Gulf Shores lies on the southern coastline of Alabama near the Florida state border. With the aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico stretching out in front of you, it’s an idyllic place to relax or explore the local area.
Whether you wish to spend leisurely days sunbathing on pristine white sands, dining on the waterfront or exploring wildlife refuges and bayous by boat or kayak, you can do it all from here. There are abundant attractions for all ages to enjoy with theme parks, zoos, backcountry trails, and top-rated golf courses are within a short drive, meaning all the family are catered for, whatever the weather.
I’m an Alabama local and frequently visit Gulf Shores. For me, it’s the ideal place for a beach vacation. Here is my list of the best things to do in an around Gulf Shores, Alabama:
1. Gulf State Park
Gulf State Park boasts two miles of powdery sands, with the largest fishing pier on the Gulf of Mexico jutting out into azure waters. Whether you wish to bask in the sun, take a cooling dip in the sea, or take a boat ride to see dolphins, you can do it all in this park.
Away from the beach, there are outdoor activities to enjoy too. You can glide along backwaters in a kayak, cycle through scenic woodlands or hike backcountry trails.
If you fancy sticking around to admire glorious Gulf Coast sunsets, there are several restaurants and bars overlooking the sea where you can enjoy a bucket of shrimp and a glass of wine under starry skies.
On my last visit with friends I had a great night at The Perch at Gulf State Park, the food is here absolutely great, as well as the cocktails.
2. Orange Beach
Nestled on Alabama’s southern shores, close to the Florida state line is beautiful Orange Beach. Named one of the best stretches of sand in the world, this beach attracts visitors from far and wide.
The seafront is home to hotel chains, waterside restaurants and charming music venues where you can sip cocktails and watch the sun go down. There is also plenty to do nearby.
Whether you want to venture out onto the Gulf of Mexico to watch dolphins at play, enjoy a round of golf with friends, or simply relax on soft white sands soaking up the sun, you can do it all.
Related reading: 12 Best Beaches in Alabama
3. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
Several blocks back from the beach, Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is home to almost 300 animals. The zoo opened in 1989 as a private project, and today it houses monkey’s, lions, bears, birds and more.
Between 2004 and 2005, the zoo became the focus of media attention after it had to evacuate its animals following three major hurricanes.
To help raise awareness after the floods, the zoo appeared on a TV series on Animal Planet called “The Little Zoo that Could”. The zoo rebuilt new animal shelters and park areas for the animals, and when you visit today, you can enjoy daily educational talks and visit several themed areas.
4. The Wharf
If it’s entertainment you’re after, head for The Wharf. With a state-of-the-art marina which offers a fishing and boating activities, shopping, dining and entertainment, you will be spoiled for choice.
Children are catered for with a Sound and Light Spectacular, one of the largest Ferris Wheels in the Deep South, a mini golf course, arcades and even a zip line course! Some of the country’s hottest bands also perform here in The Wharf Amphitheater, so be sure to check out upcoming events before you arrive.
5. Gulf Shores Kayaking
For me personally, there are few activities more relaxing than kayaking. Taking to open waters allows me to reconnect with nature and get up close to wildlife. Whether you wish to venture into the sea, or to the backwaters of Gulf Shores, alone or with friends, there are plenty of opportunities nearby.
You can bring a fishing rod and try to hook your catch of the day, drift beneath canopies of Spanish Moss trees along the bayou or try to spot dolphins out on the Gulf of Mexico.
6. The Park at OWA
The Park at OWA in Foley is a fun day out for all the family. The Park was named after the Muskogee word ‘OWA’ which means ‘Big Water’ – aptly named for lakes and water features sprinkled around the venue. There are several sections to the park.
Downtown OWA is modeled on Alabama city streets, featuring vintage lights, ornate balconies and a whole host of popular shops and restaurant chains. It’s the perfect place to pick up a special gift or souvenir or indulge in a bite to eat.
Alternatively, if you are visiting with children, venture to The Park area. This section of the 520-acre entertainment venue offers 21 thrilling theme rides and amusements for all ages to enjoy. Should you decide to stay after dark, there is live entertainment on offer and magical fountains which dance to music.
7. Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
Winding its way through 15 miles of diverse ecosystems, Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail captures your imagination around every corner. The trail stretches through Gulf Shores, Gulf State Park and Orange Beach, and is named after Hugh Branyon – a superintendent who managed Gulf State Park for almost 40 years.
There is much to see along the trail, with coastal swamps and freshwater marshes which are home to abundant wildlife. You may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a resident alligator basking in the sun or see deer as they disappear through the trees.
Whether you wish to explore on foot, via bike, kayak or canoe, it’s one scenic piece of Alabama you won’t want to miss.
