Alabama's Gulf Coast is an unexpected treasure in the Deep South of the United States. Located on Wolf Bay, Orange Beach is a small city with a long, fascinating history and plenty of things to do year-round. In the warmer months, you can expect sunshine on 32 miles of sugar-white sandy beaches. Cool off in the turquoise water, and enjoy a cocktail at one of the award-winning restaurants. During the chilly seasons, explore the miles of nature trails and biking paths. Relish the thriving art scene, savory Gulf cuisine, and that famous Southern hospitality.

01Ride the Ferris Wheel at the Wharf

Along the waterfront at Portage Creek, you'll find the Wharf, a family entertainment district with a selection of experiences for every traveler. Delight your taste buds with some local seafood specialties, then spend hours shopping and exploring the marina. Try to save a few extra bucks for the Wharf Ferris wheel. This Gulf Coast landmark is one of the tallest of its kind in the Southeast, providing fantastic views of lush treetops and beautiful sunsets. Take a sweater if you're sensitive to the cool breezes, and a camera to capture the moment.

02Explore the Scenic Backcountry Trails

Seven scenic paths through 6 diverse ecosystems make up the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. More than 15 miles of paved and wooden pathways cruise through the lush landscapes of Gulf State Park in neighboring Gulf Shores and into Orange Beach, providing access to the shoreline and city streets. Enjoy a relaxing nature walk near the shore, or rent a bike and get your heart racing through the trees and marshes.

03Explore the Gulf State Park

In addition to breathtaking beaches along Wolf Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf Shores is also home to a wide variety of ecosystems within the Gulf State Park. Marshes, swamps, forests, and coastal dunes support unique flora and fauna, including the vibrant Butterfly Garden. Pack the fishing gear and head to Little Lake or book a stay at a campsite. These canvas tents sit on rustic wood floors and come with hand-pump showers and sinks, outhouses and serenity.

04Spend an Artful Day at Wolf Bay

Nature and art aficionados will find plenty to keep them engaged at the Orange Beach Waterfront Park. Open to the public year-round, the park has spaces for picturesque barbecues and picnics, a playground for the kids, and a 400-foot pier with covered pavilions and benches. Cast your line from the dock or a boat from one of the largest charter fishing fleets on the Gulf Coast. If you're in town during the second weekend of March, stop at the Orange Beach Festival of Art. This free two-day event celebrates visual, musical, performing, and culinary arts with over 45 years of tradition.

05Learn Orange Beach's Ancient History

Orange Beach traces its Native American history back 10,000 years. The pre-Mississippian tribes, whose burial mounds remain throughout Baldwin County, also left ancient weapons, tools, and pottery behind. The Muscogee Tribe was here when the European explorers arrived, and their legacy is also on display at the Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum. This free exhibit resides in the original 1910 schoolhouse of the fishing village that continues to thrive today. Discover personal stories and see authentic artifacts like the small wooden desks and white bell tower. Check the museum's website for hours and other details.

06Be in Two Places at Once

For a more informal beach adventure, cross Perdido Pass and head for Alabama Point East. This quiet shoreline is much less crowded than the other beaches. Dip your toes in the water, then make your way to the state line for cocktails at Flora-Bama. This honkey-tonk bar and cultural landmark is cited on several best-of lists, and you'll find locals and tourists alike mingling in the relaxed atmosphere. Before you leave, be sure to take a selfie with one foot in Florida and the other in Alabama.

07Let Your Adventurous Side Out

Kayak in the waterways around Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Alabama. Bondariev / Getty Images

Orange Beach is a popular watersports destination and the perfect warm-weather getaway. Group and solo adventurers can rent jet skis and wave runners, or dive beneath the turquoise water and view the largest artificial reef in the United States. Get up-close and personal with Gulf Coast ecosystems on the Coastal Alabama Back Bay Blueway. This series of trails takes kayakers, paddleboarders, and canoeists through the waterways surrounding the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. From freshwater lakes to muddy swamps, this is a side of Alabama like you've never seen. Check online for maps and tour information.

08Sunbathe on the White Sands

Gulf Shores beaches are known for their sugary-white sands, and no trip to Orange Beach would be complete without feeling it between your toes. Cotton Bayou is located just outside e of Gulf State Park at Highway 161. This beach is perfect for people-watching and sunbathing. Romar Beach is not far from the Gulf State Park Beach Pavilion, and better for quick strolls or picnics along the shoreline. Stop by the Orange Beach Welcome Center for more information and some unique photo opportunities.

09Indulge in Gulf Cuisine

Orange Beach has numerous eateries to satisfy every budget and the pickiest of eaters. Southern favorites like barbecue and gumbo will delight your senses, but make sure to leave room for some delicious Gulf cuisine. The essence of fresh-caught fish combined with Alabama-style flavors is a local point of pride, and each restaurant serves its take on traditional ingredients and recipes. Come to town in October for the Shrimp Festival, a four-day celebration featuring local and regional shrimp recipes, live music, art exhibits, and family-friendly activities. Check the festival website for more information.

10Take a Short Trip to the Stone Age

Stonehenge is one of several unique attractions at Orange Beach, Alabama. Pugalenthi / Getty Images

If you have an extra day for awesome adventures, consider a road trip to some little-known Alabama landmarks. Less than 30 miles west of Orange Beach is Fort Morgan, a 19th-century fortification dating back to the Civil War. The 479-acre National Historic Landmark features impressive brickwork and artifacts, while exhibits focus on the battles and the soldiers who fought them. Across the bay on Barber Parkway, you'll find a series of extraordinary installations. Bamahenge is a full-size replica of Stonehenge set a grassy clearing. Further down the road, you'll also encounter several life-sized dinosaur sculptures, all free to the public and open year-round.