If you are looking for a complete guide of family fun activities in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, this guide is for you!
After creating incredible memories along the emerald shoreline it becomes clear why Gulf Shores, Alabama, is a beach town many pay homage to yearly. There are endless things to do in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach from a variety of fun family activities, a diverse dining scene, and sugary sand beaches.
In this guide, we dive into what makes Gulf Shores and Orange Beach a great place for the whole family, including where to stay, our top kid-friendly restaurants, and attractions.
We would like to thank Visit AL Beaches for sponsoring this post. As always, opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the links and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
About Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
The coast of Alabama offers 22 miles of pristine, white sugary sand beach along the Gulf of Mexico. These beaches are in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, neighboring towns that are only a short drive apart.
Orange Beach borders Florida, making the famous Flora-Bama Beach Bar a hot spot for tourists and locals alike.
The best time to visit Gulf Shores is in the fall, as temperatures are still warm enough to spend the day at the beach and swim. Crowds have vanished, making accommodations more affordable, attractions more enjoyable, and wait times at restaurants lower.
Budget Tip: Consider visiting during the off-season, November-February, for even more savings arrive during the middle of the week to avoid paying multiple nights at the higher weekend rate.
How to get to Gulf Shores, Alabama
Whether you choose to road trip or fly, it is easy to travel to Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are in close proximity to two major interstates: I-10 and I-65. Many nearby cities such as Atlanta and Nashville are only a day’s trip away. From my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, the drive is roughly 11 hours.
While Gulf Shores does have a small International Airport, many guests choose to fly into Pensacola International Airport since it offers many non-stop flights from major cities during spring and summer.
Tip: It is an hour’s drive from Pensacola, Florida, to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Ensure to leave early enough to gas up your rental car prior to arriving at the airport.
Where To Stay In Gulf Shores
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer a variety of accommodations, from stunning condos at Turquoise Place, relaxing rooms at the Beach Club Resort and Spa to renting a fabulous beach house. As a family who highly values having our own space, we opted for a beach house this visit.
A perfect place to rent for your next family vacation is the Blue Parrot #7. is Only steps from the ocean this newly remodeled 5 BR beach home is ideal for those looking for a complete luxury escape. It has all the comforts of home from a fully furnished kitchen to a washer and dryer.
Everyone will love the pool, which is shared with the neighboring home, The Blue Parrot #8. The beach closet is full of chairs, umbrellas, sand toys, and coolers, eliminating the need to pack or buy these beach essentials.
Visit the local seafood market during your visit to create a tasty seafood feast. Dine on the spacious patio overlooking the sea while sipping on a glass of wine. S&S Seafood Market is only a quick four-minute walk from the house and right next to a small grocery market.
Another close walk from the Blue Parrot #7 beach house is to Beach House Kitchen and Cocktails, a local restaurant serving up top-notch drinks, delicious hamburgers, seafood, and great kids’ menu.
Overall, the Blue Parrot #7 was the ideal beach house with it having beach access, a pool, spacious bedrooms, and is within walking distance to dining options and the market.
Bonus: The house offers baby gear such as a stroller, pack-n-play, and a highchair.
Address: The Blue Parrot #7 is located in the West Beach area located at 1235 W. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores, Alabama 36542
Fun Family Activities To Do In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
We couldn’t wait to visit the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in its new location. Deemed the “Little Zoo That Could” by Animal Planet, this small zoo packs a powerful punch. The zoo made history as the first US zoo to do a full-scale off-site evacuation of all its animals during hurricane Ivan. The zoo then raised funds to build a new location further inland for the safety of the animals.
The family-friendly zoo opened the doors to its new location in March of 2020. In addition to bigger exhibits, the zoo acquired giraffes, along with the new Safari Club Restaurant.
As you can imagine the staff is phenomenal at this little zoo, but it is the animal encounters that truly make this zoo stand out. For a unique experience, guests can get up close and personal with their resident sloths, have lemurs sit on their heads, or hop over to pet a kangaroo. My daughter enjoyed feeding the giraffes and the goats in the petting zoo.
Address: 20499 Oak Road East, Gulf Shores, Alabama 36542
Tips For Visiting The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
- Bring sunscreen and water. Not all parts of the zoo offer shade.
- Most animals encounters are $19.00. This is in addition to your zoo admission.
- There are a variety of rides found throughout zoo ranging from $3.75 and up.
- Get cups of feed for the barnyard animals for $2.00 a cup.
- The zoo does offer stroller and motor scooter rentals.
- Parking is FREE.
- The name of the animal can be found on the plaque outside of their enclousure.
- The zoo offers a great gift shop.
Explore The Wharf
Entertainment takes center stage at The Wharf where family fun is around every corner. Trendy boutiques, great restaurants, bars, and exciting activities line Main Street making The Wharf a top attraction in Orange Beach.
