Orange Beach is a coastal town in southern Alabama along the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Most people arrive via road trip on the Alabama State Route 59 (Gulf Shores Parkway). For those interested in flying to the nearest airport, Pensacola, you can rent a car or uber over to Orange Beach. I love visiting this family-friendly community because it is chock full of things to do, has a picturesque landscape, and is an affordable beach destination. While most of the Orange Beach lodging is geared toward condos and larger family rentals, there are still hotels to choose from. After you’ve hit the beach and done all the things associated with sand and surf, here are the best things to do in Orange Beach that I’ve done on trips hosted by the tourism board, Visit Alabama Beaches.
1. Roam The Wharf
The Wharf is my favorite attraction in the Orange Beach and Gulf Shores area. This immaculate outdoor entertainment complex features a few dozen local shops, restaurants, bars, and the largest Ferris wheel in the southeast. Parking is easy to find, and there is always something going on -- festivals, too. I like to shop at Shades Sunglasses for t-shirts, sundries, and shades, and Archipelago for men’s apparel, then have a tasty coffee from Southern Grind Coffee House or a daiquiri from Island Time Daiquiris. If you need some gourmet food for now or later, you can pick it up at The Pantry at The Wharf.
Pro Tip: The two locations, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, are often used synonymously, so for the sake of this article, we will just refer to the entire area as Orange Beach as not to confuse.
2. Rent Bikes From Beach Bike Rentals
Getting outdoors on two wheels is extra special in Orange Beach. There are several rental companies and numerous trails and outdoor spaces to go sightseeing. I’ve rented both typical and electric bikes from Beach Bike Rentals, where half of the fun is picking out your colorful basket and bell to dress up your ride. The staff is incredibly helpful. If you’ve never ridden an E-bike, here is the scoop. The E-bike has a motor that allows for as much work (pedaling) as you want it to exert. There is a dial from settings from 1 to 5, with 1 being that the motor does very little and you pedal a lot, or 5, the motorized bike does the majority of work, and you do very little. It is a great way to get back into the swing of riding if you are a little rusty.
Beach Bike Rentals’ suggested route is the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail that runs 27 miles from Orange Beach to Gulf State Park. The route is full of trees, natural areas, swamps, marshes, and even Lefty, the local alligator that is loved and adored. There are some shaded areas and two overlooks for great photos and a rest. After my last bike ride of 12.6 miles, they come in handy. Keep your eyes open for armadillos, foxes, and otters.
3. Explore Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Many people are surprised to know that Orange Beach has many outdoor attractions and offerings, not just the stunning beach and magical sunsets. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the favorites, with 7,157 acres to roam around in on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. Go for a nature hike, enjoy nature, or scout birds at this undisturbed coastal address. Three landscapes encompassed in Bon Secour are wetlands, beach dunes, wetlands, and long-leaf pine and pine-oak forests.
Pro Tip: Little Lagoon on the Jeff Friend Trail offers many places to sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery during your walk.
4. Visit The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
In a relatively new location, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is home to 500 exotic animals, including lions, wolves, tigers, and 50+ primates. You can even get up close and personal with kangaroos, lemurs, and sloths, in a new animal encounters experience for only a few dollars more. My favorite is the capybara, which looks like an overgrown guinea pig. Besides animals, the zoo has a nostalgic carousel, a zip line-style ride, and a train ride.
If you are hungry, you may be surprised at how upscale and tasty the food is at Safari Club, the on-site restaurant. If you like fried goat cheese, give them a try. They are served with fig jam and fresh fruit. The food is definitely something to “roar” about, yes, pun intended.
Pro Tip: Parking at the zoo and restaurant is free.
5. Go Birding
Another option at the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail is to spot often rare and fascinating birds. This photogenic area is one of the “last intact maritime forests in coastal Alabama” and a great place for spotting Myrtle Warblers, tern, woodpeckers, and gulls. Even majestic bald eagles make an appearance from time to time.
6. Learn About Fort Morgan
Nearby Fort Morgan is a historic site that is well worth the 23-mile-or-so drive to get there via scenic State Highway 180. The fort played parts in the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II, and other conflicts. Now a National Historic Landmark, the photogenic Fort Morgan has been the guardian of Mobile Bay and is open for self-guided tours. Besides history, you can also launch a boat from Fort Morgan or picnic.
7. Charter A Boat Or Fishing Excursion
The marina at The Wharf specializes in chartered boat rides, slip rentals, marina service, and fishing excursions. There is no better or easier way to get out on the water in Orange Beach than with this conveniently located establishment. Take an exciting boat ride through the back bays of Orange Beach to see the marine wildlife and multi-million dollar homes, or cast a line to catch some of the freshest local fish, namely redfish, snapper, amberjack, and speckled trout. Orange Beach Boat Rentals is pet-friendly and welcomes you to bring your own coolers onboard.
Dolphin and sunset cruises are even more options with Cetacean Dolphin and And Nature Cruises as you glide through Wolf Bay on a 40-foot Pontoon-style vessel. Ninety-minute and 2-hour cruises are available.
Fun Fact: The Wharf welcomes many boating shows and fishing competitions.
8. Play Mini-Golf
Do any families come to the beach and not play a round of mini-golf? It was putt-putt back in my day, and I have a hard time adapting to its new name, but mini-golf is fun for all ages. Beachside Mini Golf and Shrimpy’s are two places you can enjoy the nostalgic family-friendly sport.
9. Try Glass Blowing
The Hot Shop is one of the artsy offerings at the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach. Resident glass artists show off their skills by creating gorgeous hot glass pieces in this trendy and fun shop. You can make your own glass creations in a beginner-level class for around $85.
10. Stroll The Art Galleries
Besides trying the Hot Shop at the Coastal Arts Center, I suggest you browse the free gallery filled with local artwork and treasures. Art in nearly every medium is available in this well-appointed gallery, including pottery, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, metal, glassware, and woodwork. Sally Miller’s acrylic pieces are my fave. This is also a great rainy day activity to keep in mind.
While the artwork is lovely to admire, sitting on the rockers in the most serene setting (Wolf Bay) ended up being my favorite part of my visit.
11. Ride A Segway
Coastal Segway Adventures offers the opportunity to sightsee from your very own Segway. Segway personal transporters are simple to learn and operate, and you’ll feel at ease in no time. You can also cover a lot of ground and see way more stuff than just walking. A 2-hour tour will run about $85, which includes a safety lesson. Don’t let your age intimidate you -- riding a Segway is one of the most extraordinary and fun adventures you can have on vacation.
12. Build An Adult Sand Castle
If you are one of those who just cannot get enough of the beach, sand, and surf, Orange Beach has a unique option that might strike your interest. Sand Castle University welcomes individuals, or groups of up to 10, for private sandcastle building lessons. Let me tell you -- there is an art to it, and with a few simple tricks, you’ll be building a masterpiece. Just think of how excited your kids or grandkids will be when you pull out the big guns and start making windows, doors, bricks, and stairs. You will be shocked at how a straw can be your best friend in the building process, and water is truly the key ingredient.
13. Visit Gulf State Park
State parks are abundant, but one unusual thing about Orange Beach’s Gulf State Park is a gourmet-style restaurant. Woodside Restaurant features high-quality dishes in a beautiful indoor and outdoor setting. Enjoy the best of both worlds, yummy breakfast combinations, and good strong coffee as you dine under the oak trees or inside the rustic restaurant’s screened porch setting.