Gulf Shores, Alabama, is home to some of America's prettiest beaches; that much is obvious. But this vacation destination is so much more than its lush, sugary white sand beaches. Should you ever tire of soaking up the sun and the surf, there's loads of other attractions to keep you entertained. Spend your days snorkeling to wrecked rum-runners, making friends with alligators, getting professional sand castle-building lessons, and celebrating every day like its Mardi Gras... and then return to a luxurious safari tent for one-of-a-kind glamping at the Alabama Gulf State Park. What other destination can offer all that? Here's our guide to offbeat fun in Gulf Shores, Alabama!
For a taste of one-of-a-kind local history, make your way to the gorgeous Fort Morgan Historic Site. Built right before the Civil War, it was used on and off, mostly during wartime, until the end of WWII. The Confederates used the Fort to cover blockade runners bringing much-needed supplies. The Battle of Mobile Bay subjected the fort to a two-week siege, after which the Confederate troops surrendered. When the war ended, the fort sat abandoned until the Spanish-American War, when batteries were installed. During WWI, Fort Morgan was used for training men in the Coast Artillery on modern weapons. The fort also trained field anti-aircraft batteries. It was abandoned again until WWII, when it was re-armed and an airfield was put in nearby. The War Department turned Fort Morgan over to the State of Alabama in 1946. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and it’s been preserved ever since.
Feel like you’re transported to another world at Adventure Island. The Lost Lagoon Lake (with paddleboats and bumper boats), the tropical mini golf, and the coconut climb all add to the island feel of the attraction, but the most epic feature is a five-story volcano. It erupts periodically, and when it does, it’s quite the show, complete with steam and vibrations. Add in a round of laser tag and a few laps on the go-kart track, and you’ve got the perfect afternoon for the family.
For vacation vibes and killer seafood, head to Tacky Jacks. The local chain’s Fort Morgan location is right on the water, and is done up in décor that’s… well, pretty tacky. In a charming way, of course! As for the food, this is the perfect spot to sample some unique local cuisine. Dine on deep-fried gator bites, crab claws, and crawfish tails, and wash it all down with a Bushwacker, a local favorite that’s basically a milkshake laced with rum, coffee liquor, coconut rum and more rum.
Did you know that Mardi Gras was actually born in Mobile, not New Orleans? Learn all about the raucous holiday's hidden history and the stories behind the traditions at the Mobile Carnival Museum. See historic photos dating to 1886, get an up-close look at incredibly ornate costumes, and see crowns and robes from the monarchs of Mardi Gras past. There are three full floors of memorabilia and pageantry to browse, and the museum is sure to get you in the spirit to party, even if you're not visiting during Mardi Gras!
Gulf State Park is the perfect destination for exploring the white sand beaches of Gulf Shores... but the real hidden gem of the park is its campground. Specifically, the glamping-style safari tents the park has set up. There are three total, called The Duke, Bonanza, and The Alamo, respectively. Each sleeps up to four people on cots, and has a communal wash station nearby. There’s a full restroom three tenths of a mile from the tents, and a full bathhouse with shower 1.8 miles away. It’s all about combining backcountry camping with convenience, and the privacy you get from the secluded tents is priceless.
The best way to feel like a kid again on a beach trip is to build a sand castle. There’s nothing quite like designing an amazing sand structure… except maybe the joy of destroying it to start anew. If your sand castle building skills are a bit rusty, though, fear not. Just give Sand Castle University a call! Sand Castle U sends a castle-building pro to wherever you are (whether you’re at the Gulf Shores public beach or a stretch or shore nearby) to give you a lesson in how to build the sand sculpture of your dreams. It’s great for kids and adults alike, and is bound to ensure that your trip to the beach will be unforgettable. Don’t forget to pose for a photo with your creation before the waves wash it away!
Experience Southern Alabama’s most notorious native creature up close and in person at Alligator Alley. The farm features viewing platforms and elevated walkways that let you view more than 450 alligators from a safe distance. Take the guided tour, with the chance to hold a baby gator at the end of the walk! And make sure to visit during feeding time… if you’re brave enough, you might be able to feed them for yourself. Along the way, you’ll learn all about this misunderstood creature. You’ll also get the scoop on which common perceptions about gators are fact, and which are fiction!
Orange Beach is home to The Wharf, a destination that provides loads of unique fun. Of course, there’s the marina, the movie theater, the shopping, and the dining, but it features some truly special attractions as well. For starters, The Wharf is home to one of the South’s largest Ferris wheels, which stands 112 feet tall. The Wharf comes alive at night with Spectra, a state-of-the-art sound and light show that is sure to wow. And soon, Hummingbird Ziplines will be opening a crazy course that will offer incredible ocean views from 90 feet up… while sending riders speeding along an adrenaline-rushing trip!
It’s not every day that you get the chance to go in a World War II submarine, peer into cockpits of combat aircraft, and check out real-life tanks… but that’s just a small sampling of what you’ll get to experience at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. The whole park is loaded with incredible history. The main feature is the USS Alabama herself, a South Dakota-class battleship that served in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during World War II. The park also features displays of tanks, artillery, and an aircraft pavilion, alongside the USS Drum, with a touching array of memorials. For a completely unique experience, look into staying on the ship overnight!
There are actually a few shipwrecks hiding just below the lovely warm waters around Gulf Shores. The Whiskey Wreck is one of the most accessible. Only 150 yards into the ocean at a shallow depth of 25 feet, the 1920s-era Spanish rum-runner can be seen by snorkelers, and also makes a great destination for novice divers. Another great wreck to visit (albeit one that takes a little more effort to get to) is The LuLu. This 271-foot-long decommissioned freighter was sunk just south of the Peridido Pass in 2013 to create an artificial reef. You’ll need to book a tour to the wreck, but it’s a great adventure for any diver looking to get some experience!
Where else can you go from staying the night on a historic ship to diving down to see a wrecked one, or go from building your dream sand castle to sleeping in your dream tent on the sand? Alabama's Gulf Coast is a destination that's completely unique, and you'll remember your trip for years to come.
Think spring. Think warm days in the sun on the white sand beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast. Plan now for a family beach break in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Visit our website for special rates on accommodations, things to see and do, and where to dine during your visit.