Grab breakfast at the Southern Grind, but beware, this coffee house is full of marvelous home decor which will inspire a home remodel. Afterward, take a scenic spin on The Wharf’s popular Ferris Wheel. It is an iconic feature of Orange Beach offering tree-top views paired with the gulf breeze.
During the evening The Wharf becomes a mecca for families with the free nightly SPECTRA Sound and Light Show. Kids will want to hop aboard The Wharf Express Train to see the sights and sounds of The Wharf at night.
The Wharf is a top thing to do on a rainy day in Orange Beach. Catch a movie at the AMC movie theater, test out your skills at the Break Out Escape Room, or try your hand at Civil Axe Throwing.
TIP: Throughout the year The Wharf offers many live music performances. Check the schedule to see before venturing up because if you are coming on a performance day, The Wharf can get very busy.
One of the top things to do in Gulf Shores is to take a day trip out to the Fort Morgan Historic Site. The majestic old fort has stood guard of Mobile Bay for over a century. While it is no longer in commission the fort and its grounds are nice to explore, providing picnicking, nature areas, and swimming.
The fort played a vital room in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August of 1864 and was used by the armed forces all the way up until the end of World War II. During World War II German U-Boats were operating in the Gulf, with constant sighting and debris washing ashore.
The garrison was active in patrols and debris removal. In 1944 the garrison was removed and the fort was turned over to the state of Alabama and deemed a historical site. There is a self-guided tour that takes guests through the history of the fort and throughout the grounds. Text panels are located throughout the park packed full of interesting tidbits.
Tips For Visiting Fort Morgan
- There is a museum on-site which helps bring the story of the fort to life.
- A boat launch is available.
- The ferry to Dauphin Island departs by Fort Morgan. This is the perfect excursion following your time at Fort Morgan. Check the ferry times and plan your whole day trip!
Go On A Dolphin Cruise With Cetacean
One of our favorite things to do in Gulf Shores is to take a dolphin cruise. On our recent trip, we hopped aboard a Cetacean Dolphin Cruise for an incredible experience. What sets this cruise apart is that it is a massive pontoon boat, allowing it to venture into shallower areas where dolphins abide. A smaller boat means a small group, allowing for top-notch service for all patrons.
During the cruise, Captain Will gave a wonderful history of the area, discussed the ecosystem and the wildlife found in the area. It didn’t take long before dolphins were spotted and jumped beside our boat. At one point my four-year daughter squealed, ” We are surrounded by dolphins!” as dolphins could be seen from all directions.
In addition to dolphins, we were able to see a wide variety of sea birds. The cruise is roughly two hours long, with snacks being offered for purchase halfway between. As we were cruising the bay, Captain Will let the little ones take the wheel to have their glorious moment as Captain. It is a cruise that the entire family will love, even younger children.
Tips For Going On A Cetacean Dolphin Cruise
- Sit in the front of the boat. It is ideal for spoting dolphins and how I managed to snag awesome dolphin photos.
- The front of the boat does not have a canopy to protect you from the sun. Bring a hat and sunscreen.
- The cruise does serve alcholic and non-alcholic beverages.
- Bring a jacket if you go in the morning as it can be chilly on the water.
- Prepare little ones to have wind in their face. I had a hat and hair twisty for Sophie’s hair so that it didn’t blow in her face.
- Already did the Cetacean Dolphin Cruise? Try one of these fun Dolphin Cruises.
Sign-Up For Sand Castle Univeristy
One of the most unique things to do in Gulf Shores, Alabama, is to take a sandcastle building class from Sand Castle University. Not only is it a great way to learn a new skill, but you will also leave with incredible memories. In my mind, it was the best souvenir because now I will be able to try out my new sandcastle building skills on every beach vacation.
There are a variety of classes offered from basic 101 to a more 2-hour advance class. They recently started offering sea creature classes and birthday parties where kids sculpture birthday cakes out of sand!
Why We Loved Sand Castle University
- It was an activity the entire family could do, with each person creating their own personal sand castle to share with everyone.
- Sand Castle University comes to you! Sand Castle University comes to your closest beach, whether it is the beach at a house, condo, hotel or any of the public beaches!
- They bring all the tools. All you do is show up.
- Take the sunset class for incredible photos. Bonus: They take family photos! As the primary photographer in our family, it meant alot to be able to have me in the photo.
- I left with the confidence that I will wow friends and family at all future beach vacations with my new skills.
Play at the Orange Beach Waterfront Park
The newly renovated playground at Orange Beach Waterfront Park is every kid’s and parent’s dream come true. It is a completely fenced-in playground, with soft rubber terrain and plenty of fun structures for all age levels to explore.
