The city of Gulf Shores brands itself as “Small town, big beach,” which is certainly true. While the population of this little Alabama town is only about 10,000, it stretches along the coast, offering both lagoon and gulfside beaches, which you’ll soon find are quite attractive.
Gulf Shores is home to “The Little Zoo That Could” - Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, just up Gulf Shores Parkway, survived three hurricanes. Pay a little extra when you visit to get up close and personal with the animals - it’s definitely worth it.
For other non-beach fun, visit Waterville USA, an excellent water park just off Gulf Shores Parkway with an awesome wave surfing ride and a 55-foot tall, six-lane mat racing water slide. There are non-water rides here too!
Parks and Wildlife
The 7,000-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is simply stunning. Several endangered species make their homes in the dunes and flora here, including the Alabama beach mouse and sea turtles. Nearly 400 different bird species live or migrate here throughout the year, and if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of an armadillo or red fox. Explore the maritime forest on the casual, 1-mile Jeff Friend Trail, or take the more strenuous, 2-mile Centennial Trail to explore forest, swamp and dune landscapes.
Gulf State Park is another great option for a more relaxed nature experience. See beautiful sand dunes and lakes here or relax on the bone-white beaches. Take a stroll or bike on scenic trails - most of them are paved and have wooden lookouts over the marshes. Take the easy Alligator Marsh Trail along a little canal to see frogs, turtles and yes - perhaps even small alligators! Just watch out for the sharp Saw Grass.
Another great trail is Middle Lake, which starts at the Nature Center and winds around the 150-acre Middle Lake before meeting up with Hurricane Ridge Trail. You’re sure to see alligators floating in the lake during the summer!
Mobile Bay Day Trip
Head up the coast toward Mobile to visit Meaher State Park - a 1,300 acre park on the Mobile Bay wetlands near the city of Spanish Fort. Take a walk on the boardwalk to see the Mobile Delta in all of its glory - a coming together of the Alabama, Tombigbee and Tensaw Rivers, ripe with wildlife and beautiful flora. Then, head up to Mobile to climb aboard the historic battleship USS Alabama. The 680-foot ship spent 37 months in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II, earning nine battle stars. It’s been in Mobile since the late 1960s, along with another WWII veteran, the USS DRUM. You can explore these vintage water vessels along with other retired military vehicles. It’s a true historical treasure.
Gulf Shores is home to two must-visit annual festivals: Hangout Music Festival and the annual Gulf Shores National Shrimp Festival.
Every May, Gulf Shores hosts one of the largest and best music festivals around. Come to listen to some of the biggest names in music - everyone from Stevie Wonder to Ellie Goulding - and do it in style: right on the beach. After jamming out to your favorite tunes with thousands of other sweaty fans, refuel at the seafood tent with oysters on the half shell and peel and eat shrimp, or cool down in the Gulf of Mexico or on the giant inflatable water slide.
For one weekend every October, everyone in this little beachside town gears up for the Gulf Shores National Shrimp Festival, which starts right at the end of Highway 59 near The Hangout - a beachside staple in the Gulf Shores dining, music and party scene. Restaurants set up tents along the beach, vying to please the most visitors’ palettes with options ranging from gourmet shrimp concoctions to homey street food-style - all of it fresh. There are cooking competitions, live music, a children’s village and a fine arts tent as well.