Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Gulf Shores

BY Jeff Zanotti | April 12, 2022

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Gulf Shores, Alabama? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Gulf Shores, Alabama?”

The winter’s done, we’re sick of being inside, and it’s that time of year again when we all start to feel the calling of the coast. Beaches may not be the first (or second or third) thing that comes to mind when you think of Alabama, but the bordering cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach at the very southern end of the state are the hidden gems of the Gulf Coast. Well known to travelers throughout the Southeast and Midwest, the Gulf Shores profile has been steadily rising throughout the country for its white sand beaches and relatively cheap costs. Located roughly four hours south of Birmingham and just an hour west of Pensacola, this area in southern Baldwin County is a perfect mix of small-town charm and vibrant vacation destination. Whether you prefer your beach vacations to be action packed or lazy and relaxing, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have you covered. Our guide spans the west end of the peninsula all the way to the Florida state line.

Things to Do

Sand dunes in Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo via Shutterstock.
#1
Sand dunes in Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo via Shutterstock.

Gulf State Park

20115 State Park Road, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

This vast 6,500-acre state park that straddles the border between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach contains two miles of gorgeous white sand beaches that brought you down here in the first place. It also features much more. Lake Shelby offers a freshwater alternative to kayak, fish and swim. Explore miles of trails for hiking or biking among the inland nature. If camping is your thing, they have traditional campgrounds, cabins and full RV hookup sites.

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Getaway Charters in Gulf Shores
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Getaway Charters in Gulf Shores

Getaway Charters

26619 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

For fishermen, deep-sea fishing is a requirement for any trip to the beach. Getaway is family friendly and vacation friendly, as it offers both 6:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. departure options into the Gulf of Mexico. They provide all bait, tackle and licenses as well as free fish cleaning. Red snapper season is the most popular time to go, but you will also find in abundance vermillion snapper, wahoo, amberjack, scamp grouper and many more.

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The Wharf
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The Wharf

The Wharf

4550 Main St, Orange Beach, AL, USA

This entertainment district (open containers allowed) hosts a variety of retail shops, restaurants and entertainment venues for all. A marina, amphitheater, movie theater and a giant Ferris wheel are among the other fun options along this newer development nestled on the intracoastal waterway.

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Rating: +5. From 7 votes.
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OWA in Gulf Shores.
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OWA in Gulf Shores.

OWA

1501 S OWA Blvd, Foley, AL, USA

Coming from a Native American word meaning “big water,” this combination park and resort features a multitude of entertainment options. Its classic downtown area, which is modeled after the comforting designs of local historic coastal towns, offers a variety of dining and shopping options. There is a 23-attraction amusement park with a concert venue, an attached hotel, and they plan to add a water park later this year.

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Rating: +4. From 6 votes.
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Dolphins Down Under
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Dolphins Down Under

Dolphins Down Under

28101 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

Check out dolphins and other local marine life on a relaxing glass-bottom boat tour. Watch the dolphins glide beneath or along the boat on either a daytime or a sunset cruise, where you can also enjoy the gorgeous sunset views.

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Rating: +2. From 8 votes.
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Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Photo courtesy of the zoo.
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Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Photo courtesy of the zoo.

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

20499 Oak Road East, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

Okay, stick with us here for a second. Zoos are not usually what you think of when you’re on a beach, but in how many zoos do you get to really interact with the animals? The main attractions here are the up-close animal encounters. The lemurs are a must-see, as you get to stay inside their enclosure with multiple white and red ruffed lemurs bouncing around and on top of you. Other interactive exhibits include kangaroos and sloths. The zoo also is home to local animal celebrity, 12-foot, 1,000-pound Chucky, who was rehomed at the zoo after becoming a nuisance alligator to visitors of the nearby state park. It recently moved to a more spacious location with larger exhibits, but it’s still just as charming a place. 

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Rating: +8. From 10 votes.
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Mobile Bay Ferry
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Mobile Bay Ferry

Mobile Bay Ferry

110 AL-180, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

Go to the far western part of the peninsula to Fort Morgan, where you can take in the historic site that was part of the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War, and then catch the Mobile Bay Ferry. It will take you to Dauphin Island — a drive that without the ferry would take you hours — where you can enjoy the sleepy surroundings of this barrier island town before your return trip back to Fort Morgan. Make sure to check the schedules as they vary by season. Despite how far off land you seem, the bay is generally never deeper than about eight feet, aside from the dredged channels that allow large ships in and out of Mobile’s port.

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Where to Eat

Cobalt, The Restaurant
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Cobalt, The Restaurant

Cobalt, The Restaurant

28099 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

Try the Gulf shrimp and grits at this casual seafood spot (there’s a theme coming with “casual” and “seafood”). Located adjacent to the Perdido Pass Bridge and near several boat slips, the restaurant offers beautiful waterfront views, especially at sunset. Also come enjoy their daily happy hour from 3-5 p.m., where they have great deals on draft beer, wine and appetizers.

