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Gulf Shores
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Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores, Alabama, is one of the beach resort towns along the stretch of barrier island that borders the southern edge of the state of Alabama on the Gulf of Mexico. Flanked on the west and east by beach towns Fort Morgan and Orange Beach, Gulf Shores is famous for pristine white sand beaches, emerald-colored water, deep sea fishing, dolphin sightseeing cruises, lush inland golf courses and seafood restaurants. On vacation here, you can dig your toes down into the sugary sand and watch a sunset on one of America’s most beautiful beaches.

Summer is high season in the Gulf Shores, with the warmest air and water temperatures and with families making their way to the beach for vacations. Winter temperatures are mild in the 40°-60° F/5°-15° C range, and Gulf Shores is a popular place for seniors escaping winter in more northerly climates and spending the season. Storms can affect the area's weather and are typically most active from July to October. Gulf Shores is a real town, so even in low season, you'll find most restaurants and services available year-round.

Getting Here

Major airlines fly into nearby Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida. Gulf Shores is about 50 miles/80 km from Mobile, a bit more than an hour-long drive along the east edge of Mobile Bay, and gracious Southern hospitality awaits in waterfront towns along the route. Or make your way to Gulf Shores along the coastal route, heading west from Florida's nearest airport: Gulf Shores is about an hour's drive from Pensacola  (34 mi/55 km).

Gulf Shores Canal Houses Carol M. Highsmith
The residents of the beach community of Gulf Shores, Alabama enjoy waterfront houses along the canal.

Things to Do in Gulf Shores

The reports about the unfortunate 2010 oil spill closely monitored the effects of the accident on the towns that circle the Gulf of Mexico – known locally as the Gulf Coast, and including beach towns from Texas to Florida. Happily, the clean-up efforts spared these lovely towns; tourism to the Gulf Coast is thriving, and Gulf Shores, Alabama, remains a favorite destination for travelers from all over the world. The area is famous for deep sea fishing, and the water is clean and pristine. Charter operators offer half and full day excursions that suit serious fishermen and women, novices, groups, or families looking for a leisurely fishing outing. Whatever you're looking for, these waters and the many local fishing outfitters and boat operators will provide hours of entertainment.

Gulf Shores is a great place for all kinds of water-based fun. If you’ve never seen a pod of dolphins swimming in the wild, hop aboard a dolphin sightseeing cruise. It will be hard to tear yourself away from the amazing white sand, but water skiing, snorkeling, and boating will be well worth the effort. If you aren’t an adventurous traveler, the easiest way to enjoy the water is to cool off with a quick dip before returning to the solace of your beach chair.  If you’re traveling with kids, you might want to plan a trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo or book a parasailing excursion.

It would be easy to go to Gulf Shores and never leave the beach, but there are also many other things to see and do. If you love a good deal on designer fashion, don’t miss out on a visit to nearby Foley, AL to shop to your hearts delight at the Tanger Outlet Mall.

Local Attractions

While Gulf Shores' main draw is the beach, you'll find many enticements inland. Plan ahead and make your rental car a convertible for drives along the beach. Take East Beach Boulevard (Hwy 182) east toward Orange Beach, Perdido Beach and across the state line into Florida.

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Head west to view Fort Morgan's historic Civil War sites, and then keep going west and drive onto the Mobile Bay Ferry for a trip across the Bay to Dauphin Island. All along the coast and in Gulf Shores you'll have plenty of seafood eateries, amusement parks, and shopping options to choose from…and, of course, golf.

Work on Your Swing

Golf enthusiasts are drawn to Gulf Shores year round for scenic and challenging golf courses. Don't miss award-winning courses Cotton Creek or Cypress Bend at Craft Farms, both designed by Arnold Palmer and featuring lush, natural landscaping and plenty of water all around. Glenlakes Golf Club is an 18-hole links style course just 12 mi/19 km north of Gulf Shores in the neighboring town of Foley, AL. Gulf Shores Golf Club, inland from the beach and just a few miles north of the Little Lagoon, is a resort-style course that was Gulf Shores' first golf course and in 2005, was completely updated to be longer and offer more challenge.

Where to Stay and Planning Your Trip

Condominium complexes dot the beach along central Gulf Shores, and many condos are offered as privately owned vacation rentals, with access to amenities like beachfront swimming pools, exercise rooms, and on-site restaurants and lounges. As you go east, the complexes make way for open beaches and spacious beach houses, also available for rent as self-catering accommodations. A Gulf Shore condo rental is one of many ways to enjoy the beach from your holiday home base, and for even more privacy, take a look at Gulf Shores beach home properties for rent.

Do plan on car rental. If you plan on shopping, playing golf, or even just stocking the fridge of your vacation rental with groceries, a rental car will come in handy, and is essential for sightseeing. 

Gulf Shores Hangout Festival RhYno12
The Hangout Music and Arts Festival in Gulf Shores features dozens of bands.

Local Food and Events

Of course, fresh local fish is abundant in Gulf Shores and the surrounding communities. Many restaurants will cook your catch after a day of fishing, or you can simply see what’s fresh and local on the menu once you arrive. If you’ve never tasted fresh off the boat seafood, you’re in for a serious treat when you plan a vacation to Gulf Shores.  From casual beachfront stands to elegant dinner cruises, you'll find dozens of ways to enjoy local seafood and Southern U.S. fare right in Gulf Shores. 

Each spring, the Hangout Music Festival comes to town and lives up to its name, being a laid-back, right-on-the-beach, three-day live music event featuring a variety of well-known artists. The festival lineup has included the Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wilco and many others.

Plan a Gulf Shores trip around October's annual Shrimp Festival to eat lots of shrimp and browse local arts and crafts, listen to live music, and enjoy one of Gulf Shores' liveliest weekends.

Written by: Kiley Vorreiter is a managing editor for Travel Content on HomeAway.com
Top Photo Credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans
Photo Description: The white sand beach at Gulf Shores is a wonderful place to relax under cabanas or bask in the sunshine.