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The Best Sun and Fun Things to Do in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Experience the stunning beauty of sugar-sand beaches, turquoise waters, sea breezes and warm Southern hospitality in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Bordered by four bodies of water, Gulf Shores is the perfect destination for exploring six distinct ecosystems by bike, air or on foot. Trails through freshwater marshes and swamps invite explorers to meet wildlife up-close and personal, like “Lefty” the sunbathing alligator. He loves attention, so be sure to say hi. Whether your idea of a perfect vacation is playing golf, boating, snorkeling, sipping margaritas on a deck at sunset or exploring historic sites, Gulf Shores has it all and more.

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01Things to know before you go

Red chair on the beach welcome-to-carol-world / Getty Images

Visit the Gulf Shores early in June, before or after the Fourth of July weekend and anytime in August. These times are also the most economical. Gulf Shores has a laid-back and casual character, even in restaurants and bars. Activewear such as shorts, jeans, casual tops, and comfortable shoes are acceptable, but bring shoes appropriate for hiking or running. An umbrella is helpful in the occasional downpour. When things cool down, layered clothing or a zip-up jacket keep you cozy. Equipment like kayaks, boats, and bikes are easy to rent. “Leave Only Footprints” is more than a motto: it’s your responsibility to help maintain the area’s beauty.

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02Paddle and fish on a Gulf Shores kayaking trip

A kayaker takes in the sunset as dusk settles over Mobile Bay as seen from Fairhope, Alabama, USA mrolands / Getty Images

One of the best places to kayak or learn the activity is Gulf Shores. Even if you have never kayaked before, you can find a class and hone your skills. The area features rental boats and gear as well as kayaking tours. Common areas open to kayaking enthusiasts include the Little Lagoon, Bon Secour River in the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge, Perdido Pass, Lake Shelby inside of Gulf Shores State Park, and Wolf Bay. Regardless of when you go, you can see gulf-shore birds and turtles, or find plenty of fish biting in the rivers and streams.

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03Find entertainment and excitement at the Fun Park at OWA

Named one of Alabama's outstanding attractions, OWA, which is located in Foley, Alabama, is a big amusement park and entertainment complex. A Creek Indian word,  OWA stands for Big Water - a good name for the site, whose 14-acre amusement park is built around a lake. You don't have to pay for admission if you don't ride one of the 23 featured rides, but who wouldn't want to ride the Rollin’ Thunder Roller Coaster, which takes you on a twisty and turvy, if not mind-bending, ride over the span of the park? Children 3 and under also receive free admission. The downtown shopping and dining area next to the park also offers plenty of fun things to do.

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04Explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail

Whether you want to camp at one of the primitive campsites at Gulf State Park or just want to hike for the day, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail will take you where you want to go. Experience the great outdoors, trekking along the marshy terrain and through the attraction's butterfly garden. There's always a photo opportunity waiting at the site, as you never know when you might see a white-tailed deer or bobcat, or see one of the area alligators catching the late afternoon sun. The 15-mile long backcountry trail highlights 7 pathways that diverge on 6 separate ecosystems that run through Orange Beach, Gulf State Park, and the surrounding Gulf Shores area.

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05Experience a hurricane at the Gulf Shores Museum

Open free to the public, the Gulf Shores Museum, located at 244 West 19th Avenue in Gulf Shores, is a good place to begin your adventure of the Gulf Shore area. The museum features all types of engaging exhibits that take you through time and provide you with a historic account of Gulf Shore events. The main feature at the museum is the archived film of Hurricane Ivan, part of the site's interactive Hurricane display. An old-time pre-World War II cottage, once located on West Beach, is the museum's current home.

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06Savor the surfside barbecue at Hog Wild Beach and Barbecue

One of the eateries, unique to Gulf Shores, is the Hog Wild Beach and Barbecue, which offers everything you could hope for in barbecue-based cuisine. The southern-style barbecue restaurant with a Gulf Coast beach theme is a must-visit place to eat during your Gulf Shores stay. Hog Wild's slow-cooked barbecue entrees offer up tender servings of meat, complete with one of the various barbecue specialties. If you don't know what to pick, choose the restaurant's delectable and popular White BBQ sauce topping.

