Families flock to Gulf Shores for the warm weather, the kid-friendly beaches, and the many ways to play. Building castles on miles of sandy beach, zooming around five go-kart tracks, and chowing down in dozens of kid-tested eateries, kids and kid-at-heart are welcome in Gulf Shores.

In recent years, this sunny southernmost community in Alabama which fronts the glistening waters of the Gulf of Mexico has become a major tourist destination. The main thoroughfare here is Beach Boulevard, which runs east-west along the shore front. This area was originally inhabited by Native Americans, including the Creeks and the Seminoles, who came here for the superb offshore fishing. And right up until the 1930s, this fertile coast was largely agricultural farm land known to produce the sweetest oranges in the Southern states.

One of the loveliest beaches in the area stretches for more than two miles inside the 6,150 pristine acres that make up Gulf State Park. The beach is broad and the waters here are pristine clean. And calm enough even for small children. The Park also features hiking trails and biking paths (with rental bikes available), plus and a 900 acre fresh water lake ideal for swimming, fishing, or water skiing. Also, within the Park itself, is the 14-acre Gulf Adventure Center, the exciting highlight of which is the Hummingbird Ziplines — six different zip lines that carry you for more than a mile, with great views of the beach and the Gulf.

Gulf State Park Fishing Pier

Meanwhile the calm waters of the Gulf itself offers different excursions to suit all tastes, from deep sea fishing for dad, to scenic cruises and dolphin-watching expeditions for the kids, to romantic sunset dinner cruises for mom.

For land-lovers who enjoy fishing, but not on a boat, there’s the Gulf State Park Fishing Pier; at some 200 yards, it’s the second largest pier anywhere on the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a restaurant and benches and bathrooms, which makes it an ideal place to fish yourself (bait and fishing reels are available for rent) or just watch others try their luck. There’s even a friendly resident pelican that the locals call ‘Sam’ who hangs around the pier hoping to get a hand-out from some kind fishermen.

Stay Near Fishing Pier >

Photos by @suzanturner, @meyervacations, @ambernicolee24

Golf shores

Speaking of dad, there are so many top-quality greens near Gulf Shores that this community could also be accurately named Golf Shores. Two of Alabama top golf resorts, Craft Farms and Kiva Dunes are located here; there are also nine golf clubs and a state-owned 18 hole course.

Stay in Kiva Dunes Golf Course >

Photos by @jrhouse77, @craftfarms, @downsouthgolf

Waterville USA

Waterville USA is the kind of water park that every kid dreams about. Everything is here, from the big water slides, and lazy rafting on a man-made river that encircles the entire park, to exciting wave-pools and walk-through water fountains. And, for the wee ones, there’s also a separate section where toddlers can cool off but be totally safe.

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Photos by @bachorn, @watervilleusa, @mrsougel

National Wildlife Refuge

Nature lovers will enjoy strolling the raised wooden boardwalk in rustic Bon Secour (meaning “safe harbor”) National Wildlife Refuge. This massive 7,000 acre nature preserve is home to nearly 400 species of bird, including herons and ospreys, There are also coyotes, foxes and armadillos. And such native plants as saw palmettos and majestic magnolia trees growing in abundance.

Stay near Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge >

Photos by @saylinz247, @fonix2015, @dawnmurphyphoto

Gulf Coast Zoo

This is a small but exceptionally well-run zoo, which became famous nationwide when it was featured in Animal Planet’s “The Little Zoo that Could,” has a surprisingly broad variety of well-cared for animals, not only from North America but also such exotic species as kangaroos and lemurs.

Stay near Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo >

Photos by @dailydeana, @brittoronstadt, @katnip65

Alligator Alley

Yes, it’s true, parts of rural Alabama are still alligator country, and this is where you can see this prehistoric reptile close-up. Visitors walk along elevated platforms past more than 400 gators, from hatchlings to ‘Captain Crunch,’ who is more than 13 feet long and tips the scales at nearly 3,000 pounds. Be sure to come at feeding time. There are also regal owls, ospreys and swamp turtles.

Stay near Alligator Alley in Summerdale >

Photos by @meganren, @lynn_jeri, @caseydtaylor

History on the Bay

History buffs will want to check out nearby Fort Morgan. Maintained by the Alabama Historical Commission, and located just 20 miles due west of Gulf Shores, this 180-year old star-shaped fort at the mouth of Mobile Bay is considered by some historians as one of the finest examples of military architecture in the New World. But the kids will love just climbing on the old iron canons. Another cool attraction less than an hour from Gulf Shores, outside Mobile, is Battleship Park, home of the mighty U.S.S. Alabama, as well as a World War II submarine and aircraft.

Stay near Fort Morgan >

Photos by @jentidwellphoto, @kathrenarivera, @_stephen_mcnair

The Track Family Recreation Center

This old fashioned arcade fun is the ideal place to get the kids away from theirs computer. Aside from a cool three-tier go-kart track, there’s also a three-story roller coaster, miniature golf, bumper cars and bumper boats, plus a large indoor games arcade. And even a mini-bungee jumping ride.

Stay near Track Family Recreation Center >

Photos by @lindsaycrone, @bre81anne, @bre81anne

In addition to things to see and do, the Gulf Coast calendar is packed with fun events. On the third weekend in March, there’s the annual BBQ & Blues Cook-Off, held in the nearby town of South Baldwin. Aside from fabulous, finger-licking good food, there’s live blues music, arts & crafts, and children’s activities. In early April, the Baldwin County Strawberry Festival features lots of foods including fresh strawberries, plus rides and arts & crafts.

Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival, where kids of all ages can go up in tethered balloon. Also in May the city hosts its annual three-day beach party called the Hangout Music Festival. In July, there’s the July 4th Celebrations. And in October comes the National Shrimp Festival, where vendors serve up Gulf-fresh shrimp any which way you want it—but there’s also southern fried chicken, burgers and hot dogs, plus live music.