On my first visit to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, I got a taste of why everyone falls head over heels with Alabama’s fantastic beaches. Not only are the thirty-two miles of sugary white sand beaches a big draw, but the laid-back vibe, family-first values, and friendly locals also add to the allure. Throw in dunes with wild sea oats and sparkling turquoise water, and you’ve got a recipe for success. When planning your visit, here is a vacation guide to Orange Beach, AL, including what to do, what to see, where to stay, and the sites to enjoy in this coastal gem.
Located between Mobile, AL, and Pensacola, FL, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are used synonymously and border the Intracoastal, Gulf of Mexico, Perdido Bay, and Mobile Bay.
The Wharf at Orange Beach
My Ole Miss graduate daughter told me all about The Wharf, but I had to see it to understand it fully. This premier waterfront mega entertainment center is a place to stay, play, eat, and have loads of fun. We pick The Wharf for the shopping opportunities, such as Tickled Pink, Shades Sunglasses, and Archipelago, but even walking around to people watch is a fun option.
You can dine at Yo Ho Rum and Tacos or The Pantry, sip a daiquiri at Island Time Daiquiris, have a coffee at Southern Grind Coffee House, enjoy a glass of wine at Red or White Wine or take a ride on the Ferris wheel. Special events are plentiful, namely concerts at the amphitheater, so be sure to check the listings to see what might be going on during your beach vacation.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
This Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is fun and family-friendly. The zoo’s tagline, “The Little Zoo That Could,” has been the inspiration for the growth of the popular family attraction with a relatively new address and weathering the storms that have devastated the surrounding area.
Sneak a peek at wolves, lemurs, reptiles, tigers, capybara, and gators in the natural habitats, or upgrade your ticket to include kangaroo and sloth encounters, which are heart-warming experiences that are a once in a lifetime opportunity. There are 500 animals to admire and learn about, plus a train ride, zip-line, and beautiful carousel. I can’t wait to take my granddaughter there.
Come to the zoo hungry so you can taste the fantastic food options at Safari Club Restaurant at the zoo property. The eatery is outside of the admission gate, so you don’t have to be a zoo guest to dine there. Exceptional lunch choices include crunchy Fried Goat Cheese with fig jam and fresh fruit and Singapore Chicken Satays with peanut sauce.
The Orange Beach and Gulf Shores’ food scene is #1 in my book, and this region will knock your socks off for Southern cuisine and fresh seafood, I promise. You’ll have no trouble at all finding dozens of absolutely delicious places to eat. For breakfast, indulge in creative Eggs Benedicts from Ruby Slipper Cafe and classic diner faves from Sunliner Diner.
At lunch, feast on gourmet burgers and fresh salads from Brick and Spoon or shrimp baskets and a list of food a mile long from Lulu’s. For dinner, go all out on amazing seafood favorites at Fresh Off the Boat or chef-inspired dishes from Playa. You’re sure to get memorable meals to go with your exceptional family vacation in Orange Beach, and meals that are priced within reason.
Call or go online to reserve your meal time to avoid the crowds and long wait times. For more places to eat, check out these delicious restaurants to try in Orange Beach/Gulf Shores.
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 prevalent times at The Hangout, with top names in the music industry performing. From fire pits to foam parties, sandpits to the giant Shaka hand, this is a place designed for optimum fun and frolic.
If you choose to dine at The Hangout, the burgers and Po’Boys are off the hook delicious. Make sure to wander the restaurant and check out the retro collections, including Pez dispensers and lunch boxes. They are so cool and fun! Fancy a cocktail? The mules and mojitos are handcrafted, plus the Bushwacker is fantastic.
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 Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail has six distinct ecosystems running through Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, and Gulf State Park. We saw pristine freshwater marshes, hardwood swamps, and the mascot of the trail, “Lefty,” an alligator that loves sunbathing. Be sure to say hello to him!
You can walk, jog, or bike the trail, which is popular with the locals and beach visitors. Be sure to snap a photo of the trail map as you enter so you don’t get lost…says someone speaking from experience.
