I discovered Gulf Shores 15 years ago. I had been on a long road trip from Wisconsin to New Orleans to Destin then wandered back home. While I just passed through, I was instantly impressed and knew I would be back one day on a vacation to Gulf Shores.
Fast forward a bunch of years, my wife and I wanted to plan a big trip with some family and friends (and our newborn son). I suggested Gulf Shores. The recommendation came from what I had seen and all of the positive reviews I had read. After some planning and research, we were excited and ready!
What we loved most about Gulf Shores was how much there is to do, yet it doesn’t have that overly commercialized feel. From high energy beachfront grills to quaint local cafes, the dining options were excellent. While there are your standard chain hotels, there are locally owned hotels and most of the rental homes are managed via local management companies.
This review will highlight and make recommendations of activities for the whole family, lodging options, and places to eat. These recommendations are made from our knowledge that comes with us vacationing in this area several times. Our reviews are unbiased and given through the lens of a family vacation with two younger kids.
So, let’s start planning that vacation to Gulf Shores! To go straight to a larger list of rental homes, click HERE.
Thrilling Activities for Your Vacation to Gulf Shores
One of the coolest things we did was book a near shore fishing trip. All of us had fished freshwater lakes plenty of times. But none of us knew what to expect for near shore saltwater. If you have never been, no worries…they handle EVERYTHING! All equipment, bait, licensing, water, Gatorade, fuel, and coolers. They even filet and bag your catch! We caught enough fish that morning for lunch AND dinner! Our guide was fun and knowledgeable. Highly recommend Captain James with Blue Water Charters!
Pensacola is just a short drive up the coast. The Blue Angels are based in Pensacola. You can check their schedule HERE to see if they are in town. As long as they are, you can watch them practice for free. Our boys absolutely LOVED watching them blast across the sky while they practiced their aerial routines!
Waterville USA was an amazing place to spend an afternoon. At over 20 acres, this mini theme park boasts a waterpark, an arcade, mini golf, a giant trampoline, go-karts, virtual reality, and an escape room. They have activities that will appeal to toddlers through adults. A must-do when taking a vacation to Gulf Shores.
Mobile, Alabama is just an hour drive to the northwest. There are tons of attractions there. Our favorite was visiting the USS Alabama warship. You have near full access to the entire ship and deck. It was crazy how tight many of the passageways were! There are many other attractions at the site. In addition to the USS Alabama, you get admission to many other area attractions for one very low price!
Where to Stay for Your Vacation to Gulf Shores
There are HUNDREDS of rental homes to choose from. Usually we highly recommend beach front, but even off-beach homes in Gulf Shores are great. There are no major highways to cross like in many other beach towns. The house we stayed was an easy two block walk to the public beach access. Now let’s find your vacation home !
- The Conch House– This GORGEOUS 3 bedroom/3 bath house sits just a few blocks from the beach. In addition to standard amenities, the owners of this home also provide coolers, beach chairs, beach toys, boogie boards, a grill, and an outdoor shower. There is a shared community pool as well!
- Beautiful 6 bedroom/3 bath home with DIRECT beach access across the street. This house is very large at 2700 sq/ft. It will comfortably sleep 16 people, perfect for extended family or trips with multiple families. The home provides direct ocean views from most rooms!
- La Gloria is a 4 bedroom/3 bath home that will sleep up to 10 (six adults). This home is truly beachfront…so Gulf Shores’ powdery white sands are just steps away! Enjoy your morning coffee or evening beverage from the extra large deck (partially covered). The two guest bedrooms share access to another deck at the front of the home. Did we mention this home is beachfront?
- Another BEACHFRONT home! This one is a 3 bedroom/2 bath and sleeps 8. Fully renovated. Upstairs features the master bedroom and the other bedroom has a queen bed and a set of bunk beds. The third bedroom is a queen bed on the first floor. There is a decent sized deck leading directly to your own beach access!
- Eagle’s Nest is a 3 bedroom/2 bath home located just 2 blocks from the beach. The master bedroom upstairs has access to an awesome deck with unbeatable views! The entire home is decorated the way a beach home should be…with lots of bright colors to make you feel like you’re away from home! There is even a private pool!
Where to Eat During Your Vacation to Gulf Shores
There are so many fun and cool places to eat here! Some are quite famous. Some are owned by some quite famous people. Either way, enjoy your meals while relaxing on your Gulf Shores vacation. Here are a few of our recommendations:
- The Hangout– You cannot come to Gulf Shores and not eat at The Hangout! Completely family friendly (and the food is great!). They feature beach views, a giant sand pile, and a foam pit! The kids will be entertained while the parents can kick back and enjoy a great meal and great drinks.
- Bahama Bob’s Beach Cafe– This place has terrific food. Heavy on seafood options, they do have burgers and salads as well. They have a solid kid’s menu also.
- Lulu’s Fun, Food, and Music– Another restaurant with great food and great fun for the kids. Lulu’s has an arcade, ropes course, caricature artist and giant sand pit. Live music on stage. Lulu’s is owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy Buffett!
- Hog Wild Beach and BBQ– It may not be Texas BBQ, but this is some darn good que!!
- Matt’s Ice Cream- Locally owned craft ice cream with lots of unique flavors. There is often a wait, but it is absolutely worth it!
When Should You Plan Your Vacation to Gulf Shores?
The easy answer to this question is NOW!! There is no bad time to enjoy time at the beach. Fall and winter are great times due to the super low off-season rates on rental homes. Spring still has some good rental prices and the weather is starting to warm up. Then in Summer it becomes FULL ON BEACH MODE!!!
Regardless of when you want to visit, we recommend booking your home early, as the good ones will get taken. Traditionally, we have found the rates here to be a bit more affordable than other more well known beach towns. I have always said Gulf Shores is one of those overlooked jewels on the Gulf Coast, and most of us kind of like it that way! Book today!