It’s not likely that Gulf Shores, Alabama, is on anyone’s travel bucket list. But perhaps this hidden gem of a destination is worth a second look. After all, this region of Alabama’s Gulf Coast has so much to offer visitors, from an abundance of natural activities to fresh-from-the-sea dining options to unbelievable beaches.
Gulf Shores is sure to delight as your next warm-weather haven. Here are eight reasons to plan a visit to the area.
1. It’s Easy To Get There
From almost anywhere in the Southeastern United States, Gulf Shores is a convenient trip. It’s situated about 30 miles west of Pensacola, Florida; 50 miles south of Mobile, Alabama; and 200 miles east of New Orleans. With airports in all three cities, you can easily rent a car or arrange shuttle transport to the beach.
If you plan on driving, Gulf Shores is likely closer than you think. It’s less than 400 miles from Atlanta; Jacksonville, Florida; Orlando; Memphis; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Tampa, Florida.
2. There Are Numerous Lodging Options
Whether you’re on a romantic getaway, a multigenerational family trip, or a girlfriends’ retreat, Gulf Shores offers plenty of suitable accommodations.
On my last visit to Gulf Shores, I was with extended family for a long holiday weekend; there were 18 of us, including kids and adults. For us, a beach house rental was the best option. That way, we got plenty of time together at the house, and it was easy to organize everyone in one central location. To keep costs down, we went grocery shopping at the beginning of the week and made numerous meals at the house. The pool and perfect waterfront location made our vacation in Gulf Shores a memorable, family-friendly one.
If a full-house rental isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hotels, resorts, condos, campgrounds, and more to accommodate your needs. In fact, there are more than 17,000 rentals in the area!
3. The Beach Is Both Lovely And Family Friendly
The main attractions of the Alabama Gulf Coast area are the beautiful beaches near Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Pristine, soft, white sand — 32 miles of it — stretches around the southern tip of the state and hugs the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. Plus, unlike other waterfront destinations that cater to the Spring Break crowd, Gulf Shores focuses on clean family fun. There are even rules that discourage drinking on the beach to protect that clean, pretty sand and keep traveling families happy.
4. The Culinary Itineraries Are A Foodie’s Dream
Since there’s so much to eat along the Gulf in Alabama, the tourism board has helpfully organized a number of culinary itineraries. These guides, known as the Food Trails, cover a variety of types of cuisine. Whether you like gumbo, crab, shrimp, oysters, or burgers, the Gulf Shores dining scene won’t disappoint. There’s even a bread pudding trail and a Key lime pie one to satisfy any sweet tooth. While fresh seafood dominates most menus, there are plenty of options for everyone in your party. Even the pickiest of eaters will be pleased with the selections available in Gulf Shores.
5. Adventure Awaits
Besides the sugar-white beaches, this part of Alabama offers numerous activities for visitors seeking adventure. The area is known for its fishing charters, with both backwater fishing and blue-water fishing options available. In Gulf Shores, you can catch marlin, bluefish, flounder, grouper, Spanish mackerel, red snappers, and so much more. No matter what time of year you visit, it’s fishing season.
Another great option for adventure is the Hummingbird Zipline Course at the Wharf at Orange Beach next door to Gulf Shores. This adrenaline-filled option features eight zip lines that stretch more than 6,000 feet. The highest is over 100 feet in the air! And with the course’s picturesque setting right on the water, the views from up high simply can’t be beat.
If you want the view without the exertion, plan to visit the tallest Ferris wheel on the Gulf. Located on the Wharf at Orange Beach, this attraction costs just $5 to ride and is also adjacent to a mini-golf course.
6. There Are Some Fantastic Day-Trip Options
When you need a break from the beach, why not take a day trip from Gulf Shores? There are plenty of fun attractions within a short drive.
If you’re a history buff, head to the National Naval Aviation Museum in nearby Pensacola. The museum is one of the most popular in the state of Florida and boasts a collection of more than 150 aircraft from multiple branches of the armed forces. Or, consider a trip in the other direction to Mobile, where you’ll find the famous World War II battleship USS Alabama. Often called “The Hero of the Pacific,” this legendary ship has been decommissioned and now operates as a museum.
Another day-trip option is a visit to charming Fairhope, Alabama. This vibrant beachside community is known for its active arts scene. If you can, time your visit so that it coincides with the town’s First Friday Art Walk. To experience this fun and enriching activity, simply begin at the Eastern Shore Art Center and walk through the galleries in town. You’ll have the chance to chat with local artists, sample delicious bites from area food vendors, and enjoy this walkable small town.
7. Its Flora And Fauna Are Fascinating
In addition to the aforementioned fish, the Gulf Shores area offers a variety of flora and fauna for visitors to explore.
At the nearby Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, you can enjoy access to more than 7,000 acres of protected land meant to conserve America’s fish, plants, and birds. Plus, there are six distinct loops of the famed Alabama Coastal Birding Trail in the area. More than 400 different species of birds can be spotted along this trail.
Alabama is also known for its sea turtles. In fact, more than 50,000 sea turtles have hatched along the Alabama Gulf since 2003. Locals and tourists alike can participate in their conservation through the Share the Beach initiative, which helps people understand how to protect these creatures. You can even sponsor a turtle nest!
If you prefer flowers to fish, there are options for you, too. A bit far from Gulf Shores but still readily accessible are the Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile. The estate features Southern gardens set on 65 gorgeous acres. The gardens are known for their thousands of roses and azaleas as well as their live oaks, hydrangeas, Easter lilies, and much more. Bellingrath is named for the former owner, who made his fortune in the Coca-Cola bottling business. Today, the former family home of the Bellingraths is on the National Register of Historic Places.
8. Wellness Is A Priority
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean that your healthy lifestyle has to take a back seat. Gulf Shores offers plenty of options for those who want an active trip.
There are a plethora of golf courses in the region, and there’s yoga in Orange Beach, both in the studio and on the beach. Additionally, there are miles of backcountry bike trails in Gulf Coast State Park and the surrounding area, including the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. Standup paddleboarding is another popular wellness activity that allows you to enjoy the beauty of the water. Check out the Gulf Coast Paddle Company in Orange Beach for tours, lessons, and rentals. The Back Bay Blueway features four water trails to enjoy; it’s especially popular with kayakers.
It’s clear that there’s more to Gulf Shores than meets the eye. From its pristine white sand and abundance of nature to its great day-trip options and unbelievably fresh seafood, this small town on the Gulf truly punches above its weight.
Want to spend some more time on the Gulf? Give Bay Saint Louis in Mississippi a chance. Or, drive a little farther to fall in love with the Big Easy, New Orleans.