Located between Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida are the gorgeous towns of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama. Known as the Alabama beaches and used synonymously quite often, the towns are bordered by the Intracoastal to the North, the Gulf of Mexico to the South, Perdido Bay to the East, and the Mobile Bay to the West.
Thirty-two miles of sugar-white sandy beaches lure families into the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area and they end up leaving a piece of their hearts there.
A First Timer’s Guide to Orange Beach
On my first visit to Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, I got a taste of why everyone falls head over heels with Alabama’s beaches. Not only are the beaches a big draw, but the laid-back vibe, family-first values, and friendly locals also add to the allure. Throw in sand dunes with wild sea oats and sparkling turquoise water and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Please use our first-timer’s guide to Orange Beach to discover some of the highlights of this unique area.
The Wharf at Orange Beach
My daughter told me all about The Wharf but I had to see it to fully understand it. This designated waterfront mega entertainment center is a place to play and have loads of fun. I imagine all tourists visit The Wharf for the great restaurant and bar choices, shopping (don’t miss Ocean Eddie’s and Tickled Pink), and entertainment scene, especially the live concerts at the amphitheater.
The Wharf at Orange Beach hosts a big portion of the World Food Championships competitions and events each year. The attraction also offers mini golf, a Ferris Wheel, and a free sound and light show nightly.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
This Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is small, but definitely a fun thing to see or do in a short time. It is manageable for any age and doesn’t involve too much walking; a nice change from most zoos. I love the tagline, “The Little Zoo That Could”. You can see kangaroos, lemurs, reptiles, a sloth, tigers, gators, and plenty more in this family-fun zone.
This beachside open space is a huge attraction for those wanting to enjoy live music daily in a party atmosphere, have a tasty meal or beverage, or simply hang out. Spring Break (good, clean fun) and the annual Hangout Music Festival are two very popular times at The Hangout with top names in the music industry performing. From fire pits to foam parties, sand pits to the giant Shaka hand, this is a place designed for optimum fun and frolic.
Beach Bike Rentals
I cannot stress how much fun it was to go on a tour-led bike trip down the scenic trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail with owner Mark. Beach Bike Rentals has the best bicycle selection I’ve ever seen, including E-bikes (electric bikes), available in any color. Half of the fun was picking out which cool helmet to wear from the wall full of great choices. Then there are the bike basket and bell. Fun!
The 25-mile Branson Backcountry course has six distinct ecosystems running through Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, and Gulf State Park. We saw pristine freshwater marshes, swamps, and the mascot of the trail, “Lefty”, an alligator that loves sunbathing. Be sure to say hello to him!
SanRoc Cay, a luxury complex, was host to the World Food Championships Welcome Party. This is the largest food competition where grand champions of previous events compete to win the ultimate food victory and prize money. Nearly every state is represented and many countries from the 1200 contestants who compete in ten categories including bacon, dessert, and seafood.
The Orange Beach entertainment venue offers boutique shopping, three upscale restaurants, and a marina with dolphin cruises, diving/snorkeling adventures, and fishing charters.
The brilliantly colored mammoth property that I would love to have stayed in is Turquoise Place. It may be the most recognizable building in Orange Beach sitting on the waterfront with a large outdoor pool and lazy river. Turquoise Place also has an indoor pool that plays music underwater. How cool is that?
Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach
The Coastal Arts Center is an impressive art gallery complex featuring works from more than 100 local artisans. This includes potters, sculptors, painters, glass and textile artists in the 10,000-square-foot fine art gallery. A super trendy hot glass blowing studio, The Hot Shop, has fun group classes, great for a girls’ night out. At the Clay Studio, master potters share demos and instruction while you channel your inner “Ghost” movie moment. Acrylic, watercolor, and mixed media classes are available, as well.
The Coastal Arts Center is a relaxing place to enjoy rockers on the porch of the impeccable grounds, admiring beautiful pieces of art, and socializing with other like-minded individuals.
Gulf State Park Pier
This 2550 square foot fishing pier is a great place to drop a line and fish for Amberjack, Grouper, or Red Snapper,. The Gulf State Park Pier is open 24 hours a day and is the second longest pier on the Gulf Coast. Forget something? No need to worry. The pier has concessions for purchase, a retail area, clean bathrooms, and plenty of areas to relax and people watch. There is an admission to access the pier and an applicable fishing license is required. Children are free with a paying adult.
Fort Morgan Historic Site
Located at the mouth of Mobile Bay is the Pentagonal bastion Fort Morgan Historic Site. The fort was constructed around 1820-30 on a 479-acre site. It is where Admiral David Farragut commanded “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead“, as he led his troops into the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5th, 1864. The Union took over the fort shortly and it became America’s largest permanent military outpost between 1900 and 1923.
I was shown around the property by resident historian Dylan Tucker, an interpretive historian who loves sharing a history lesson of the fort’s role in the Civil War. If you get a chance, snag him for your guided tour.
Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Delivers Family Fun For All Ages
Visiting Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama is so much fun. I’m glad to see what draws people to visit and faithfully return to this Gulf Coast hotspot. Different from most beach destinations, 85% of the area’s lodging is vacation rentals. There are also 15 campgrounds and RV parks. No matter where you choose to rest your head, Orange Beach/Gulf Shores is sure to satisfy and make for a memorable vacation.
For where to eat in Gulf Shores, go to 6 Tasty Gulf Shores Restaurants You Should Try
Thanks to the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism for hosting my visit to the Gulf Coast. As with all of my work, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.
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