Did you know there’s a little part of Alabama that reaches out to touch the Gulf of Mexico? The Alabama Beaches area is also known for two of it’s main beach towns, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. I’ll admit that I had no idea Alabama had white sand beaches to offer visitors. After my recent trip, I’m sharing my favorite things to do in the Alabama beaches. From water play to sandcastles, Alabama can offer quite the beach vacation weekend escape. Alabama Tourism hosted me on a press trip, all these thoughts and opinions are my own based on my experience.
Alabama Beaches Water & Sand
The white sand of Alabama beaches is definitely not to be missed. Who would have guessed that you could find that kind of vacation perk in Alabama?! Here are my picks for getting your toes sandy when in Alabama.
Gulf State Park
Weather kept us from being able to visit the park, but it’s known for being one of the best natural beach areas in Alabama. With over three miles of white sand to explore, it’s very family friendly. Also, there’s a large trail system, over 25 miles, which is perfect for hiking or biking. I fell in love with the long grass dotted sandy beaches at the local marina, so I can only imagine the beauty that can be found at Gulf State Park.
One of the popular activities for visitors to the Gulf coast of Alabama is trying to spot local dolphins on a boat cruise. Our tour was a Dolphin and Lighthouse Tour with Action Outdoors. Again, weather played a role in preventing us from the lighthouse tour due to water conditions, but we still headed out to search dolphins. We ended up spotting two, which was a light day according to our crew. Their tip: sunset cruises are great for dolphin activity and better for spotting/photos since the sun isn’t so harsh.
Caribe Marina – Beaches & CAT boat rides
After the rain moved off we headed to the Caribe Marina in Gulf Shores for some fun. This marina is located right on the Alabama/ Florida border. It features some inside passage waterways, great for a new watersport, CAT boating.
I wasn’t sure what to expect and not even sure what a CAT boat was when I heard we were heading out on one. Turns out they’re awesome! They’re kind of like lounge chairs situated on top of two surfboards with a motor in the back. You might also think of it as a mini pontoon boat. They pack some great power for some fun speed, but more importantly, they can motor along quietly allowing you to get up close with some wildlife.
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If you’re looking for the full out speed, you can always consider renting jet skis at the marina, but if you’d like to take a tour (I highly recommend Orange Beach Cat Boat Tours) or just enjoy some of the local natural beauty with some fun moments of speed, CAT boats are the way to go. The marina is located alongside some great beach area, so you can enjoy the sand and play in the water all on the same day.
For my final idea on how to spend your weekend escape to the Gulf Shores of Alabama, I say head to Dauphin Island. This island is located right at the mouth of where the Gulf of Mexico feeds into Mobile Bay. The island is connected via a bridge, so it’s easy to get to. The island is a popular spot for fishing and bird watching.
There’s also a vehicle/passenger ferry from Dauphin Island over to Fort Morgan in case you have a history buff in your group. You could also use it if you’d like to explore the whole coast without having to drive up and around the north end of the bay.
While the Gulf Shores beaches are on the southernmost area of Alabama, nearby is Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is a city center, and where you’ll find the closest airport if you’re planning to fly in for your Alabama beaches vacation.
One of my favorite attractions in Mobile was the Gulf Quest Marine Center. It’s packed with hands-on learning exhibits that will draw in kids and adults alike. The building itself is shaped like a ship, and the exhibits are laid out on multiple “decks” (floors). It’s a fairly new museum, and trust me, they did a wonderful job of creating a hands-on learning environment to keep kids entertained while they learn!
If you’re in Mobile and enjoy touring gardens and old houses, stop by the Bellingrath Gardens. It’s a 65-acre property that features beautiful gardens as well as a historic home. The view out the back patio of the old home is beautiful and will probably make you wonder if you’re still in Alabama.
Where to Eat in Gulf Coast Alabama Beaches
Cream & Sugar Cafe
This cafe is actually located in a converted cottage style home in Mobile. Cream & Sugar Cafe has some crazy coffee drinks, including one that’s super caffeinated. I visited for breakfast, and their pastries are delish. Had to go back for a second serving of the cinnamon roll! They also serve lunch.
If you’re looking for great atmosphere and a southern menu while visiting Mobile, definitely stop into Dumbwaiter. It’s located in the downtown area of Mobile that’s going through a gentrification movement. The menu was packed full of southern-inspired dishes. If you’re a brussel sprout fan, you have to try the new south brussel sprouts, YUM!
Wintzell’s Oyster House
Any oyster fans? You can’t very well visit the Gulf Shores without trying some gulf coast oysters. You can get them cooked in many different ways, they’re an Alabama classic. When visiting Wintzell’s also take some time to browse all the old-fashioned, and quirky statement signs that are located around the restaurant. You’ll raise your eyebrows at a few of them!
When you’re down at the Gulf Shores beaches, definitely plan a stop into The Gulf restaurant. This was one of my favorite places on our trip. It’s created from old shipping containers and features open-air seating right on the beach. There are a variety of tables and lots of room to roam and play. You can’t go wrong with planning a long visit to eat and play.
Another MUST stop restaurant when you’re in Gulf Shores Alabama is Lulu’s. This place is definitely family-friendly. Again, located on the white sand of Alabama beaches, Lulu’s is more than just a restaurant. In addition to serving a great menu, including locally sourced, sustainable fish, they also are a spot for fun. They have play courts all over the property, and I hear it’s an awesome place to catch the sunset!
ALLERGY FAMILIES: My favorite thing at Lulu’s was their allergy menu system. Instead of allergy families having to ask if certain dishes are safe, Lulu’s features a whole allergy menu of safe foods for some of the standard allergies. As an allergy family, having a system that allows your kids to choose from a safe menu is a nice perk, rather than having to do a back and forth between the server and kitchen asking about specific dishes. Furthermore, the allergy meal is also made in a special area of the kitchen and hand delivered by a manager for an added level of system check.
My friend Tamara has a post with more great spots to eat in Orange Beach.
Tips for Where to Stay when Visiting the Gulf Coast
The Gulf Coast is popular in the rental market. There are a lot of private homes and condos that are available for rental through your favorite site.
Check out the top-rated Gulf Shores Vacation Rentals on TripAdvisor.
Check out the top-rated Gulf Shores hotels on TripAdvisor.
I have to admit that I was surprised to find that Alabama had this gorgeous beach vacation region. Nearby Destin Florida is another popular gulf beach destination. There are many things to do in the Gulf Shores, plus some delicious southern cuisine to enjoy. Leave a comment if you have any further questions!