Family playing mini golf at Adventure Island in Orange Beach, AL

Seven Tips for Planning a Beach Trip to Gulf Shores Orange Beach

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is one of our most beloved beach destinations, and we try to visit regularly since it is so close to our home in Atlanta.

As a career travel family, you might think we have a leg-up when it comes to planning our beach vacation, but it’s truly very easy if you follow these seven steps.

Top Seven Tips for the Ultimate Beach Vacation

Family at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, AL

1. Check the calendar

Every trip in our household begins with a check of the calendar, but the research goes far beyond “availability.”

If you’re planning a family getaway, then you’ll need to balance school and extra-curricular activities. Are you still doing virtual school, which allows you to travel during the week when crowds are thinner? Or maybe you’re looking for a date-night escape, and you first need to check when the grandparents can stay with the kids.

While our family usually opts for off-peak travel to save money, you might prefer to plan at the height of the season. This usually means more attractions are open (or open longer hours), and it typically coincides with the seasonal festivals like the Annual National Shrimp Festival or The Hangout Music Festival

2. Select your accommodations 

The right (or wrong) accommodations can make (or break) a vacation, so this is where we spend the bulk of our planning efforts. What’s necessary for one family is not always the right option for another - or even from vacation to vacation. 

The first step is to determine what is required, what is desired, and what is the icing on the cake for your current adventure; and then try to match it to your budget. 

  • Do you need a full kitchen because you’ll be cooking most meals, or will you be noshing at Brick & Spoon, Hog Wild Beach & BBQ, or other fan favorites for most meals?
  • Do you need a washer and dryer?
  • How close do you want to be to the beach? Is it important to have the beach in your backyard? Is walking across the street ok? What about driving in the car?
  • What is the cancellation policy? In the current environment, you never know what the future holds. Your tolerance for risk should coincide with the cancellation policy.

Whatever your decision, we recommend you book direct through the vacation rental management company. Why? You can leverage the knowledgeable locals who are always happy to assist with area information and can offer quick guidance should anything go wrong. You can usually secure better rates and fewer fees, as well.

3. Pick the right water activities

You’re at the beach – let’s make the most of it. 

If your vacation brings you in the warm months, then plan for parasailing, snorkeling and jet-skiing. Visiting during the cooler months? That doesn’t mean you can’t play at the beach. Try sailing, kayaking or offshore fishing.

In addition to letting the temperature dictate our water play, we also try to do something new and exciting with every visit – stretch your comfort zone and explore the possibilities

4. Check out the local attractions

Our family always selects one non-beach day for every three days of vacation; checking out the local attractions is a great way to spend that off-day. 

Whether you are exploring The Wharf, heading to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, or building your arm strength at Civil Axe Throwing we offer the same advice as above – try something new!

If you’re visiting more than one attraction, also be sure to mix it up. Select one indoor activity and one outdoor activity, or pick one energetic activity and one calming activity. 

Laser tag at Adventure Island in Orange Beach, AL

5. Plan meals for your budget

You’re at the beach friends; you’re going to need snacks. Bring your list for a stop at the grocery store as you head in, and remember your supermarket stop might take longer if you’re stocking a full kitchen. On our last trip at Turquoise Place, we ate most of our meals at restaurants but still saved one evening to enjoy the fantastic balcony grill!

As you’re planning restaurant stops, consider where you are staying, the water activities and planned local attractions - you’ll want to select restaurants near your itinerary options.

For example, plan an oyster lunch at Sea N Suds when you’re visiting Gulf State Park…or dine on the Caribbean eats at Sassy Bass before you head out on the ferry to Dauphin Island.

6. Build a contingency plan

If a rainstorm happens or one of the kids gets a bad sunburn, you can still have an amazing vacation if you plan ahead.

Are the kids are bouncing off the walls? Try the indoor trampoline park, The Factory, or challenge them to a game of laser tag at The Wharf.

If you’ve been bitten by the history bug, take a field trip to the City of Foley Museum Archives where you can enjoy the model train, or to the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum where you can still soak up some ocean antiquity (and it’s free!)

7. Go with the flow

My final word of advice? Be willing to ditch the plan. 

A decade or two from now, when the kids are remembering all their fond times in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach…packing a suitcase for their own children, and calling you – the grandparents – to tell you they are on the way to pick you up for another extended getaway…they won’t remember that you didn’t stick to the plan.

They will remember that you walked out to the pier with them and watched the dolphins for a long time. They will remember that you built a gigantic sandcastle and decorated it with shells. They’ll remember the time you went twice on The Wharf Ferris wheel, or when you posed together for silly-face photos in front of the sign at Flora-Bama.

That connection is what it’s all about.


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Leslie Peterson Gulf Shores AL
Leslie Peterson (32 Posts)
Lesli Peterson, Owner/Founder of 365 Atlanta Traveler, made her way to Atlanta more than 20 years ago, after living in Germany, Japan and six U.S. states. She relishes the discovery of obscure,…