by Nicky Omohundro – A family beach vacation is an outdoor adventure in and of itself. Whether you are building sand castles on the beach, playing in the waves, or just enjoying the warm sun overhead, it’s easy to see why “any day at beach is a good day.”
If you are looking for adventures outdoors, make plans to visit the sugar white sand beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. Yes! Alabama has beaches and they are gorgeous! Families love this area and many return year after year for the beach, family-friendly activities, and the fantastic local food.
This summer I had the chance to spend time in Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach regions not once, but twice. I just can’t get enough of Alabama’s 32 miles of coastline or their local seafood.
I love that the Gulf of Mexico is warm (water), the area is very family friendly, and there are a variety of outdoor adventure activities both on and off the beach. If you are looking for a beach getaway, plan to vacation here in Alabama. I’ve put together a few outdoor activities and local restaurants that you won’t want to miss.
Family Hotels In Alabama’s Gulf Shores
While you’re in the area, there are a host of lodging options. During my recent visit, I stayed at Spectrum Resort’s Turquoise Place. This luxury condominium high-rise is perfect for families would want a beach getaway. I stayed in a 3 bedroom condo, which had room for 10 people. I’m already making plans to come back with a few girlfriends and their families for a summer getaway.
This property has multiple outdoor pools, Lazy River, indoor pool, gym, sauna, steam room, and seasonal activities. It’s also the only property in the area that has a gas grill and hot tub on each balcony. If you wanted to leave the resort, there is immediate beach access outside the hotel. Grab a beach chair and umbrella and play on the beach to your heart’s content.
Alabama Outdoor Adventures
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last places to see an undeveloped beach area and a mixed woods barrier habitat. It is home to countless birds, the Alabama Beach Mouse, and sea turtles. The refuge has developed hiking trails, fishing, an observation tower, kayak launch area, and beach access.
Plan a hike down the Pine Beach Trail. It’s a moderate to strenuous 4 mile out and back trail. After 1 mile in, you’ll come to a saltwater lagoon on one side and a freshwater lake on the other. Keep your eye out as you may spy an alligator or a Bald Eagle.
Information stands are scattered along the path to provide details about the area and the wildlife you may encounter. Continue down the trail another mile, traverse across loose sand, and arrive at one of the most pristine white sand beaches you’ll ever see.
This secluded beach is one of the few undeveloped coastal areas. The water is crystal clear, you can hunt for seashells, or just enjoy the serenity of the beach. You may be fortunate enough to enjoy this area without anyone else on the beach.
Before you start any of the trails, pick up a nature discovery pack at the refuge office. The pack is filled with items like binoculars, magnifying glass, and journals that will help children ages 4+ to explore the trails. Also be sure to bring plenty of water and bug repellent with you.
Yoga on the Alabama Gulf Shores Beach
Morning yoga is a great way to start the day. It’s relaxing and invigorating all at the same time. Enjoy the breeze blowing through your hair and the sound of the waves crashing onshore during class.
During my recent visit, an instructor from Glow Yoga came out to Turquoise Place and taught a class out on the sand. Whether you are a beginner or expert, it’s a fun experience to get a class in during your vacation.
Orange Beach Cat Boat Tours
Not all of your fun has to be on land. Ever hear of a cat boat? I didn’t either until this trip. A cat boat is a small 2 person watercraft that looks like a catamaran and 2 surfboards had a baby. This speedy little boat will reach speeds of 25 miles per hour. Plus they are REALLY fun!
Orange Beach Cat Boat Tours operates 2 hour guided tours exploring the waters around Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. After a short safety lesson on how to drive a cat boat, you’ll take the boats into Cotton Bayou and along the Old River between Alabama and Florida.
You’ll learn some fun facts and see a different view of the area.
Note: Only adults 21 years of age or older may operate the cat boat. Children ages 5 and older can be a passenger with an adult.
Paddle-Boarding Alabama’s Gulf Shores
If you don’t want to speed in a cat boat, grab a paddle board and enjoy a more laid back experience on the water. Paddle-boarding is a fun family activity and can be done at your own pace. Gulf Coast Paddle Company in Orange Beach is a paddle-boarding company that offers rentals, guided tours, and lessons if you’ve never tried it before.
On a guided tour of Wolf Bay, you can see dolphins, birds, and passing boats. The cove around GT’s On The Bay, where this operator launches from, actually has a resident pair of dolphins that can be seen throughout the day. It’s fun to be paddling along and see a dolphin come up for air 15 feet from you.
Alabama’s Gulf Shores Family Friendly Restaurants
After a day filled with outdoor activities, you are bound to have worked up quite the appetite. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have some great restaurants that will fit any budget or palette.
There are several chain restaurants available, but I highly recommend you check out one of the many local spots serving fresh, local food that is just heavenly. Here are just a few local restaurants to try, plus a dish or two that you will definitely want to order when you visit.
This place is a local icon! It’s part restaurant, part bar, outdoor play area, and concert venue.
If you are in the area in May, you’ll want to make plans to attend the huge annual three day music festival called Hangout Music Fest. At other times of the year, enjoying listening local musicians play, special events, and more. The kids will love the huge sand pit they have for them to play on and the Foam Party happening every hour on the hour until 6pm.
While your are at the Hangout, try the Hang 10 Burger, Crab Claw Basket with fried Alabama crab, or the Gulf Grouper Sandwich.
This new shop is offering organic Acai smoothie bowls made fresh to order. Soul Bowlz is a good spot for a quick snack or a healthy breakfast before heading to the beach. If you don’t want an acai bowl, they also have a variety of healthy smoothies.
This is a fun, eclectic restaurant serving great food for lunch and dinner. The interior decor is based on the owners’ love for their dog Cosmo. You’ll find paintings and pictures of dogs up on the walls. The nearby gift shop has gifts and fun animal themed novelty items. Their outdoor patio is pet friendly too.
The Yard Milkshake
Indulge in a monster of a milkshake at The Yard. This ice cream shop is serving up pint and quart sized shakes made to order with thousands of add-in combinations. Choose from a shop “favorite” or create your own. Just bring your appetite!
The Seared Ahi Tuna Salad is a popular choice for lunch. You can also try the Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish which is named as one of “the top 100 dishes to eat before you die.”
Big Wave Dave’s
Dave’s is new to the culinary scene and they have been doing great food since day 1. The restaurant has a fun surfer theme and is serving up local favorites like lobster rolls, Roadside tacos, and fresh seafood. Kids and adults will love that instead of fresh rolls, they can munch on popcorn while they decide on what to order. You won’t find food like this anywhere else in the area. Be sure to try it.
Bill’s by the Beach
Chef Rudy is cooking up delicious food at Bill’s by the Beach. Visit for lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. Their Southern Style Surf & Turf Benedict is delicious as well as the Seafood Mornay, and Grilled Carb Cake. You can also never do wrong with Rudy’s Fresh Catch of the Day.
Coast at the Beach Club
This is family-friendly dining with an amazing view of the waterfront. Located inside Spectrum Resort’s Beach Club, Coast is open seasonally from March to October. Food is fresh, local, and delicious. Try the Roll Tide sushi roll, scallop appetizer, or the fresh catch of the day. Everything here is fantastic.
This is just a taste of all the outdoor fun and great food you can enjoy in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. I love this area and plan to return again and again. Won’t you join me?
Note: Gulf Shores And Orange Beach Tourism provided complimentary airfare, accommodations, activities, and dining for the purposes of this article.
Nicky Omohundro is the founder of LittleFamilyAdventure.com. You’ll often find her with coffee in hand and running around with her kids. Favorite outdoor destination: Moab, Utah.