The Underrated City in Alabama: Things to Do in Gulf Shores

GULF SHORES


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Things to do in Gulf Shores Alabama

Gulf Shores Alabama

Discover a variety of enchanting experiences in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Begin with beachside relaxation at Gulf Shores Public Beach, where soft sands and mesmerizing sunsets await. Engage in exciting water sports like paddleboarding and kayaking, or set off on a dolphin watching cruise. Families will enjoy the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and Waterville USA. For history buffs, the Fort Morgan Historic Site offers profound insights. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore scenic trails at Gulf State Park and Bon Secour Bay's natural beauty. Indulge in local culinary delights with freshly-caught seafood and waterfront dining.

The sugar-white sand beaches are one of the Gulf Shores most popular destinations. This is a place where you will probably find your mind dreaming. Whether you are looking for peace and seclusion, or adrenaline and a nightlife environment, Alabama is known to deliver. Take a fishing trip, or just sip a drink and watch the brilliant sunset. The Gulf Shores are a beach lover's dream vacation destination, with plenty to keep you busy day and night. Escape the chaos of your everyday life and experience the time of your life in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

With endless opportunities for outdoor adventures and discoveries, the city of Gulf Shores is one of the underrated cities in Alabama. Coupled with its pristine white beaches, it deserves to be on your list for your next getaway. Here are the top activities and destinations in Gulf Shores.

 


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Things to Do in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf State Park

Encompassing 6,150 acres of land, there are a plethora of activities to do in Gulf State Park of Alabama. Gulf State Park offers an extensive network of hiking and biking trails, providing outdoor enthusiasts with diverse landscapes and a chance to experience Alabama's natural beauty firsthand. Whether you are looking to engage in wildlife observation, capture stunning views through nature photography, or simply enjoy a leisurely ride or hike, this park has something for everyone.

  • Scenic Overlooks: These vantage points provide breathtaking views of the park's lush habitats. Ideal for nature photography, these overlooks give you a chance to capture the beauty of Gulf Shores from unique perspectives.
  • Trail Maps: Available at the park's visitor center, these maps guide you through various trails, ranging from easy strolls to more challenging routes. This guarantees you can tailor your adventure to your fitness level and preferences.
  • Picnicking Spots: Scattered throughout the park, these areas offer perfect stopovers to relax and refuel. Pack a lunch and enjoy a meal surrounded by the tranquil sounds of nature.

Biking in Gulf State Park

One of which is biking. With a 28+ mile paved trail system, the award-winning Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail is something for bikers to explore.

The trails allow you to explore the nine distinct ecosystems and discover different animal and plant species within the park boundaries. If you explore the Gopher Tortoise trail, you’ll get to see an alligator. If you want to see an elusive bobcat in person, you should explore the Rosemary Dunes trail. The park is also home to endangered species like Alabama beach mice, gopher tortoises and white-topped pitcher plants.

The park also offers kayaking, segway rides, parasailing, geocaching and camping.

Fishing in Gulf State Park Pier

Before Hurricane Sally destroyed some portion of the pier, The Gulf State Park pier held the title of the longest fishing pier on the Gulf of Mexico. Some part of the pier is destroyed and is now scheduled for renovation. But don’t fret, you can still have a great time fishing and sightseeing here.

The pier offers a tackle and bait shop, accessible rail fishing, rod and reel rentals and great scenic views of the Gulf of Mexico. 

Fish that are usually caught here are Spanish Mackerel, Sheepshead, Red Drum, King Mackerel, Flounder, Florida Pompano, Whiting and many more. Fish with the locals and feel the excitement of getting your first catch! 

Aside from fishing, locals and visitors come here to witness the epic sunrise and sunset.

Gulf State Park Beach

Whether you want some thrilling water activities like kayaking and fishing or just want to go for a swim, the Gulf State Park Beach got you covered. The park’s natural beauty helps you slow down for a while and escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Gulf State Park Nature Center

The Gulf State Park Nature Center provides an equally compelling experience for families looking to explore the natural beauty and wildlife of Gulf Shores, Alabama. This family-friendly attraction immerses visitors in the region's unique ecological landscape through a variety of interactive exhibits and educational programs.

