Long before the French, English, and Spanish explorers arrived, Native Americans paddled out to Dauphin Island to hunt and fish. The fresh drinking water and the surrounding bays packed with fish, oysters, and other seafood made Dauphin Island a popular seasonal destination for Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw tribes.
As Europeans arrived in North America, the scenic barrier island separating Mobile Bay from the Gulf of Mexico became the capital of the Louisiana Territory. The French governor-general built a home in Cadillac Square (now a park) and named the island. When France was a monarchy, dauphin was the title bestowed upon the eldest son of the king.
Today, Dauphin Island is a beautiful place to rest and relax along the Gulf. It has very few chain restaurants and no chain hotels, so you’ll support predominantly local businesses. It offers sandy beaches, lush green spaces, and amazing wildlife, but without the crowds typically present in the Gulf region.
Here’s everything you need to know when planning a Dauphin Island getaway.
How To Get There
If you’re flying, you have two options. The first is to fly into the Mobile Regional Airport and drive about an hour south to Dauphin Island. You can access the island by traveling the scenic two-lane Dauphin Island Bridge on Alabama State Route 193.
Another option is to fly into the Pensacola International Airport in Florida and drive about 90 minutes west to Fort Morgan, Alabama. In Fort Morgan, you’ll need to board the Mobile Bay Ferry for a 40-minute ride across Pelican Bay to Dauphin Island. The ferry makes eight round trips per day throughout the year.
Where To Stay
Part of Dauphin Island’s charm is that there are no chain hotels or motels. Accommodations are limited to local motels, inns, vacation rentals, and campgrounds.
Motels And Inns
Located right on Graveline Bay and just steps from the beach, Gulf Breeze Motel is one of the only motels on Dauphin Island. The accommodations available at this family-owned establishment range from standard motel rooms to two-bedroom suites with full kitchens.
Bed And Breakfasts
If a bed and breakfast is more your style, check out the Dauphin Island Harbor House, where 10 standard and premium rooms are available.
If you’re hoping to rent a beach home on Dauphin Island, there are many options available. You can enjoy your island getaway in either a condo or a single-family home.
Whether you plan to pitch a tent or park an RV, there are several campgrounds available on Dauphin Island. One of the most popular is Dauphin Island Park & Beach, a large, dog-friendly campground with beach access.
Where To Eat
The abundance of fish, shrimp, oysters, and crab attracted Native Americans to the island many years ago, and Dauphin Island restaurants continue to draw diners with the same tasty ingredients. You can also enjoy a great cup of coffee, Mexican fare, a cold beer, and live music on Dauphin Island.
Here are our top picks for dining in the area.
You can grab a cup of coffee, fresh pastries, or even a treat for your four-legged friend at Lighthouse Bakery on Dauphin Island.
For Lunch Or Dinner
You’ll find Gulf Coast favorites like fried shrimp, po’boy sandwiches, and softshell crab at the Beached Cafe, located just a short walk from the Gulf Breeze Motel.
For dinner with a view, check out the Pelican Pub. It’s located on the north side of the island just a few blocks from where Alabama State Route 193 deposits visitors from the mainland onto the island.
To satisfy a craving for tacos, burritos, or other classic Tex-Mex dishes, stop by Miguel’s Beach’n Baja for lunch or an early supper.
For adult beverages and live music, check out Dority’s Bar & Grill. And when you’re ready to order a bite, they’ll hook you up with cooked-to-order burgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, and homemade potato chips.
Otherwise, you could listen to the locals and dine at Island Rainbow. It’s been a Dauphin Island institution for decades, serving up juicy burgers, pizzas piled with toppings, ice cream treats, and delicious snow cones at affordable prices.
For Eating In
If you plan on cooking most of your meals in a Dauphin Island rental or at a Dauphin Island campground, you’ll find a larger selection of affordable ingredients at a grocery store on Alabama’s mainland. But on the island, Ship & Shore Supplies is a great place to replenish supplies or pick up something you overlooked.
What To Do
Explore Fort Gaines
On the eastern tip of Dauphin Island, just a short ferry ride across Pelican Bay from Fort Morgan, sits Fort Gaines. Both forts were strategic locations during the Civil War, and history buffs will enjoy the fort’s historical reenactments, guided tours, and museum. Those less interested in history will still appreciate the panoramic views of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
At the center of Fort Gaines, don’t miss the anchor from the USS Hartford. It was aboard this ship during the Battle of Mobile Bay that Admiral David Farragut gave the command, “Damn the torpedoes -- full speed ahead!”
Interact With Sea Creatures At The Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Near Fort Gaines, on the northeastern edge of the island, is the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, an educational facility and public aquarium. You can learn more about coastal Alabama’s habitats by exploring the Living Marsh Boardwalk, touching a stingray, or interacting with some of the more than 100 species on display.
Look For Migratory Birds At The Audubon Bird Sanctuary
There is a lot of wildlife along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, and when it comes to migratory birds, there’s no place quite like Dauphin Island. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary comprises 137 acres of trees, marshes, and dunes that serve as a waypoint refuge for more than 400 species of birds.
Pro Tip: The “secret” beach on the edge of the sanctuary is a great place to beat the crowds during the summer. Just be sure to stay on the trails -- because the aptly named Alligator Lake is nearby.
Hit The Beach
Like all barrier islands, Dauphin Island boasts plenty of beaches. Although Dauphin Island’s beaches don’t feature the same soft white sand as other Gulf of Mexico hot spots, they are less populated, quieter, and less commercialized. Consider spending a relaxing day in the sun at one of Dauphin Island’s public beaches or beachfront parks.
While dogs are often not allowed on beaches elsewhere in the region, if you’re traveling to Dauphin Island with your dog, you’ll be delighted to learn that they can join you as long as they are leashed at all times.
Whether you choose to toss a line in the water from shore or charter a fishing boat, you’ll find that the fish are plentiful around Dauphin Island. The long, thin western half of the island is largely undeveloped, so it offers a variety of great spots for either onshore or boat fishing. And on the eastern edge of the island, you’ll find a number of great fishing spots, including Billy Goat Hole.
Pro Tip: If you have access to a boat, don’t miss the Sand Island Lighthouse. Located south of the eastern edge of Dauphin Island, this decommissioned lighthouse is a beautiful sight in Mobile Bay, especially as the sun rises or sets behind it.
Visit Indian Shell Mound Park
Originally a burial ground for Southeastern indigenous tribes, Indian Shell Mound Park is now an 11-acre green space on the northern coast of Dauphin Island. Wander beneath giant moss-draped oak trees or watch for migratory birds on this important stop along the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail.
If you’re seeking a low-key beach vacation, a Dauphin Island getaway is the perfect option. With its rich history, serene natural environment, and beautiful coastal views, it’s one of the most well-rounded settings on the Gulf Coast.