Located at the southern-most tip of Alabama, Gulf Shores is a resort town with beaches, dining, and other attractions to rival those of other big-name coastal cities. But Gulf Shores isn’t as well known or as crowded as its cousins. If you are looking to get away to a city with lots to do but without the crowds, plan a trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama today.
The History of Gulf Shores
Two events in the early to mid 20th century transformed Gulf Shores from a quiet fishing village into the tourist destination it is today.
The first event was the completion of the Intracoastal Waterway, according to the town’s official history. The second event was the creation of Gulf Shores State Park. The Intracoastal Waterway was finished in 1937, and Gulf Shores State Park opened in 1939.
In the 1940s, Gulf Shores opened its first Post Office. During the 1950s, the city went through the process of incorporation. After it was incorporated in Alabama, Gulf Shores enjoyed years of growth, with motels, hotels, grocery stores and other businesses setting up shop.
Initially, Gulf Shores was a popular destination for tourists in the summer months. But, come winter and fall, the tourists would all leave, and the city would become very quiet. To encourage year-round tourism, residents and businesses in Gulf Shores started several events and festivals during the off-season, such as the National Shrimp Festival.
In 1979, Hurricane Frederic, a category 4 hurricane, struck Gulf Shores. It was the first hurricane to hit Alabama since the 1930s. Hurricane Frederic was responsible for more than $2 billion worth of damage and marked a turning point in the history of Gulf Shores.
After the hurricane, the town rebuilt itself, adding more shops, restaurants, and condos. At that point, it transformed into the City of Gulf Shores. Today, hundreds of thousands of people visit Gulf Shores throughout the year.
Climate and Weather
Gulf Shores, Alabama weather is known for being relatively mild. In the winter, the average temperatures hover between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, things do get hot, with the average temperatures in July and August climbing to nearly 83 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the temperature is hot in the summer, the breeze from the Gulf of Mexico does help to keep visitors cool. Many people who call Alabama, Gulf Shores home all year around claim that the spring and fall, from May to June and from October to November, are the best times of year weather-wise. During those months, the weather is warm in the daytime and cool in the evening.
Things to Do in Gulf Shores Alabama
Whether you dream of lounging on the beach or enjoying a meal you’ll remember for the rest of your life, there are plenty of things to do in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Alabama has 32 miles of white sand beaches, so you are sure to find somewhere to stake your beach umbrella and spread out your towel or blanket. Several of the beaches are located in the Gulf State Park and offer either free or paid parking. Several beach areas have restrooms and showers for rinsing off. The state park beaches include:
- Cotton Bayou
- Lagoon Pass
- Romar Beach
- Alabama Point East
- Gulf Place
The state beaches have a “leave only footprints” policy, which means you’re responsible for taking away anything you bring to the beach. That means you can’t leave your umbrella or beach chair on the sand overnight to “claim” your spot, as the items will be taken away by the morning. The beaches typically have trash cans and recycling bins for you to deposit any waste before you leave.
Activities at the various beaches range from lazing the day away on the sand to splashing in the water and from learning to paddleboard to trying your hand at parasailing. Several companies offer paddleboard, kayak and other water sports rentals at the beach.
If you are interested in parasailing, several companies will happily take you out and up for a bird’s eye view of the Gulf of Mexico. A few parasailing companies include Pleasure Island Parasail and Southern Rose. Southern Rose also offers dolphin-spotting cruises.
The beaches at Gulf Shores aren’t the only views of nature you can enjoy. The area is also home to several wildlife refuges and backcountry hiking trails.
The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge features some of the last undisturbed coastal wildlife habitats in Alabama. The refuge provides a welcoming home to creatures that would otherwise be endangered or homeless, including the Alabama beach mouse. In recent years, much of the beach mouse’s home (which includes dunes) has been destroyed because of the ongoing development of the coast.
The wildlife refuge also gives visitors a chance to witness the migration of baby sea turtles. The refuge beaches provide a place to nest for three different species of turtles. Many sea turtles end up returning to the same beach year after year to lay their eggs and nest.
In addition to visiting wildlife in their natural setting, you also have the option of taking a tour to get to see some creatures up close and personal. WildNative Tours offers a three-hour kayak “Dolphins at Sunset” tour, which takes you into dolphin habitats. The tour is via kayak, so you do need to be strong enough to paddle a boat.
As you might expect, the clear waters of the Gulf make Gulf Shores an ideal spot for fishing. Fish found in the area include yellowfin tuna, red snapper, and blue marlin, depending on the time of year. If you do want to fish in Gulf Shores, you need to get a fishing license from the state.
Some, such as Architectural Digest, argue that the culinary scene in Gulf Shores is on par with, if not better, than what you’d find in cities known for their food (like New Orleans).
If you’d rather have someone else catch and prepare your fish, a visit to Big Fish Restaurant is in order. Located in nearby Orange Beach, the restaurant is known for its fine seafood and sushi. Its decor isn’t anything to sneeze at either, with its elegant, wood-paneled indoor dining area and beautiful outdoor garden.
If you love beer, Big Beach Brewing Company is a must-visit. The southern-most brewery in the state, Big Beach is known for producing a variety of beers, including stouts, cream ales, Belgian-style beers, and IPAs.
Festivals and Special Events
Gulf Shores is home to its fair share of special events and festivals. Whether you want to see your favorite bands play or sample more shrimp than you thought possible, it might be worth scheduling your trip to the area around one of its special events.
- Hangout Music Festival. Why make the trek to Coachella or Glastonbury when you can see all of today’s coolest bands and musical acts on a beach in Alabama? The Hangout Music Festival typically takes place in May and features three days of live music.
- National Shrimp Festival. For nearly 50 years, the National Shrimp Festival has given people something fun to look forward to in Gulf Shores in October. The annual event features live music and other entertainment, as well as plenty of shrimp.
- Oyster Cook-Off. If shrimp isn’t your thing, you might want to postpone your trip until November, when the annual oyster cook-off takes place.
Places to Stay in Gulf Shores Alabama
When it comes to Gulf Shores, Alabama rentals, you have a lot to choose from. You can book a home, condo or room on AirBnB for a little over $100 per night (on average) or find a vacation rental on a site such as VRBO.
Don’t forget that there are plenty of hotels in the area, as well, if you’d rather someone else be responsible for the cooking and cleaning while you’re on vacation. Hotels in the area include:
In addition to hotels and vacation rentals, you might want to stay in a bed and breakfast or try your hand at camping during your trip. Camping options include cabins, RV parks, and tent sites. Southport Campground is open year round and has space for tents and RVs, including hook-ups.
Gulf State Park has 11 cottages and 20 cabins available for campers who want a rustic experience, but also a solid roof over their heads. The camping area in the park is located a few miles from the beaches and within walking distance to the park’s golf course.
During the off-season, there’s a minimum stay of two nights when reserving a cabin. During the high season, from the end of May until the beginning of August, cabins and cottages are rented in week-long increments only.
If you love the beach and the Gulf of Mexico, try something new on your vacation this year. Pay a visit to Gulf Shores, Alabama and enjoy the beautiful coast, warm hospitality, and fun events.