The Nature Center is dedicated to showcasing the area's native plants and wildlife, making it an ideal destination for budding naturalists and curious minds.

  • Educational Programs: The center hosts numerous educational programs that teach visitors about local ecosystems, conservation efforts, and the importance of protecting endangered species. These programs are designed to be both informative and engaging, catering to all age groups.
  • Interactive Exhibits: The hands-on exhibits allow visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the region's flora and fauna. Whether it's touching a snake's skin or observing a live owl, these exhibits provide a tactile learning experience that is both memorable and enlightening.
  • Conservation Efforts: The Nature Center actively participates in conservation efforts, aiming to preserve the delicate balance of the Gulf Shores environment. Visitors can learn about ongoing projects and even participate in some of the initiatives, fostering a sense of community and responsibility towards nature.

 

Slide at Waterville USA

Are you a fan of waterslides? Head to Waterville USA! Located at 906 Gulf Shores Pkwy, this 20-acre amusement and waterpark has the rides and thrills you’re looking for. Located just minutes from the beach, Waterville USA offers an invigorating escape with a variety of thrilling water slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool. For those seeking a bit more adrenaline, the amusement park section features roller coasters, go-karts, and a miniature golf course.

You can race with other riders in their Dune Racer, a six-lane, 55-foot tall racer slide. You can practice surfing in their Flowrider. You can relax in their crystal water rivers. Or grab a tube and ride with the waves in their North Shore wave pool. Or you can scream while dropping yourself at an almost 60-foot waterslide!

Planning a visit is made easier with the availability of seasonal discounts and group rates, guaranteeing an affordable experience for everyone. Families can choose from various ticket packages that cater to different interests and timeframes, making it simple to tailor the day to their needs.

Safety is a priority at Waterville USA, with clearly posted height restrictions to make sure all rides are enjoyed safely. After a day of excitement, visitors can take advantage of nearby dining options, which offer a range of culinary delights to satisfy any craving.

Waterville USA delivers a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation, making it an essential stop on any Gulf Shores itinerary.

 

Go-Kart in The Track 

Not a fan of a waterpark? Not a problem. The Track is a great alternative for you. Located at 3200 Gulf Shores Parkway, The Track features six Go-Kart Tracks -  Wild Woody, Slick Track, Family Track, Super Track, Rookie Track and Kiddie Track. If you’re looking for a thrilling go-kart ride, the slick track is a must-try. 

They also have The Skycoaster ride, Spinning coaster, blaster boats, mini golf and kids country rides. Did you bring a lucky charm with you? Why not try your luck in their 5,000-square-foot Fat Daddy’s arcade?

 

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

Gulf Coast Zoo is located 6 miles from the beach and is home to over 200 species, 31 sub-species and 8 endangered species. After starring in a 13-episode documentary series entitled “The Little Zoo That Could” Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo was dubbed as the Little Zoo.

Spanning 25 acres of land and home to various animal species, a trip to this zoo allows you to learn about wildlife from around the world. Aside from seeing and learning about different animals, the zoo has a carousel and safari ride for kids and families to enjoy.

 

Gulf Shores Alabama Beaches

 

Gulf Shores Beaches

With its gorgeous white-sand beaches, hitting the beach should be part of your Gulf Shores tour.  Below are the best beaches in Gulf Shores:

Little Lagoon Beach

Do you want to escape the crowd? You can enjoy a good soak in Little Lagoon Beach without the bustling crowd. Whether you want to enjoy a picnic, go fishing or enjoy the scenery, Little Lagoon Beach is a perfect destination to connect with nature.

West Beach

Packed with exciting water sports, delicious food and live music, West Beach is a family’s favorite destination. Whether you want to take a dip, build sandcastles with kids or just want to have some quality time with your family, West Beach will never disappoint you.

