7 Things To Do On A Getaway To Gulf Shores And Orange Beach

With its white sand, seafood, and wildlife sanctuaries, the Alabama coast was once the South's best-kept secret. Here are the top things to do when you visit.

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.

Besides the food, outdoor riches here are remarkable: Gulf shoreline, bayous, rivers, and lakes. Opportunities for adventure await at every turn with its family-friendly beaches and area attractions, including watersports, nature trails, and entertainment. Here are the top things to do during your getaway to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.

Courtesy of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism

How to Enjoy the Outdoors

Connect with Nature

Nature lovers will love exploring the area’s ecosystems in water and on land with opportunities for birding, hiking, boating excursions, and more. Within Gulf State Park are 28 miles of paved trails to explore by bike, foot, or horse. 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.

The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge has 7,000 acres of coastal lands that shift from dunes to woodlands making it a great place for guided walks, birding, or kayaking. The Coastal Alabama Back Bay Blueway offers four different trails and 21 launch sites for paddling.

Tour by Bike

Biking is a great way to get around town, as well as enjoy the area’s many trails. Bikes are provided at some lodging facilities, and there are several places around the area to rent as well. Beach Bike Rentals is located near Gulf State Park’s Rosemary Trail and offers delivery and pickup to your lodging site. Rent an e-bike at Gulf Shores Bike Rentals to cover more area in less time.

Have Fun

For more outdoor fun, take a spin on one of the tallest Ferris wheels in the Southeast at The Wharf, spend some time cooling off at Waterville USA waterpark, or head to one of the area’s premier golf courses for an afternoon just steps away from the Gulf’s beaches or under Spanish moss-draped oaks. Kiva Dunes has been ranked as Alabama’s top public golf course.

Visit Beaches

And don’t forget the beaches. There are plenty of places to spread a beach towel and dip your toes along this stretch of coast. Head to one of several public access points in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores to hunt for seashells, walk the boardwalk, or fish from the pier.

The Lodge at Gulf State Park
The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

Courtesy of The Lodge at Gulf State Park

Where to Stay

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. Book a stay at a bed-and-breakfast, luxury resort, or campsite.

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. Cabins and cottages are also available, offering lake views, swimming, fishing, and trail activities like walking or biking.

The dog-friendly Hotel Indigo is a charming boutique hotel with 62 guest rooms, a poolside bar, a fire pit, and more.

Beach Music Festival fireworks
Hangout Music Festival at night.

Courtesy of Hangout Music Festival

What to Do

Meanwhile, the Hangout Music Festival and other events, along with attractions like The Wharf, are drawing a new generation to this coast. Go shopping, dine, and enjoy live entertainment at The Wharf’s main street and amphitheater.

Find throwback fun at Fat Daddy’s Arcade where you can spin to win prizes, top your score on a favorite video game, and try your luck with the giant claw.

Make time to shop the area’s unique boutiques and specialty shops. You’ll find local pottery, jewelry, art, and more. Salt Coastal Outfitters carries breezy dresses, gifts, jewelry, handbags, sandals, and housewares. Create your own signature scent to add to custom bath products at High Cotton Bath Company. Grab one of their comfy loungewear sets for later.

bivalves at the Original Oyster House
Robbie Caponetto

Where to Eat

There’s no shortage of places to eat in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. Among the on-site restaurants at The Lodge at Gulf State Park are the Gulf-front Perch and Foodcraft, where you’ll enjoy coastal favorites like Crispy Snapper Bites or NOLA BBQ Gulf Shrimp and Grits with sunset views.

the Original Oyster House
the Original Oyster House. Robbie Caponetto

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 and Steaks, 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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