Living near the North Carolina coast, I am spoiled by family friendly beaches and laid back vacations. I didn’t expect my trip to Alabama’s gulf coast to be much different. Alabama, you surprised me!
If you, like me, have not considered a vacation on Alabama’s Gulf Shores or Orange Beach before, I’ve got 10 reasons why you should!
Table of Contents
The best reasons to visit Alabama beaches
Wide sandy beaches!
A picture is worth a thousand words…. so I’ll leave it at that!
Lots of housing options!
Orange Beach hotel and condo options include everything from hotel chains to luxury beachfront condominiums and beach houses. Whatever type of Orange Beach vacation rentals you want, you’ll find them here. The neighboring town of Gulf Shores has lots of hotel and rental options, too. Next trip, I hope to try the Gulf Shores condos for a different type of vacation.
I recommend the following properties based on personal experience!
- Perdido Beach Resort, 27200 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach. The hotel was completely renovated recently and everything is new from floor to ceiling! The hotel gets rave reviews for comfort, quiet, views and service. Onsite restaurants are great, too.
- Holiday Inn Express, 24700 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach. This bright, family friendly hotel offers free breakfast and a beach front pool for the family. Rooms are spacious and unfussy. Guests like it for its central location, staff and cleanliness.
- Hilton The Lodge at Gulf State Park, 21196 East Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores. One of the newest hotels at Alabama’s beaches, this beachfront hotel is stunning. Located at Gulf State Park, it has an outdoor pool with poolside bar, beach loungers, and some rooms with bunk beds for the kids. It’s very popular and regularly sells out, so book early.
From the famous “The Yard Milkshake Bar” in Gulf Shores to local shops like Del’s Ice Cream in Orange Beach (open seasonally), you’ll find your sweet spot at the beach! Here’s a guide to all the ice cream shops in the area!
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo: The Little Zoo that Could!
Though it’s small, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo exhibits let guests get close to the animals. Allow two hours minimum to visit, though I recommend 3!
Read our review: The Little Zoo that Could
By the way, this little zoo was featured on Animal Planet after heroic efforts to save the animals from Hurricane Ivan:
THE LITTLE ZOO THAT COULD is the real-life story of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, damaged by hurricanes in 2005 and struggling to reopen before the next tourist season. Every episode shows staff handling animals, introducing new animals and habitats, and feeding and caring for zoo residents. Zoo Director Patti Hill evacuated most of the animals to her personal property farther inland when high winds were threatening; she’s the center of the efforts to get the zoo back on its feet. Some episodes focus more on general zoo maintenance and upkeep, but most follow the struggling zoo’s attempts to recover from the hurricanes. The zoo gets donations, but staffers still worry about having enough money to keep the facility open and repair the animal habitats.
Truly a family friendly destination!
I was astounded by the family atmosphere at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. We met families like ours — dad, mom and kids. We also met cousin groups, families with the grandparents in tow, and groups of families traveling together. The whole week, we ran into only one college group traveling for spring break. The Alabama beaches really are family focused!
“Warm” Caribbean water!
I say “warm,” but in April, that’s strictly in comparison to my beloved Carolina beaches. The gulf waters were about 20 degrees warmer than the water at home, warm enough to play in for a while, but not exactly summer ready!
Family friendly restaurants!
There are lots of family friendly restaurants at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Many, like The Gulf, Tacky Jack’s and Lulu’s, have been here for years, restaurants geared to relaxed dinners with your loved ones. I’ve never seen anything like them. All three offer sandy beach play areas for kids with lots of other activities. My daughter quickly figured out that going early to get our names on the list meant more fun for her.
At Tacky Jack’s, we climbed to the rooftop deck and watched the sun set. Our daughter played in the sand, crawled through the tunnel and enjoyed the views from the dock. (We got the Mexican Garbage — a huge mound of nachos with a ton of toppings and it was plenty for dinner for three!)
At The Gulf, a restaurant made from shipping containers offering only outdoor seating, she dug in the sand and made new friends while I stood in line to order. No whining about dinner — and when we got home, she was worn out and ready for bed! Adults can sit at tables, relax in conversation pits or unwind by the fire pit with a drink. It’s amazing! (If they offer sweet pita with fresh berries, get it! Best dish of the week!)
Lulu’s, created by Lucy Buffett (yes, Jimmy Buffett’s sister), has a great spot at Homeport Marina. Guests can dine on good old fashioned southern home cooking inspired by Lucy’s childhood at tables overlooking the water, while kids play in the giant sand pit. If there’s a wait for dinner, kids can burn energy at the Mountain of Youth, a fun ropes course (cost $10). They are harnessed in for safety and can climb stairs, cross rope bridges and even “walk the plank!” Ellie loved it!
Read our complete guide to dining in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach with fine dining options, too.
Gulf State Park!
Gulf State Park has hiking and biking trails through miles of trails along sandy dunes and a great golf course. It’s got beach access, swimming, kids’ activities and more.
Sail Wild Hearts!
I’ve enjoyed day trips on the water before, most of them so-called “booze cruises.” This is NOT what you get with Sail Wild Hearts! We sailed under perfectly blue skies and enjoyed a 6.5 hour tour that included dolphin viewing, a perfect spot to watch the Blue Angels overhead — with the planes flying directly above us, and a beach stop for kayaking and paddle boarding. The crew was fantastic — attentive and engaged. Unlike many boat tours, the food on this trip never ended. We began with breakfast of muffins and fresh fruit. The next “course” was cheese, nuts, hummus and chips. Then lunch was sandwiches of lunch meat, cheese, “wickles,” veggies and dip, cookies and more fruit and hummus. It was, by far, the best boat tour I have ever taken.
I’m always on the lookout for the best value for vacation, and Alabama beaches offer just that. We met many, many people from Wisconsin and Illinois, most of whom told me NOT to share their secret getaway. They came first because of great deals, but they keep coming back. They say the price is much lower than similar beaches in Florida and they prefer the family atmosphere in Alabama. I noticed that family atmosphere, too — lots of families enjoying time together on the beach, at the hotel pool and at the restaurants.
For even better value, get the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Multi-Attraction Pass, that includes admission to most popular attractions at Alabama’s beaches!
Alabama’s Gulf Coast is one of America’s best kept secrets. Regulars might not like me sharing their secret, but hopefully the rest of you will make a point of visiting sometime soon! (By the way, to my dear Carolina beaches, I still love you — but in April, Alabama is warmer. There’s enough summer for me to enjoy you both!)
To learn more about Alabama’s beaches visit the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism website. I hope you’ll add Alabama beaches to your list of destinations you MUST visit!