 

Food Festivals and Events

For those who relish the flavors discovered at the farmers markets, Gulf Shores also hosts a variety of food festivals and events that celebrate the region's cultural and culinary diversity. These events allow visitors to immerse themselves in local culture, view the area, and savor everything from freshly caught seafood to expertly grilled barbecue, while enjoying the vibrant community atmosphere.

Gulf Coast Alabama Hot Air Balloon Festival (early May)

Foley Alabama Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is a Great Time and for All Ages with Balloon Flights, Live Entertainment, Food Booths, Children Activities, and More.

National Shrimp Festival (mid October)

Gulf Shores is renowned for its seafood, and the annual National Shrimp Festival is a confirmation of this. Here, top chefs compete to create the most delectable shrimp dishes, offering attendees the chance to taste their innovative creations.

The Coastal Alabama Food Truck and Craft Beer Festival (early November)

The Coastal Alabama Food Truck and Craft Beer Festival is a must-visit for those who appreciate gourmet food on-the-go. Featuring a selection of food trucks offering diverse cuisines and local craft beers, this event also includes wine tastings to tantalize the palate.

 

Craft Breweries

Amid the vibrant culinary landscape of Gulf Shores, a burgeoning craft beer scene offers enthusiasts a chance to explore a diverse array of locally brewed ales and lagers. Visitors will find an array of microbreweries that provide not only unique local brews but also an immersive experience into the art of beer-making through brewery tours and beer tastings.

Local breweries have become a cornerstone of Gulf Shores' social fabric, providing both residents and tourists with a cozy atmosphere to unwind and explore new flavors. Here are three must-visit spots for any craft beer aficionado:

Big Beach Brewing Company

Tucked in the heart of Gulf Shores, this microbrewery offers a wide selection of craft beers brewed on-site. Their open-air taproom is perfect for enjoying an invigorating pint while soaking in the coastal breeze.

Gulf Shores Brewing

Known for its innovative beer flavors and community-focused environment, this brewery offers detailed brewery tours that explore the intricacies of the brewing process, making it a favorite for beer tastings.

Fairhope Brewing Company

Although a short drive away, this brewery is worth the trip. With an ever-evolving menu of local brews, it showcases the dynamic nature of Alabama's craft beer scene.

These breweries embody the spirit of creativity and freedom, making Gulf Shores a compelling destination for craft beer lovers.

 

Beaches in the Gulf Shores Alabama

 

Dolphin Watching in Gulf Shores

The waters of Gulf Shores Alabama are home to nine different species of dolphin, making it one of the best areas for dolphin watching. There are a lot of dolphin cruises to choose from which usually last for around one and a half hours.

Setting sail on a dolphin watching cruise in Gulf Shores, Alabama, offers a fascinating adventure where visitors can witness these playful marine mammals in their natural habitat. These cruises provide a unique blend of relaxation and excitement, allowing you to experience the Gulf's serene beauty while keeping an eye out for wildlife sightings.

Opt for sunset cruises to enhance the magic of your journey, as the golden hues of the setting sun reflect off the water, creating a picturesque backdrop perfect for ocean photography. Many tour operators also offer private charters, catering to those who prefer a more personalized experience, away from the crowds, where you can enjoy the dolphins' acrobatics in a more intimate setting.

In addition to the sheer delight of watching dolphins, these cruises often include elements of marine education. Knowledgeable guides share fascinating insights about the local ecosystem, the behavior of dolphins, and other marine life you might encounter. This educational component adds depth to the adventure, making it not just enjoyable but also enriching.

Whether you're a nature enthusiast, a photography buff, or someone seeking a tranquil escape, a dolphin watching cruise in Gulf Shores promises an unforgettable experience that marries adventure with the freedom of the open sea.

 

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Home to over 360 species of birds, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a perfect destination for birding enthusiasts. With many different habitats like marshes, beaches, scrub forests and swamps, the 7,000 acres of land attracts a lot of birds making it a good spot for birdwatching.

