Staying and Playing in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama

We were invited to join a group of golf travel writers for three days in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Alabama and we had a blast playing some of the Best Golf Courses in Alabama, sipping some local brew, and enjoying some delicious cuisine - here is a link to our article on a Golfing Vacation in Gulf Shores.

After we said good bye to our fellow golf writers we packed our bags and moved from Kiva Dunes Resort to Lighthouse Condos to the 10th floor overlooking the pool and beach - wow, what a fantastic view of the condo pool and miles of white sandy beaches. And the sunsets from a balcony were unbelievable. Over the next three and a half days we had a blast checking out all the beach bars, riding bikes, kayaking in the national wildlife refuge, and enjoying some great meals. We've been to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach but on this trip we fell in love with the area, all it has to the do, the friendly locals, the small crowds, and the perfect weather. It quickly moved to the top of our list of great vacation spots in the United States.

Beach Bar in Gulf Shoresboat at a Gulf Shores MarinaGood Food

Here are just a few reasons why we can highly recommend a vacation to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach:

  • Beautiful Sugar White Sandy Beaches - you won't believe how beautiful the beaches are - long stretches of white sand and turquoise water! Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have over 30 miles of white sandy beaches leading to the warm clear water of the Gulf of Miles of white sandy beaches in Orange BeachMexico. The sand is so fine it squeaks when you walk on it, the water is warm averaging 70 degrees (range of 55 to 85), and the average temperature is 74 with a range of 57 to 84. Gulf breezes temper the typically warm summer weather and the spring and fall weather is outstanding - warm shorts days and cool evenings. And best of all the beaches are seldom crowded which makes it easy to find a perfect spot to park your umbrella and beach chairs and watch the kids swim, skimboard, play volleyball/football/frisbee, body surf, or fish. It just doesn't get much better - ok, you got me, some of the Caribbean beaches are a tad better but only because of the beach bars and palm trees swaying in the breeze. I must confess that I'm not much of a beach person but these beaches were so spectacular they were hard to resist - I got sand between the toes, tried to body surf the small waves and scuffed up my tummy, and found that I could relax for 10 minutes in a comfy beach chair before heading to the nearest beach bar.

  • Fun & Funky Beach Bars - speaking of beach bars, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have several that are sitting on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, next to a marina on the inland waterway, or overlooking one of inland bays. Most of them have live music, beach chairs, sand games like volleyball, good food, fun people, and reasonably priced drinks - you've got to try at least one BushwackerPainkiller (it works!) and a BushWacker which locals claim originated in one of the nearby bars. During our visit I think we visited most of the beach bars and loved them all for different reasons - The Gulf has a unique setting using shipping containers and reclaimed wood plus comfy beach furniture; Bahama Bobs is a seafood shack amid the sand dunes serving Caribbean & Southern-style eats just steps from the Gulf; the name says it all - Pink Pony Pub - and their karaoke is pretty interesting: kids will love LuLu's (owned by Jimmy Buffett's sister) on the intercoastal waterway with it's ropes course, sandy beaches, fun arcade, and more while parents can enjoy drinks, pretty good food, and live music; Tacky Jacks has three waterfront locations and they've got it all - great views, good food, unique atmosphere, live music, and you can rent a boat, paddleboard, kayak, and more - they've won several People Choice Awards ranging from best happy hour to best hangout; Sunset Grill with good food, a great view of the bay, and stunning sunsets; and finally the infamous Flora-Bama which has been named the #1 Beach Bar in the U.S. and listed as one of the top bars by Playboy Magazine, Maxim Magazine, Delta Sky Magazine, Men's Journal, USA Today, CNN, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Travel, and Fox News - just to name a few!

Pink Pony PubSunset GrillLuLus

  • Lots of Lodging Options - at some point time you've got to get off the beach and out of the bars and into a place to get a few hours sleep (or to recover from all that time in the beach bars) so you're ready to have fun the next day and Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are loaded with lots of options to fit just about any budget. There are over 15,000 rooms, lots of which have a view of the beach; 2 to 8 bedrooms homes Lighthouse Condosseveral of which are on the beach or one of the bays; golf stay and play options; and lots of campgrounds across the street from the beach, in the center of town, or overlooking the bay or intercoastal waterway. For the first part of this trip we stayed at Kiva Dunes Resort in a 4 bedroom fully furnished condo overlooking a small lake and the 18th golf hole. See our Gulf Shores Golf Vacation to learn more about Kiva Dunes. For the last few days we stayed in a Lighthouse Condo's two bedroom fully furnished condo on the 10th floor with an unbelievable view of the pool and beach and stunning sunsets. Our condo was clean, cozy, well appointed, and perfect for us. Unfortunately, we were so busy that we didn't have any time to enjoy any of the amenities, some of which include: a 635-foot private beach with comfy beach furniture and umbrellas, two hot tubs, a Gulf-view fitness room with a sauna, and two private Gulf-front pools plus a heated indoor pool. Lighthouse Condos is 18 stories with 251 one, two, or three bedroom condos and it's conveniently located to everything in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. We found Lighthouse Condos through Kaiser by Wyndham Vacation Rentals who represents lots of rental properties (homes to condos) in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach - they take all the pain out of trying to find the perfect vacation rental for your vacation.

