Plan a Getaway to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

With its white sand, decadent seafood, and pristine wildlife sanctuaries, the Alabama coast was once the South's best-kept secret.

Orange Beach, Alabama
Photo: Jim McKinley/Getty Images

Just ask the Gulf Shores/ Orange Beach crowd what they like best about this 32-mile stretch of sugary sand, and they'll immediately start naming restaurants. That's because they consider the sand and surf a given.

Outdoor riches here are remarkable: Gulf shoreline, bayous, rivers, and lakes, not to mention the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The new Coastal Alabama Back Bay Blueway offers four different trails for paddling.

The Gulf
The Gulf. Robbie Caponetto

Within Gulf State Park are 28 miles of paved trails to explore. A new 25-acre Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, significantly larger than the old site, will create better space for the animals while providing more educational opportunities for guests.

It's hard to imagine now, but back in its bell-bottom days, Alabama's Gulf Coast offered little beyond campgrounds and the occasional mom-and-pop motel. The dining scene was practically nonexistent. Then, after Hurricane Frederic struck in 1979 and the coast began to rebuild, development accelerated, and it hasn't shown any signs of slowing down since.

Now there's every kind of lodging you can fathom as well as a wide array of activities that are perfect for families. Meanwhile, the Hangout Music Festival and other events, along with attractions like The Wharf, are drawing a new generation to this coast.

bivalves at the Original Oyster House
Robbie Caponetto

The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton property, opened to wide acclaim in 2018 and is noteworthy for its level of style and comfort and also for its commitment to both conservation and sustainability. Among the on-site restaurants at the lodge are the Gulf-front Perch and Foodcraft.

the Original Oyster House
the Original Oyster House. Robbie Caponetto

Venture out of the park and follow repeat visitors to breakfast at places like Ruby Slipper Cafe, Brick & Spoon, and Duck's Diner. The same crowd will likely recommend lunching at decades-old Sea-N-Suds right on the beach, Doc's Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar, Tacky Jacks, Mikee's Seafood, Original Oyster House, The Gulf (pair any dish with a mojito), or Lucy Buffett's Lulu's (order The "Pa-Menna" Cheeseburger).

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina. Robbie Caponetto

For dinner? Don't miss Cobalt, The Restaurant or Fisher's at Orange Beach Marina for stunning views of the water. Fill any gaps in your itinerary with "y'all won't believe this" selfies while you sip on a beachy beverage at the Flora-Bama.

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