When you think of Alabama, you probably don't think of beaches, but Gulf Shores, Alabama, is one of the Gulf Coast's greatest secrets. With pure white sand and great weather year-round, Gulf Shores vacations are becoming more and more popular, but the town's still a lot less crowded than nearby Florida - without being any less beautiful. You can find plenty of beachfront Gulf Shores condos for rent, since a lot of the local economy caters to tourists. The whole region around Gulf Shores is full of interesting things to do, including nearby Orange Beach. Rent a Gulf Shores vacation condo and you and your family will have nonstop fun, rain or shine. Do you have ideas on how we can improve our Gulf Shores travel guide?

Things to Do on Gulf Shores Vacations

No matter what time of year you visit and rent a Gulf Shores, Alabama, condo, you won't run out of things to do. Whether you like swimming, shelling or fishing, the beach itself offers tons of fun – but things don't end there. Take a hot air balloon ride or a helicopter tour of the coast, try golfing at over 17 Gulf Shores area golf courses (including one at Gulf State Park, where you might even catch a glimpse of an alligator), or lounge around in the comfort of your Gulf Shores vacation rental and take it easy between adventures. If you're ready to get out and about, try one or more of these:

  • The Track Recreation Center – Your whole family will have a blast playing miniature golf and more, including go-carts, bumper boats, and an arcade.
  • Waterville USA – Enjoy 20 acres of water park/amusement park fun. The park opens every May and stays open through the summer season.
  • Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo – Elevated viewing decks  at the zoo let you and your kids see many animals in their natural habitat. Though the zoo is located near the beach, it's not limited to beach animals (you'll see old favorites like lions and tigers here, along with alligators, wallabies and macaws). Check out the petting zoo and reptile house, and if you come during the summer, you can catch an animal show every day.
  • Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge – An extremely popular birdwatching location, this National Wildlife Refuge gives you a chance to watch local animals you may see nowhere else. It's a good opportunity to learn about conservation, too.
  • Gulf Shores Museum - Watch the informative Hurricane Hunters video to get the thrilling firsthand feel; learn about historical fishing and shrimping; visit the butterfly garden behind the museum.
  • Gulf State Park - This beautiful park will keep you active with a beach, a freshwater lake and nature trails.
  • Gulf Shores Golf - The area is littered with golf courses! 
  • Gulf Shores Fishing - Cast a line.

Also, the Wharf in nearby Orange Beach is a vacation destination in itself, with shopping, restaurants, live music, an amphitheater, golf, fishing, a ferris wheel and more.

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Where to Shop and Eat in Gulf Shores

Shopping in Gulf Shores, Alabama, covers the range from outlet to upscale. If you're traveling with little kids or you need beach gear and toys, visit Al's 5 & 10, a dirt-cheap place that's great for picking up cheap souvenirs even the littlest allowances can afford and also has tons of colorful beach toy options so you don't have to pack everything on your way to Gulf Shores. Gulf Shores shopping includes several outlet malls, though the best of these is located in nearby Foley: the Tanger Outlet Center, where you can buy luxury brands at low prices. Gulf Shores also boasts unique shops like Blue Girl Beading Company (handmade beaded gifts by local jewelry artists). There's even Souvenir City – you can't beat getting a souvenir from a place specifically selling them!

Seafood is king at Gulf Shores, especially fried seafood! While it may not be the best idea for your waistline, it'll thrill your tastebuds. You can save money by staying in and cooking in your Gulf Shores condo's fully-equipped kitchen, but if you do want to venture out, make sure you ask whether or not you'll be getting local seafood or something imported. Local seafood is fresher and will make for tastier meals.