It is one of Alabama’s undisturbed coastal barrier habitats providing a “safe harbor” for different flora and fauna. There, wildlife can exist without harm. You could expect to see red foxes, deer, armadillos, bobcats and other wild animals during your trip. It also serves as a safe haven for endangered species like Green Sea Turtle, Atlantic Ridley and Loggerhead.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge has access to Little Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico. So aside from birding and seeing the wild animals in action, you can do some water activities like trail hiking, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and swimming.

Located along the Fort Morgan Peninsula, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural significance. This protected area is a sanctuary for diverse fauna and flora, making it a haven for wildlife photography and outdoor enthusiasts. For those seeking to explore the refuge, there are numerous nature trails that meander through various ecosystems, offering both educational and recreational opportunities. The trails vary in difficulty and length, catering to different levels of hikers and bird watchers.

Here are three notable highlights of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Jeff Friend Trail: This easy, one-mile loop offers picturesque views of Little Lagoon and is ideal for families and novice hikers.
  • Pine Beach Trail: Stretching over four miles, this trail takes you through maritime forests, freshwater swamps, and onto the beach, offering prime opportunities for wildlife photography.
  • Gator Lake Trail: This shorter trail provides an excellent chance to observe alligators, wading birds, and other native species in their natural habitats.

 

gulf shores alabama boardwalk

 

Wade Ward Nature Park

If you want to see wildlife but hate the long walk, then you should stop by Wade Ward Nature Park located at 500 Gulf Shores Pkwy. This 12-acre nature park can be accessed from a sidewalk on Highway 59.

With its elevated boardwalk, you can stroll the park comfortably while enjoying the beautiful view of wetlands that connect Little Lagoon and Lake Shelby. You can expect to see pelicans, otters and occasional alligators in its shallow waters hunting for food. It is also a good place to look out for migrating and local birds.

 

Discover the Past in Gulf Shores Museum

Formerly a beach house, this tiny Gulf Shores Museum is for history buffs. They have three permanent exhibits, Portrait of a Fishing Village, Drawing a Line in a Sand and Hurricanes: What You Need to Know. The first two permanent exhibits depict the first settlers and the evolution of the town. The third permanent exhibit educates visitors on the origination of the hurricane. It includes an interactive display where you can fly through the hurricane.

Aside from permanent exhibits, there are also rotating exhibits. So contact the museum if you want to know more about their schedule. 

Another thing to look forward to during your visit is their beautiful garden shaped like a butterfly located at the back of the museum. The Nelson’s Boat Yard donated a 40-foot ship mast that was built in 1940 that you can see on display. Oyster Bay Baptist Church also donates a church steeple.

 

Buy Art in GCAA Art Market

Are you a fan of art? The GCAA Art Market should be on your list of destinations in Gulf Shores. Located at 309 East 21st Avenue, GCAA Art Market features original local and original art. There, you can find pastel art, pottery, acrylic art, oil paintings, wood, metal and fiber art.

 

Historic Fort Morgan

Although outside of the town of Gulf Shores, we must mention Historic Fort Morgan. Named after the Revolutionary War hero, Daniel Morgan, Fort Morgan has witnessed four wars - the famous Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay, the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. This historic masonry pentagonal bastion fort was designated a national historic landmark in 1960. 

Building Fort Morgan started in the year 1819 and was finished in 1834. Most of the masons who laid the more than 46 million cubic yards were enslaved African Americans during that time. 

A trip to this old fort would allow you to see the old fortification, old weapons, carriages, artillery and machinery used during the war it participated in. 

