The Alabama Gulf Coast may be small in size, but it is packed with every kind of attraction you could imagine. From family activities and beachside water sports to natural environments and historical treasures, the 32-mile-long coastline promises something for everyone.
The beaches are obviously the big draw here, and the coastline can be divided into three main beach areas — Orange Beach near the Florida-Alabama line, Gulf Shores in the middle and Dauphin Island stretching west toward Mississippi. All along the coast, visitors find powder-white beaches reaching out to meet the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to the sand and surf outside the condominiums and resort areas, the Alabama Gulf Coast offers plenty of public access beaches, many with free parking, boardwalks, picnic areas, restrooms and shower facilities. Check out Florida Point, Cotton Bayou and Romar Beach in Gulf State Park. Located east of Gulf Shores on state Highway 135, the park also has a new pavilion area with air-conditioned restrooms, showers and a snack bar. It’s also home to the 900-acre freshwater Lake Shelby, where fishing, boating, swimming and waterskiing are popular (www.alapark.com or 251.948.7275). Gulf Shores Public Beach, located at the end of Highway 59, is a favorite spot for beach volleyball and people-watching. The beach has three pavilions with restrooms and showers, picnic areas and beach attendants on staff. A short ferry ride over to Dauphin Island gives visitors access to the barrier island’s beautiful beaches. The main public beach is located on Bienville Boulevard, near the 850-foot long Dauphin Island Fishing Pier.
Tourists who prefer their water with a little more chlorine and less marine life can spend the day at Waterville USA in Gulf Shores. The 20-acre water park and amusement park, open daily in season from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., features many water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river ride, mini-golf, a small kids’ fun zone, arcade, roller coaster and go-kart track. (906 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores, AL 36542; 251.948.2106 or www.watervilleusa.com)
Another amusement park, Adventure Island in Orange Beach, treats visitors to a five-story “active volcano” attraction, as well as a go-kart track, roller coaster, mini-golf, arcade and kids’ zone. For more information, click on www.adventure-island.com or call 251.974.1500. The park is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to midnight in season and is located at 24559 Perdido Beach Blvd. in Orange Beach. Call for winter hours.
The Wharf Resort on Canal Road in Orange Beach features the largest ferris wheel in the Southeast. The 112-foot wheel can hold up to 140 people in its 24 gondolas and is handicapped accessible. (www.thewharf-orangebeach.com)
A few blocks from the beach in Gulf Shores, tourists will find the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. “The Little Zoo that Could” is located at 1204 Gulf Shores Parkway. It is home to more than 290 animals, including lions, tigers and bears (oh my!). Monkeys, macaws, a reptile house, an aviary and a petting zoo are also part of the zoo campus. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost of admission ranges from $7 to $10, with children 2 years and younger admitted free. For more information, call 251.968.5731 or click on www.alabamagulfcoastzoo.org.
Local marine plants and animals are on display at the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, located on Bienville Boulevard on Dauphin Island. Admission ranges from $4 to $7. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday from March through August, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. During the off season (September-February), the estuarium closes at 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 251.861.7500 or click on www.sealabestuarium.org.
Feed the gators at Alligator Alley Farm at 19950 Hwy. 71 in Summerdale, Ala., and don’t forget to see the famous Captain Crunch. The Captain is an 800-pound, 13-foot-long American alligator whose favorite foods include chickens, turtles, dogs, deer and ‘”slow swimmers.” (www.gatoralley.com or 251.946.BITE).
Civil War and history buffs have several options to choose from in the coastal region of Alabama. Historic Blakeley State Park is located at 34745 State Hwy. 225 in Spanish Fort, Ala. (www.blakeleypark.org or 251.626.0798). Blakeley was once a bustling town and the site of the last major battle of the Civil War, fought hours after the South surrendered in Virginia. Fort Morgan, just west of Gulf Shores, and Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island are strategically located to defend Mobile Bay from naval attack. Both forts have seen their share of battle over the past 175 years. It was at Fort Morgan that Adm. David Farragut uttered the words, “Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead!” at the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. Fort Morgan is located at 51 State Hwy. 180 West in Gulf Shores (251.540.7127). Fort Gaines is located at 51 Bienville Blvd. on Dauphin Island (251.861.6992).
For more history on the area, check out the Gulf Shores Museum at 244 West 19th Ave. in Gulf Shores (251.968.1473) and the Baldwin County Heritage Museum at 25521 Hwy. 98 in Elberta, Ala. (251.986.8375 or www.baldwincountyheritagemuseum.com).