Sunset on Alabama's beaches

Should You Stay in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach?

Many who have not vacationed along Alabama’s beaches may not know that our 32 miles of sugar-white sand span across two entirely different cities.

While both offer pristine beaches, an array of activities and attractions, and more restaurants than we can name, there are several reasons why you might choose to lodge in one city over the other. 

Choose Gulf Shores If…

Fort Morgan State Historic Site in Gulf Shores, AL

You’re a Biker

While many popular destinations are known for growing traffic issues, Gulf Shores has attempted to mitigate that by making the city more bike-friendly. From the westernmost end of the island to the Gulf State Park, there are wide bike lanes on both sides of the beach road. These connect to bike lanes and sidewalks on Highway 59 and the bike paths in Gulf State Park. Whether you need to make a quick trip to the grocery store or want to work off your meal on the way to the restaurant, Gulf Shores makes it easy for bikers to safely travel around town.

You’re a History Buff

If history is your thing, look no further than Gulf Shores. At the westernmost end of the island is Fort Morgan State Historic Site, a Third System masonry fort that was built in the early to mid-1800s. The fort played a critical role in many battles, specifically the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. Today, it stands as a historic site that aims to educate visitors about the battles that took place there as well as the lifestyles of soldiers and people in those times. At the fort, there are also nature areas, a boat launch, picnic tables and public beach access.  

Family at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL

You’re a Nature Lover

Many are surprised to learn that off-the-beach, our destination is teeming with a variety of outdoor adventures that immerse visitors in our coastal environment. Two of the most popular spots to explore the natural wonders of the Alabama Gulf Coast are found in Gulf Shores. 

Located directly in the middle of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is Gulf State Park. With its 6,150 acres, there is much to see and do here. The park is home to 28+ miles of paved trails called the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. These trails take visitors all throughout the park, exploring the nine unique ecosystems within it. You can travel these trails by foot, bike or Segway. For the water warriors out there, the park is home to three freshwater lakes. The largest lake, Lake Shelby, is perfect for fishing, swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding. Then, of course, we can’t forget the 2,448 ft. Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier. The longest pier and Alabama’s only public pier in the Gulf of Mexico, this is an in-demand fishing spot on the Gulf Coast. Lastly, the park boasts three miles of public beach access. Guests can access this beach by parking at the recently renovated Beach Pavilion

Note: Several of the attractions at Gulf State Park are currently under renovation due to damage from Hurricane Sally. Be sure to visit their listings on our website for more information.

Nature enthusiasts will also love the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, also located in Gulf Shores. The refuge houses some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal habitats. Guests can traverse across the property via three trails of varying lengths and terrains. One of the refuge’s most traveled trails is the Jeff Friend Trail, a paved one-mile loop with views of Little Lagoon and a variety of wildlife. Throughout the year Bon Secour serves as a refuge for more than 300 migratory birds. It’s also the home of various endangered species such as the Alabama beach mouse. 

You’re a Craft Beer Snob

Gulf Shores is home to the southernmost brewery in Alabama, and the only along Alabama’s beaches – Big Beach Brewing Co. So, if you’re a craft beer connoisseur, you’ll definitely want to be on this part of the island. At any time, you’ll find 12 beers on tap ranging from IPAs and sours to stouts and porters, depending on the season. Big Beach prides itself on having a “tap to tank” system which means that their beers run directly from 300-gallon vessels right into their taps ensuring they offer patrons the freshest brews around. A local watering hole, the brewery also hosts live music, game day gatherings and food trucks nearly every weekend. 

Choose Orange Beach if…

Family boating in Orange Beach, AL

You’re a Boater

Boating is a favorite pastime for both locals and visitors of the Alabama Gulf Coast. Whether you have your own boat or will be renting one, Orange Beach has quite a few public boat launches and marinas which makes it easy for boaters to get out on the water. These marinas and launches are primarily located on the back bays in Orange Beach, but boaters can access the Gulf from those waterways. 

You’re a Fishing Fanatic

Did you know Orange Beach is home to one of the largest charter fishing fleets in the Gulf of Mexico? It’s no wonder the area has become a mecca for fishing fanatics. Another feature that makes the city unique is the vast number of waterways fishermen have at their disposal. Of course, the highlight for many is saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Many local charter fishing providers have deep-sea excursions available. You can also book a fishing trip in the back bays or cast a line from the beach. 

Coastal Arts Center in Orange Beach, AL

You’re a Shopaholic

If shopping is your cardio, you’ll get plenty of exercise in Orange Beach. 

For the place with the most spots to shop, visit The Wharf, Orange Beach’s premier entertainment district. The Wharf has 60+ shops as well as restaurants, bars, a marina, amphitheater and more. As for the shopping, you can find everything from clothes and shoes to handmade jewelry and soaps as well as furniture and décor. While you’ll surely need a place to rest your laurels, there are plenty of locally-owned restaurants to fuel up for the rest of your day of shopping.

Another haven for shoppers in Orange Beach is SanRoc Cay Marina. From resort beachwear and shoes to unique gifts and high-end salon products, SanRoc Cay houses close to a dozen stores and boutiques. Shoppers will also be pleased to know that this area has several restaurants and a courtyard bar with live music nearly every night.

For shoppers that want something eclectic and locally-crafted, the Coastal Arts Center is the place for you. Located on four pristine acres lining Wolf Bay, the arts center 10,000 sq. ft. gallery that only displays works by Gulf Coast artists. Nearly every piece in the building can be purchased. Visitors can also check out The Hot Shop for glass blown art and The Clay Studio for pottery. 

You’re Craving a Bushwacker

An adult milkshake? Yes, you heard that right. At the Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar in Orange Beach you can indulge in one (or more) of these delicious delights, if you’re 21+, of course. The Flora-Bama is a legendary Gulf Coast landmark, and their bushwacker cocktails have become just as legendary. While you’re sipping on one of these drinks, you can enjoy all of the music your heart desires because the Flora-Bama also touts live entertainment 365 days a year.

As you can see, there are many reasons to choose to book a getaway in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Fortunately, no matter which city you decide to stay in, their close proximity makes it easy to explore everything each city has to offer while you’re vacationing along our shores.

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