Located along Alabama’s white sands beaches, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are favorite beach getaway for families. So when we were given the chance to experience a few nights at the beach, my heart leapt. Between the gulf breezes, the fun outdoor activities for families and the pristine white beaches and its emerald green water, it was an easy yes for my family. Here are the top things to do outdoors in Gulf Shores with families.
Top Things to do Outdoors in Gulf Shores
Hit the Beach
Learn about the wildlife of the Gulf Coast
Fish on the largest pier in the Gulf of Mexico
Take a Bike Ride
Kayak on Lake Shelby
Rent a Pontoon Boat
Visit the Zoo
Learn about Gulf Shores History
Spot some Song Birds
The Beaches at Gulf Shores Alabama
First up, the sand at Gulf Shores, Alabama, is white, not straw-colored. So I recommend carving some time to beach it. It is one of the top things to do outdoors in Gulf Shores.
As a family of boys, I understand they want to dig holes, bury little brothers and make sand kingdoms; more power to them. Though I can sit back in a shaded lounger with a book and retreat to my own fantasyland.
If your rental lodging does not have its own beach access, there are plenty of public access points in Gulf Shores – Orange Beach area. Though parking can be limited, beach-goers will find access points at several locations.
Gulf Shores 12th Street Access
Located at W. 12th St. and W. Beach Blvd. and offers temporary rinse-off showers and restrooms. No parking
Gulf Shores 5th Street Access
Located at 599 W. Beach Blvd. and offers some limited parking.
Gulf Shores 4th Street Access
Located at 499 W. Beach Blvd. with a pedestrian crossway for those staying close-by.
Alabama Point East in Gulf State Park
This popular state park offers over 3 miles of beach along with a beach pavilion.
The beach pavilion features private shower stalls in an air-conditioned building. In addition to the restrooms, there is a concession stand. All day parking is $10 and $5 for 4 hours.
Located at 28105 Perdido Beach Blvd. Open from 7 a.m. until sunset.
Beach Concierge Service
For visitors who don’t want to worry about lugging umbrellas, chairs and sand toys, The Beach Moms Concierge Service has it covered. In addition to grocery shopping and delivering it to a local condo BEFORE ARRIVAL, they can arrange for chair deliveries, procure sand toys, make restaurant reservations, arrange for photo shoots on the beach. They delivered Thanksgiving dinner to our refrigerator so that all we had to do was pop in the oven and reheat. It was amazing!
Gulf State Park
In addition to the beach access, Gulf State Park offers over 6,000 acres of outdoor recreation from fishing to kayaking and more. It is home to nine ecosystems, three lakes, trailing along with camping and lodging. It is one of the top things to do outdoors in Gulf Shores.
Beach Pavilion and Interpretive Center
For programing in the park, visitors can check out the Interpretive Center at the Beach Pavilion.
In addition the Beach Pavilion offers rentals, like paddle boats. There is a seasonal concession stand as well. Open Memoral Day through Labor Day.
Visitors can learn more about the flora and flauna of the Gulf Coast region at the Nature Center with living plants and animals of the area. In addtion to the Nature Center, there are guided walks that explore the different ecosystems of the region. The Nature Center also offer animal ambassadors that offer animal encounters.
Located at the campground. Open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free to enter though it is $2 to park.
Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier
As the longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico, there is plenty of space to spread out. It is also the only public pier in Alabama and offers a 2-hour saltwater fishing academy.
The pier features a concession stand, bait for sale along with Alabama fishing licenses sold on premises. There are even shaded seating areas.
Fishing at Gulf State Park
There are plenty of fishing charters in Gulf Shores. Though to simply fish, the best place is Gulf State Park. It offers both saltwater and freshwater fishing.
We were able to saltwater fish off the Pier. Visitors can also fish from the beach or head across the street and do freshwater fishing in Lake Shelby from multiple piers around the park. Remember to get a license, available at the fishing pier.
Biking at Gulf State Park
We were able to participate in a fantastic new bike-share program when we visited. These bikes are available for use within Gulf State Park for up to 3 hours – for FREE!
Download the Bloom app and head to a bike pick up location within the park such as Woodside restaurant or The Lodge. A few things to remember – the bikes are only for use within Gulf State Park and only available to ages 16 and up.
We rented a bike for my youngest son from Ike’s Beach Service at Lake Shelby since he was only 11 at the time and needed a bike that was a better size for him. I’m not going to lie – it had been a long time since I had been on a bike and I was kind of freaked out for a minute. But once I got used to it again, we had a great time biking the trails around Lake Shelby.