Fort Morgan also hosts events. Visit their Facebook page to know the schedule: Historic Fort Morgan

One of the ways to get to Fort Morgan, visit for Ferry Schedule: Mobile Bay Ferry

 

Shopping at The Wharf

We also have to mention the Wharf in nearby Orange Beach, Alabama. The Wharf stands as a premier destination for shopping enthusiasts and lovers of local markets. This vibrant shopping center offers a unique blend of retail experiences, concert venues, and marina activities that cater to a diverse range of interests. Whether you're looking to indulge in some retail therapy or simply soak in the lively atmosphere, 

The Wharf has something for everyone. The Wharf boasts an array of attractions and amenities that guarantee a memorable visit:

  • Shopping Center: Featuring a variety of boutiques, specialty stores, and local vendors, The Wharf's shopping center is a haven for those seeking unique finds and high-quality goods. From trendy fashion to artisanal crafts, there's something to delight every shopper.
  • Ferris Wheel: One of The Wharf's iconic landmarks, the Ferris wheel offers breathtaking views of the Gulf Shores landscape. Perfect for families and romantics alike, a ride on this towering attraction provides a serene escape from the hustle and bustle below.
  • Event Space: The Wharf's versatile event space frequently hosts concerts, festivals, and community gatherings. With state-of-the-art facilities and a picturesque setting, it is an ideal venue for enjoying live music and cultural events.

 

Swift-Coles Historic Home

In the town of Bon Secour, Alabama to the north of Gulf Shores, is the Swift-Coles Historic Home. Step back in time and explore the rich history of Gulf Shores by visiting the Swift-Coles Historic Home, an elegant 19th-century mansion that offers a glimpse into the region's past. Situated amidst majestic oak trees, this historic estate invites visitors to experience a bygone era through its well-preserved period decor and antique furnishings. Each room tells a story, showcasing the craftsmanship and lifestyle of its original occupants.

The guided architectural tours provide an in-depth look at the mansion's unique construction and historical significance. You'll traverse through grand rooms and hallways, learning about the various gardening techniques used to maintain the lush grounds that surround the property. These tours offer a rare opportunity to appreciate the intricate details and aesthetics that define 19th-century Southern architecture.

 

Gulf Shores of Alabama

 

History of Alabama's Gulf Shores

The Alabama Gulf Coast is one of the most historic regions of the South. Long before the first European explorers arrived on the coast, the area was populated by prehistoric Native Americans. Later, historians and archaeologists concluded that the Spanish found this destination during their early 1500s explorations. In fact, the Spaniards named Mobile Bay after the local Indian tribe, Mabila.

Decades later, the French followed but surrendered to the British throughout the French and Indian War in 1763. The English then held Mobile Bay for roughly seventeen years. However, the Brits lost to Spain in the Battle of Fort Charlotte in 1780. Finally, the United States took control of the area in 1813 leading to the Battle of Fort Bowyer. As a result of the war, the U.S. created two secure defenses: Fort Morgan on the site of Fort Bowyer and Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island. Nevertheless, both forts were seized by Alabama troops in 1861. Thus, the area became a Confederate stronghold, only to fall under Federal forces as a result of the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864.

Despite having endured centuries of battle, the Gulf Shores came to prosper. Now, the beaches welcome golf enthusiasts from all over the country. The Gulf Shores are also home to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo—named by Animal Planet as “The Little Zoo that Could”—which attracts many visitors to enjoy 16 acres of more than 250 exotic animals in natural habitats. Moreover, this vacation spot can cater to the "shop til you drop" philosophy with the conveniently located Tanger Outlet shopping mall stocked with over 120 true manufacturers' outlet stores.

On the other hand, kids will love Waterville USA—a family water park sporting splash fun for all! Similarly, charter boats embark on a daily basis providing visitors with the best in local fishing excursions. Foley, a town about 20 minutes from the Gulf, is a water-sports paradise as well. Of course, an absolute stop for family fun is the Gulf State Park offering public beach access. Whether you want to tan picnic, enjoy freshwater lakes, or hike this is the place to go. Have you made up your mind yet? The Gulf Shores is truly a vacation that will likely inspire you to spread the word back home to all those looking for a great vacation get-away!


Map of the Gulf Shores of Alabama

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