Three Days of History on the Gulf Coast

When vacationing at the beach, most people think sandcastles and sun, fresh fish and fun. But in Gulf Shores on the Alabama coast, there’s more to see and do.

For those planning a long weekend escape or a week-long getaway, add a visit to historic attractions and discover the stories of generations past. You may even consider devoting three days to discover of peek of the Gulf Coast’s history. If so, we’ve got an itinerary for you.

Re-Discover the Gulf Coast

Civil War Day Camp Fort Morgan

Day 1

Historic Fort Morgan

Located on the Fort Morgan Peninsula, Fort Morgan is a masonry fort built between 1819 and 1834. It stands guard at the mouth of the Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The fort saw significant action during the Civil War in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, as well as limited action in subsequent wars. Visitors to the Fort Morgan Museum can explore the evolution of the U.S. Army through these time periods.

Besides learning history, guests to Fort Morgan can enjoy outdoor activities from boating and trail hikes to lounging on the beach.

Fort Morgan is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and the day after, and December 25 and 26). Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for children ages 6-12. Family rate is $18/day.

GPS address: 110 Alabama 180, Gulf Shores, AL 36542

Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island

Fort Gaines also played a role in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Located at the entrance to the Bay for more than 150 years, it stands at the eastern tip of Dauphin Island.

Visitors can explore the fort on guided tours of the grounds that include cannons, a blacksmith shop and kitchens. Or click on the QR code at the fort’s website to take a self-guided tour.

The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Admission is $8 (ages 13+) and $4 (ages 5-12).

GPS address: 51 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, AL 36528

Travel Tip: Make it a day trip and tour both of these forts! Catch the Mobile Bay Ferry from Fort Morgan to Dauphin Island and Fort Gaines.

Civil War History

Those with a strong interest in Civil War history might enjoy the Civil War Trail that includes the Gulf Shores area and beyond. Highlighting water and overland battles, the trail takes guests through this important period in Alabama and U.S. history. For more information on the trail, visit the Battle of Mobile Bay website.


Day 2

U.S.S. Alabama BattleshipHistory in Nearby Mobile, Alabama

Less than a two-hour drive from the Alabama Gulf Coast, historic attractions in Mobile, Alabama provide great day trip alternatives.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Recognized as Alabama’s 2015 Attraction of the Year and also as America’s Most Unique Military Attraction, this is a standout in Alabama’s military history. A number of military water and air craft are highlighted at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

The USS Alabama played an important role in WWII. The battleship first served in the Atlantic and joined the Pacific fleet in 1943, fighting in major battles such as at Okinawa. When the war ended in 1945, the USS Alabama led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay. Touring the battleship will bring WWII to life for families in a new way.

At the Memorial Park, the USS Submarine Drum, which sank 15 Japanese ships during WWII, is on display. Guests can also see “Calamity Jane,” a B-52 Stratofortress, the A-12 “Blackbird” spy plane and other military aircraft.

The memorial park is home to the Vietnam and Korean war memorials, where many come to pay their respects.

Beyond the military elements, there’s a restaurant, places to relax by the bay, and a gift shop.

The park is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. April-September, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. October-March. Admission is $15 (ages 12+) and $6 (ages 6-11), with discounts available for AAA, seniors and military members.

GPS address: 2703 Battleship Pkwy., Mobile, AL 36603

Travel Tip: Explore the park before you go with the official USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park App ($0.99).

GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico

Also located in Mobile, GulfQuest explores a number of maritime topics such as colonial trade routes, shipwrecks, marine life, hurricanes, shipbuilding and navigation, and much more. Hands-on displays and exhibits provide guests the opportunity to discover what it takes to navigate a ship, how weather affects gulf life, and how to make marine life better. A number of special exhibits for younger navigators make this museum a great destination for families of all ages.

GulfQuest is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prices are $18 (adults), $16 (ages 13-17 and ages 65+) and $14 (ages 5-12). Discounts are available for military and college students with ID.

GPS address: 155 South Water Street, Mobile, AL 36602

Travel Tip: With more than 90 exhibits, familiarize yourself with attractions before you go!


Aviation Museum Pensacola

Day 3

History in Pensacola, Florida

Less than an hour east of the Gulf Shores area, Pensacola, Florida is home to the National Museum of Naval Aviation — and who doesn’t like airplanes?

National Museum of Naval Aviation

This Naval Aviation museum, located on the grounds of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, shares military air history that dates back to 1914. Exhibits here highlight stories of the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. In addition to the many military planes on exhibit, more than 4000 other items are on display including uniforms, weapons, flight gear and medals used by real people. There’s a personal element to the exhibits — well worth a day’s visit to bring military history to life.

Museum admission is free, but some of the attractions onsite have an additional charge, such as the movies and the flight simulator (your chance to be Tom Cruise!). The Blue Angels practice sessions (usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays, weather and season permitting) are free for bleacher seating and chairs can be rented for $3 each. It’s sure hard to beat that value!

Admission to the grounds is free for all ages, but proper ID is required as this is an active military base. Other restrictions (such as no backpacks) are listed on the museum website. Please be sure to read those for your safety before you go!

Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.)

GPS address: 1750 Radford Blvd., Pensacola, FL 32508

Travel Tip: Wear sunscreen! Bring ear protection if visiting on a Blue Angels practice session day — those military aircraft are loud!

So come to the beach to make memories with sandcastles, great food and nightlife, but don’t forget there is more to our beaches than just sand and surf. American history happened here — important history. Explore these areas and take home more than souvenirs. Be entertained by the exhibits. Be changed by the experience.

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