Kayaking on Lake Shelby
Speaking of Ike’s Beach Services, they were kind enough to offer us a tandem kayak rental. We got an additional tandem and set out on Gulf State Park’s Lake Shelby for my first ever kayak ride.
The weather was windy that morning so this was a little bit of a workout! I’m grateful that my son was in the kayak with me as he admittedly did the bulk of the work. I’m not even offended (much) that my older sons had words over which one of them would get their little brother and which one would get stuck with me.
We paddled around Lake Shelby for about an hour and it was so peaceful and pretty. The guys at Ike’s were incredibly easy to work with. They for rent are canoes, stand up paddle boards, bike and will arrange a Segway tour.
Rent A Pontoon Boat or Jet Skis
Heading out for four hours on a pontoon boat from The Flora-Bama Marina is one of the top things to do outdoors in Gulf Shores. During our visit, the weather was perfect for boating.
After checking in, we went down to the dock to our pontoon boat. Since my husband had driven a pontoon boat before she skipped the basics for us. She reviewed how to operate different things on that specific boat and gave us ideas of where we should head.
We anchored in coves and on sandbars where we could get out and play. My oldest son had bought a net and had a great time finding crabs, snails and other critters. Don’t worry – we have a strict catch and release policy.
Pro tip: If the boat won’t crank after turning the key… make sure it’s not in neutral. No reason…
When we returned to the dock Kaley was there to guide us back in and help us gather up all our belongings from the boat. It was a fantastic afternoon and I would recommend the experience to anyone.
For more speed on the water, the Flora-Bama Marina rents jet skis. Fishing charters are available, too. Located at 29603 Pesidido Beach Blvd. in Orange Beach.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
As featured in the 2006 Animal Planet series, The Little Zoo That Could, The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo was preparing for the first full-scale, off-site evacuation of a zoo in the United States. The zoo was battered by three hurricanes in two years and wanted a way to keep their animal family safer by moving to a new location.
With 25 acres of land, six miles from the beach, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo features 199 species, 31 sub-species and haven to 8 endangered species. It features habitats and enclosures that were more accommodating for the animals. The paths offer kids plenty of space to roam among the animals and there is even a large playground for burning off extra energy.
On a previous visit we paid an additional fee to have a sloth encounter. On this one my middle son got up close with a lemur. The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo features a reptile house, a petting zoo along exhibits with animals like black bears, camels and 50 different primates.
Located at 20499 Oak Rd. E. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adult admission (13 and older) is $22.95, kids (3 – 12) are $14.95 and those 2 and younger are free.
Explore Historic Fort Morgan
For people who enjoy exploring battlegrounds and old forts, then Fort Morgan is another top thing to do outdoors in Gulf Shores. Guarding the Mobile Bay since 1834, Fort Morgan was constructed between 1819 and 1833.
Located on the Fort Morgan Peninsula at Mobile Point, it is a National Historic Landmark and constructed of brick. A previous fort in the location was attacked in the War of 1812 by the British forces. Fort Morgan was featured prominently in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864.
It’s a great historic site for kids because they can go inside the fort and run around. Then visitors can head up to the top of the fort and check out the amazing view.
Located at 51 Hwy 180 W. Adult admission is $8 for adults, seniors, college students and kids (6 -12) are $5, or purchase a family pass (2 adults and 2 kids) for $20. Advance tickets are available.
Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge
With over 7,100 acres of protected land spread across five units in the area, animal lovers will want to explore this area. It is the last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier in Alabama and its name means safe harbor in French.
The Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge is an important stop along the migratory route for birds and a habitat for the neotropical songbirds. It is also a habitat for sea turtles, like the Kemp’s Ridley and the Loggerhead turtle. There’s even an Alabama beach mouse.
The main Visitor Center is open from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offers an interpretive area along with maps, information and restrooms.
Be sure to bring plenty of water, bug spray and snacks. Visitors can fish at the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge and watercraft can be launched along the Jeff Friend Trail.
Located at 12295 State Highway 180. The Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset and free to enter.
Play at the Resort Pool
Kids love a pool, so one of the top things to do outdoors in Gulf Shores is swim in a pool. I always try and reserve a place with a pool for afternoon swim breaks.
How to Get to Gulf Shores
Located about 350 miles southeast of Atlanta, Gulf Shores is located along the Albama and Florida border. It is ust 35 miles from Pensacola, Florida, and it is the closest airport. Gulf Shores is about 200 miles from New Orleans. It is best to have a car for exploring since there is not a public transporation system though find taxis and ride share.
The writer and her family was hosted and consideration for places mentioned.