Gulf Shores Alabama

Nine Things to Know Before Your Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Vacation

Nestled along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico is a magical place where the warm turquoise waters lap against sugar-white beaches, where the salt spray and sea breeze are exhilarating, and where the hospitality is as warm as the sun.

Welcome to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, two seaside towns that are among the fastest growing vacation destinations in the country. If you are planning a vacation to this little stretch of heaven, here are a few tips to help make your visit memorable and stress-free.

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo Selfie

1. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are Dynamic Beach Towns

The cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are charming beach communities. They are alive and vibrant with a good mix of the young and old bringing excitement to the area. You'll find attractions, dining experiences, music venues and adventure both on and off the water. Festivals are a draw here on the Alabama Gulf Coast and include the Hangout Music Festival and the National Shrimp Festival. Both draw thousands of people to the area each year.

 

2. There’s More Than Just a Pretty Beach

There is more to this destination than its long stretch of white beaches, so much so that a single weekend won't be enough time to take it all in. But here are a few good starting places: Take a ride on a dolphin cruise to see dolphins playing in the waves or alligators and wildlife in the backwaters. For a more intimate encounter with alligators and wildlife from around the world spend some time at Alligator Alley or the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. For the kids (and the kid in all of us), check out the thrills at Waterville USA, which is both a waterpark and amusement park boasting tons of waterslides, wave pools, lazy river tubing, go-carts, Dune Racer, miniature golf, and more. And when you get hungry, try one of the many, great local restaurants serving up the freshest Gulf seafood around. It's dinner and a show—the beautiful sunset—as you dine outdoors at Tacky Jacks; enjoy live music, delicious food, and a few drinks with your friends at the Pink Pony Pub; or savor delectable seafood while sipping on a beach-goer favorite, the bushwacker, at the world-famous Flora-Bama Lounge.

3. And Yes, the Beach

The Alabama Gulf Coast boasts 32 miles of pristine beachfront with more than 10 public-access beaches along the shoreline, most of which have picnic facilities, and many have restrooms and showers. Your best bet is to start with the main public beach (Gulf Place) located at the end of Highway 59. There's volleyball, picnic pavilions, restrooms, showers, beach bars such as The Hangout and nearby shopping. Parking is mostly at Parking Kiosks and starts at $3 depending on size of vehicle and length of stay. Biking is a great way to get to the beach affordably.

Orange Beach Paddleboarding

4. For the nature and Adventure lover in All of Us

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer adventure on both land and water. With countless waterways to explore, each beach town has amazing places to paddle either by kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Look up and you'll see birds like osprey, eagles and great blue herons soaring overhead. And for some high-speed action, rent a Jet Ski and venture around the Gulf. Take a hike on the trails of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge through maritime wetlands and forests, over sand dunes and to the nesting ground of loggerhead sea turtles on one of the most secluded beaches along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Enjoy hiking and biking trails at the Graham Creek Nature Preserve, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail and the Fort Morgan Road Trail—perfect all ages. The Backcountry Trail is a good place to spot wildlife, visit a butterfly garden, and let the kids try their hand at some bouldering. For a real adrenalin rush try soaring over the blue water via parasail, then wrap up your day with a fiery orange sunset aboard an evening cruise.

5. GETTING AROUND

If you're staying in Gulf Shores proper, then bring along a bike or rent one at one of the many rental shops. If you’re peddling through the Gulf State Park, you can use the free bike share program. A unique concept, the free bike share program allows visitors age 16 and older to borrow a bike for up to three hours. You’ll find everything you need close by and traveling via two wheels is a fun way to get around.

Another tip while cycling Gulf State Park is to plan a stop at Woodside Restaurant. Enjoy a great meal in the main dining room, on the screened porch, or the outside deck under a shade tree. Aside from fabulous Southern cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients, you can also enjoy a wide array of backyard games! Woodside is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus take-out is available.

6. BEATING THE TRAFFIC

There's no doubt that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is growing rapidly in popularity. There are two main roads into the towns— Alabama Highway 59 and the Baldwin/Foley Beach Expressway. The expressway has a toll bridge as you cross the Intracoastal Waterway, and it is usually a bit faster. Plus, it extends all the way to I-10. Access it at Exit 49.

The Beach Moms Grocery Service

7. FORGET SOMETHING?

No need to panic if you left something behind. Most anything recreational, from bikes to paddleboards, can be purchased or rented at lots of different spots. Grocery stores and big-box retailers give you easy access to extra sunscreen, groceries, over-the-counter medications. Want to get ahead? Place a grocery order in advance to stock your condo (especially helpful if you have kiddos in the party). You can order online with Walmart, Publix or Rouses or let The Beach Moms concierge service get your condo or beach house ready for you by doing your shopping. The Beach Moms will stock your pantry and fridge, as well as arrange excursions. All you have to do is arrive and relax.

8. BEACH REMINDERS

Some of our fondest memories come from spending time on the beach with our friends and family, but there are some basic rules you should know before heading out to the beach. Leave Only Footprints is an initiative that keeps the beach pristine and encourages visitors (along with locals) to act responsibly when beaching it. Also, for our wheelchair travelers, the City of Gulf Shores has installed beach access mats at the west end of the Gulf Place Public Beach parking area at West 2nd Street and at the east end of Gulf Place Public Beach near the Pink Pony.

Alabama's White Sand Beaches

9. PLANNING & RESOURCES

Planning a trip of any kind can be daunting, but Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have many resources to help with your trip planning! Request a free vacation guide (in print or download) and check out any specials in the area. Utilize the website for compilations of what to do, where to eat, where to stay and other important information. Plan to stop at either (or both) the Gulf Shores or Orange Beach Welcome Center and pickup coupons, information cards and ask any questions you may have. Locals staffing the facilities will be knowledgeable and offer great advice.

Originally written by RootsRated for Gulf Shores AL.

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