It’s known by several names. Some call it “Alabama’s Beautiful Beaches,” some call it “Pleasure Island,” locals call it simply, “The Island.” One thing is for certain, everyone who visits Gulf Shores, Alabama, leave calling it heaven. The city is home to amazing fishing, festivals, music, eateries, outdoor adventure, and, of course, the stunning white beaches along turquoise waters.
Yes, these are true gems along the northern Gulf of Mexico. For the first-time visitor, here are 10 things you really have to experience on your trip to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
1. Hit the Beach
Let’s start with the main reason everyone comes to Gulf Shores—its beaches. The city has miles and miles of glistening sugary, white beaches that outline amazing blue water. There are plenty of access points for you to enjoy the shimmering sand and sun, and access to these public beaches and parking is free! But get there early for close parking.
Access points include the Gulf State Park Pavilion, 2nd Street Public Beach, and the Gulf Shores Public Beach at the end of Alabama Highway 59 to name only a few. A complete list with maps can be found at the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism website.
2. Cruise with Dolphins
It’s not all about the sunny beaches, exciting festivals, and delicious seafood. When you come to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, you need to make time to visit the beautiful and unique natural features and wonders the Alabama Gulf Coast has.
On the “must-do” list be sure to include a dolphin cruise. Operators like Dolphins Down Under and Sail Wild Hearts provide magical cruises at all price ranges and times to see amazing bottlenose dolphins in their natural environment, leaping skyward as they keep pace with your ship.
For something a little wilder, add the Wild Native Coastal Eco-Tour to your list. Cruise the Intracoastal Waterway and experience huge osprey, brown pelicans, bald eagles, dolphins, alligators, and much more with knowledgeable tour guides that tell you about the wildlife and the area’s history including pirates.
3. Go Fishing
Love fishing? Then what’s your pleasure, because Gulf Shores has it all. Of course saltwater fishing is predominant and you don’t need a boat to wet that line. Try your hand at surf fishing where flounder, bluefish, sea trout, and redfish (when in season) are the catch of the day. Try your luck offshore along the Gulf Coast’s second longest fishing pier, the 1,540 foot long Gulf State Park Fishing Pier . The pier boasts more than 2,400 feet of fishing space. There is an admission fee to access the pier.
Or get really off shore with one of the many popular deep sea fishing charters available—in fact, Orange Beach is home to the largest offshore charter fishing fleet along the Gulf Coast. Trips run from a few hours to full-day excursions but all are a guaranteed good time.
For fresh water, check out the chain of lakes at Gulf State Park including Lake Shelby, Middle Lake, and Little Lake. These lakes have the unique distinction of having just enough saltwater intrusion from past hurricanes that while you are fishing for freshwater bass and bream you may also hook redfish, mullet, or blue crab. Surf fishing is also popular, as is dropping a line in the Back Bays.
Remember, a state fresh or saltwater license is required no matter where you drop your hook.
4. Try Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddleboarding
For even more outdoor adventure take to the water in a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. In Gulf Shores you can paddle the calm, freshwater Lake Shelby at Gulf State Park where you may see osprey and eagles soar overhead. Alabama Paddlesports offers both kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, as well as guided kayak tours. Kayaking fishing is popular in lakes, back bays, and gulf.
For the more adventurous a little sea kayaking may be to your liking as you paddle alongside bottlenose dolphins that escort you along the waves. You can even stand-up paddleboard in the gulf when the water is calm. Visit the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism website for a complete list of outfitters to help you get out on the water.
5. Explore the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail
Get off the beaten path and trek on over to the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail. Located in the “backcountry” of Gulf State Park the trail system has more than 15 miles of paved multi-use trails that gives visitors to Gulf Shores a look at its wilder side. Along these family-friendly trails you will bike, walk, or jog past beautiful wetlands and may spy American alligators, deer, coyote, even bobcat. At the center or “hub” of the trail is an educational nature center, butterfly garden, even a bouldering field. The trail is perfect for walkers, runners, and cyclists.
6. Go Parasailing
A nice relaxing day soaking up the sun on the beach is all well and good, but sometimes you need a little action and adventure, something to give you a good adrenaline rush. If that’s you then take to the air and try parasailing.
Riding a parachute-like sail pulled by a speedboat, you’ll soar 800 feet above the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be amazed at the view—including dolphins and rays—that you can see from above. Several outfitters can hook you up for an exhilarating ride in the sky including Sky High and Pleasure Island Parasailing and Chute for the Skye Parasailing.
7. Eat Local Seafood
What would a trip to the Gulf Coast be without diving into some delicious seafood? Gulf Shores has some of the best seafood restaurants anywhere on the coast serving up the most succulent seafood dishes. For instance, dine on the famous Banana Leaf wrapped fish or sushi at Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar. Tucked under the Perdido Bay Bridge, Cobalt offers great bay views as well as contemporary coastal cuisine from renowned chefs in three distinct kitchens. Tacky Jacks features three locations on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, all with waterfront views. Lulus and The Gulf are two local favorites for excellent casual dining right one the water.
8. Catch Some Live Music
Break out the jams along the shore year round. Some of the hottest local and national talents are showcased throughout the year in Gulf Shores. Everything from rhythm and blues to rock to country and everything in between can be heard at great venues like Lulu’s, The Hangout, and the Wharf Amphitheater.
And don’t forget some of the best music festivals in the world are held right here in Gulf Shores including the Hangout Music Festival and the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival, where great tunesmiths of the past, present, and future gather to showcase their work.
9. Soar on the Hummingbird Ziplines
Located in the Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, the Gulf Adventure Center features a thrilling zipline ride that’s not to be missed. The Hummingbird Zipline Course features seven towers and six ziplines that combine for a ride nearly a mile long. You’ll soar over both land and water as high as 90 feet off the ground.
10. Have a Bushwhacker
We’re not talking about hacking your way through a wilderness. We’re talking about the drink. Next to the Margarita this rum, coffee/chocolate liqueur, and vanilla ice cream beverage is the quintessential beach drink, and you can sample the very best at such local bars and eateries as Lulu’s, The Hangout, Tacky Jacks and the “Home of the Bushwhacker,” the Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar. To sample the very best make plans to take part in the annual Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Bushwhacker Crawl that hits many of the local bars and eateries that serve up this beach-goer treat.
Originally written for Kaiser Realty.