Imagine a pristine white sand beach between your toes, salty ocean breeze in your hair, and a relaxed smile on your face. That was the epitome of my recent trip to Gulf Shores on the coast of Alabama. Located about thirty miles west of Pensacola, fifty miles south of Mobile, and two hundred miles east of New Orleans, the area is sometimes referred to as Pleasure Island.

will you find great beaches on a gulf shores vacation

Photo credit Visit AL Beaches.

Getting to Gulf Shores

We chose to fly into New Orleans then drive the about three hours to Gulf Shores. Other members of our party flew into Pensacola and drove a shorter distance. Still others drove from their home base in Houston. It’s safe to say it wasn’t the easiest to get to from the midwest, but it was certainly worth it once we arrived.

Where to Stay on a Gulf Shores Vacation

We had a large group of eighteen family members, including thirteen adults and five children. Thankfully, the family matriarch was able to find a fabulous beach house for us to rent for the week. It featured nine bedrooms, each with a private full bathroom, an elevator, ample parking, private heated pool, numerous decks and outdoor space, two full, well-appointed kitchens, and a private boardwalk to the beach. Below is a video tour of our rental:

I fully recommend bypassing your usual hotel stay and renting a home in Gulf Shores. We loved lounging around the house and cooking together as a family, especially at the huge outdoor BBQ. We decided to grocery shop a couple of times and eat most of our meals at the house, because no one wanted to leave the stunning gulf views.

what to do on a gulf shores vacation
Coffee and Honky Tonk

We did journey into Gulf Shores for the occasional caffeine fix, as some of us are coffee snobs and cold brew was hard to find. Luckily, we stumbled upon a locally-owned gem in Foam Coffee. Located in the Waterway District in Gulf Shores, this gorgeous minimalist dream of a shop perfectly suited our needs.

They had the aforementioned cold brew, delicious almond milk vanilla lattes, crunchy and satisfying avocado toast, and a variety of health-focused smoothie offerings. Plus, they served Intelligentsia coffee, a personal favorite brand of mine. Needless to say, we became “regulars” during our stay, and will make it a point to stop in again when we return to Gulf Shores.

is there a good place to get coffee during a gulf shores vacation

Photo credit Foam Coffee.

Another foray lead us on an adventure to America’s #1 beach bar, the honky tonk Flora-Bama, a Gulf Coast cultural landmark. Located in nearby Perdido Key, Florida, the bar sits half in Alabama and half in Florida, straddling the state line. It’s famous in country music song lore and known as the linch pin of the so-called “redneck riviera”, as the area is sometimes referenced. It also becomes Worship on the Water on Sundays where you can listen to a honky tonk band play hymns and drink Bloody Mary’s.

This wasn’t really my cup of tea, but it was entertaining to get a taste of a legendary spot, dance to a little twangy music, and sample the famous “Bush-wacker” cocktail. Clearly, this stop was adults only, with the kiddos remaining at the beach house.

what is there to do on a gulf shores vacation in alabama
Fun in the Sun

While we stayed mostly close to home on our trip, there are a ton of wonderful activities to do in the Gulf Shores area.

  • If the idea of a nature cruise to view the scenic waterways and local wildlife sounds appealing, check out Sailor Skip for a great family-friendly outing.
  • I prefer a bit more physical activity, so would love to check out the Down Under Dive Shop. They have canoes, ocean kayaks, and instagram’s favorite SUP (Stand up paddle boards) for reasonable rental prices. I will make it a point to participate in their two-hour guided kayak trip on my next visit! For those interested in longer kayaking excursions, 1/2 and full day rentals are available.
  • Local yoga spot Glow Yoga also offers outdoor Beach Yoga in neighboring Orange Beach and vinyasa-based classes at their traditional studio in Gulf Shores.
  • For hikers, nearby Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge has 4 trails to choose from, each with lovely and scenic views.
  • For cyclists, check out the complete guide to the Hugh S. Branton Backcountry Trail system that includes rental information.
what are some activities on a gulf shores vacation

Photo credit Hugh S. Banyon Backcountry Trail.

Overall, we truly enjoyed our family-friendly getaway to Gulf Shores and found it perfectly encompassed the charming town motto, “small town, big beach”.