  • Tons Of Fun Things To See & Do - what attracted us to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach were all of the outdoor activities and fun things to do within 10 miles of where we were staying. Some of the choices for things to do include:
    • Go For Some Pars - within 40 minutes from our beach condo are over 30 spectacular golf courses, each of which has it's own unique personality and characteristics. The courses range from wide open resort style courses to tight and challenging shot makers courses with lots of water and sand. I left several of my golf balls for the alligators sunning beside the lakes and I spent so much time in the bunkers I was ready to rent a beach chair, a beach umbrella, and see if I could get the cart lady to bring me a frozen drink. Prices are extremely reasonable for such quality courses, the conditions are outstanding, and all of the courses we played were fun! Here is a link to courses that we have played - reviews and rating of Gulf Shores area golf courses. There are also several mini golf courses that you and or the kids will enjoy.
    • Get Wet - with 32 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico and several miles of bay, inlet, and lagoon frontage plus both sides of the intercoastal waterway that cut through Gulf Shores, you'll find lots of water related activities. In addition to boating and kayaking or stand up paddleboarding you can snorkel or scuba dive many of the artificial reefs (over 40 different man made reefs) including the 272' LuLu which is Alabama's first whole ship reef or "Poseidon's Playground" which is a sunken Greek statue garden.
    • Try Paddling - you can rent a kayak, canoe, or stand up paddle board or take a kayaking tour. During our stay in Gulf Shores we went on a Kayak Tour with WildNative Tours through a part of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge which has been named as one of the 10 natural wonders of Alabama and we really enjoyed it. We had tandem sit on top kayaks which meant that my wife couldn't see that while she was padding hard and fast I was sitting back enjoying the scenery. She finally caught on and I had to start doing my fair share of paddling. Our guide took us across the intercoastal waterway and back into one of narrow sloughs of the 7000 acre wildlife refuge which is a habitat for migratory birds, nesting Loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles and the endangered Alabama Beach Mouse. Along the way our guide pointed out birds and other wildlife and gave us some informative and interesting information on the Refuge. A fun trip. WildNative Tours also offers boat eco tours as well as sunset cruises. If you want to paddle on your own you can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards from several locations and enjoy the bays, sandy islands, and lagoons. And even paddle to Tacky Jacks for a refreshment.

    Golf in Gulf ShoresKayaking in Orange BeachDiving the Lulu

    • Jump Some Waves or Rent a Boat - if paddling is not your thing then you can rent a boat and explore the bays, try to catch some fish, or boat to a remote beach or ride the waves on a waverunner. We were set to rent a couple waverunners to explore the bay, inlets, and islands and look for dolphin, but when we got to Extreme Watersports the wind was howling, whitecaps were all over the bay, and the temperature had dropped. They were willing to let us take the waverunners out but it didn't seem like it was worth it without a wetsuit and with the waves the probability of spotting any dolphin was very remote - so we headed to the local beach bar to eat and drown our sorrows.
    • Go Airborne - try some new adventures to fly like the sea gulls - sign up for flyboarding the newest exciting sport, parasailing up to 500 feet above the ocean, hang gliding, or an aerial tour in a helicopter or better yet try your hand at the controls with a certified pilot at Beachfront Aviation or go up, up, and away in a hot air balloon.
    • Pedal the Trails - since we couldn't go out on the waverunners later that afternoon we rented a couple bikes from Infinity Bicycles in Orange Beach. They are less than a mile from the miles of trails in the Gulf State Park and they rent comfort bikes, road bikes, and kids bikes.  Our comfort bikes were perfect for us and they looked like they had only been ridden a couple times. The trails are flat and scenic and if you get lucky you might spot an alligator or two. There are several different paved trails in the State Park that will take you through the trees, past 4 different lakes, and beside the State Park Golf Course. I particularly liked the swings for a short nap. If you don't want to pedal, why not go for a Segway tour.

