Best Things To Do in Gulf Shores
The top attractions in Gulf Shores revolve around the water. The public beach affords easy, free access to the Gulf and its shores, where visitors can sunbathe and families can build sandcastles. Gulf State Park also offers access to several miles of the coastline, along with Lake Shelby, where visitors can swim or try their hand at various water sports. For a break from the beach, spend the day zipping down one of the water slides at Waterville USA. Or, hop aboard one of many dolphin tours to see some of Gulf Shores' more wild residents. After a day in the sun, head over to The Wharf in nearby Orange Beach for an evening of shopping and dining.
Updated August 29, 2019
- #1View all PhotosfreeGulf State Park#1 in Gulf ShoresBeaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sports, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sports, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Outdoor adventurers flock to Gulf State Park, which sits just a mile east of the public beach. Along with opportunities for swimming, fishing and paddling at Lake Shelby, the park also boasts 28 miles of trails (15 of which make up the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail) that weave throughout. Visitors can also take advantage of the park's guided tours or stop by the nature center to learn about the local flora and fauna. Budget-minded vacationers should check out the park's rental cabins or its campgrounds, while those traveling with pets can make use of the on-site dog park. Those who don't want to rough it can book a room at one of the nearby hotels.
Travelers regularly call the park beautiful and praise the clean facilities. Hikers enjoyed the park's trails and appreciate the water fountains located along the paths. Meanwhile, RVers offer rave reviews of the size of the grounds and the on-site amenities.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Gulf ShoresBeaches, Natural Wonders, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
No matter the season, a visit to the beach is an absolute must. Crisp white sand and turquoise waves invite beachgoers to spend the day lazing in a chair or swimming in the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters. For those traveling in the winter months, slip off your shoes and walk along the shore.
Recent visitors loved the Gulf Shores beaches and rave about the clean, soft sand. They also appreciated the wide expanse of the shore, saying it's easy to find your own space and the beach never feels crowded.
- #3View all PhotosfreeThe Wharf#3 in Gulf ShoresCafes, Entertainment and Nightlife, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDCafes, Entertainment and Nightlife, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Situated in nearby Orange Beach, Alabama, The Wharf offers a family-friendly nightlife option for locals and visitors alike. The complex features dining, boutique shopping and a variety of activities and events. In addition to attractions like a Ferris wheel, a movie theater and mini-golf, The Wharf has a marina where visitors can rent boats or catch a dolphin cruise. Travelers also have the option of docking their boats at the marina.
Tourists enjoy The Wharf's atmosphere and the fact that there always seems to be something happening. Others recommend taking a sunset cruise from the marina for gorgeous views and some wildlife spotting. Travelers also say that unless you enjoy shopping, you may not find enough to do at The Wharf to stay longer than a few hours.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Gulf ShoresBeaches, Recreation, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Recreation, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Due to its location on the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Shores plays host to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, including bottlenose dolphins. You can get up-close to these playful mammals by joining in on a dolphin cruise. Dolphins typically travel in pods, so you're likely to see several animals on any excursion you take.
There are several different tour operators in the area, most of which leave from nearby Orange Beach. Fun Boats Dolphin Cruises earns routine praise from recent visitors not only for the number of dolphins seen on the tour, but also for the company's well-known water fight on deck. Past visitors also recommend Cetacean Cruises for its relaxing atmosphere and friendly, knowledgeable crew. If you decide to visit The Wharf, you can book a cruise on the Sunny Lady, which departs from The Wharf's marina.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Gulf ShoresRecreation, SportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, SportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
While the most popular outdoor pursuit in Gulf Shores might be relaxing on the beach, visitors should not pass up the opportunity to go for a bike ride. Designated paved paths offer something for bikers of all skill levels and snake through gorgeous scenery including sand dunes, forests and more.
Biking along the trails at Gulf State Park is a routine favorite. The paved trails, some of which are part of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system, spread throughout the park, allowing bikers access to all of the park's amenities like the beach and the picnic area. The loop around Lake Shelby is a particularly popular ride. These wide, flat trails are perfect for beginner bikers, travelers who want a leisurely ride or those with kids. Visitors who do not have their own bike can rent one from the park.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Gulf ShoresBeaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Taking its name from the French phrase meaning "safe harbor," Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is home to a variety of stunning wildlife. Each year, migratory songbirds stop on the refuge's land to rest and eat before continuing their migration along the Alabama coastline. In addition to the various birds, Bon Secour also preserves endangered species like sea turtles and the Alabama beach mouse. To take in the wildlife, visitors can hike one of the refuge's trails, kayak or canoe through its waters or try their luck at fishing.
Past visitors praised the refuge's well-kept trails and its gorgeous scenery. Other enjoyed spotting the variety of wildlife; some were lucky enough to see alligators. In addition to sturdy walking shoes, travelers should bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Gulf ShoresMonuments and Memorials, Museums, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, Museums, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
From 1943 to 1945, the USS Alabama fought in the Pacific theater during World War II. Now, the 680-foot ship rests in Mobile, Alabama, as the star attraction of the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. The park also features the USS Drum – a WWII submarine – tanks, aircraft and memorials dedicated to each modern war and the American men and women who fought in them. There's even a monument to military service dogs. For an additional fee, you can also explore the recreation area, which has access to picnic tables and a fishing pier.
Visitors routinely praise the park, saying it is full of history and provides great insight into life aboard the ship. Travelers particularly enjoyed the self-guided tour of the USS Alabama, but warn the tour involves a lot of stairs and tight spaces.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Gulf ShoresZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
When the kids tire of beach days, take them to visit some furry friends at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. If the zoo sounds familiar, here's why: It was the star of Animal Planet's 2006 documentary series "The Little Zoo That Could," which details the zoo's efforts to rebuild and care for its animals after hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina. The zoo is home to more than 600 animals representing nearly 200 species, including 22 endangered species. In addition to animal viewing, the zoo offers daily zookeeper talks, animal shows and meet-and-greets with select critters.
Recent visitors enjoyed the zoo, praising the variety of wildlife on display. However, others noted that the cages seemed a bit too small for some of the animals and that the facilities appear worn. Reviewers also acknowledged that the deteriorated facilities could be due to the zoo's impending move 4 miles north of its current location in late 2019.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Gulf ShoresAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
For a break from the beach, head less than a mile inland to Waterville USA. The park, which spans 20 acres, offers both water and theme park rides. Visitors can float their way down the lazy river, brave the waves in the wave pool or shoot down one of several waterslides. Meanwhile, those looking to stay dry can take advantage of Waterville's amusement park, which features attractions like mini-golf and go-karts.
Travelers enjoy their time in the water park, emphasizing that it's a great option for families with kids of different ages. Other visitors lament the park's ban on spray sunscreen and some say the park is overpriced.
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