5 Things I Learned From My Gulf Shores, Orange Beach Vacation

I’ve been to Alabama many times through the years, but made my first trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach last year.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, especially since I only recently realized that Alabama even has a beach! To say the trip surprised me is an understatement! It’s about as perfect as a beach destination can get.

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!

beach in Gulf Shores

Wide, sandy, spacious beaches!

We visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach during spring break 2015. Just like Alabama’s neighbor to the east, we discovered wide, sandy beaches that slope gently to the Gulf. Unlike Alabama’s neighbor, there was so much space! We had room to run, build sandcastles, lounge, play catch — without having to listen to our neighbor’s music and conversations! It wasn’t quite a private beach, but we sure did have room to spread out and relax. So nice.

Clear, blue, warm waters

The warm blue Gulf waters of Florida are the exact same waters that wash against the Alabama shore. Sure, now that I said that, the geography of the Gulf of Mexico makes sense. Before I actually saw it for myself, though, I had no idea! We enjoyed those warm waters and the gentle waves — great for young families — and the brilliant blues the Gulf is known for. After a full day at the beach, we had to pry our daughter away with a promise of a great dinner.

Beyond the Beach

Restaurant experiences

Speaking of dinner, probably the biggest surprise was how fun the restaurants are here. We like to relax on vacation, and the restaurants here make that easy. They’re like destinations in themselves. Our three favorites were Tacky JacksThe Gulf, and LuLu’s. All three offered more than just great food (which is important, of course). They offered unique experiences that drew us into the setting. 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 while waiting on dinner. LuLu’s has a kid-friendly ropes course, too! At The Gulf, a waterfront restaurant that defies explanation, lounge areas on the beach invite diners to linger and socialize. My husband and I relaxed by a fire pit in comfortable beach furniture while our daughter played with other kids in the sand nearby. It’s as much a hangout as it is a restaurant . . . and the food is incredible, too!

Adventures and activities

Most popular beach vacation destinations offer activities beyond the beach to entertain families, and Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is right there with them. The highlight of our trip was a day-long catamaran cruise with Sail Wild Hearts. The nearby state park has golf, ziplining, and hiking trails. The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is a great place to spend a morning. While it’s smaller than many zoos, it offers the advantage of a more intimate experience with the animals — including visiting with the baby kangaroos!

Affordability

For this mom who focuses on vacation value for the dollar spent, 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. Compared to other popular beach destinations, I would estimate a cost savings of about 30% on lodging. 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 you’d find other places. The nice thing is, you don’t have to pay a premium for the privilege! That’s my kind of vacation.

beach at sunset

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