    Waverunners and dolphinsFlyboardingBiking in Gulf Shores

    • Set Sail - go sailing on a dolphin watching, sunset sail, or dinner cruises on a two masted sailing ship or a 53 foot catamaran
    • Sip Some Local Brewed Craft Beer - Gulf Shores now has a local brewery, Big Beach Brewing, and it's a good one with sample flights of beer and brewery tours. We enjoyed our tour learning about how they brew their beer and really loved the atmosphere and sampling a flight of beer.
    • Spend Time at the Wharf -the Wharf Orange Beach is really cool and sits along the intercoastal waterway and it's home to several upscale shops, one the tallest ferris wheels in Alabama, condo rentals, several water front restaurants, a, family adventure park, and lots more

    charter sailboatSamping some craft beerThe Wharf ferris wheel in Orange Beach

    • Attend an Event - throughout the year there are several annual events that are fun like: Hangout Music Festival, National Shrimp Festival, International Songwriters Festival, or the International Mullet Toss & Gulf Coast's Greatest Beach Party
    • Check Out Some Local Attractions - the kids will really enjoy The Track (several go kart tracks, bumper boats, sky coaster, miniature golf), the animals at the Gulf Shores Zoo, or racing friends and family on a couple different fun go kart tracks. They should also try to make it to the top of the ropes course a LuLus or try all the thrilling water slides at Waterville USA. Check out the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach website to find 9 pages of attractions and things to do in the area.
    • Catch your Dinner - it's hard to beat the fishing opportunities in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, you can wade fish in the Gulf or bays, drop a line off the fishing piers,rent a fishing boat, or try a fishing guide or fishing charter - Gulf Shores is home to Alabama's largest charter fleet. It was too rough for us to go offshore fishing with Intercoastal Safaris - thank God because I most likely would have tossed up most of the good food I'd had over the past 3 days! Since we couldn't go fishing with them, we joined them for lunch to learn more about what Intercoastal Safaris offers. I was very impressed with their uniquely coastal hunting and fishing experiences some of which include: duck and hog hunting, shark shore fishing, inshore and offshore fishing, beach fishing, bow fishing, and more.

    Mullet tossWaterville Waterpark slideIntercoastal Safaris

    • Load Up on Some Carbs & Calories - Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are loaded with lots of excellent restaurants from burgers on the beach to fine dining on superb fresh seafood or thick juicy steaks - some that we tried and loved included Nolans for steaks, Bahama Bobs for good food on the beach, and several restaurants on the beach including The Gulf, Tacky Jacks, Sunset Grill, Flora-Bama Yacht Club, and Flora-Bama Ole River Bar. At Flora-Bama's Ole River Bar we dined with a group of Travel Writers and the chef came out and asked if we would like to order off the menu or have him create some fun stuff - the answer was an overwhelming "fun stuff!" For the next hour and a half he kept delivering us different dishes that included: a very tasty and very different salad, a couple different coastal appetizers, uniquely prepared Grouper, a beef dish, and an unbelievable veal cheek that melted in my mouth. I was stuffed but couldn't resist the best bread pudding I've ever had! Wow, what a fun and unique dinner. One other night we dined at Flora-Bama Yacht Club with a local charter fishing boat captain and his family (Randy and Susan Boggs - owners of Reel Surprise Charters which is one of the largest Lionfishlocal charter fishing boat fleets and a fantastic funny and charming couple) and Chandra Wright (a nature specialist for the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism Bureau. Since both of them knew chef Chris Sherrill, he asked if we would like to try Lionfish - a very invasive and poisonous yet beautiful coral reef fish. He cooked us 5 different Lionfish dishes, all of which were delicious - Lionfish Poke with seaweed salad and wontons, lager beer battered Lionfish and chips, Greek style Lionfish over grilled squash and cous cous, and sauteed Lionfish, shrimp, crab and bacon lardon over garlic whipped potatoes and grilled local vegetables - delicious and my mouth started watering as I wrote this. These two Flora-Bama restaurants are sitting on a sandy boat up beach on the bay with outdoor patios and a music stage and a rustic and casual setting - after stuffing yourself you can walk across the street to Flora-Bama for a night cap, some good music, and a good time. Just can't beat all that!

    Flora-Bama Yacht ClubLionfish dinnerFlora-Bama Old River Bar

And that's just some of what you can do during a vacation or getaway to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach - so what are you waiting for, pick up the phone and book a reservation. To learn more about why we love Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, here is a link to the first part of this Gulf Shores vacation and an article about Golfing Vacation to Gulf Shores.

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