooses to self-cater in Gulf Shores should find it easy enough to buy groceries during their stay. Just north of the resort itself, you can easily drive to a Winn Dixie and Walmart Supercenter, which should have everything you need. Prices shouldn't be too high, but don't expect too many grocery bargains.
Gulf Shores and the surrounding area has some superb seafood restaurants, just as you would expect from a resort on the Gulf of Mexico. If you are just stepping off the beach for a snack, Sea-n-Suds make great seafood sandwiches and Bahama Bob's Beachside Cafe combines gourmet dishes with a huge cocktail selection. Slightly further up the price scale, Flippers Seafood & Oyster Bar is the place to sample the region's shellfish, while Gulf Island Grill offers a Caribbean-influenced menu and a party atmosphere. Dining out won't be expensive. Expect to pay $30 maximum for a good meal.