  • Mikee's – A solid family-friendly restaurant with good food and good prices, Mikee's also features all-you-can-eat fried mullet dinners twice a week.
  • Smokey Blues BBQ – You know you're in for a treat the moment you catch a whiff of this place, and delicious pulled pork sandwiches with good slaw won't let you down.
  • The Shrimp Basket – Count on this place to serve local seafood with a smile, excellent whether you order oysters or a tuna po-boy sandwich. Especially good shrimp slaw.
  • The Wheel House Restaurant – A very kid-friendly restaurant with lots of options kids will eat, including a variety of hot dogs and fried food. Sure, it's not the healthiest choice, but if you're going to eat fried food, eat it here because they do a good job, cook local seafood, and make their sauces and slaw themselves
  • Lulu's Landing – Owned by Jimmy Buffett's sister (he co-owns the restaurant), this place has excellent food, good service, and good prices. Of course there's live music on site, as you might expect. Just be prepared for a crowd.

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When to Visit Gulf Shores

Gulf Coast features area festivals year-round, and the weather is mild no matter what season you visit, so you'll find snowbirds in the winter and families vacationing together in the summer. Book early to reserve the perfect Gulf Shores vacation rental and you'll be set no matter how crowded or empty the beaches are.

If you go in November, you can catch the Frank Brown International Songwriter Festival – off season for the beach, this festival lets you hear some popular and well-loved, or up-and-coming, songs performed by the individuals who wrote them. You get to avoid the summer crowds this way, too.

People flock from all over the country to celebrate the Annual National Shrimp Festival in October, which is covered by national television. Every year, local restaurants bring out their shrimp specialties to please tourists and neighbors alike. Come out and sample the best shrimp Gulf Shores has to offer, right along the beach, in a casual and family-friendly event. There's even a sand sculpture contest (kids can enter their own) and an arts and crafts display from local artists.

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What to Know About Gulf Shores

The pure "sugar white" sand of the Gulf Shores beaches is made of quartz, which means it may scratch your sunglasses but it'll feel soft and almost fluffy under your feet. Don't be afraid of going barefoot on it - you might find it's more comfortable than any other sand you've seen!

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What to Bring to Your Gulf Shores Beach Rental

Don't forget your favorite beach supplies – sunscreen, swimsuits, flip-flops and toys for the kids. We have more advice on visiting the beach with kids, including a list of must-haves. You can rent fishing gear, but if you are particularly attached to your own, bring it; you'll regret not taking advantage of Gulf Shores fishing! Don't worry about how much gear you bring, because Gulf Shores condos will give you plenty of storage space without cramping your relaxation space.

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Gulf Shores' Local Services

Gulf Shores condos and other vacation rentals bring vacationers from all over, so local companies have started providing the services that tourists and vacationers need. If you stay in a pet-friendly Gulf Shores rental, and you need to be away for the day, pet sitting services can help make sure Fido is well cared for. You'll also have your pick of babysitters and childcare services to keep your kids safe and happy while you enjoy a romantic evening out or just a relaxing day at the spa. Concierge services and personal shoppers can see to it that your Gulf Shores condo's kitchen is well-stocked with groceries, your vacation home is clean and tidy, and even that your laundry has been taken care of!

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Getting to Gulf Shores, Alabama

Though Gulf Shores has a small local airport called Jack Edwards, you'll probably be flying into Pensacola, Florida, or Mobile, Alabama. Both of these larger airports are served by most major airlines, and they're each only about an hour from Gulf Shores. You can rent a car or take a shuttle to Gulf Shores, though if you're going to be staying in a Gulf Shores rentals, you'll probably be better off having a car to get around town. And if you're especially adventurous, you can even reach Gulf Shores by boat and dock at one of the local marinas.

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Why Gulf Shores Beach Vacation Rentals?

Rent Gulf Shores condos over your next vacation and get more space for less money than an equivalent number of hotel rooms. Many Gulf Shores vacation rentals can fit an entire family or two, so you don't need to rent multiple hotel rooms just to house everybody. Since Gulf Shores vacation condos include full kitchens, you can save money and time preparing your own meals at home (and take a much-needed break from all the delicious fried food around town). Plus Gulf Shores condos and rental homes often have separate bedrooms, giving you privacy while still providing common areas like living and dining room where all of you can meet up for quality time.

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