Enjoy the Beaches
The primary reason to vacation in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach are the mesmerizing beaches. Just the sound of the waves rolling is enough to relax some people and put them instantly in full vacation mode.
Whether you are soaking up the sun or building sand castles, catching the waves with a boogie board or renting jet skis, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps a glass-bottom boat ride to watch dolphins would be fun for the whole family—or fishing for a family dinner. The Gulf waters are calm enough to go sailing or rent a wide array of boats. Other ways to get out on the water include stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, and naturally, fishing.
Explore State Parks
You can get outdoors for a walk or hike, go swimming, or even partake in birdwatching or geocaching, for that matter, at Gulf State Park. This exceptional Alabama State Park has abundant wildlife, including deer, armadillo, and bobcats, and a sweet little butterfly garden.
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 dock has concessions for purchase, a retail area, clean bathrooms, and plenty of places 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.
While you are there, consider having a meal at Woodside Restaurant, serving high-end food and excellent coffee. Order the Muscle Shoals Omelet for an egg dish stuffed with shaved ham and smoked gouda pimento cheese, served with your choice of grits or potatoes. The rustic setting at this park makes for great photos and space for being at one with nature.
Orange Beach is mostly home to timeshares and condo units. My favorite place to stay is Turquoise Place, a combo of both. This lovely blue property is the hilt of luxury and has a fantastic address. It may be the most recognizable building in Orange Beach, sitting on the waterfront with great balconies, a large outdoor pool, and a lazy river. Turquoise Place also has an indoor pool that plays music underwater. How cool is that?
Inside, Turquoise Place units are uniquely designed, with three to five bedrooms, and the furnishings are clean, comfortable, and visually pleasing. A long list of amenities accompanies your stay, while onsite covered parking is easy and makes loading and unloading a breeze.
Turquoise Place is managed by Spectrum Resorts. Directly booking through them guarantees your access to all amenities, the Spectrum Club Lounge, and use of beach towels in your condo.
Get your groceries delivered, condo stocked, or help with attraction passes and much more from the one-stop-shop The Beach Moms Concierge Service.
Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach
The Coastal Arts Center is an art gallery complex featuring works from more than 100 local artisans, including potters, sculptors, painters, glass and textile artists. The 10,000-square-foot fine art gallery is impressive and a must-see attraction.
A super trendy hot glass blowing studio, The Hot Shop, has fun group classes, great for a girls’ night out. You can make your own glass creations in a beginner-level class for around $85.
In 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.
Pro Sand Castle Building
Orange Beach has a unique beach activity that might pique your interest. Sand Castle University offers small group lessons for learning tricks to building amazing sandcastles. There is truly an art to making a sandcastle, and with a few simple tricks, you’ll be creating a masterpiece in no time.
We learned how to make the sand the right consistency, with the perfect mix of water (the glue), and then, by using a few simple tools, create windows, doors, bricks, and even stairs. It was so exciting and something you can carry on for years to come. The class is geared for up to 10 and is one flat fee for an hour session.
Of course, you can also just enjoy the beach without building castles. Bring your favorite book or let the lull of the waves put you to sleep as you relax and unwind in this heavenly spot.
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. Admiral David Farragut commanded, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead“, as he led his troops into the Battle of Mobile Bay here 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 granted a guided tour 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. Besides history, you can also launch a boat from Fort Morgan or picnic.
Go Boating or Fishing
You can get out on the water for fishing or boating in several Orange Beach areas. The easiest to me is by taking a chartered boat ride or fishing excursion, which you can charter from The Wharf. Go for an exciting boat ride through the back bays of Orange Beach to see the marine wildlife and prestigious million-dollar homes.
Fishing enthusiasts might prefer to cast a line for some of the freshest local fish: redfish, snapper, amberjack, and speckled trout. Orange Beach Boat Rentals are pet-friendly, and you can bring your own coolers onboard.
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.
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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