Families can pack a picnic and swim in Wolf Bay as the waters are more shallow and calm. Pack swim gear, plenty of sunscreen, and a lunch! Finding a park has always been one of my favorite free family activities to do in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Happy Hour at Big Fish
Did you forget to bring lunch or need an afternoon snack? Only a few minutes down the road from Orange Beach Waterfront Park is the local favorite, Big Fish. Big Fish offers fresh seafood, sushi, and a variety of delicious upscale dining options. However, to avoid crowds and get the best prices to go during happy hour.
Tip: Be sure to ask for the happy hour menu to see the deals on drinks, sushi, and small plates.
Go Shelling On The Beaches
One of the reasons I love visiting the beach is because no matter how old, how fit, or how hip someone is, they always look down hoping the ocean left them the perfect seashell. Shells are abundant along the shores making shelling a popular pastime for beachgoers. As always, ensure that there are no sea critters living inside your shell before taking it home.
Tip: Grab a shelling guide from the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism Welcome Center.
Milkshakes at the Yard
The most epic ice cream spot in Gulf Shores is the Yard Milkshake Bar. These extravagant milkshakes are the way dreams are made of. Topped with a whole slice of cake, cheesecake, or even topped with cereal marshmallows your sweet tooth will be in heaven.
These decadent shakes can easily be split by two or three people, but with so many different flavors and combinations getting your own will never be a regret.
Bonus: You get to keep the mason jar the shakes come in. There is a washing station near the bathrooms.
Gulf State Park
Gulf State Park encompasses over 6,000 acres of trails, wetlands, beaches, and more. Overall, it is home to nine unique ecosystems. The new pedestrian bridge gives visitors easy access to the park and is relatively close to the Nature Center.
Catch a fish off the Gulf State Park Pier, hop on the Hugh S. Branyon backcountry trail, or spend a full day enjoying the beautiful white-sand beaches.
While exploring Gulf State Park be sure to stop into Woodside Restaurant for delicious BBQ, sandwiches, or cool off with a refreshing liberation. Situated right in the park, Woodside Restaurant is conveniently located off the bike path and even has a bike share station right by the entrance of the restaurant.
Fun Fact: The Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier is the largest pier in the Gulf of Mexico!
Budget Tip: The park has a free Bike-Share Program that lets visitors rent bikes throughout the park. The first three hours are free, then return your bike to the nearest station.
Gulf State Park Interpretive Center
During your visit to Gulf State Park take time to explore the Gulf State Interpretive Center. Acting as the gateway to the park, the educational center shows visitors how to preserve their coastal environment.
With interactive exhibits and intriguing facts, guests can learn about the dunes, sea turtles, and other wildlife that call Alabama’s gulf coast home.
Tip: Check out the impressive design of the building that utilizes natural elements to reduce energy demands.
Bike The Hugh S. Branyon BackCountry Trail
The Hugh Branyon Backcountry trail is the ideal way to experience the quieter side of Orange Beach. Begin your adventure by snagging one of the bikes with the free bike-share program. Map out points of interest along the 15-mile bike trail before departing, along with a spot to take a break.
The trail winds visitors through towering pines, around freshwater lakes, and marshy swamps. For those looking to utilize the trail for a more leisurely stroll, enjoy the interpretive signs found throughout the trail identifying local flora and fauna.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Experience animals in their natural habitat at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Grab your binoculars because a wide variety of wildlife can be observed throughout the preserve, from over 400 migratory birds to predatory alligators.
Many like to experience these backwaters by kayak. Kayaks can be rented by an outside company and dropped off at the location of your choice.
Step inside Adventure Island for a world full of entertainment. Putt your way through an erupting volcano during a game of mini golf, take the go-karts out for a drive, then enjoy a handful of kiddie rides. Guests can even rent a paddleboat to take out on the pond. Inside a huge arcade is a great respite from the heat or rain.
Tip: Right next to the Adventure Island is Bubbas Seafood. A great spot to swing in with the family for a seafood feast.
One of the ultimate kid-friendly places to eat in Gulf Shores is the Hangout! The Hangout goes beyond a typical restaurant in that it is a destination all itself. Sit back to enjoy live music while the kids participate in the foam party.
From pirate and princess breakfasts, a DJ booth, competitions, and of course, their unique outdoor space, it is a kid’s dream come true. Parents can have a relaxing meal while the kids can explore the sandpit and participate in the courtyard games.
Lucy Buffet’s Lulu’s
Lulu’s is one of the best places to visit in Gulf Shores Alabama. Sitting along the Intracoastal waterway, guests can enjoy scenic views, and great food, all in a family-friendly atmosphere Where else can you hit a ropes course, visit an arcade, play in the sand, and grab a bite to eat?!
Those little ones with allergies can rest assured that Lulu’s will take special care to ensure their meal is prepared with special care. Stick around for the live music which starts at five daily.