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07Gulf State Park

Aerial photo of a beautiful sunset over Gulf Shores Alabama nick1803 / Getty Images

Make this park your one-stop spot for entertainment, especially if you’re short on time. This gorgeous park offers a variety of activities for a modest entrance fee. The white, sandy beach is roomy, and there’s a convenient outside shower for cleaning up. Keep an eye peeled for the sea turtles that frequent the area. If you see nests, look but don’t touch. The Wharf is a great place to take in the nightly light show from the huge Ferris wheel. RV parking is abundant, there’s a pool, and bike trails abound.

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08Fort Morgan Historic Site

This stately fort is a great example of the adaptation and fortification measures taken by the U.S. Army to defend the country. The fort has served sporadically through several wars, from the Spanish American War through World War II. The small entrance fee gives you access to fishing, tours, and nature areas. There’s a beach, boat launch, and picnic area. Dogs are welcome if leashed and cleaned up after. Aerial photo of Fort Morgan, Alabama

09Alligator Alley

Alligator swimming through Gulf Shores Cheri Alguire / Getty Images

What would a trip to Gulf Shores be without an alligator exposure — Lefty the sunbathing alligator’s acquaintance notwithstanding. Separated by age in secure enclosures, the Gators love to crowd and crawl all over each other. An elevated boardwalk keeps you safe while observing the alligators. Feeding time is often frantic and very noisy. However, as you move more deeply into the fluorescent green, lighted swamp, the ambiance becomes peaceful, quiet and beautiful. You can hold a young alligator and feel how soft and smooth the skin is. Be sure to bring quarters to buy food to feed them.

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10Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

Profile of a Beautiful White Bengal Tiger Cub EMPPhotography / Getty Images

An exciting, fun, and educational time awaits, and the entry fee is very reasonable. A leisurely stroll along wide paths provides close views of more than 500 exotic animals. Favorites include leopards, wolves, primates and more. There’s also a large aviary, reptile house, and a petting zoo. As the season permits, there are animal shows and informative talks by zookeepers. Pick up souvenirs at the gift shop, buy food at the concessions and sit in a shaded picnic area for lunch.

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11Orange Beach Marina

Walkway to Orange Beach, Alabama BlazenImages / Getty Images

Ride the wild waves along the Alabama coastal waterways on a jet ski. Dolphins are often spotted on this two-hour adventure, and the scenery is breathtaking at 40 miles per hour. Get harnessed up for an amazing parasail escapade, then journey back to shore on a stimulating speed boat ride. Be sure to pack your things in dry bags, or they’ll get soaked. Bring a few ginger candies along to ease seasickness if it’s an issue.

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12Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge dehooks / Getty Images

This sanctuary is one of the area's last coastal barrier habitats that's undisturbed. Bring along your camera for some spectacular photo opportunities. There are over 370 species of birds, including seven hummingbird species, as well as alligators, armadillos, red fox, and bobcats. For elevated views of Little Lagoon and Gator Lake, take a hike on the Jeff Friend trail or climb the observation tower on Pine Beach, which is also open to surf fishing.

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13Go fish

Fishing boat on the Gulf Shores Diana Meister / Getty Images

Fishing is permitted in several Gulf Shores locations: along the shore, from piers, and beside burbling streams. However, if you’d love a deep sea or even a shark fishing trip, consider booking a chartered excursion from a local company. If you catch a fish but have nowhere to prepare it for eating, several area restaurants are happy to cook it for you. Just bring in your cleaned fish and turn it over to the chef.

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14Oak Hollow Farm

Three horses in a stable acceptfoto / Getty Images

Abandon the jet skis, swimsuits, and flip-flops and opt for a stimulating horseback ride on this family-owned farm. Guides escort you to the stables via a hayride. There are over 50 gentle and well-trained horses, so people of all ages and riding skill levels have a great time. Upon your return, you can pet the horses and thank them with carrots provided by your guide.

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15Last but not least: where to eat

Finding a delicious meal in Gulf Shores is not a problem, but there are a few highly recommended ones. The Hangout is a huge restaurant with beach and ocean views on one side. The other side has a play area for kids. The inside walls are lined with toys and foam parties happen on the hour. For a relaxing, romantic dinner, go to Villaggio Grille or Sunset Cork Room.

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