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Lulu’s
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Lulu’s

Lulu’s

200 E 25th Ave, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

With its gift shop and name being derived from Jimmy Buffett’s sister Lucy “Lulu” Buffett, this might be written off as a tourist trap, but it is still an area favorite. With a marina full of very expensive boats/yachts within walking distance and its intracoastal waterfront location, it offers a combination of great views and live entertainment. Order the L.A. (Lower Alabama) caviar, the restaurant’s original black-eyed peas in balsamic vinaigrette.

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Rating: +12. From 16 votes.
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Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar
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Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar

Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar

25753 Canal Road, Orange Beach, AL, USA

Cosmo’s is an art-filled local seafood favorite with inside and outside dining options. Make sure to try the pecan redfish. If not in the mood for fish, then try their chicken roulade or their take on crab cakes.

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Rating: +4. From 6 votes.
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The Gulf in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
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The Gulf in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

The Gulf

27500 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

Ambience is king at this outdoor dining spot. Located where Perdido Pass meets the Gulf of Mexico, the views are arguably the best in town. A casual vibe cascades from the open-air bar to the picnic tables on sand, which allows the relaxing gulf breeze to become an extra guest as you eat and drink. You cannot go wrong with the grouper sandwich or the Gulf burger here.

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Rating: +5. From 7 votes.
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Sweet Cone Alabama
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Sweet Cone Alabama

Sweet Cone Alabama

26651 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

This cleverly named ice cream shop provides a variety of flavors among an old-timey candy shop feel. It even has a bountiful amount of candy choices to bring home with you in case ice cream is not your dessert of choice.

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Where to Drink

The Hangout
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The Hangout

The Hangout

101 E Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

The large, spacious indoor-outdoor space, a courtyard with a sand pit of fun drinking activities — foosball, ping-pong — alone would put this on the list. But The Hangout also has plenty of live events and hosts well-known musical acts and holiday themed parties. It’s home base for the annual Hangout Music Festival that takes over Gulf Shores for three days every year.

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Rating: +4. From 10 votes.
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Flora Bama
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Flora Bama

Flora-Bama

17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, FL, USA

Alabamians have two things in common: a love for college football and having at least one crazy story from a night at Flora-Bama. This is the must-do for lovers of famous dive bars. It gets its name from being literally on the Florida and Alabama state line. Right on the beach, this bar has survived and morphed over the years due to destruction from hurricanes and the damage they left behind. They pride themselves on having live music 365 days a year. They are well known for their annual events as well, like the mullet toss (named for the fish, not the hairdo) in April and the polar dip to celebrate New Year’s Day.

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Big Beach Brewing Co.
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Big Beach Brewing Co.

Big Beach Brewing Co.

300 E 24th Ave, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

Quench your thirst for craft beer at the best brewery on the peninsula. Its open-air bar area offers fireplace seating, table seating and bar seating, or go outside and enjoy their front yard. It offers a more laid-back live music offering to go along with the beer. My personal favorite is Dixie’s Heart Irish Red Ale, but it’s tough to go wrong with any selection.

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#16

Pink Pony Pub

137 East Gulf Place, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

One of the oldest beachfront bars in Gulf Shores, its namesake pink color calls out to thirsty beachgoers. Its great prices and drinks will keep you here long after the sun goes down. This is a late-night bar that is a great option if you are looking for something on the beachfront that is less touristy.

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Rating: +10. From 12 votes.
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Where to Stay

Perdido Beach Resort
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Perdido Beach Resort

Perdido Beach Resort

27200 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

Sandy white beaches and the views of Perdido Pass and the Gulf of Mexico bring you here, but the amenities will turn this into your go-to place to stay on the Gulf Coast. They include a large outdoor pool, which leads to the indoor pool and a hot tub, as well as nightly live music. The resort offers a range of dining options, from casual to fine. The downstairs tiki bar is for day drinking while an upstairs one located inside — the one with live piano — is for the nightcaps. Thumbs up on the friendly, tight-knit staff, too.

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Rating: +4. From 4 votes.
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Island House Hotel
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Island House Hotel

Island House Hotel

26650 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

Just down the road with the same beautiful white sand beaches and stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico is the Island House. This is where to go if you’re looking for a laid-back and quiet visit to the coast, though you can expect a lively onsite tiki bar. 

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The Lodge at Gulf State Park
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The Lodge at Gulf State Park

The Lodge at Gulf State Park

21196 E Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, AL, USA

Nature lovers, The Lodge is for you. Located inside Gulf State Park and away from the congestion you find with other beach-access hotels, their focus here is on sustainable tourism. 

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Rating: +3. From 5 votes.
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Caribe Resort
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Caribe Resort

Caribe Resort

28103 Perdido Beach Blvd, Orange Beach, AL, USA

If luxury is your highest priority, then head to Caribe. It boasts some of the finest amenities to go with its luxurious condo setups. A gorgeous outdoor pool, an indoor pool and boat parking are among the many offerings here that allow you to get the absolute most out of your coastal vacation. It does not have direct beach access but is within walking distance to the public beach and Cobalt.

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