Aerial view of Alabama's beaches

5 Things I Learned From My Alabama Beach Vacation

I fondly remember my first trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

I had never heard of Alabama’s white sandy beach towns before making that trip, but I loved it so much, I have been back several times. 

Whether traveling with family, your special love or a group of friends, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach has everything you need for an enjoyable beach vacation. 

If you, like me, know nothing about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, then you’ll appreciate what I learned on my vacation. Maybe I’ll even convince you to check it out for yourself!

Eggs Benedict at Ruby Slipper Cafe in Orange Beach

WIDE, SANDY BEACHES!

Of course, a beach vacation pretty much requires a beach. Alabama has a wide beach providing lots of room for beach games like volleyball, playing catch with a football or cornhole. The water tends to be calmer than Atlantic beaches, so little ones can build sandcastles while adults soak their toes in the gentle surf.

These family-friendly beaches are also marine-life friendly, with extensive sea turtle protection programs, trash cans and recycling bins to help guests keep the beach clean and safe. The Leave Only Footprints program is this region’s heartfelt mission!

We absolutely loved hanging out on the beach and walking along the water’s edge as the sun slipped away each evening.

CLEAR, BLUE, WARM WATERS

The Gulf waters of Alabama are warmer than the beaches on the Atlantic coast. The waves tend to be more gentle, rarely rising or falling more than a foot or so. This gentle surf is great for younger kids who want to play in the waves, for us older people who just want to enjoy the gentle lapping of the water, and for everyone who wants to fish!

When we head to Alabama’s beaches, we enjoy paddleboarding (yes, the water is that gentle), walking along the water’s edge, and floating on tubes.

With that said, it’s always important to obey weather warnings and stay out of the water when told it’s dangerous. Follow the beach flag warning system. While the water can be gentle, it can also be rough at times as well. 

RESTAURANT EXPERIENCES

On vacation, I love getting a break from cooking and kitchen cleanup. In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, there are so many great restaurant choices you’ll find something to please everyone in the family. 

If you want a dining “experience” with an atmosphere to match the food, I recommend Tacky Jacks, The Gulf, and LuLu’s. All three offer more than just great food (which is important, of course). 

Their unique styles stood out to make dining a memorable experience for our family. The rooftop at Tacky Jacks in Orange Beach has great views of the water. At LuLu’s you can sit waterside and watch the boats come and go or take the kids to a sandy area to run and play. At The Gulf, an outdoor, waterfront restaurant that defies explanation, lounge areas on the beach invite you to linger. This is a particularly great place to watch the sun set. 

Two of our favorite breakfast spots are the Ruby Slipper Cafe, which is my daughter’s favorite, and Brick & Spoon, a longtime locals’ favorite. Some great lunchtime picks include Luna’s Eat & Drink, Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar, and Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina. For dinner, dress up and enjoy the impeccable service at Voyager’s at Perdido Beach Resort, flavorful Italian at Villaggio Grille at The Wharf or the satisfying portions at Wolf Bay Restaurant.

Teens climbing onboard Sail Wild Hearts in Orange Beach

ADVENTURES AND ACTIVITIES

Most popular beach vacation destinations offer activities beyond the beach to entertain families, and Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are right there with them. Only, at Alabama’s beaches, these activities are a little more unique. 

For families with younger kids, add the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo to your list of things to do. The zoo offers several animal encounter experiences that keep everyone entertained. It takes just a few hours to visit, so plan your visit around nap time! 

The Park at OWA in nearby Foley is good for kids and kids at heart. The amusement park has several kids’ rides and thrill rides for adrenaline junkies. They offer numerous ticket options, making this a budget traveler’s best buy. Restaurants and shops in the same area make OWA a full-day destination the whole family will enjoy.

There’s a lot for teens to enjoy in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Get tickets to a concert. Shop at The Wharf. Spend a day at The Track for amusements and go-kart races. And, of course, slow down and reconnect over coffee drinks and ice cream. Parents can score bonus “cool points” at The Yard Milkshake Bar

The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail at Gulf State Park is another great place to explore. With miles of paved trails, quiet spots to view wildlife, and geocaching spots to discover, there’s lots to do here. Rent bikes from a local company to explore faster or choose a section to explore on foot. 

Of course, water activities are a major draw. Besides spending long, lazy days on the beach, plan a catamaran cruise with Sail Wild Hearts or a kayak tour with Wild Native Tours to learn about the coastal ecosystem. And there’s always fishing from the Gulf State Park Pier, a highlight for passionate anglers and casual casters alike.

AFFORDABILITY

As a budget-minded traveler, I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable an Alabama beach vacation really is! 

Families have a wide selection of lodging options, from budget to high-end hotels, camping, and condo and beach house rentals. Add in low rates for parking ($5/day between March and September at public beaches) as well as the number of free attractions available, and the savings really add up!

A beach vacation to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offers the same sandy beaches (with smaller crowds), exciting adventures and great dining of the most famous beaches in the south. The nice thing is you don’t have to pay a premium for the privilege! That’s my kind of vacation.

START PLANNING YOUR GULF SHORES & ORANGE BEACH VACATION

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