Water parks offer a great alternative to the beach when trying to beat the summer heat. Waterville USA is the ultimate amusement park that offers 20 acres of pure fun for the whole family. It includes a giant waterpark, escape rooms, mini-golf, go-karts, arcade games, and so much more!
Relax in the lazy river, splash in the wave pool, then zip down water slides before trying out the Flowrider.
Parasailing and Jet Skis
See Gulf Shores like never before by trying out a few exciting water sports. Take to the air on a parasailing adventure or cut through the waves on a jet ski. Other fun water sports include paddleboard rentals and kayaks!
Go On A Fishing Charter
Get ready to tell a big fish story, because after you leave one of Gulf Shores’ signature Fishing Charters you will have the pictures to prove it. Whether it is deep-sea fishing or a kids fishing charter there is something for all skill levels. Many of the fishing charters offers a variety of different family activities to do in Gulf Shores.
The Track Family Recreation Center
Another favorite thing to do in Gulf Shores with kids is to visit the Track Family Fun Park. Here, you’ll find racing fun for all ages. Race to the finish line on the elevated tracks, enjoy a great ride for all ages on the Family Track, and let the kids take the wheel on the Kiddie & Rookie Tracks.
The Track with Kids Country offers plenty of toddler-friendly rides that our daughter loved. Enjoy toddler-size swings, being the conductor on the train, and pick your favorite horse on the carousel. Our daughter was able to enjoy spinning, soaring, and twirling in rides designed just for children.
The fun doesn’t stop there, as families can hop aboard bumper boats, thrill-seekers can enjoy the Skycoaster and everyone can compete in a friendly game of miniature golf.
Flora-Bama Yacht Club
Want to experience Flora-Bama with the kids? Take them to the Flora-Bama Yacht Club for incredible seafood right on the water. This open-air restaurant is on the beach, giving kids the opportunity to play in the sand while the adults can relax in one of the many loungers or picnic tables. With good food and plenty of entertainment, it is a great spot to spend an afternoon.
Family Fun Activities To Do In Gulf Shores On A Rainy Day
One of the best things to do in Gulf Shores on a rainy day is to pay a visit to the Factory. Home to a trampoline park, ninja obstacle course, and a climbing gym it is the perfect spot for kids to burn off that pent-up energy.
Fat Daddy’s Arcade
A fun rainy day activity during your Gulf Shores vacation is Fat Daddy’s Arcade. This massive arcade is full of the latest arcade games for kids of all ages. A visit to the arcade is never complete without a few rounds of classic skeeball or hoops. With tempting prizes, the high ticket payout games were quite popular.
Coastal Arts Center Of Orange Beach
The Coastal Arts Center offers a variety of special events that may be of interest to families. From glass blowing, ceramics to browsing the art galleries the Coastal Arts Center is a hidden gem in Orange Beach.
Grab Breakfast Inside a Classic Car
Step back in time to the 1950s with a visit to Sunliner Diner in Gulf Shores, AL. Enjoy a classic breakfast, hamburgers, milkshakes, or a slice of cherry pie. Inside the diner, they have converted a classic car into a table. It is on a first-come-first-serve basis. One family said they arrived a half-hour prior to opening to be the first customers in the diner to get the table.
Tip: You can even rent one of the Sunliner’s classic convertibles to drive along the coast.
Things To Do Near Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Take a guided adventure on the wild side with a visit to Alligator Alley. Begin with a walk to the elevated viewing platform, where you can see over 200 alligators relaxing, sunbathing, courting, and nesting. Then take a nature walk on the elevated boardwalk and see alligators in their natural habitat along with other natural inhabitants such as turtles, ospreys, owls, and bullfrogs.
Right outside the Gulf Shores area is OWA Parks and Resort. A new destination that features a variety of family-friendly attractions including the Tropic Falls Theme Park. Tropic Falls is home to roller coasters, rides for small children, and a water play area.
Other attractions in OWA include Downtown OWA which is home to shops, Murder Creek Distillery and tons of restaurants.
Budget Tip: Save money by finding saving on admission to OWA here.
One of the best ways to begin and end your trip to Gulf Shores is with a stop at Buc-ee’s. Many travel great distances to visit a Buc-ee’s gas station and mega convenience store, simply because it is nothing like you have ever seen before in a gas station.
Buc-ee’s goes beyond snacks and gas. Oh no my friend, you can furnish your whole home, dress your family, grocery shop, pick up freshly made meals, and anything else your little heart could imagine. If you are road tripping to Gulf Shores, then this needs to be on your itinerary.
May this list act as your guide as your start to piece together your incredible Gulf Shores beach vacation. For more inspiration be sure to check out Visit AL Beaches for a complete list of things to do in the area.
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