8. Gulf Shores Museum
Gulf Shores Museum boasts a selection of permanent and temporary exhibits which showcase life throughout the ages in and around Gulf Shores. Learn about families who settled on the shores of Little Lagoon when it was a fishing village in the 19th century, see how the area defended itself during the Second World War, and marvel at how communities rebuilt local areas following recent hurricanes.
There is much to see inside the museum, and afterwards you can head to the tranquil Butterfly Garden to discover different species and floral displays.
More on Alabama: 30 Amazing Hidden Gems in Alabama
9. Gulf Shores Public Beach
If soft white sands, turquoise waters and some of the best sunsets in the country sounds like music to your ears, it can all be found along the beautiful Gulf Shores Public Beach. You can spend lazy days lounging in the sun, taking a cooling dip in the sea, or picnicking with family and friends. Fishermen sit on the edge of the pier hoping to catch a sizable fish, as tourists wander in and out of beachfront shops or dine in waterside restaurants.
Outdoor enthusiasts are catered for with a range of water sports activities including parasailing, jet skiing, boat trips and kayaking.
Depending on which time of year you visit, you may be able to take in a music concert or live entertainment on the beachfront, so remember to check the events calendar before you arrive.
10. Adventure Island
Located near Orange Beach, Adventure Island is a fun-packed theme park with activities for everyone to enjoy. You can experience the vibrations of a Giant Volcano as it comes alive, challenge friends to a game of laser tag, or take your putting skills to the mini golf course.
Those in a competitive frame of mind can speed around the Go-Kart track or take to the water on the Bumper Boats.
Young children are also catered for with smaller rides and the theme park hosts parties if you have a special occasion to celebrate during your stay.
11. The Wharf Ferris Wheel
The Wharf Ferris Wheel is an iconic landmark of Gulf Shores, Alabama. Towering above the shoreline it measures 112 feet in height, and houses 24 gondolas which can hold up to 140 people.
It’s the tallest Ferris Wheel on the Gulf Coast, boasting incredible views of state parks, backwaters, bayous and across to the sea.
Whether you wish to begin your day and get your bearings on this fun ride or want to wait until it illuminates with a kaleidoscope of colors at night, it’s one attraction in Gulf Shores you don’t want to miss.
12. Gulf Shores Seafood
This quaint market in Gulf Shores has provided seafood to locals and visitors for over 60 years. With a vast selection of fresh or cooked seafood on offer at reasonable prices, it’s the perfect place to pick up a serving of shrimp, yellowfin tuna, snapper, crab legs or oysters.
Don’t worry if you don’t eat fish though, you can also purchase some of the finest Creekstone Farms beef tenderloin, New York Strip and Ribeye. Whether you want it packed and shipped home for you, or simply want it cooked for dinner on the beach or in your condo, they do it all. You can order online or pop into the market and see what you fancy.
One thing is for sure, if you love seafood just as much as I do, you will want to visit this place on more than one occasion.
13. Fort Morgan
Fort Morgan sits on the edge of the Mobile Peninsula around 23 miles west of Gulf Shores, Alabama. The fort played a pivotal role during the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 and was also used during the Spanish American War and the First and Second World Wars to deter enemies from stepping on American shores.
This historic site is impressive to look at – built in a strategic pentagonal shape it shows how sea fort defences evolved during the 1800s. There is a walking tour through the grounds with audio commentary and you can view museum exhibits and artifacts utilised when the fort was still operational.
It’s an interesting day out for anyone who wants to delve into Alabama military history, and a great drive if you want superb photo opportunities across the bay.
If you want to make the most of your trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, I highly recommend the Family Fun Multi-Attraction Pass, which includes admission to Fort Morgan, as well as other top attractions in the Area.
14. Drive to Perdido Key
If you enjoy scenic drives and coastal adventures, why not venture east to Perdido Key in Florida. Situated just 17 miles along the coast road, you pass Orange Beach and Ono Island as you cross the state line into Florida.
This region features picturesque bayous on one side and the sparkling Gulf of Mexico on the other.
When you reach Perdido Key you can head to the beachfront for fresh seafood, visit Big Lagoon State Park or continue onto the National Naval Aviation Museum near Pensacola.
15. Hog Wild Beach & BBQ
You’ve enjoyed Alabama seafood but now you seek some good ole’ southern BBQ cuisine. Fortunately, slow cooked meat, homemade sauces and decadent desserts await at Hog Wild Beach & BBQ in Gulf Shores.
You can fill up following a day on the beach or after sightseeing at this superb BBQ joint in town.
Whether you fancy a plate of pulled pork, smoked chicken or a rack of ribs you can have them all here! For the ravenous, I highly recommend the Nasty G Sandwich, which is sure to tantalise your taste buds as it’s packed with chicken, pork, chopped ribs, buffalo shrimp, slaw and sauce.