The white sandy beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast seem to call out to travelers to “come visit.” There is something about the combination of white, powdery sand and bright sunlight that makes the Alabama coast a special place for a weekend getaway or an even longer vacation.
Because more and more vacationers and weekend travelers are coming to this popular spot, there seems to be something new each time my wife and I visit that makes it even better. More attractions, more accommodations, more restaurants, more activities, more souvenir and gift shops.
More campgrounds. More golf courses. More fun.
Where is the Alabama Gulf Coast?
Of the nearly sixty miles between the Mississippi and Florida state lines, there are only thirty-two miles of beaches on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. But for that short distance, there are many activities to occupy your time in Gulf Shores (visitor website) and Orange Beach, the major cities on the Gulf Coast.
Relaxing on the peaceful beaches is one of our favorite things to do and seems to be the most popular. Aside from beaches accessible only from large gulf-side condominiums and private houses, many of which are available for vacation rental, there are also many public access points.
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Best places to stay on the Alabama Coast
My wife Dorothy and I usually either book an ocean side condominium or one of the popular motel chains that is situated on the beach.
The last time we went to Orange Beach, we stayed at the Hampton Inn. The advantage to a motel rather than a condo is that the motel usually has a good breakfast included.
If we do not stay at one of the motel chains, we use vrbo.com and deal directly with owners. We have had good luck with booking that way.
Fun things to do outdoors on an Alabama Coast vacation
In addition to surf and sand, Alabama Gulf Coast visitors will find plenty to do. Enjoy hikes, birdwatching, fishing or golfing. Take your pick!
Gulf State Park
With 6150 acres, Gulf State Park (official website) is loaded with outdoor opportunities. You’ll find the park between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Accommodations include cabins, a campground, and The Lodge at Gulf State Park, the latest addition to the many services at the park.
The Lodge, operated by Hilton Hotels, is located on SR 182 and has beach access. Among the many trails, a mile-long boardwalk beginning at the Lodge crosses over SR 182 and follows a route over water, dunes, and marshes.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
A few minutes west of Gulf Shores on SR 180, 6700 acres of coastal terrain provide outdoor recreation. At Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (website) you’ll find secluded beach access, sand dunes, and woodlands to explore.
The name Bon Secour means “safe harbor” and is very appropriate for the native flora and fauna obtaining sanctuary at the wildlife refuge. We very much enjoy the hiking trails throughout the refuge.
At the western end of SR 180 from Gulf Shores, the historic Fort Morgan (website) overlooks Mobile Bay. Construction began in 1819 after the War of 1812 when Congress realized the US was vulnerable along the southern and eastern coast lines. However, the fort proved obsolete even during the Civil War.
Near the fort, board the Fort Morgan Ferry (carries cars and passengers) for the trip to Dauphin Island where the sister Fort Gaines stands guard across Mobile Bay.
Dauphin Island is known for stretches of white sand, several attractions and Alabama history.
On our visits, we usually stop at Fort Gaines for a panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico. The fort has guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay for over 150 years.
The Audubon Bird Sanctuary with its 137 acres is also one of our favorites. We like to hike part of its three miles of trails.
Lovers of sea life enjoy a stop at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium. The facility includes aquariums, a living marsh boardwalk, and a campground.
We get to Dauphin Island usually by the ferry. There is also a three-mile bridge connecting Dauphin Island to the mainland near Mobile.
Alabama Gulf Coast is for the Birds
Another popular activity we enjoy is birding along the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. There are six loop trails in Baldwin and Mobile counties that total over 200 miles.
Each loop has different ecology. Signs are posted along roadways throughout the areas noting places to see birds and species.
The loops are scattered along the Gulf Coast, but it is not necessary to follow the complete loops to enjoy birding. See the website for complete listing of trail routes and species.
Don’t forget about fishing and golf
Fishing and golfing prove to be popular diversions while visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Whether fishing from a pier, or surf fishing, or taking a charter boat, there will be plenty of opportunities to fish for grouper, snapper, triggerfish, or amberjack.
We usually choose a less active activity like taking a dinner or sightseeing cruise for dolphin and other wildlife. A good source for fishing information is a blog for Fishing Booker.
Plenty of golf courses offer golfers opportunities to try their luck and improve their skill while visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast. Golfers may set up tee times on line by visiting Coastal Alabama Golf.
Gulf coast dining and shopping
Eating delicious seafood and shopping for bargains are favorite things for vacationers to do when they’re not soaking up sunshine on the beach or otherwise enjoying the outdoors.
With the bountiful Gulf in their backyard, many restaurants offer catch-of-the-day seafood prepared a multitude of different ways. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have many excellent restaurants with menus for whatever taste. Here’s my favorite Gulf Shores restaurant guide. One of our favorite restaurants is Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar on Canal Street.
The Tanger Outlet Factory Stores, just north of Gulf Shores on US 59 in Foley, is an outlet mall with over 120 stores. Bargains await shoppers looking to fill a few bags while relaxing away from the beach. But Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have plenty of gift and specialty shops to browse, too.
For a great vacation or long weekend test the waters along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Outdoor and indoor recreational opportunities abound at this fun-in-the-sun destination.
Extend your Gulf Coast trip
After exploring coastal Alabama, continue your road trip with these ideas: