A seven-hour drive or a two-hour flight away, Gulf Shores, Ala. offers one fantastic and affordable vacation for Houstonians. In addition to sugar sand beaches, the resort towns of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores merge seamlessly into one long fantastic spot on the Gulf of Mexico, both providing plenty of relaxing options including ocean fishing, boating, cruises and golf.
Chartered fishing boats and cruise boats for sunsets, dinner cruises, dolphin watching and watersports embark regularly, and the area is home to two of the top-rated golf resorts in Alabama – Craft Farms and Kiva Dunes. There are a total of nine signature golf clubs as well as a state-owned 18-hole course. Other popular attractions include the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo (as featured in Animal Planet’s “The Little Zoo that Could”); Pelican Place at Craft Farms, a shopping mall; The Wharf at Orange Beach; and Waterville USA, a family amusement/waterpark.The city is home to an annual three-day music festival on the beach each May, the Hangout Music Festival, along with many other festivals throughout the year, including the Oyster Cook-off and Craft Beer Weekend in November. Its Gulf State Park has beaches, trails and a pier, plus a golf course and a zipline over the dunes. To the west, sea turtles and migratory birds thrive among the coastal habitats of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
In April, city officials held a ribbon cutting for a $15 million makeover to the Gulf Shores public beachfront, the first major beachfront renovation in more than 50 years. The public park, which is the second phase of the overall project, now anchors Alabama’s most visible beach.
The new park greets visitors to the main entry-point of the city’s beach and includes green space, a 20-foot-wide beachfront boardwalk, shade structures, a playground, and new landscaping featuring plenty of palm trees. It is located just west of the lauded Hangout Restaurant.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area welcomes around 6.4 million visitors annually – not surprising since families have many options for dining and recreation for all budgets.
With more than 17,000 rooms in the area, there are far more places to stay than people who live here.
Located in Orange Beach, Caribe the Resort is the winner of the “Best Family Fun Resort” award for the southeast from Convention South Magazine. The luxury condominiums and beautiful beach are not all Caribe has to offer. Condos of all sizes are available for rent. Enjoy 40,000 square feet of pools, a lazy river, tennis courts, sauna and steam rooms, a game room, and some pretty fantastic sunsets!
Things to Do
Known for its music festival, oyster cook-off, live music and all-around fun party vibe, The Hangout offers a lot for the whole family. They have live bands that play outside and the food – burgers, tacos, queso and fried seafood – is satisfying. Centered around a huge restaurant with lots of outdoor space with games, there is even a bubbles area for young kids. Often “foam parties” are thrown where everyone plays in mountains of white non-soapy foam. A giant sand pile, fire pits, lounging chairs tucked under eaves, and palm trees converge to make a most relaxing spot to – uh, hang out. The music festival is held in May while the oyster cook-off is held in November. The oyster event last year had more than 30 competing restaurants all serving their version of three oyster recipes. Craft beer was poured, tequila was tasted, and a shucking contest was held to the delight of the thousands who sipped, slurped and gulped it all down.
Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar
The Flora-Bama, opened in 1964, has been voted the best beach bar in the country by many but it is also a honky tonk/ oyster bar with never-ending rooms, numerous stages featuring four or more live music acts nearly all day long, beer, a gift shop, beer, funky memorabilia and, did I mention beer? The Flora-Bama takes its name from its location on the Florida-Alabama border line. The Flora-Bama property truly does lie in both Alabama and Florida with the bar sitting right on the line. Legend has it that before cell phones came into use, there were pay phones on either end of the main bar and it was long distance to call one from the other.
This unassuming diner puts out the best fresh seafood anywhere on the Gulf Coast. They are famous for the Royal Reds – special Gulf shrimp that King Neptune’s serves boiled, fried and in recipes. All food is made from scratch, including the salad dressings and sauces. Margaritas and bloody Mary’s are $2.50. Go early; a line forms and you will be waiting in the parking lot for one of the 20 or so tables.
Big Beach Brewing Company
A laid back and comfortable brewery that offers live music often, the Big Beach has a cool vibe with large open-air seating under the oak trees. Bring your own food and come thirsty.
Sunset Cork Room
Owners Nina Martin and Connie Nickerson had a vision for a small, intimate, upscale fine dining establishment while keeping a local friendly objective. They offer unique wines from around the world and a hand-crafted menu with local organic foods.
Beach House Kitchen
Gulf Coast seafood and burgers top the menu at this low-key hangout with a bar and patio.
Owner Elizabeth Jones uses her mom’s recipe for rum cake and twists it into delectable offerings such as the “Keel Over,” dark aged rum cake, and the “Big O,” made with Irish whiskey and cream, named for all the people who, after tasting it, would say “Oh!” “No fighting over the last bite,” she warns.
Buzzcatz Coffee and Sweets
A perfect coffee and dessert spot, it offers locally roasted coffee and made-from-scratch sweets and savories.
Red or White at The Wharf
Offering a lovely view and drinks among the many bottles for sale, the Red and White at The Wharf is a newcomer to the area. Enjoy a bottle or wine by the glass with a snappy tapas menu.
Salt at San Roc Cay
Former hef and owner Chris Sherrill says when he started, the local culinary scene was plastic baskets and fried po boys. He has “upped the ante” in Gulf Shores, first with his elegant restaurant, Salt, and now he's the chef at CoastAL. Sherrile offers “Alabama Coastal Cuisine” – locally sourced ingredients and the freshest of seafood – and wants guests to come as they are, by car or boat!